James Moran Interviewed in Issue 16

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James Moran in front of the TARDIS

James Moran has written episodes for popular television shows such as Torchwood, Doctor Who, Crusoe, and Primeval.  James took time out from his busy writing schedule to expound on the joys and pitfalls of becoming a professional writer in the Doctor Who world, which the first part of an extensive two-part interview appeared in Whotopia Issue 16. Whotopia Associate Editor Nancy Gross interviewed the very prolific and gracious writer. 

WHOTOPIA: You were originally told The Fires of Pompeii would feature a new companion named Penny (described as in her 30s, blunt yet a bit naïve, but generally down to earth). How difficult was it to try to capture Penny, not knowing who would be playing her and were there any advantages in writing a character like that who was an ‘unknown quantity’? 

JM: No advantages, because they’re still a character that exists in someone’s head – it makes it harder because you haven’t seen them on screen yet, and don’t know the rhythm of their speech. Although they kept saying “like Donna in The Runaway Bride, at the end,”, so it was heading that way anyway. I tried to not make her too much like Donna, because she wasn’t Donna, but little did I know she was going to be. It’s hard when someone else is trying to explain to you who a person is like, and you’re trying to make sure they sound right. 

W: Once Catherine Tate was on board, did you have to do massive rewrites? Were you somewhat relieved to have an existing template and character to write to? 

JM: Not massive, I’d been going in that direction anyway, and trying to pull away from it – so I just relaxed and went with Donna. Looking at my very first draft, with Penny, she’s actually the same person as Donna, same attitude, but just a bit wordier. She’d give a long, complicated comeback, whereas Donna would just come out with something short and snappy. It definitely makes it easier if there’s a character you can watch on screen to see how they talk. 

W: Which elements did Russell T Davies ask you to insert in The Fires of Pompeii to further the series-long story arc? His brief apparently included featuring a large moral dilemma, fire creatures under a volcano, single-family POV, and an escape pod flying out of a volcanic eruption. What else were you asked to include or add? What element that you came up with yourself is your favourite? 

JM: The story-arc stuff (something on your back, she is returning, lost planet) was added by him, and he wouldn’t tell me what they meant – partly because he knows spoilers drive me mad, partly because it reduces the chance of things leaking out. Everything else comes from notes, or discussions we had, so it’s hard to say what was an instruction or what came out of script chats. The thing of mine that’s my favourite is Donna putting her hand on top of his, on the lever – helping him make the decision, taking a share of the responsibility, telling him it’s okay and needs to be done, all with one silent action. 

W: In his book The Writer’s Tale, RTD gives you ‘special’ thanks for allowing an in-depth look at the rewriting process related to your Doctor Who script. Did you have any trepidation exposing that painstaking process to the public, since it was, in a sense, your ‘baby’? How did you feel about going through that rigorous rewriting process and would you have preferred greater control over the final script?

JM: No trepidation at all, I was happy to let people see into the process, see how much of an influence he really is. I don’t think he gets enough credit, and also I think it’s interesting to see how these things work, from the outside. Because I came into an in-production show, and played my part, I felt less protective of it in a way, which meant I could be more ruthless when cutting stuff out. The rewriting process was something that everyone knows up front might happen, and I was fine with it – and when it happened, it was like getting a master class in writing, you get the new version back and think “ah, so that’s how it’s done”. I always want more control over everything, but on this occasion, I was happy to learn from the best. It feels much more like a team effort than anything else. 

W: Name one favourite villain from Classic and New series? One favourite creature? Favourite classic Doctor and companion? 

JM: Villain: Classic, not really a favourite, but the Master always scared me more than the others, because I always knew that he genuinely could defeat the Doctor, given the chance. Any time he turned up, I was worried. New, can’t go wrong with the Daleks, I still get that thrill of excitement every time they appear.

To read the full interview, visit the Whotopia site at www.whotopia.ca and download issue 16.

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