I was writing for radio at the time. It was a science fiction piece for Radio 4’s Saturday Night Theatre and Martin Jenkins, my producer, sent the script over to the Doctor Who production office. So out of the blue came this call to go over and talk to them.
Was it easy to find steady work writing for television?
I’ve never had steady work. The nearest to it was the time I spent on BUGS, where I wrote 10 shows over 3 seasons and acted as consultant on seasons 2 and 3. But even then it was a case of “one sale at a time.”
How much input did you find you had in a production of one of your screenplays?
That’s always going to vary. Once the script’s locked, there’s no reason to have the writer around except as a courtesy. You usually get a call when they’ve changed something and it’s caused them a problem and they need it fixed. If it’s something practical like a location they couldn’t get or a sequence that doesn’t work as planned, then great, that’s what I’m there for. If someone’s made a perverse change and failed to foresee the knock-on effect, I’m less sanguine.
How did you find you were treated by other members of the creative team when working on a project?
Again, that varies. In general I’ve been treated very well.
What was your biggest breakthrough in television?
I’d have to say Chimera. Prior to that I’d done just a couple of Whos and one episode of a crime show. Chimera took me from contributor to creator and put four hours of prime time drama on my CV.
Which gave you more creative input, being a writer or creator of a series?
It’s the difference between being paid to drive a car and being hired to design one. Actually that’s not entirely fair. But when you write for a series there’s a lot that isn’t on your shoulders. I can’t imagine why anyone might prefer that.
Were you ever frustrated by the workings of the television industry?
Daily! Dealing with the industry involves a whole separate set of issues from the act of writing.
Do you think writers are given enough credit when it comes to the creative process and audience appreciation?
Obviously I’m going to say no. But the fact is that there’s a very small number of names get on the front of a show and the writer’s place there can never be disputed. Although in feature films particularly, you get directors who encourage the notion that the writer’s role is to type up the director’s thoughts. One of the things holding back British TV is the resistance to a writer having a true executive producer role on a show.
What is your opinion of modern television drama?
On the plus side, it’s a relief to see that the drab hand of social realism is no longer holding it down. Throughout the 90s almost every British drama looked and played like an effing soap. And the kind of technology we’re getting now – HD, widescreen, downloads – is what I’ve spent my life waiting for. The downside is a lack of confidence and direction… of old-fashioned showmanship. Everybody wants to be edgy and relevant and issue-driven. And no one wants to see it.
What is your worst experience as a writer working within television?
Being excluded from a project I’d initiated.
What was your best experience as a writer working within modern television?
If I had to pick one moment, I’d say walking my dog down Gotham City’s main street on the Pinewood backlot after a meeting in the Chimera special effects workshop.
Which do you prefer, writing prose or screenplays for television?
Standard answer, and it’s always true… when I’m doing one, I yearn for the other.
Do you believe there is a big difference between writing for television and writing for feature films?
Yes. Mainly in choice of subject. A feature film is a one-off universal myth. TV’s a continuing parade.
Chimera photo by Stephen Morley