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It is fair to say that most/all of the material you produce with your
production company BBV is somehow related to the popular BBC sci-fi-series
Doctor Who. Could you please explain your fascination with the series ?
I grew up with it, like many kids here in England, and I can't remember
a time when I was not watching it. I pretended to have my own sonic
screwdriver or getting in and out of the TARDIS, ... yeah, I grew up with
Could you please tell us when and how BBV came into being ?
BBV came in into being after I did Summoned by Shadows.
As soon as I had just done one film and realized I could do more and
wasn't gonna get sued by the BBC
for doing something similar, I set up my own company ... actually
it wasn't my company, it was my wife's trading name: BBV stands for Bill
and Ben Video. Back in 1991it was just a vehicle for making covert
The first video you put out was Summoned by Shadows, starring former
Doctor Who Colin Baker as the Stranger, a
Doctor Who-like role, with Nicola Bryant, his companion
on the program, playing his assistant. Objectively speaking, Colin Baker was not the
most popular actor to play the good Doctor. What made you choose him for the
role nevertheless ?
Well, actually he wasn't my first choice ... bless him.
I approached a number of actors - and you can probably guess who I approached - and Colin ... actually I didn't approach Colin, I approached
two, and of the two Colin was the one who said yes. And also I was
arrogant enough to think, given Colin didn't have a good tenure as the
Doctor, being such a cool director I could do something with his
character and give him a chance to show his acting talent ...
Summoned by Shadows soon got 5 sequels, More than a Messiah,
In Memory Alone,
The Terror Game, Breach of the Peace and Eye of the Beholder. What can you tell
us about the Stranger-series as a whole and the individual films ?
Obviously you get a whole range of experiences when making a film.
About Summoned by Shadows, I remember filming in a quarry,
and the cameraman getting stuck over night 'cause we couldn't get his
Volvo-car out, and I had to go back the following day to help him get out.
He nearly wrecked my Ford Fiesta trying to pull his Volvo out of the
quarry. But about Summoned by Shadows, the overall memory was that
there I was making
Doctor Who with actors from the show that I kind of admired ... and I
was shit-scared, but also excited.
With More than a Messiah, I think I bit off more than I could
chew ... I think I was completely unrealistic as to how much we could film
in a day ... normally you have about four scenes to shoot in a day, I had
something like 20 ... and I still hadn't really got the hang of how much
footage you can realistically shoot in a day without exhausting your cast,
pissing off your crew and just doing your head in yourself.
In Memory Alone was great, it was very atmospheric because or the
railway station. Shooting at night at that railway station was
extremely romantic and these enthusiasts who ran this steam train would
just to anything for us, even though it was a major effort just getting
that train in and out - and they were happy to do that a couple of times,
so, that was really exciting.
Setting fire to the BBC
is the other significant memory about In Memory Alone. We were
filming in a cave under the old BBC Nottingham, and I dropped some
matches, I tried to create this smoke effect, they were smoldering, so I
kind of kicked them through a hole in the floor to the level below
thinking they would go out ... and the next morining I had a phone call
from one of my colleagues at work saying "I don't wanna alarm you
Bill, but we've all been evacuated and they're saying it's you
..." The firebrigade was called and it was me, but luckily the
building wan't burned down, it was just full of smoke.
Terror Game was like the beginning of something new, we were
trying to do something different from
Doctor Who and changed the character completely so instead of a
hero he's kind of an anti-hero ... so that was quite exciting, giving
Colin something to do that was not typically
Doctor Who, completely against the character he normally played. And
working with David Troughton was very exciting, and Louise Jameson as
well. It was like grown up filmmaking and gritty and I kind of got into my
stroke with it ...
The same with Breach of the Peace, that was a rip-off of The
Bill. I was taking the new character that Colin has become, and just
put him in a very earth-type setting, and a very real, believable
situation where he's hooked up with some woman to try and hide, get away
from Egan and Saul, but then they find him and the woman who he's shacked
up with, he's trying to hide behind is then threatened. So it was getting
away from the sci-fi and more to the gritty drama, so that was
And again the same with Eye of the Beholder, that was just a
real stretch. If I would do Eye of the Beholder now, with all the
technical stuff and CGI, it would be a completely different film.
What I remember is these loud guns going off and everybody had to wear
these ear defenders, which gouverned the whole filming process, everything
had to be safety first. And Alison Troughton was in it, and in one scene a gun goes off pretty near her face, and some
kind of shrapnel came out of the gun and struck her face. Which was really
scary, but she's alright.
Would you ask me what my favourite is, I'd probably say ...
I like In Memory Alone a lot, it's very atmospheric, but I also
like bits of Terror Game, there are nice sequences in that.
The same for Breach of the Peace.
Doctor Who celebrated its 30th birthday, and for your film The Airzone
Solution, you managed to get 4 actors who have played the Doctor (Jon Pertwee,
Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy) to appear. What can you tell us
about the film, how did it come into being and what is it about ?
The Airzone Solution is about 60 or 70 minutes long, and it was
my answer to The Edge of Darkness, a political thriller. I
originally approached Philip March, he
actually works here at BBC radio drama and has written a couple of
Doctor Who, and I liked his scripts. So I approached him to write me
a special, multi-Doctor story and when he delivered the script ... I
didn't like it, so in the end I got a friend of mine, Nicholas Briggs, to
write me something completely different - The Airzone Solution.
It's basically an enviromental thriller. It was like the first
mega-production I did, I had quite a decent budget. I was also lucky
because I knew Colin (Baker) and have worked with Sophie Aldred on More than a Messiah,
and Colin knew Peter Davison, so he called Peter Davison, and Sophie
called Sylvester (McCoy), so I had inlets to these other actors ... I
remember being in my flat in Nottingham, on the phone to Peter Davison,
using my Bill-Baggs-charm to convince him that he actually wanted to be in
this movie. It was like hedging around the subject, but eventually, he
just agreed to do it. When I put down the phone, I really flipped out with
excitement (that shows you how sad I am). And the funny thing was, I had
Peter, Colin and Sylvester, Nicola Bryant was in it, Alan Cumming was in
it, I have worked with him before in a BBC-drama, and while we were
already shooting, Jon Pertwee got to hear about it from Sylvester, and he
phoned me up about the film, saying "So, you are doing this film. Why
am I not in it ?" and I didn't have an answer, so he basically forced
me to put him in it ... which of course I was really pleased to do.
apparently had expected this phone call so he already had an idea how he
would introduce Jon and give him a couple of scenes, and that worked out
really well. It was a really nice day actually when we had all four of
them together doing the last few scenes. And there were so many fans
turning up to be in the audience which made a really big difference ... we
had over a hundred for the last sequence of the film, and it was like
running a Doctor Who convention, with the actors from the show and
the fans ... it moved on from being a film into being something more. I'm
really proud of that one.
In 1994, you made The Zero Imperative, which would ultimately become the
first in the P.R.O.B.E.-series, in which Caroline John is featured as Liz
a character she also played on
Doctor Who in the early 1970's opposite Jon
Pertwee (who incidently is also in the cast of The Zero Imperative).
you tell us about this film and about the P.R.O.B.E.-series ?
is a bit of an injoke from Mark Gattis, who
wrote it, - and I let your imagination work out what the injoke might be -
but it does stand for Preternatural Research Bureau, and that's how
Liz Shaw's (Caroline John) career had developed, she heads up this company
investigating into the supernatural or paranormal.
Back then we were testing some new ideas, and Zero Imperative
was the first - I didn't know wether I'd get permission to use the Liz
Shaw character, but the BBC
agreed (which surprised me). So we shaped this department around her, and
investigating Zero Imperative
was kind of a multi-Doctor story (that was kind of the idea
of that one), a sort of follow-up to The Airzone Solution, but not
using the same characters. Mark Gattis always looked at it as our own
version of Carry On, with the same actors in a different
concept, and that worked pretty well.
We took over a mental hospital in the middle of Absom and this
basically was converted into our own studios ... it was also meant to be a
mental hospital, but we built sets for all sorts of stuff in there,
pulling walls down and erecting walls and stuff.
was also the last film that Jon Pertwee ever did
before he died. Before filming he actually had a major operation and his
wife didn't want him to work, but he insisted on coming to the set and
doing his stuff. It was interesting to see how much he got out of just
being there and getting all the attention. His health seemed to actually
improve through the day.
The P.R.O.B.E.-series was scripted by Mark Gatiss, who later became
enormously successful with the series The League of Gentlemen and would
ultimately wind up to write for the new
Doctor Who TV-series. What can you tell
us about him, and how did he get involved with BBV ?
Mark and I worked really well together. He has always been a
Doctor Who-fan, he has written
Doctor Who-novels and now for the new series on TV. Gary Russell
recommended that I use him, and he had some quite big ideas and has an
obsession with horror, which comes out in the P.R.O.B.E.-series
and other bits and pieces he has done.
The collaboration was very
good, he's very different from me, that's all I can say.
Then, in the late 1990's, came the Auton
Trilogy, a cooperation with
Reeltime Pictures, another company specialised in
Doctor Who-related material. How come
the two companies joined forces, and what can you tell us about the Auton-films
as such ?
Keith, who runs
Reeltime Pictures, and me have been running in tandem for years, knowing
each other and working together on and off on various bits and pieces. He
has made some dramas and he wanted to make the first Auton
film and had asked Nick (Briggs) to write it, but somehow I ended up being
offered it and I was happy to take it over. What was interesting for me
was that it was the first time that I gave up the reign of directing and I
just produced it.
On the first one, that was a really tough thing for me to do, to
reliquish that control, so a lot of the time I made sure to stay away from
the set just so I wasn't interfering. But it was really frustrating just
watching from the wings and saying "That's not how I would do
it", and just letting go was a really difficult experience - but I am
glad I did it. ...
I think Auton, which we will soon release on DVD, is really
atmospheric, though I think in the first one there could be more shocks
per se to make it more dramatic and fast-paced. It's a good story though,
The Autons are monsters which originated in a
Doctor Who episode from 1970,
Spearhead from Space (incidently also the first Doctor Who episode starring Jon
Pertwee). How come you can use actual, copyrighted
Doctor Who-monsters (and
characters in fact, speaking of Liz
There is a lot of stuff concerning
Doctor Who - characters, monsters, ... - of which the copyright is
not vested with the BBC.
among many monsters created by Robert Holmes, are owned by his estate. So
the BBC had to
go to his estate to get permission to do the Autons-story
(Rose) they did
at the beginning of the new series. And that's what I did. Sometimes they
say yes, and sometimes they say no, so it's a very simple process of
In 2000 came Cyberon, featuring aliens somehow resembling the Cybermen
Doctor Who. What can you tell us about this film ?
Cyberon in a way is my favourite film because I put a lot into the
directing of it based on everything I had done before. It's a very
atmospheric story, but also a love story that goes wrong. On one hand it's
one man's obsession with a life-enhancing drug, and on the other about a
Doctor who is championing the cause for the mentally ill. These two
characters and their worlds collide, and you can see the impact of that collision. It
has twists and turns and it's quite romantic, challenging, and ... silly
2001's Do You Have a License to Save this Planet marks a departure from the
usual BBV-product, inasmuch as it is a spoof starring Sylvester McCoy as a
character called The Foot Doctor. What can you tell us about this film, and why
did you choose to do a parody ?
I was egged on by Paul Ebbs who thought a
spoof would make more money, and I thought why not. Actually, my
first spoof was The Auton Diaries, a ten minute short for a company
involved with the Auton-films, which I thought was quite
funny, so I thought why not do something a little longer. It was also an
opportunity to try out some heavy duty CGI-stuff, like the scene where the
carpet goes away and the Foot Doctor and the License Holder are floating
in space - that was Steve Johnson's efforts in CGI and it was fun. It was
something a bit different, but honestly it wasn't something I felt terribly
comfortable to do ...
Purist fans might find the parody sacrilegious, but there is the whole
aspect of fandom that likes doing these things. With License, you
either love it or hate it, but if you watch it after having had a few beers
with some of your mates, it is a bit funnier than when you watch it
As far as I know, Do You Have a License to Save this Planet is your last
(released) feature film to date. Any film projects for the future ?
There's plenty more going on in my head, but it probably won't be
Doctor Who-related - unless somebody offers me lots of money ...
although I was thinking of doing a Stranger
has kind of moved away from
So yeah, I would like to do something new, but it depends on the right
opportunity at the right time.
Besides feature films, you have also done some documentaries on
Doctor Who. A
few comments on those ?
I did five documentaries. I did the Stranger than Fiction
films, which accompany the films that I have made, which kind of explore
the work I have done. The one I'm most proud of is Acting up, which
kind of analyzes the process of acting with Peter Davison, David Troughton
and Alison Troughton, it's a bit of an insight into
different approaches to acting.
Then there was Bidding Adieu, which accompanies Sylvester McCoy
to Canada, talking about making the new film (Doctor Who: The Movie
from 1996) and handing over the role (of
Doctor Who) to Paul McGann, but also his experiences in a new
country with dramatic scenery. I was quite pleased with that one, and it
did very well.
The Doctors-documentary was a bit controversial because I gave
Colin (Baker) and Peter (Davison) and a numer of actors the opportunity to
quite openly talk about what they thought about the series rather than
just being positive, so you get an insight into what they didn't like or
what didn't go as well as other things
And then you have also produced a line of audio-plays. Would you like to talk
about those ?
Before I did any films I was part of the Doctor Who Fanclub in
Hampshire and after watching loads and loads of episodes we experimented
with making our own
Doctor Who audioplays, which became known as audiovisuals and had a massive
following - which was amazing considering the show was also on air at that
time - so we were very proud of those. So I thought, after making a few
films, it would be a good opportunity to exploit the audio-medium too, so
I convinced Sylvester (McCoy) and Sophe (Aldred) to recreate their roles
of The Professor (= Doctor Who) and Ace ... but I got into a bit of
trouble with the BBC
on that one when they tried to stop me do it
Having learned about your films (and audioplays), the 64 Dollar question is,
where to get them ? Could you give us your URL and tell us what your website is
In 2005, the BBC launched a new
Doctor Who-series. Your thoughts about the
new series ?
My kids like it ...
I don't really know what to make of it, it wasn't designed for me, I
can only watch it through their eyes. Some of it is good, but some of it is
not something I would choose to watch - and I don't know what it is, it's
just kind of weird how it came back after such a long time and I'm not
left feeling satisfied by it.
How does the new series affect BBV, and does it generate renewed interest in
your product ?
No. It affects BBV in neither a positive nor negative way.
The series does help selling toys tremendously, but not films and CDs.
Fans rather want what they see on TV and not the spin-off stuff - I would
Thanks for the interview !