Do you ever feel so close to something – like one could almost taste it, salvation is just on the horizon – yet it simultaneously feels like an entire lifetime away? For me this ‘salvation’ is Doctor Who Series 9, which at this point of the year feels like it will never arrive. However, despite the stubbornness of the BBC publicity offices, what we can tell from the little information we have been allowed is that this series creatively is looking to be the strongest we’ve ever had. While the previous 2 additions of these “5 Reasons to Rejoice” articles have focused on the returning of writers to the production team; today I plan on celebrating a rather different addition to the crew list for next series…
Yesterday, news broke that “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” Director Rachel Talalay will be once again lending her creative genius to shape the final 2 episodes of Series 9 and I for one could not be happier. So today, in celebration, join me in sharing 5 reasons why I believe Talalay’s return should be met with rejoice and predict what we can look forward too from the director in her Series 9 two-parter.
5. Achieving the Scale of the Whoniverse
All of time and space, everything that has ever happened and ever will… What a brief! The recipe for Doctor Who literally allows for script writers to take the show past the limits of their imagination, which I’m sure is great… for the writers. However, there’s no doubting what a daunting task translating the wonders and horrors of the Whoniverse must be like for Directors who have to realistically and practically bring the madness of the script to the screen.
Last series, Rachel Talalay had arguably the largest and maddest concept in “The Nethersphere” to bring to life, encompassing an entire virtual reality housed within a matrix data slice — holding the minds of the recently deceased inside. I remember first watching the episode at 5:30 in the morning, with an iced coffee gripped in my palm, and becoming instantly immersed in the emotions of Danny Pink as the reality of his whereabouts dawned on both him and the audience through Talalay’s direction. To say the realisation of the Nethersphere was surreal is an understatement and truly proved that as a director working with the production team as seamlessly as she did, Rachel Talalay has both the vision and ability to truly achieve the scale of the Whoniverse in all its glory.
4. Building To An Intense Cliffhanger
There’s no doubt that the absence of two parters in Series 7 was greatly missed by a vast majority of fans – more specifically the consuming, frustrating and exhilarating nature of a “Good Old’ fashioned cliff-hanger”. As such, it was no secret that enormous pressure fell on Talalay’s shoulders late last series in delivering the goods for what was the first mid-story cliff-hanger the show had seen in over 2 and a half years… and fortunately for us “Dark Water” ended not with one perfectly executed and adrenaline-charged cliff-hanger, but four!
Series 8’s penultimate episode ended with everything one could hope for: Overwhelming emotional trauma through Danny’s decision, a sense of impending doom as the Cybermen approached, indefinite danger in store for Clara and of course the shock factor in Missy’s identity reveal – and it was all orchestrated with pristine edge and class by Talalay. Now I can’t pretend to know what the plan for this year’s structure is – whether there will be a cliff-hanger every episode or if the privilege is reserved once again for the finale – however what Talalay’s work last series did establish was that she is the most equipped and experienced to effectively translate the “Whopper” of a twist that Moffat teased will end Episode 11 all the way back in June last year.
3. An Action Movie On A TV Budget
Various production issues have continued plague Doctor Who since its return in 2005 that realistically have grown to seem unavoidable; i.e. pacing issues, restricting running time and of course – the dreaded budget. It’s always hard to remember that as much as we as fans expect the finale to be bombastic and surreal visually, the production team is still restricted by the same mundane economic issues that they would be for any other episode. Being primarily a film director, Rachel Talalay cited that one of her biggest struggles in transforming the script to the screen was working with a much smaller budget, saying:
“Some of the action was so large and significant that I felt like I was [directing] a Marvel Movie… But we had to fit it into a television budget and time frame which was initially quite daunting. The answer was, I just want to make this as good of a ’Doctor Who’ episode as I possibly can. If there is any way I cannot trip over myself and just satisfy Steven Moffat and the fandom that would make me so happy and make it worthwhile.”
All constraints and struggles aside, in viewing the episodes (and with all my experience completing senior school Media classes) I was incredibly impressed at the final result of the episodes that truly felt and looked like it had the luxury of a blockbuster movie budget. The action packed scenes, particularly the mid-flight plane attack and the Danny’s final sacrifice were jam-packed full of energy and climaxing moments. Here’s hoping that in this year’s finale Rachel has even more chances to flaunt her abilities and deliver a finale that leaves the audience once again feeling that they’ve been punched in the face after running a marathon… in a good way.
While the Cybermen have never particularly disappointed me in the 21st Century, I’ve not been able to shake the feeling that they never achieved the level of presence and haunt that they have in classic serials such as “Tomb of the Cybermen” and “Earthshock”… that was until this Rachel Talalay and Steven Moffat brought them back in a fresh, new and horrific light. Ominous storm clouds of data gathered over cemeteries and mortuaries, “Cyber rain” fell and brought the dead back to life. Bodies sat bolt upright on slabs. Hands emerged from graves. Cybermen from Cyberspace, these villains were back as a chilling force to be reckoned with.
As much as I felt the way Rachel realised the Cybermen as villains was inspired – for me the real terror lay in the build-up and the escalating, suspenseful atmosphere that preceded their reveal. The tone and the imagery of the whole story was perfectly in sync with the series’ darker direction. Doctor Who has always prided itself on sending both adults and children alike screaming for the shelter of their sofas, and a finale wouldn’t be a finale without a menacing scare waiting around the corner, so let’s send thanks to the Nethersphere that Talalay, a verified maniac of the art is on board to ensure Series 9 leaves an daunting impression.
1. Capturing the Depth of Steven Moffat
If there is one writer that potential directors must equally crave and dread to work with; it would have to be Steven Moffat. Love or loath him, there’s no denying the creative ability of the man behind the ingenious ideas like ‘The Weeping Angels’, ‘Trenzalore’, ‘River Song’ and all the Timey-Wimey brilliance that has equally confused and invigorated us throughout the years.
How does one go about harnessing the impossible concepts Moffat creates and then translate them onto the screen? In last year’s finale Talalay proved herself capable of capturing the many layers of depth Moffat attempts to integrate into his scripts; be it the emotional battle between Clara and Cyber-Danny, the obscurity of the Nethersphere or the insanity of the Mistress. Talalay has already established repeatedly through interviews the brilliant working relationship she has with Steven Moffat; citing in an interview that:
“Steven Moffat is amazing to work with — so inclusive, collaborative, and respectful, (and brilliant) — one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Then I read the comments that accuse him of sexism, and I’m disturbed. I can see how a viewer might judge things within the work as sexist. But as a working collaboration, it was gold.”
If last year’s finale is anything to judge by, we can only assume that this incredible collaboration will continue to produce ambitious and standout television once again later this year. Teasing yesterday at the news of her return that “Episode 11 holds some of the most flummoxing challenges I’ve ever been given as a director” – it seems that once again that Talalay has her work cut out for her, but if history’s anything to go by I’m sure she’ll pull it off in a tremendous fashion!
In Series 8 we discovered that Rachel Talalay gets it. As bluntly as I can: she just gets “Doctor Who”. Every setting was perfectly utilised, every reveal suspended for dramatic effect and every action shot delivered with a punch. Rachel’s work in “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” contained quite possibly the most diverse and risky decisions in Doctor Who’s directing history and in my view most, if not all of them, paid off to deliver a crisp and refreshingly dark set of episodes. It’s for these reasons as well as the 5 explored in detail today that I personally cannot wait to see what Talalay will deliver later this year.
Are you too rejoicing in Rachel’s return? Let us know in the comments below.