Interview: Douglas Mackinnon, Director of DOCTOR WHO Series 7 Episode 4 'The Power of Three'

PrintE-mail Written by J. R. Southall

In amongst the Daleks, dinosaurs, cowboys and Weeping Angels, this Saturday sees the current “Pond Farewell” mini-series of Doctor Who take its foot off the pedal just for an episode, as the Doctor arrives at Amy and Rory’s in time for the Year of the Slow Invasion. It’s a very different episode for the series, and one that perhaps harkens back more to previous stories like, dare I say it, Love & Monsters and The Lodger, rather than conforming to Steven Moffat’s current liking for mini-movies on the television screen.

Behind The Power of Three is Douglas Mackinnon, only the second director to have been invited back to work under Moffat’s stewardship of the show, having previously directed Doctor Who for Russell T Davies. With the only other thing to connect the two stories Mackinnon has worked on being the inclusion of UNIT (his previous story was Series Four’s Sontaran two-parter), Starburst was curious to know more about this most mysterious of forthcoming episodes.

Starburst: It's still shrouded in mystery, but what can you tell us about The Power of Three?

Douglas Mackinnon: Don’t want to spoil things, but it’s a bit of a love letter to the last few years. And, as Chris Chibnall says, “It’s full of stuff.” 

Were you aware that you're only the second director to have worked on Doctor Who under both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat? Have you noticed much change in the way the show is made?

It’s obviously an honour to have worked in both ‘eras’. The thing you notice is that the passion to get things right hasn’t changed. I’d worked with both Russell and Steven before Doctor Who (on The Grand and Jekyll) so that wasn’t much of a surprise. The thing that has changed is the technology, which is always developing. But the thing you realise when you watch episodes from the '60s and '70s or whenever is that writers, directors and producers were just doing the same as us – pushing the technology available to its limits within a budget! The other thing that’s the same is David Tennant and Matt Smith share the ability to pull incredible creative energy and generosity on to the set, which makes life a lot better for the poor directors...

How did working with Matt Smith compare to David Tennant’s approach?

They’re both magnificent.

The Power of Three feels, in some ways, like it harkens back to the Russell T Davies era. Is this perhaps why you were chosen to direct it, do you think?

You’d have to ask the Doctor Who Power of Three (Steven Moffat, Caro Skinner, Marcus Wilson) why I was asked to direct it. If I could I’d be directing all episodes of Doctor Who, forever. I’d be really happy.

How much involvement did you having in casting actors like Jemma Redgrave and Steven Berkoff?

I had the usual input with Jemma – Andy Pryor suggested her and we all agreed quickly. Steven Berkoff was slightly different in that I’d worked with him before. The experience of working with him on Doctor Who was something that'll never be repeated – you could ask anyone on the cast or crew and they'll agree that his participation was extraordinary.

Is your approach to directing Doctor Who different than it would be on other programmes?

Only in the sense that there’s always lots more elements to deal with than any other show that I can think of. And more interest in the results...

What was the experience of working on Steven Moffat's previous series, Jekyll, like?

Jekyll was a delight to do. I read the scripts - what there were of them - and knew immediately that I’d crawl over Mr Hyde to get to direct it. Luckily, the good folk at Hartswood agreed to let me.

With this being so close to the end for the current “team”, and indeed the last story to be shot involving Matt, Karen and Arthur, was there an end of era feel to the shoot? 

The last shot we shot was on Matt, Karen and Arthur going in to the TARDIS. There were tears, speeches and presentations, but I thought it shouldn't be about me. At one point I didn’t know if they’d ever come out of the TARDIS, but eventually they had to...

Were you a fan of Doctor Who growing up, and what was your 'era', and your specific childhood memories?

I've been a fan all my life. On my first day of shooting on the TARDIS, David Tennant said to me, “It’s like being grown up and being eight at the same time, isn’t it?” So my favourite era is now, when I'm getting to make it as well as watch it. Childhood memories – oh the Yeti, the plastic chairs that swallowed people, those Daleks and the Sontarans. Oh and I’m from the Highlands so I particularly liked the Zygons landing in Loch Ness. Haven’t heard the Zygons being mentioned for a while!

***

The Power of Three airs Saturday 22nd September on BBC ONE.


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