BBC3’s acclaimed ‘zombie’ drama In the Flesh returns in May for its much-anticipated second six-part series. STARBURST recently spoke to the show’s creator Dominic Mitchell about what’s in store for the inhabitants of Roarton in the second series. You can read the full interview in issue 399 (still available to buy for your tablet), but here are some extra choice cuts from our chat...
Starburst: Were you pleased by the response to last year’s first series?
Dominic Mitchell: I was really shocked; I couldn’t believe how positive people were about it. We had no idea; the BBC said ‘We’ve got this slot, we like the show’ and I genuinely wasn’t expecting the acclaim it got, it was brilliant. I wouldn’t have wanted to do just a straight ‘zombie’ show as I wouldn’t want to do a straight ‘vampire’ show. I think things like Being Human are so unique and great because they’re a different take and that’s what you have to do that in the genre now. That’s why I wrote In The Flesh because I’m a zombie fan and I was so sick of seeing the same old ‘human survivors shooting zombies left right and centre’ so the fact that it was something a bit different was an important part of its success.
Speaking of Being Human, have you felt any pressure to follow in that show’s footsteps, especially as you occupy the same Sunday night timeslot?
I think you just have to do the show that you’re passionate about and then hope that it has the success and longevity of something like Being Human. That was such a unique and brilliant show that to try and copy it would be wrong and probably lead to disaster. What we had to do was use these six new hours to really explore the themes and the characters and do it in the tone of In The Flesh. It’s a bit lighter this year - it has a little bit more humour than series one because you can’t be that depressing for six hours! But ultimately we’re just doing our own show and hoping for the success and longevity of Being Human.
Are you satisfied with the six new episodes as a body of work?
Really pleased. I was worried about whether it could sustain six episodes but I’m happy with the ‘through lines’ and I’m pleased we could go deeper into these characters. What we tried to do was not exactly ‘story of the week’ but more an examination of the characters we already had or themes that we thought were very interesting. In episode three there’s a PDS sufferer in Roarton called Freddie and he was this kind of ‘boy racer’ who died doing his boy racer thing. He had a wife and she’s since moved on with someone else but now Freddie’s back and he’s like ‘But I’m married to you and I love you’ but she says ‘Well, till death do us part but you died and now I’m a different person.‘ It’s also been great fun to focus on a character called Phillip who’s a bit of a conundrum because he’s a counsellor for the Parish Council which is very ‘living-orientated’ but he’s got this secret attraction to undead people which develops in interesting ways. But Kieren is most definitely still our protagonist and he’s got his own personal problems as well in trying to get out of Roarton but then the MP Maxine Martin arrives and enacts policies which make it difficult for him to get away. He’s got one foot in the grave, literally; he doesn’t know who he is. Is he partially-living or partially-deceased? Should be embrace being dead? (New character) Simon is very ‘out and proud’ and he’s saying ‘we’re brilliant’ and Amy is saying ‘we should be very proud’ but Kieren’s not proud of who he is. He wears his make-up and contacts all the time, he’s trying to be something that he’s not and that’s a really interesting journey he goes on in series two. So basically we’re expanding our world.
You’re sharing writing duties this year with new boy Fintan Ryan. Was it difficult handing your baby over to another writer?
It felt strange in the beginning because there’s a particular tone to In The Flesh and that’s a very key thing for us. In every story meeting in developing the series with Fintan, a brilliant writer who came on board to do episodes three and four, the big thing was always ‘tone, tone, tone’ because that’s special and the tone was very important in series one and something we really wanted to maintain. We were constantly saying ‘Is this an In The Flesh storyline, could this happen in this world?‘ and if we felt it couldn’t then we’d throw it out. But Fintan came on board and he instantly got the tone, he got what Roarton was and the themes and issues I was trying to talk about and that was a relief. His episodes are really excellent which obviously I was happy about. It’s very difficult because we didn’t have a lot of time to write these episodes so it was fantastic that Fintan came about and just ‘got it’ from the get-go.
Emmett J Scanlon’s Simon is clearly an important new character in the show’s dynamic. Are you pleased with what Emmet has brought to the role?
Emmett’s been fantastic, he’s the perfect person to play Simon. I wrote Simon two years ago and it was almost like when you have people in mind to play a character. Emmett came and did the audition and I said ‘He is Simon’. Simon is a very charismatic character, he’s a cult leader and Emmett just got the show and loved the show and worked his butt off because there’s a lot of levels to Simon, he’s not just a cool Jim Morrison-type. He’s a damaged person and luckily now we’ve got these six episodes we’re able to see where that damage has come from and explore the vulnerability in this very charismatic character and Emmett just knocked it out of the park every time.
Are there any particular ‘signature’ moments in the new series that you’re especially proud of and that viewers should look out for?
We have a zombie rave which Simon sets up which is pretty damned cool! Then there’s very first scene in episode one - the teaser - but I can’t say much about it! It’s an incredible opening sequence. The storyline which I think is really affecting involves Amy and involves becoming immune to the PDS-sufferers’ medication, which is really interesting for Amy to grapple with. We go back to the Treatment Centre (from the first series) in one episode but in a different way - but I’m not giving too many spoilers!
Is the second series still self-contained in the way the first series could be viewed as a stand-alone story?
For the first episode of this series we were totally aware that people might not have seen the first three episodes and we were also conscious that we have a nice strong fan base and we didn’t want to be boring them so hopefully in the pilot we’ve got a balance between ‘okay, if you haven’t seen the show, this is what’s happened’ and interweaving it with the ongoing story so it’s not just ‘previously on In The Flesh’. But I think a new audience could come totally fresh to series two and enjoy it, they wouldn’t be lost. Stories do end; you don’t want to cheat your audience and leave everything on a cliff-hanger but we do have a few cliff-hangers at the end of series two just in case there’s more…you don’t want to shut all your windows! We want to make it satisfying and have an end point but also leave it so there could be more and there are some questions answered and some not.
So any word yet on whether there’s likely to be a third series?
I’ve just been concentrating on series two really. I’ve got a few ideas; there are things in my series ‘Bible’ which are still untouched so there are vague ideas in my head as to how we leave season two and there are things we can do in series three if it happens. But realistically everyone’s concentrating on series two at the moment.
Looking further forward then, do you have an end-point in mind?
No pun intended but I wouldn’t like to run the show into the ground. I don’t want it to be a show where people go ‘oh, is that still on?’ I think what they did with Being Human, leaving it at five series, seems like the model for where to end at the perfect time, when all the questions are answered and the characters have got to a certain point. You just don’t want to start repeating yourself and I don‘t want to have to resort to going ‘Well, here’s a zombie that sings’ so we can have a sing-along episode!
Read more about the new series of IN THE FLESH and more from Dominic Mitchell in issue 399 of STARBURST. IN THE FLESH returns to BBC3 on May 4th.