James Moran interview: writing Doctor Who, Torchwood, Severance, Primeval & more!

Want to know what it's like to write for Torchwood and Doctor Who, how the process works and what it's like to watch your own episode being shown? We asked Mr Moran...

James Moran is one of Britain’s most successful writers right now. Off the back of a competition with the SciFi Channel, he penned horror-comedy Severance, and has gone to write for Torchwood, and most recently Doctor Who (The Fires Of Pompeii). Currently working on Spooks, Primeval, Law & Order and things he can’t tell us about, he stopped by the land of Den Of Geek for a drink and a chat…

Can we start by digging right back? You got your breakthrough with the SciFi Channel?Yeah, that was the first professional thing. I won a competition, they made my script, I saw the results and thought that this might be something I could get in to. Up until that point, I knew in the back of my mind that it was the thing I was best at, but you always doubt yourself. Was this a pipe dream?

Were you already writing?

Yes, but I wouldn’t send things anywhere. Very, very rarely. I’d send one thing, get rejected, and that would be it for a year. And there was a good six months to a year where I didn’t write anything at all. And in my head – I didn’t actually say that’s it, I’m not writing – but I think subconsciously I’d given up a little bit.

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I loved writing for the sake of it, but I thought this was stupid, I’m not a proper writer. So the short film with the SciFi Channel, it was a case of I could do this, and a validation as well. You just need that little push.And off the back of that, you got your agent?

Not so much off the back of it. People weren’t knocking at the door. It was just the point where I thought if I’m going to do this, I need to focus on it. You can’t just send something in once a year and hope you get discovered. So at the end of that year, I got stuff together and rewrote it. Made sure it was as good as it could be. Then I got a list of agencies, and I just thought I’m going to go through all the agencies one by one and start submitting stuff, constantly. Just treat it like you really want it, and I did really want it. I just got off my arse and started sending stuff out.

And that was only six or seven years ago?

That was 2002, yeah. End of 2002, beginning of 2003. I got the agent in February 2003, and that’s when I started writing Severance.

Were you writing full time then?

No! I still had a full time, five day a week day job. So it was quite exhausting. I’d be doing work stuff on a computer all day, nine to five. And then get home, have something to eat and then make myself go and sit at another computer! It’s just tiring and exhausting. You’ve been sit hunched over a computer all day using your mind, and when you get home you just want to sit down and watch telly. It was quite exhausting for a while! But you’ve got to do it.

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At what point did you think I am going to do it full time? Was that when Severance was sold?

Yeah. When they bought it, I thought this is a big deal. I could make a career out of this. Even then at the time I thought it might get made, maybe nobody will see it, maybe I’ll never sell anything again. Up until this time last year I was still thinking that this could all just go away – never take it for granted. Because I’d been quite late coming to it and had knockbacks and rejections. And a lot of people don’t make a living out of this, and they don’t make it. I just don’t want to be in that position, so I kept the day job for ages, way past the point at which I needed to.

It was this time last year when I had three TV jobs on the go, and other stuff lined up, and I thought I’m going to have income for another year. And at that point I thought I can make a career out of this. But not until that point.

That must have been quite a moment!

But even with that, still at the back of my mind you think that now you’ve said that…

Does that help you, though? That you don’t allow yourself to be secure, that you’re driving to make it better.

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It does and it doesn’t. Partly it’s like you’ve got to keep that kind of edge, I really want this. But at the same time it can be damaging. After Severance had come out, I had no other offers. I had nothing. And then you’re sitting there thinking I’ve got no money, I need to sell something quick. What is going to sell really quickly? And then you can’t think of anything, because you’re worrying about making a living.

You had six months after Severance where you didn’t know what was going to happen next?

Yeah, before and after. Around that whole period I thought surely I’m going to get offers – movie rewrites, you know – as usually happens. And my agent was quite surprised as well. It didn’t really happen, and I don’t know why. I think part of it may be I was pitching a movie around town, and I didn’t have any TV work, and movies are so difficult to get off the ground. But if I had a script to sell I might have sold that within a week. But trying to sell a pitch is really hard, and I don’t think that did me any favours either.One thing about your blog, there was the kid in the candy store feel around then? I loved the fact you took pictures of a London bus with Severance advertising, and comparing sales of the DVD to some random Coronation Street celebrity’s! You seemed bewildered?

I was, and I still am. I don’t think I’ll ever be unbewildered. It is just bizarre. Even now I have tons of TV work, and I’m like what’s going on? I’m writing telly programmes that are on telly! Even seeing my name, it’s like, what the hell is all that about. Because I am just a geek done good. My whole life, just growing up watching horror and sci-fi. The odd kid reading Stephen King. It’s an outsidery thing. It’s not like now. Back then if you played Dungeons and Dragons you were very much in the minority.

In the midst of Severance you seemed to get very involved in the production?

Well, I was there. In the movies the writer is slightly less important than the teaboy. I probably had as good an experience as you can have on your first movie, and they were all really nice. Really good to me. They brought me out to the set for five days, put me up, paid for everything.

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But at the same time I was less important than the teaboy. There’s a certain point when you sell the script and are doing the rewrites that yeah, you’re great, you’re the most important person. And then there’s a certain point at which you feel yourself being nudged out of the room. And part of that is because when the script is ready then you’ve done your job. Although I’d argue that there are always changes that need making.

But at a certain point it’s like, we need to make this now, spend millions of pounds, build things. You’re kind of in the way. So I understand it from that point of view. But in addition to that, there’s an undercurrent of we’re not really interested in you now. It’s kinda frustrating and annoying, but that’s how it is.

Severance seems to have had a knock on effect. We’ve just seen The Cottage come out, and you were going to be doing a film with its director, Paul Andrew Williams?

I was. The script I sold around town he was attached to direct for a couple of months, but then The Cottage got picked up, so he came to us and said he will still be available in eight months, but he didn’t know what he would want to do. I’ll back out now so you can find someone else, without leaving you in the lurch. Which I thought was fair enough. The decent thing to do.

You still hoping to get it made?

I hope so. I’m not currently involved with it, and I don’t know what’s happening. I hope so. It could get made tomorrow, it might never get made.

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Do you still get the same buzz from Severance? It’s 6.8 on the IMDB, always at the front of a HMV promotion. Does that ever get dull?

No, no, no! When I first appeared on the IMDB that was a huge thing for me because, hey, I’m on the IMDB. And then people started posting on the message board. People I will never meet in my entire life, talking about Severance. It was so cool. Literally every few days I go and check the message board! I have literally read every comment on it.For someone who has lived their career on the Internet – back in the late 90s you were reading all the boards – how much attention do you pay to it now? On your blog, you talk about going through the entire Outpost Gallifrey thread on your Torchwood episode!Yeah!

It’s a great site, but that’s a brutal place to get feedback.

Really, really is! That’s the thing. There’s reading it and being entertained, thinking about it. And then there’s taking notice of it. It’s kind of like reviews. You’ve either got to take them all seriously, or ignore them all.

I don’t buy that could be that easy at all.

It’s not. I say that, but still, with Severance – horror usually gets half good half bad reviews. A lot of people just don’t like the genre. Which is fine, but get whoever does like horror in the office to review it. Empire, they usually get Kim Newman, for instance. But in the case of Severance we were quite surprised. I knew it was good, but we got pretty much 90% good or excellent reviews, which was amazing, we were really pleased with. But 10% bad to awful reviews. Worst film, hated it.

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Which did you read the most of?

I read them all. But the ones you remember are the bad ones. We got such great reviews, I couldn’t remember a word of. But I can quote you word for word pretty much all the bad ones, they just stick in my mind. Why does this happen? Why wasn’t that explained? Well actually it was, it was in the first ten minutes when you obviously weren’t paying attention. It’s not like I’ve not made that clear.

When that pops up on message boards, are you tempted to wade in?

Very tempted, but if anything like that really annoys me, I give myself 24 hours and go back. It’s like an e-mail. Don’t send an angry e-mail, just leave it.

Would you say that’s the same with the other writers you’ve come into contact with, the generation brought up on the Internet?

Yeah. You can read them and enjoy the good ones, take the bad ones on the chin. Not everyone’s going to like everything, and that’s fine. It’s just one of those things. I look at stuff online, whatever it is, there’s comments. There are 5 or 10% of people who hate that, worst thing they’ve ever seen. Even on things like The Godfather. And I’m not saying Severance is like The Godfather – it clearly isn’t! – but you wouldn’t get Coppola reading a message board and thinking that classic gangster film I made that’s going to stand the test of time is rubbish, because DarthFred87 thought it was absolute shit.

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I’m at the lower end of the scale, but I know I did good work, and I know it’s a good movie. It’s never going to be in the top ten films of all time, and that’s cool, because what is?

It’s always the ones that hate it the most who watch it the most though.

I know, you just kind of think. Because even though you can dismiss it, you think I put so much work into that, how could you say that about it. But we all do it. There are things I hate that I will slag off, but it’s weird, when I read a bad review, my first thought is I’m nice, how dare they! But I’ve just come up from that side of it, where I’m a general geek, and then I think back to my own past and I think I posted scathing rants on message boards. And I think how awful, what if someone read that and went home and got all upset. But they wouldn’t.

I loved your seven deadly sins of horror. It read like a sort of manifesto. Do you have seven deadly sins of other genres, and do you find people pressure you into breaking your cardinal rules?

No. I mean, most of the people I’ve worked with in the last few years have been fairly clever and smart. Particularly the Torchwood and Doctor Who people. They’ve been doing this for years, if you say something, they instinctively know if it’ll work or won’t. Which is great, it makes you feel safe. They’re not going to let you mess it up.

Most people I’ve worked with would never say let’s have a heroine get in the car and have the killer in the back seat. They know. Because you meet them before you get working with them, and if they’re an idiot, you don’t work with them, because life is too short. There have been a couple of instances where – and I can’t name names – people I’ve been working with who are otherwise smart have come up with a fantastically stupid suggestion. And me as well. There are times when I’ve said something where they’ve said that’s rubbish, and I’m like, yeah it is isn’t it. But there have been times where people come up with stuff and it’s complete nonsense. And you look at them and want to go are you mad? Are you wrong in the head? Were you dropped as child? But instead you just explain why you can’t, it’s a bad idea, and why it’s a bad idea.

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The mechanic of your blog must have changed since you got the Torchwood and Doctor Who work?

Not really. I pretty much kept to the same attitude since the beginning, when there were five people reading it, and they were all my mates. But if I’m going to rant, I want to have a good reason for it. I was a nobody back then. I didn’t want to do this is rubbish, that’s rubbish, it’s all crap and everything. It would sound like sour grapes: I couldn’t get anything going myself, so I’ll slag everything else off.

So your own stuff needs to stand on its own two feet. Now I’ve got work, I just don’t want to publicly slag things off – and if it’s a UK thing, it’s one of my rules not to. There are some things I absolutely despise, and I could bend your ears for hours explaining just why they are so demented or wrong. But it would be easy to turn my blog into a rant. But you don’t want to read that every day. I want to tell stories about things that happened. A rant every now and then. But in general I just talk about the things I enjoy, because if it’s something I hate, then I stop watching it, there’s not that much more to be said about it.

So the big question, then. How the hell do you get a job on Torchwood and Doctor Who?

Er, persistence!

How much persistence?

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Sexual favours. Money. Begging. Pleading.

I was starting thinking of getting in the TV thing. I’d written a pilot for this production company that hasn’t been made yet, and I still hadn’t had a TV job or in-production show. Basically, my agent kept bombarding them, kept every few months going back, are there any slots, check this guy out, here’s his latest stuff. I think it was just one of those things.

He sent my latest stuff in, and they were in very early pre-production of Torchwood series two, and they were looking for writers. And they said yeah, let’s get him in for a meeting. And that’s it. I thought if I can get a meeting with them, then I know I can get the job, because I was watching it as a fan, and I know I’m a good fit for it, I know I can do a good episode, and I know I can bring something to it. Learn something from them, too.

They all seemed like really cool people to work with, quite easy to get on with.

Was it as nervous as pitching for a job, or the opposite: that you had the feeling that you were there, and were going to get on with it?

It was half and half. After selling a movie, this is the biggest chance I’ll have to get into TV. And it’s with the two biggest shows on the planet at the moment. That was the nerves of it. But also I thought if I go into it I need to come out of there thinking that even if I don’t get the job, I did everything I possibly could. You just have to go in and prepare basically, it was a general meeting, so I didn’t know what the score was. Do they give you the story, like on Doctor Who, or do you have to bring an idea in to them? Are they going to ask me for episode ideas there and then?

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I had a couple of weeks, so I rewatched most of the episodes. Read as much stuff online, debate and discussion. Made loads of notes for myself: what did I like about it, what did I not like? What would I like to do? What story would I like to tell?

And this is your over-preparing philosophy?

Yeah. And I thought they probably won’t ask me for an idea even if they want it, but just in case I want three solid episode ideas going into that. So if they say have you thought about doing an episode, I could say yeah, I could do this, and have tons of stuff to say. So I brainstormed and thought of three episodes ideas that I thought would make good episodes. And just over-prepared the crap out of it!

When I went in, at most of these meetings you’re going to go in and they say how did you get into writing, what kind of things do you like. Generally both of you talk about the shows you like and don’t like.

So it moved on and they asked what I thought of Torchwood, and I explained I’d been watching it as a fan, that I was a Doctor Who fan since I was a kid, and it was very much my thing, it was the thing I’ve always liked to watch. Which was true. I would never go into a show if I didn’t like it, because it’d be a waste of time. I wouldn’t want to write it.

So we had a good old chat about that, talked about the show itself, where I thought it would go, where they thought they could take it. And at the end they said it’d be great if you’d write an episode, why don’t you get an e-mail dialogue going with the script editor, who was there, and get a few episodes ideas going back and forth. And that was the end of the meeting. Even though I had those three ideas it wasn’t the time to say them. I know I have them, so that’s cool, it was the end of the meeting so just get out of there clean and don’t make a mess of it.

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I started e-mailing the script editor then, did a bit more work on my ideas to flesh them out a bit, and it kind of happened from there. From the three, they picked one, and then for the second meeting I did a big outline for it, just in case they asked for the rest of the story, which they did. So I told them the whole story.

Was it a quick process, once your foot was in the door?

It was pretty quick. That second meeting where I pitched them the whole story, they said great, would you write the outline for it over the Christmas break. I went home, my agent rang and said they’ve just phone up, they want to commission you.

Was that the running out into the street moment?

Pretty much! That was pretty nice! Because it’s a show that’s in production, and TV, and it moves quite quickly. They give it the time it needs, but they don’t mess around. They just say let’s have an outline, let’s do this, and then they get you straight back in for another meeting. You’ve got a week to do the next outline and so on. It’s like a constant movement.

How soon after that did Doctor Who fall into place? Was your Torchwood episode in production?

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Yeah. It was the tone meeting, so I was coming into Cardiff for that. And they asked me to come in an hour earlier. Just to have a chat with Russell [T Davies] and Julie [Gardner] but they wouldn’t tell me what it was. And this is a week before. I knew what it was. I thought it’s got to be Doctor Who. They knew I was a huge Doctor Who fan, and there was nothing else it could really be with that much secrecy.

They initiated that off your Torchwood work presumably?

Yeah. Because I don’t want to ask. Torchwood’s going really well, and I was doing lots of work on it. And I was like, you know, if there are no slots for Doctor Who, or if they’re just too busy, or if they don’t think I’m right for it and I say “can I do a Doctor Who?”, it would just be awkward. They know I’m a fan. They know what I’m like, and that I’m quite happy to do the work on it. If there’s something, they’ll offer it to me. I’m not going to ask. If they say nothing, and then the last day as I’m leaving when it’s all over, then I’ll say “oh by the way, I’m very much available for Doctor Who”. And then I’d leave it.So they called you in, and you knew what they were going to talk about, but not exactly what they were going to talk about.

They didn’t tell me, no. So I came in, and sat down, and there’s Russell and Julie, and the script editor, and I just sat down and thought that there’s going to be ten minutes of chit chat here before they tell me what it is. And I was quivering with excitement. But there wasn’t. It was hello, we all sat down, Russell just said “So, James Moran, would you like to write an episode of Doctor Who?”

Was that the exact phrase?

It’s exactly word for word what he said! It was half past ten, on Wednesday morning, on May 9th last year. Fixed in my mind! I was like, “oh my God”, screamed a bit, “yes!”, and they all laughed at me for a good five minutes because I went purple and couldn’t quite speak for a bit. And again because they don’t mess around, they said it’s Pompeii, this is what you’re doing, they gave me the whole brief.

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So the opposite of Torchwood, then?

Yeah. I knew on Doctor Who you get given what to do.

How detailed a brief did you get?

They said it was going to be Pompeii, day of, day before the eruption, and that was pretty much it. They said that they wanted a big moral dilemma of do you save these people, they said we want – because it’s such a big disaster – that we want to come into it through the eyes of one family. If you can focus on a family and stay with them, it personalises it a bit. Makes it more real.

Did that help?

Oh yeah, it really helped. It was like they say, it’s such a big thing, he needs someone that we as an audience can engage with, otherwise it’s a load of anonymous people running around screaming. But whatever you want to do. I want some sort of fire creature living under the volcano. That was all he said about them. You can do whatever you want with them, they can be good, or evil, or the cause of it, or not. I just liked that, the image. And I want a scene where they’re in an escape pod or some sort of ship that’s in the eruption and firing out the top of the volcano. Just because it was an image they wanted. But work that in wherever you can.

And they wanted to give the family names. From that Latin course…

… the Cambridge Latin course? That wasn’t you, then?!

No, Russell. He did that course. He just loved it, and they all did, because it was a real family. Because at the end of each lesson you got a slice of life about how they lived. It was great. And they all got killed – it was really horrible. So he wanted to do a little tribute to them.

It sounds like you get served a lot of detail. Did you find there was room to weave your own ideas in?

Yeah, yeah.

It sounds quite precise, though.

They give you a good few specific things, but as long as you get them in, you can do whatever the hell you want. So I had the setting and the time, which was great, because – even though I didn’t know it was Doctor Who, I’d prepared three episode ideas just in case. And they were hard to think of, because you can go anywhere in time. So they give you the setting, the idea to do it through a family, the fire creatures, and this scene and that. Apart from that, it was pretty flexible.

So did the story come together quite easily for you?

Yeah, I went off and thought about it for about a week and came up with as many ideas as I could, did a rough outline, and once I’d done that we had several meetings. With me, the script editor, Russell, Julie and Phil the producer. We all just discussed it, they’d give notes, and we’d finesse the storyline and stuff.

Did it gel quickly?

Pretty quick, yeah. Because I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do. And so did they, and they both merged quite well.

And then after the meeting where they offered you Doctor Who, you had to go into a Torchwood meeting?!

I know, I know! Which was weird.

What were you like in that meeting?

I was dazed for about ten minutes! I went in and sat down, and sat next to Chris Chibnall, who was the lead on Torchwood at the time…

… and did he know?

He knew, yeah. So I sat next to him, and he said congratulations, and I laughed! I was just about getting it into my head before we started. And he was like, “so, in about a year’s time, we’re gonna be watching Doctor Who and see your name come up”. And I hadn’t even thought about that!

You wrote about it on your blog, but there was a realisation that hit you that eight or nine million would be watching something your wrote. Was that something that collapsed onto you?

It’s a huge thing, and it’s quite crazy and weird. You can’t get it into your head. It’s too big. It doesn’t make sense.Just looking round where we’re sitting now, one in six or seven watched your episode…!

I know! It makes no sense at all. And because it’s Doctor Who, it’s the biggest thing on telly at the moment.

And it was what you always wanted to do?

Yeah, exactly.So were you sat there in the 80s watching, and thinking I could have a crack at that?Well, I’ve been watching it since the mid 70s, literally since as long as I could remember.Who was your Doctor?

Tom Baker, and also Peter Davison, because I was there for the changeover. But mainly Tom Baker. I don’t remember what the first one I saw was, because I’ve been watching it for that long.One thing I picked up that Russell T Davies said in interviews was that he rewrites some scripts a lot. Did he do much tinkering with yours?

Yeah, kind of. It was a year ago now, so it’s difficult to tell. Reading it now it’s quite hard to tell who did what, because I knew that going in, that he does a polish on everything. So it’s kind of weird, I read it and wonder did I do that line, or did he? I genuinely can’t remember a lot of it. Because it’s not like … it’s hard to explain … I’ve been rewritten before, and it’s never nice, but it’s the only time where I got the rewrite back, and I was like, wow, this stuff is really cool. Because it fitted in so well, and it felt like stuff I’d done. Even the stuff I didn’t do.And presumably back then you knew you were writing for the David Tennant-Catherine Tate mechanic as well?

Yeah, yeah. He does that polish, to make sure the show is consistent.

He layers in clues, too?

Yeah. Plenty of that, stuff that I didn’t know what was going on.

And you’re none the wiser what the clues that were put into your episode are leading up to?

Not at all. I know there’s a couple of things that refer to something, but I don’t know what that something is. There’s a few things where I don’t know if it’s a clue, or a bit of dialogue.

How did the process compare to writing Torchwood? Was the rewrite shaping work anywhere near the same?

I didn’t get rewritten on Torchwood at all. I don’t know if that’s the case for everyone, of if it’s just different on that show. Russell’s so much more hands on with Doctor Who. And it’s harder to write for, so he wants to make sure – as would I – everything has the same tone.

2007 was a good year for you then?!

Yeah, yeah!

The episode that you wrote, you seemed to spend the entirety of the BBC’s budget on that. Were you aware what was coming out of other bits of the BBC? Because I remember Russell T Davies naming you as blowing his entire budget in his Radio Times piece! By the sounds of it, he spent a good chunk of it himself!

I think the correct phrasing is “We put the gun in James’ hands, and told him to blow the budget”. I was just the messenger! I was just following orders, Captain!

It was one of those things when they first offered me the job, they said we wanted to do it in the first series, but we couldn’t, because the budget didn’t work out. And the only reason we can do it now is because we can do two days location filming on the Rome sets. Had we had to build those sets…! We saved money by doing that, but we had to balance that out by having at least x amount of pages inside the villa which was built in Cardiff. We can afford this much of that, and this much of that, and if we build the villa, that’ll balance it out, because we can build a set for every episode.

A lot happened in your episode, too. You crammed a lot of dialogue in there, too?

Yeah, yeah. There’s quite a bit of stuff happening in the villa, which was used for other sets too. The villa is their house, but there are so many bits to it. There’s one bit where they just kind of rearranged some other stuff and that was Lucius’ house. It was very clever.

How involved were you with in terms of readthroughs, going on set? We said before that the writer was just below the level of the teaboy, but this one must have been special?

The writer is the teaboy in movies, but in TV, the writer is very important. On Torchwood I was there for the tone meeting, the readthrough, the designs, I was on set. They kept me involved every single step of the way. They let me know stuff whether I needed to know it or not, just in case it was helpful.

Were you happy with that?

Yeah, I love it.

Because you wrote on your blog that you don’t seem to have a particular urge to be directing or producing?

Well, I can change my mind every few months. I would like to direct, but it’s like a year or two out of your life where you can just do one thing. And I don’t know if I want to do that.

What about television directing?

Maybe, maybe not. In TV, as a TV writer, the next step up the ladder from that would be producer, or executive producer. In TV, the director isn’t as powerful as a movie director. In TV, it’s like the writers are the bosses, and the exec producers. Executive producer on the show a lot of the time means the head writer, because someone has to be in charge who is writing, otherwise it’s going to go wrong.

The bit that I was jealous about was your viewing party, when you sat in your lounge to watch your episode!

That was crazy, yeah! Had some friends over from Dublin, got a load of booze and sat down and just watched it. Everyone cheered when my name came up. Then it finished, and we all just got horribly drunk.

I did it for the Torchwood episode as well, it’s just so cool. Because you’re watching it at the same time as everyone else. That’s the cool thing about TV: when a film goes out, when I go to the cinema to see it, I’m watching it with that roomful of people. But there are showings on throughout the day. Yet when they show an episode on TV, that is the main showing, and you know that the people who are watching it are watching it right now. So I knew when I sat down to watch my Doctor Who that there’s going to be around eight million people watching this. It just blows my mind, it really does. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.

Are you planning to do more Torchwood and Doctor Who?

If they’ll have me!

Are you at a point where you still have to pitch for it.

I don’t know. It depends for different things. They know I will do as many more as they want to give me. On those two shows, they’re in charge and they appoint who they appoint. So if they have room, and they want to get me back, then they will. Doctor Who’s done four series now, and they have differing writers for each one. They have different people for different things. It changes around all the time.

Is there a closeness between the Doctor Who and Torchwood writers?

Yeah, kind of. You don’t often get to meet them.

When you go for a meeting, it’s usually about your episode, so they aren’t there. But I’ve met them in general. We all, because there’s nobody else we can talk to about it, we e-mail each other and go for drinks and stuff. It’s not like we all get together once a month or something. But there is that thing that we’re in the same kind of gang, we have shared experiences.

It’s just nice to be able to e-mail or talk to someone about it, and say “did you feel weird when that happened”, “isn’t that crazy”. It’s really cool.

How are you finding the conventions?

I love it! It’s great fun, because in this business you don’t really get famous, which is great. Because I don’t want to be that famous. It would be mad. If I was David Tennant, I couldn’t be sitting here talking to you. And I’m sure it’s lovely for a while, but if I couldn’t just go down the street and get a coffee somewhere, it’d be maddening.

But the American Gallifrey convention, I went there and for three days you are that famous. Because it’s all in the one hotel, most of the people staying in the hotel are there for the convention. You walk down the corridor to the toilet, or get a coffee, and everyone in there is looking at you, or saying “there’s that guy”, coming over to you to say hello. Just happy to see you. For three days you’re super-famous, because they’ve seen you on stage and know who you are. And it’s brilliant, so cool.

That suits you that you can switch that off?

Exactly, yeah. It’s three days and I don’t have to work, meet people, and it’s a good laugh, and great fun.

Doctor Who, Torchwood and Severance are three high profile projects for a British writer. Presumably now it’s the cumulative force of those that’s opened doors for you?

Yeah. As soon as I got the Torchwood gig, and I’d been trying to get into TV for ages, as soon as I got that job, I started getting people ringing up wanting to meet me for this project, that project.

The same people you’d been trying to get meetings with before?

Some. Some were new. I was chatting to Chris Chibnall when I first got the job. He said that’s going to happen, people are always trying to poach our writers. It’s that old kind of thing – when you’re single, nobody’s interested. As soon as they see you’re not, they’re like he must be alright. It’s the same in this business. People see that I got the Torchwood and Doctor Who gig, so they assume that I’m a decent writer in demand. Therefore they need to get me on their show. It’s really bizarre. All of a sudden I’m in demand.

You’ve mentioned you’re working on three projects right now: a Spooks spin-off, Primeval and Law & Order UK. They came off the Torchwood/Doctor Who work?

Kind of, yeah. I was up for the second series of Primeval, but I didn’t meet them til quite late. And I was going to be in it, but they’d already filled all their slots, and it turned out they didn’t need me. So they got me back for series three.

Are you having fun with Primeval?

Yeah, I’m pretty much finished. We had the read through last week, which was good fun, and I think they’re filming it in a couple of weeks. I can relax now!

Do you have a breathe out moment?

Yeah, pretty much. You’re sort of working on it non-stop, and then there comes a point where they say thanks for that.

Primeval is another effects-driven show. What kind of constraints do they put upon you, or is their space to let your imagination run wild?

Kind of. They give you a rough outline. They work out most of the series ahead of time. They give you an outline, and what your creature is.

I hope you’ve got a good creature…

I’ve got a very good one, yeah! I’ve got a picture of it at home. They’ve done a rough artists’ rendering of it, so I know what it looks like.

And they don’t reuse effects on it anymore do they? It’s all new stuff.

Yeah. The last time I went in they were location scouting, so before I did my final draft they showed me pictures of where it was going to be. They ask you not to do things that are really expensive, or too difficult, or don’t look good. Stuff like try not to have a creature in water – that’s not actually something they said, but that kind of thing.

You’re clearly having a lot of fun with television, and you seem to enjoy the speed of it a lot. Is that partly because of your movie experience?

Movies are so bloody slow. They take ages, and they’ll mess around with outlines for so long, because they’re putting a lot of money into one thing. That one thing has to work. In TV, we don’t have time, we’ve got thirteen episodes to do, let’s get on with it. There’s less time to faff around, which means you have to get it right very quickly.

So is it TV more for the next couple of years?I think so. I’m certainly not in any rush to go back to films. A couple of things have popped up as potential things, because I’m doing TV, I’m not focused on them completely, which is great because films take so long.

How are Law & Order and Spooks coming along?

Spooks: Code 9, used to be called Spooks: Liberty, used to be called Rogue Spooks, soon to be called something else probably! That’s done. That was a very fast production, I came in quite late, got the job just before Christmas, and they were filming my episode on the 18th of February.

Do you ever get Christmas holidays!

I haven’t for the past two years! It’s usually just an outline or two, they’ll meet you before Christmas and say can you just get the outline to us after the holidays. And I do it because I want the job, but it’s like will you be in the office all during Christmas? No, I didn’t think so! It takes over your life. I didn’t write on Christmas day, but it’s in the back of your mind: I have to get on with it, I have to get on with it. I haven’t had a holiday literally for years.

Code 9 they filmed it, and I think it’ll be on in May or June, but I’m not sure. It’ll be on TV fairly soon.

Lots of viewing parties in your house this year then?


Are there many more secret projects bubbling under?

There are, yes, but I can’t say!

Any clues as to quantity?

Three others, three TV things that I’m doing an episode of.

Anything you’ve done before?

It may be, it may not be.

I have to try!

I have to be really careful!

Keep up to date with the world of James Moran at his excellent blog, which you can find here.

More Doctor Who-related interviews at Den Of Geek:

Peter DavisonThe fifth Doctor Who, Peter Davison, talks exclusively to Geek about wobbly sets, Time Crash, type-casting and his opinion on the crappiest Who monster ever.

Elizabeth Sladen Possibly the most revered -certainly the most in-demand- of the Doctor Who assistants, Elizabeth Sladen talks about malfunctioning robot dogs, dodgy fan mail and corsets.

Louise Jameson Doctor Who’s Leela, Louise Jameson, talks to Martin about conventions, Tom Baker, Mary Whitehouse and The Omega Factor.

Sophie Aldred Sophie Aldred talks to Den of Geek about Ace, Doctor Who, John Nathan Turner and hairy armpits…

Nick Briggs The voice of the Daleks speaks – surprisingly politely and without any threats of extermination- to DoG about bringing life to the UK’s favourite scary villain.

Colin Salmon Billed as a future James Bond, Doctor Who guest-star Colin Salmon – who appeared in a central role in Resident Evil – talks to Den Of Geek.

And also, why not check out our look at who could have been Doctor Who?