James Moran on writing Torchwood: Children Of Earth

The third season of Torchwood: Children Of Earth, finally begins, and we’ve tracked down one of its writers, James Moran, for a chat about it…

Torchwood: Children Of Earth

Writer James Moran’s list of credits has continued to swell over the last year or two. After penning the hit horror comedy Severance, he has since written for Doctor Who, Torchwood, Spooks: Code Nine and Primeval, for instance. And he’s also penned one of the five episodes that form the third season of Torchwood: Children Of Earth, which starts on BBC One tonight.

What’s more, he also took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for us, about just what we’ve got in store…

When did it first become clear that Torchwood was moving to a new format for its third season? And when did you get involved?

I was approached for the third season when the plan was to do a normal 13-episode run on BBC2 again. They asked all the writers to come and do some storyline brainstorming, to get some cool arc stuff going, so I was looking forward to that. Then suddenly it went quiet for a while, I suspected the worst, but they were actually in talks about possibly doing the five part season. Once they agreed on it, they came back to me, and said they’d like me to still be part of it – but now as one of only three writers, which was a huge thrill, but also a lot of responsibility.

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Presumably it changes the writing brief you are given quite a lot if you have to fit your episode into such a tight run?

Because it was one big story, the three writers got together with Russell, Julie, and the producer, director, and script editor, and spent two days brainstorming the entire storyline. Russell had the original idea, and so we all spent those two days figuring it all out, from beginning to end. We threw all sorts of crazy ideas in, they never held us back or talked budgets at that point, we mainly worried about nailing down the plot and characters.

Once that was done, we knew roughly what happened in each episode, where each one started and ended. So we then went and did our episode outlines, and then went to script, going through the normal drafts and notes process – but we’d also read each other’s work and talk it all through, having several more meetings. It was really good fun, very creative. And then once we’d done a few drafts, that’s when we started trying to slim down the budget, trim any smaller speaking roles that weren’t essential, etcetera  – all little TV things that get the costs down.

Also, how did it affect the overall process? You’ve talked in the past about the rewriting process on Doctor Who, but did your script have to go through many revisions to fit into the chronology of the series particularly?

We’d worked out all the episodes and the story, so we always knew where each episode started and stopped, so that there wouldn’t be any overlap. It wouldn’t have been possible otherwise, because me and John [Fay] were writing episodes two and three before Russell had done episode one. Knowing where we all were meant that we didn’t need to worry about contradicting each other.

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Once I’d done about five drafts of episode three, it went over to Russell, who took over from there. And then we had a readthrough of episodes one, two and three, one after another, which was amazing – and that’s when we noticed any little inconsistencies that needed fixing. Now I explain it all, it sounds horribly complicated and difficult! But it went pretty smoothly. Although it took us ages to figure out the ending, and how to make it make sense.

What can you tell us about your episode?

Very little without spoiling the plot of episodes one and two! It’s one big story split into five episodes, so I can’t really say. Although watch out for the chopping board action, I’m very pleased with that.

What are your thoughts on the move to five episodes? Obviously John Barrowman has made some strong comments on it, that he feels Torchwood is being ‘punished’, and Russell T Davies has defended the move. What are your views?

When we were told the news, everyone was really excited about it, it felt like a huge deal, and a reward – promotion to BBC1, and a huge, week-long event. That’s the word they used, “event” TV – so it was never like that, really. It always felt like a big step up. Obviously more episodes is always good, but this enabled us to tell a huge story that we’d never have been able to do otherwise. I’m glad it happened, there’s stuff in there that would never have made it into a normal episode.

Where do you think this third season leaves Torchwood, given that the end of season two left it, arguably, in a darker place anyway?

Again, if I say too much, trained BBC snipers will tranquillise me and throw me to the Weevils, so I can’t really say. But to keep it vague, I think it leaves things nicely ready and set up for a fourth season, if that happens. And if they decide to give the licence fee to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, and the BBC gets packed up and sent into space, then it could also work as an ending to the show. Although none of that means anything, so please don’t start sending me angry messages based on something you think I’ve said or something you think will happen. I didn’t say anything, none of this exists, and I was never here.

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Have you seen the finished version of Children Of Earth? If so, what did you think?

I have seen all five episodes, they sent me the DVDs. It’s amazing stuff, I loved it. Obviously I’m going to say that, but I really do mean it, it’s epic stuff. It’s proper Torchwood, but feels new and different at the same time. It takes things to a whole new level, but gives you all the Torchwood shenanigans you’d expect – fun, warmth, action, banter, and hot man on man action.

Can you tell us if you’re involved in the next season of Doctor Who at all? Or in any future Torchwood work?

No idea yet. Haven’t heard anything about Who, and it’s too early to tell with Torchwood, we won’t know anything until the ratings come in. So please watch!

Can you tell us anything of your future projects?

I’ve got a few TV series in the works, am hoping they’ll get picked up so that I can be in charge of my own show – that’s the next step. Early days still, but I’m hopeful. I also have a couple of possible movie projects – one original job, one rewrite job, and I’m just finishing two spec scripts that will hopefully go out soon. Again, it’s all up in the air, but that’s because I’m trying lots of new things. And only two of the many projects are episodes of other people’s shows. I still love doing those, but I’m taking on less work this year – partly because I got completely exhausted last year, partly so I can work on my own things and hopefully set something up.

So fingers crossed, maybe there’ll be an original series by me on TV in a year or so… Otherwise I’m afraid I’ll have to kill everyone who is reading this. Don’t question it, it’s part of my creative process. I’m an artist, man.

James Moran, thank you very much! And you can keep up with him over at his blog, right here.

Interviews at Den Of Geek