By the time the new season of Doctor Who premieres on New Year’s Day the beloved time travel show will have been off the air for a full year. But showrunner Chris Chibnall believes Whovians will find the first pair of episodes worth the wait.
“We start with a two-part, two-hour massive event story,” says Chibnall. “It is an absolute action-packed, location-packed, rollercoaster ride of a story. Probably one of our biggest stories ever in the history of the show. So, we’re coming back with a bang, I think, is the shorthand phrase.”
Written by the showrunner, the adventure is called “Spyfall” and part one airs Jan. 1 at 8 p.m. on BBC America. The story finds MI6 turning to the Doctor and her friends for help after intelligence agents around the world are under attack from alien forces. The episode guest stars British actors Stephen Fry and Lenny Henry.
“Stephen’s a big fan of the show,” says Chibnall. “I think one of the great joys of doing my job is the people you think must have been in the show but haven’t. And Stephen was one of them. We had a part, and I said to our brilliant casting director Andy Pryor, ‘Well of course, if you could have anybody for this part, you’d have Stephen Fry.’ He said, ‘Well, we can ask.’ And Stephen wonderfully leapt at it. Hs was delighted to be in it, but not as delighted as everybody on the production was to have him working with us.”
Chibnall knew Henry from working with him on the third season of the British crime show Broadchurch, which the Doctor Who showrunner created. “He’s one of those people who, again, you think, why haven’t you been in Doctor Who?” says Chibnall. “And he’s also a huge Doctor Who fan. So, it’s a joy to have him in the opening two-parter. He plays a really great part and he plays it beautifully.”
Below, Chibnall talks about another guest star, the Doctor herself, and which old monsters we will see in the new season — and check out some photos from the season premiere.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It has been announced that Goran Visnjic is another of this season’s guest stars. Who does he play?
CHRIS CHIBNALL: He plays Nikola Tesla in an episode set in 1903, New York. As you’ll know, Tesla was an underappreciated scientific genius who also claimed in real life that he received messages from Mars. So, if that’s not a Doctor Who story waiting to happen, I don’t know what is! We had a brilliant script by a writer named Nina Metivier, and we sent him the script, and within 48 hours he’d accepted. I have to say that when we were thinking about it we were like, there’s really only one man who can do this part, what if he says no? But luckily he accepted with alacrity and he’s just brilliant. It’s a really great episode, and it’s got some fab new monsters in it as well, which, as I’m talking to you, I’m thinking of them, and it’s making me smile a lot.
How would you compare this season to the first run of shows to star Jodie Whittaker?
The previous season, there were a lot of standalone episodes. I think any time you have a new Doctor it’s a jumping on point for the show, and you’re recruiting new viewers, and hoping you’re bringing along the existing viewers, and it’s a way in. This season, we’ll be delving deeper into the Doctor Who universe. There will be some returning monsters. You will be going to places and investigating things we didn’t have the space to explore last year. So, it’s deeper into the Doctor, deeper into the Doctor Who world, deeper into the lives of the companions. We’re just kind of carrying on on our journey and going deeper.
Would you say the Doctor is different in this season compared to the last?
I would say that the Doctor, over time, each incarnation has an evolution. There are areas of the Doctor’s character that you want to go into and you want to explore. There are lots of facets of the thirteenth Doctor that we explore this year that we didn’t have space or time to explore last year. There are some very big and profound challenges coming for the Doctor in this year’s series.
Did the reaction to the previous season, either positive or negative, affect the way you approached this one?
No, not really. We don’t tend to pay too much attention to it. I think generally we got the sense that people really loved Jodie, and really loved these characters, and we were already writing as that was going out. The plan was always to do more two-parters, to have some returning monsters this year. I think the general acclaim for the thirteenth Doctor was a lovely little boost. But generally we stay away from all that stuff.
Can you tease any of the other settings?
Well, we go all over the place. We’re globe-trotting quite a bit. We go to contemporary Gloucester, Clark! We broke the budget and went to Gloucester Cathedral! We have several alien planets, some interesting space ships and space stations, and we go to Lake Geneva at one point. I can’t tell you much more.
The Judoon are back?
The Judoon are back. The intergalactic space police with rhino heads in leather-clad uniforms are stomping back. Yeah, they’ve got a big case to investigate and it’s going to be quite seismic.
Will there be Daleks?
I wouldn’t expect Daleks this series, Clark, no.
Are you being serious?
Yes, I’m being serious. You might want to expect Cybermen though.
Is it true there is an episode featuring Mary Shelley?
There might be. It would be a great setting for a Doctor Who episode, wouldn’t it?
What can you say about the companions this time around?
Well, in the first year, the Doctor saved their lives, and showed them the universe, and so they were sort of reeling from all of that. This year, they’re much more accustomed to traveling in the TARDIS, you’ll see them on their own a bit more, going to smaller units. But the big thing this year is, you know, she saved them last year, this year she’s really going to need them.
Watch the trailer for the new Doctor Who above and see images from the season premiere, below.