Image: Creative Commons
[Lashara Van Heerden | Features Manager]
With this week’s parter of the ‘Zygon Invasion’ and ‘Zygon Inversion’ now over it’s time to talk to Daniel Nettheim, the director of Doctor Who episodes seven and eight.
With clear allegories of terrorism, migration, refugees, modern-day global and political events, Doctor Who had us all glued to our seats with a Zygon insurgency.
“It all took the form of aliens living on Earth amongst us, which was a really neat way of exploring questions of race, identity and topical issues like that… Whereas a lot of the episodes so far had been set in the past or on other planets. This was very much set on Earth,” says Nettheim.
Nettheim explains that the two-part series “was a very contemporary urban adventure, an urban thriller really… So I kind of thought, lets give Doctor Who a Jason Bourne-styled adventure.”
He admits that he hadn’t actually watched Doctor Who much since the Doctor was played by Tom Baker, but “[his] own kids have really been into it since David Tennant.”
Essentially, Nettheim got the job directing Doctor Who because of his agent’s son, “who was the same age as Remy [Nettheim’s son],” and his children’s fandom of the show.
Nettheim recalls that the agent had said “You know I would get so much kudos with my son if I could get him onto the set of Doctor Who,” to which Nettheim replied, “so would I.” So, they made it happen, just so that they could be “cool dads” says Nettheim grinning proudly. Mission accomplished.
The episodes were filmed for five weeks in South Wales and Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands “which was standing in for New Mexico,” says Nettheim.
Reflecting on the unusualness of the show, Nettheim explains that there were some “crazy conversations pre-production.”
“Normally on set, like if you are working on a police show, you would be looking at different models of cars going, ‘which car would you prefer – this one or this one? What kind of gun would you like – this one or this one? What sort of shirt will the character wear?
“Whereas conversations on Doctor Who were things like, ‘When we make the alien cave, how big is it going to be? How many aliens do you want to see?’ And then we were dealing with Zygons, which is essentially men dressed up in rubber suits.
“So that was all about how are we going to light and film this to make it look less like a man in a rubber suit and more like a scary alien. And because we’ve only got two of those rubber suits we can only ever see two in one shot at the same time – how are we going to be creative to make it look like the Zygons are invading the earth?”
The most respect, according to Nettheim, was probably “given to the people in the alien costumes, because once they are in them, every square inch of their body is covered in very heavy rubber… They are really debilitating for the actors inside and painful.” Nettheim added that the actors were allowed to take their legs off at lunchtime.
Apparently ‘monster actors’ are a real thing. There are actors who specialise in art of monsterdom. Many of the Zygons who appeared in the past two episodes were experienced Zygons and monsters.
“At one stage I did have an actor who was a very experienced monster actor, but he was in the Zygon suit for the first time and he found it very hard going, like a claustrophobia going on – mild panic attacks… We had to remember to be very very respectful of these monster actors and what they were going through.
“I would spend a day on set with these actors who were big red bloggy Zygons, you know I had spent weeks on set, and I had never seen their real faces.” Nettheim guiltily admits that at one point, “some guy I had never seen before was walking out of a makeup trailer and he said: ‘Hey Dan. Hi’, and I am looking at him like, ‘Do I know you?’” And he had to say: “Its me, Aiden, the Zygon. We have been working together for the past four weeks.”
When asked if he has any advice for young directors Nettheim thinks:
“it is really helpful to have a focused career plan… I think the people who see themselves as wanting to be a feature movie director it is a bit kind of vague and general… You don’t just fall into that. Focusing on something like commercials, or music videos, or TV drama, it is really good to work out. If you are going to do this professionally, how you are going to earn a living and then consciously tailor the work you are doing to try and get you into that place.”
When speaking about his recent projects Nettheim notes that Doctor Who, Humans and Line of Duty were some of his recent professional highlights. “For some reason I have become the Sci-Fi guy. By default, I fell into it,” he adds laughing.