July 25, 2013
By Seth Arenstein
To begin its 16th season, BBC America touted the 50th anniversary season of “Dr. Who” (Nov 23 premiere) at TCA and a film about the first Dr. Who, among other shows. Much TCA buzz surrounded the final season for the current Dr. Who, Matt Smith. Why Smith is leaving and who will replace him received vague responses. “It’s just the right time to leave…it was a hard choice…I love the show and I’ll miss it,” Smith, the youngest man to portray the good doctor, said. Producer Marcus Wilson said the net’s “been cast wide” for Smith’s replacement, who will be the 12th Doctor. Wilson said the 50th anniversary season was made to be “accessible” to those who’ve never seen the series. “It’s about universal themes like hope and adventure and it’s very heroic,” Wilson said. Asked to sum up the series for non-viewers, Smith joked, “Dr. Who can travel forward and backward in time and he picks up a lot of hot chicks.”
Dr. Who is more than a great sci-fi series. The series was championed by the first female producer at the BBC and its initial episode was helmed by the network’s first Indian director. Timed to coincide the Doctor’s 50th anniversary, “An Adventure in Time and Space” (Nov premiere) tells the story of the first Dr, actor William Hartnell (played by David Bradley); producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine); and director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan). A clip showed the struggle that Lambert, Hussein and BBC Drama Chief Sydney Newman (Brian Cox) endured getting the series started. Production values also impressed TCA critics. In fact, Director Terry McDonough said he used original set plans to re-create the look of the series’ first season. The film also examines the choice to cast Hartnell, the sometimes troubled 55-year-old actor who played the first Doctor. Bradley spoke with people who worked with Hartnell. “They told me he was charming, but he had his [off] days,” he said.
Hoping to tap into the fantasy trend, BBCA will premiere “Atlantis” on the heels of Dr. Who in Nov. The series has Jason (Jack Donnelly) washing up in an ancient land filled with Greek characters from mythology and reality, including Hercules, Pythagoras and Medusa. No need to find your Greek mythology text, however; “We play fast and loose with mythology…it gives us a lot material,” creator and exec prod Howard Overman said. For example, played by pudgy, 50-year-old Mark Addy, Hercules is far from the muscular he-man we’d expect. Addy thought the producers “were drunk” when they asked him to play the part. In season one, we see Medusa (Jemima Rooper) before she’s discovered her hirsute powers. And “there’s no guarantee that my head will be cut off,” Rooper said. While the series’ plots can get dark, “there’s always humor to counterbalance it,” said creator and exec prod Johnny Capps.
There seems to be little or no humor in “Broadchurch” (Aug 7 premiere), a present-day drama about a child who’s found dead on the beach of a small resort town in Britain. Unlike some series, Broadchurch will reveal the boy’s killer at the end of its 8-ep run, said stars Olivia Colman, Jodi Whitaker and David Bradley. The cast was in the dark during most of the filming, they said. In fact, Colman insists the series is more about the how and why than the traditional whodunit. And the story is heightened, Colman said, because it’s such an awful thing occurring in a nice place.
In other BBCA news, there will be season II premieres for the following: “Orphan Black” (April ’14), “In The Flesh” (spring), “Ripper Street” (Dec 1). Also on the slate is the return of “Law and Order UK” (Aug 7), “Luther” (Sept 3) and a film, “Burton and Taylor” (Oct 20) and a series about James Bond creator Ian Flemming in Jan ’14.