The unsung hero of time-travel show Doctor Who and its spin-offs isn't K-9 the tin dog, it's executive producer Julie Gardner. She's kept the flashing light from flying off the top of the Police Box time machine since the beginning. We were lucky enough to sit down with her at Comic-Con and ask her about Doctor Who's success, the evolution of Torchwood, and why Sarah Jane Smith is still . The interview includes spoilers for the Sarah Jane Adventures.
Does Doctor Who's popularity prove people love science fiction? Or is there something else going on?
I think it's both, actually. I think people do live scifi, and they love the bigness of it, and they love the big emotions. That's what I love about scifi, I love that things are writ large. I think that 's on a bigger canvas in a way. There's something extrarodinary in its [popularity]. I can't even pretend to know what it is. Children write to us, and they write stories and they draw pictures, and there's a real interaction and a real engagement, and they see the Doctor as their friend, and they go on adventures and they really are travineling with him and there's a great engagement of their imaginations, and I've never experienced that before. And obviously Russell T. Davies and Steven were enormous fans.
You weren't a fan before?
I dipped in and out, and expeirenced a little bit of it... I've become a huge fan now, through rediscovering the classic series. When I first worked on Doctor Who, [Russell T. Davies] sent me a viewing list. "This is what you need to know."
What was on it?
I knew you were going to ask me that. "Pyramids Of Mars," "City Of Death," which is my absolute favorite, "Talons Of Weng Chiang." "City Of Death" was the first time I really understood it, and started to understand that this show can do anything. You've got Tom Baker being amazing, you've got a shoot on a limited budget in Paris, exteriors only obviously. You've got the cheekiness of him going back in time to meet Leonardo Da Vinci, you've got the scale and the fun and the imagination that was gob-smacking. Personally the type of scifi I've never been able to engage in is things like Star Trek. I've never been a Star Trek fan. It's an amazing show. I can conaprpeciate it, but it doesn't connect with me, it's cold scifi. I love Smallville, I love Buffy. Stuff that deals with emotions and families, but has an extra element to it. It's a mx of the ordinary and the extraordinary. There are sesaons for scifi. There are times when i think psychologically nations want that feel-good factor, and the scale of it... the the confidence, the scale or the swagger of it.
So during times of war and crisis, people need scifi more?
Yes. You want your comedies, or your musicals, or your epic emotion, which is real emotion, but on an epic canvas.
When I talk about cold scifi... There's a huge cleverness to Star Trek which is tantalizing, but... I love Doctor Who and Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures... because ultimately they're all about how you live and the choices you make, and Doctor Who without question is at its best in the moments where the Doctor suffers and the Doctor has to make a choice, as opposed to the moments where you see this extraoridnary Time Lord genius traveling. If you're immortal, like Captain Jack, what does that do to your relationships? Sarah Jane, she's alone, but then she finds her family. She's fighting for her adopted son.
Torchwood has changed so much just in the past two years. And now it's being aired all over the place. I just saw that it's showing in Korea.
Torchwood does really well in Korea. It's really up there with CSI, they have some major imports from America, and [then there's] Torchwood.
Do you think Torchwood lost some of its identity in the second season when it became less racy?
I think it's the reverse. I think it started to find itself. Because I think season one, we made very fast. It's the fastest show I've ever gone through, from the development and the commission to actually being on air. It was a tight schedule. It dictates the tone sometimes, you're just really running for the finish. But as well as that we just really clearly wanted to earmark Torchwood as being different to Doctor Who. There was swearing in the first scene, and it was very clearly stated. [Then] we started to relax into it, and we started to find what Torchwood was to itself. Captain Jack is a larger than life character, and has a great sex life with Ianto. [People talk about] the sex, the sex, the sex, but actually there's very little sex in Torchwood. Where we got that reputation was episode two, where you did have the sexy gas alien monster. But beyond that, it was more about broken hearts and love. The Toshiko episode [with her lesbian lover] was not about lesbian sex, it was about she's finally found... something outside of work... [and then she loses it.]
Speaking of Toshiko, one of my favorite episodes in season two was the episode with Toshiko and the World War I soldier. It seems like Torchwood is often at its best when it deals with war.
I think it's a very romantic show. Tosh having that relationship from World War I is very romantic and emotional, and painful and the loss of someone that young and thinking about what those men went through - those boys went through - it's painful. Torchwood's tone is never risque for the sake of being that. When it's risque, it is always about the story and haivng a little twinkle in your eye.
My favorite Who spinoff is actually the Sarah Jane Adventures. I love how Sarah Jane has actually managed to become sort of a version of the Doctor.
She has her sonic lipstick. He's called the Doctor, he makes people better, that's a running theme across all the adventures in his life... She is like the Doctor, with her team... it's a sunny show. We always film it in the summer. Elisabeth Sladen is amazing. How can a woman look that good? She's got so much energy and vicacity. I think actually it's quite a moral show, and not in a preachy way. It's about what choices do you make, like Doctor Who and how do you live with them and how to stand up for the things you believe in. And there's a cost to things, and Sarah Jane suffers. And how this lonely woman suddenly finds a ready-made family and how brilliant that is
Speaking of which, I was sad to hear that Maria is leaving the show, but I hear a new family is moving in across the street from Sarah Jane?
We are two weeks away from wrapping the shoot. The new family is called the Chandras and their daughter Rani. They bedded down really well as characters. They come in in episodes three and four. It's an imporant story. It's also about what does it mean to Sarah Jane to lose Maria. That loss all plays out in important ways.
Top Julie Gardner image from Ewan and Donabel on Flickr.