The outgoing Doctor Who showrunner has revealed that pressures of working during the Covid pandemic threatened to curtail his three-series run to two.
Chris Chibnall, who is bowing out as the show’s executive producer after taking over from Steven Moffat for series 11, said: “That we made Doctor Who at all during the past two years is a miracle.”
Chibnall, 52, told Radio Times that the pandemic nearly put paid to his and Jodie Whittaker’s plans to leave after three series.
“There was a point around April/May 2020 where it looked like we would have to call it a day after two series. If we had not already planned to leave after series three, there’s no way I would be staying on now after going through that experience,” he said.
A planned final trio of specials – culminating in the Doctor’s regeneration this autumn – faced production and budget pressures, forcing him to pare down Eve of the Daleks, which aired on new year’s day. He had to ditch the original idea and write a new script in a week, he said.
Chibnall wrote five episodes for Doctor Who under Russell T Davies and Moffat before becoming showrunner. He was also lead writer on the spin-off Torchwood for its first two series from 2006 and created and wrote ITV’s popular Broadchurch.
Having worked with Whittaker on Broadchurch before casting her as the Doctor, he described her as one of the greatest actors of her generation. He promised her three-series run would wrap up in “a really huge, fun, action-y, mad, heartbreaking way”, with lots of laughs and tears in her final episode.
As he prepares for his final Doctor Who specials to air, Chibnall described working on the show as a “treadmill”.
Of his decision to move on, he said he owed it to his family, of whom he hadn’t seen much in recent years. Davies is returning in time for the show’s 60th anniversary next year.
Chibnall billed this Easter’s special, Legend of the Sea Devils, as an action-adventure romp, which would see the Doctor and her companion Yasmin, played by Mandip Gill, finally address their romantic feelings for each other.
Chibnall said conversations between the pair would be “developing and taking place”.
Since first appearing on screen in 1963, the Doctor has often been involved in romantic subplots, but this would be the Time Lord’s first same-sex relationship with a companion.
In Eve Of The Daleks Yasmin finally confided her feelings for the Doctor to Dan Lewis, played by the comedian John Bishop.
Chibnall said: “Dan has cottoned on to the dynamic between the Doctor and Yaz, and from a distance observed what they haven’t been admitting to themselves.
“I think really, in Eve of the Daleks, both Yaz and the Doctor have hinted that they have feelings that they are suppressing and keeping quiet about. So there are some conversations that need to be had and you will see those conversations developing and taking place in Legend Of The Sea Devils.”
Gill, who has played the Doctor’s assistant since 2017, also offered an insight. She said: “Conversations are not concluded in this episode, but they still definitely have advanced from where they were at the new year’s episode. There’s a lot of open and honest conversations.”
Chibnall said he had “absolutely loved” his time as showrunner. “It’s such a privilege. Few people have done it and you are standing in the footsteps of those people across 60 years.”