Doctor Who TV Movie 20th Anniversary: Interview with Matthew Jacobs

MatthewJacobsOnSetToday marks the 20th Anniversary of the first broadcast of the Doctor Who TV Movie in the USA.

We spoke with the film’s writer Matthew Jacobs who has also been involved with The Emperor’s New Groove, Lassie and the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.


What inspired you to become an screenwriter?

It was chance really, I went to The National Film And Television School in the UK after having trained as an actor and a theatre director with two small films already shot on 16mm in black and white, I’d written both of them because there was no one else around to do it. But I was taken into the National Film School to do my MFA in editing and directing, because I’d also worked as an assistant editor on commercials for Ridley and Tony Scott. The school was government financed and so our graduation projects had to be approved by a committee and they kept passing on the script that had been written by a playwright friend of mine. One night I had a dream and wrote that down. The head of script there thought it was great, I made that film (Darkness From The Trees) and before I knew where I was I was reading for a distributor and doing rewrites for Paramount UK. Then I started getting almost everything I wrote made. I was very lucky and I think I have always seen screenwriting like writing music, it only lives when it’s made. I call them paper films.

You worked with legendary director Bernard Rose on Boxing Day, What can you tell us about his upcoming adaption of Frankenstein which you also appear in?

That could fill a whole book, but in short: we’ve worked together since film school and I wrote his first two features (Smart Money and Paperhouse). He consults with me on most of what he writes these days and we’re best friends. Frankenstein is a contemporary re-telling of the Shelley. It’s more faithful than most adaptations, being told entirely from the Monster’s point-of-view. I play the equivalent of the Igor character and meet a ugly death toward the end of the first act … It was a joy to film and it’s always thrilling working on one of Bernard’s movies.

You wrote the 1996 Doctor Who TV Movie – what can you tell us about this experience?

Again that could fill another book, but the most important thing to say is that it was a real challenge. There were simply too many people to try and please. Segal, Fox, Universal and the BBC. They all had slightly different agendas and I was the first writer to come along with a take that they could all sign off on, but even then it was a tightrope act. Now the show is writer-driven with a writer-show-runner, but a mid-90s American TV Network pilot was far from that. I enjoyed it at the end of the day and stand by the film. However, it was a tremendous opportunity for me and I’ve always been a bit sad that Universal went with Sliders rather than the Doctor when they chose what to pick up as a series.

Whilst writing the story did you have any actors/actresses in mind to portray any of the roles?

No. I try not to write with actors in mind, even when they have already been cast. I want the character to speak first.

Were you a fan of Doctor Who before writing this? And have you watched any of the revival series?

I was what you might call a fair-weather fan. Obviously I followed the show through my childhood and of course my father was in it for a single story so I felt personally attached, but I can’t say I was a fully fledged fan. The new version I haven’t really followed much at all, until recently when I caught up before launching into “Doctor Who Am I” I’m very impressed by it.

What was it like working on the Disney film The Emperor’s New Groove?

I worked with Roger Allers (The Lion King) through a long and passionate development process. Developing a major animated film is amazing. I’ve done it several times now. The writing is spread between a large group of people but Roger and I wrote the original story and original scripts and did the main casting. It taught me a lot about collaboration. I’m very proud of the finished film.

What was it like taking on writing for established characters such as Doctor Who & Indiana Jones? Do you find this more or less challenging than original material?

Even though you are working with franchise characters you are only hired because of the original voice that you bring to the table. So I don’t regard writing for franchises as very different to writing original work. For example my Lassie script is based on the true story of my childhood dog, a story I took to Barnaby Thompson and Lorne Michaels and Lassie was a way of bringing it to life. Indy’s mother is named after my own mother. There’s a lot of personal stuff in Paul’s doctor. Every writer, if they’re any good in my opinion, treats everything they write as original.

Which do you prefer acting, writing or directing?

Right now I’m really enjoying acting and directing a bit more than writing, but I love doing all three.

What is your personal favourite film of all time?

I don’t have a single favourite film. Maybe Kubrick’s 2001 … The original Disney Jungle Book.

Any upcoming projects?

The most interesting one is probably “Doctor Who Am I” – an intimate portrait of the American fan from my perspective as I make a journey back into a world I left behind 20 years ago. We have been shooting this since last February and have only been editing for a couple of months now. Hopefully everyone can see it before the end of 2016. Here’s a link to a promo for it.

We have also interviewed:
Yee Jee Tso
Daphne Ashbrook

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