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EXCLUSIVE Spoiler-Free Interview with Doctor Who: Face the Raven writer, Sarah Dollard

We recently caught up with Sarah Dollard, writer of Saturday’s episode, Face the Raven!

All answers below are entirely spoiler-free – we’ll have a more substantial spoiler-filled post-mortem of the episode straight after it airs this Saturday, so make sure to keep an eye on that!

What was your pitch for Face the Raven?

Face the Raven started out life as Trap Street, and that story is still the basis of the episode. My initial pitch went something like… “Have you ever heard of trap streets? They’re fake streets that cartographers or map publishers add to their maps so they can catch out anyone trying to steal their work. But what if the Doctor discovers that trap streets are actually REAL?”.

The episode sees the return of Ashildr and Rigsy – were these characters part of the episode from the start, or were they put into the script later on in development?

Rigsy showed up during an early development stage, when I needed a good-hearted guest character that Clara and the Doctor – and the audience – already knew and trusted. Ashildr became part of the story later on, in the second draft of the script, once Steven decided where my episode would fit in the running order of the series.

What were your primary influences when writing the episode?

There’s a bit of a whodunnit vibe in the story, so I definitely played around with a few tropes of the detective/mystery genre, and tried to skew and subvert them in a fun, Doctory way.

How do you think the Twelfth Doctor has evolved over the course of his time on the show, and how did that factor into your writing?

I think it’s fair to say there’s a greater sense of fun surrounding him now, and that Clara softened some of his sharper edges. He was never not “a good man” but he could sometimes seem harsh or insensitive in those early days because of his lack patience with people. When we first met him, he didn’t waste energy registering the emotions of mayflies – he was always busy thinking about other things, bigger things, at least ten steps ahead of everyone else in the room. And he still is. But as time went on, I think Clara pushed him to become a little more self-aware. Because of course, sometimes there’s no point being ten steps ahead if you’re not connected with the needs of the here and now. This evolution in Twelve was made beautifully tangible in Toby Whithouse’s Under the Lake, in the scene with the prompt cards. I loved that. Toby’s eps were the only series nine scripts that were finished when I started writing ep10, so I read and re-read them when I was trying to get into the right headspace. That exchange with the cards not only showed me how Twelve and Clara had evolved since s8, it also captured the increased sense of fun and playfulness that surrounds Capaldi’s Doctor in s9 – which of course we saw more of with the guitar playing, the dapper-punk wardrobe, the sonic glasses, etc.

Who is your favourite Doctor, and why?

This is a question I can lose hours to… I think if you’d forced me to pick before I started writing my script it was probably Ten. But now, having fallen deeply in love with series nine, and having actually written for Twelve myself – having thought so much about where he comes from and how he ticks – I can’t go past Capaldi. His Doctor is properly grand and alien and Other. You believe he’s the smartest creature in the room, and potentially the scariest creature in the room, too, which is incredibly important. With Capaldi’s performance, I have no trouble believing that the Doctor is carrying around the pain and the wisdom of all his long lifetimes, yet he’s also irresistibly funny and grumpy and irreverent, and every so often bowls you over by revealing this incredible warmth and compassion that’s been just beneath the surface all along. He should be banned from ever leaving the role.

Many thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer our questions! You can give her a follow on Twitter now at @snazdoll.

Once again, make sure to keep an eye out for the spoiler-filled second half of the interview on Saturday at 9pm.