Mark Gatiss was writing Doctor Who for over a decade before it became cool.
In the nineties, he wrote four New Adventures novels and the BBV Productions spin-off series P.R.O.B.E. Gatiss also wrote a couple of audio stories for Big Finish and continues to make appearances.
Come 2005 and Gatiss was given the opportunity to pen the third episode of the revived Doctor Who. He remains an integral part of the writing team, staying on board after Steven Moffat took over as showrunner. Not to mention appearing onscreen in three different roles. It can’t be denied that Gatiss has made a big impact on the Whoniverse.
This Saturday, the tenth series of Doctor Who will air ‘Empress of Mars’ – the ninth story penned by Gatiss. We don’t know what the future holds for Mark, especially as the reign of Moffat draws to a close. But Gatiss says he’s prepared for the possibility of not being called back for the Chibnall era. While we hope to see Mark again, we thought it was a good time to look back at the Ghosts of Gatiss Past.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for two Gatiss stories that never made it to air.
1. The Unquiet Dead
Gatiss’ first entry into the televisual Whoniverse was really well-timed. The revived series had established itself with a grounded modern-day story and a high-concept sci-fi adventure. Now it needed some spooky fun with a historic twist. Music to Mark Gatiss’ ears. The story takes a very unusual approach to the alien invasion. The dead walk and they need help. With Charles Dickens along for the ride as the token skeptic, this story cemented Gatiss as one of the architects of New Who.
2. The Idiot’s Lantern
This second series story once again saw Mark Gatiss taking us back to confront a terrifying historical legend — the BBC! The Wire is taking over television and only a wonderfully-coiffed Tenth Doctor can stop her! This is a story that really embraces its own insanity but still manages to work in some really emotional elements. Despite a somewhat MacGuyver’d ending, this episode pulls off the impossible — making a royal event entertaining.
BONUS: Nazi History Museum
During pre-production of series four, Gatiss pitched a story to Russell T Davies involving the Natural History Museum being invaded by Nazis and aliens simultaneously. The untitled episode would have involved some on-location filming. But mostly it would be an Indiana Jones inspired runaround with booby-trapped underground corridors and an occult Third Reich.
As Davies documents in ‘The Writer’s Tale’, Gatiss’ story was up against James Moran’s ‘The Fires of Pompeii’. The executive producer ultimately felt it was too soon to revisit WW2 and opted for Moran’s episode. Luckily, Gatiss got to reuse the period setting in…
3. Victory of the Daleks
Getting his hands on the tinpot tyrants, Mark gave us the first Dalek encounter in the Matt Smith years. ‘Victory’ not only had to sweep up Daleks leftover from the Davies era but also needed to introduce their redesigned vogue. Once again, Gatiss delivers a fantastic rendering of a historical figure in the form of Winston Churchill. Ian McNeice is also perfectly cast, having already played the former Prime Minister on stage. Not to mention Spitfires in space! Daleks in camo gear! And they’re serving tea! ‘Victory of the Daleks’ is a frenetic, madcap story that embraces the roots of what made the Daleks scary to begin with.
4. Night Terrors
One of Gatiss’ most underrated episodes, this sweet horror story centres around a little boy who’s scared of the dark. The fairytale tone of the Eleventh Doctor era marries perfectly with this adventure set in a creepy dollhouse. The main plot hinges on the bond between father and son, making you weep with joy and fear simultaneously. The twinkly dollhouse music and the transformation sequence into one of the peg doll monsters creates a really atmospheric story worthy of a child’s nightmare.
5. Cold War
Mark Gatiss finally gets to bring a classic series monster into the new with his seventh series episode ‘Cold War’. In the 80s, with reds under the bed, a visitor from the red planet is hiding under the Arctic ice. Gatiss cleverly uses the suicidal hopelessness of Ice Warrior Skaldak to ramp up the tension and to parallel the real-world situation. Mutually-assured destruction becomes the watchword of the episode and puts the Doctor in a really tricky position. For a New Who take on the base-under-siege story, you can do no better. Also, David Warner is there. So that makes it automatically awesome.
6. The Crimson Horror
His second entry into series seven, ‘The Crimson Horror’ is loving send up of the old penny dreadfuls. A red-blooded pulp horror story featuring an evil alien leech, Diana Rigg as a barmy supervillain and a big mystery to solve. This was the first story to really give the spotlight to the Paternoster Gang. They’d previously only played a supporting role. Gatiss shows his mastery of these characters right away and perfectly integrates their Victorian sensibilities into a Northern nightmare.
BONUS: An Adventure in Space and Time
Though not technically a Doctor Who episode, we’d be remiss not to mention Mark Gatiss’ 2013 docudrama. ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ tells the story of Verity Lambert, Waris Hussein and William Hartnell working to get Doctor Who off the ground. The special was first conceived for the fortieth anniversary and finally commissioned to coincide with the fiftieth.
7. Robot of Sherwood
Some much-needed levity in the aftermath of the 50th anniversary and the start of the Capaldi era. This eighth series episode is another Gatiss script to throw together sci-fi and history. Gatiss plays with ideas of how legends are created and might pass from reality into fiction. Though it takes some enormous leaps in logic and the plot’s a little confusing, there’s no denying how fun it is.
8. Sleep No More
Gatiss’ most recent and by far most experimental entry to the Whoniverse probably had the most divided response. Styled after the “found footage” genre of films like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Cloverfield’. This story explores how, in the future, humanity has done away with such unproductive luxuries as sleep. Unfortunately, sleep comes to claim us – literally. While it brings up a lot of interesting ideas, it doesn’t really explore them in much detail. Instead it opts for a standard monster runaround. But the unremarkable setting and confusing structure left some fans wanting more. Which they were originally going to get…
BONUS: Sleep No More 2: Electric Boogaloo
As Gatiss recently told the Radio Times, it remains to be seen if he’ll write more Doctor Who under Chris Chibnall’s turn as showrunner. So he used Saturday’s episode as a possible final bow and wrote the story that’s been churning around his noggin. Ice Warriors meet Victorians, you couldn’t get more Gatiss!
But Mark had originally planned to give us a follow up to his earlier story. The sequel to ‘Sleep No More’ could have seen the same effects play out on a planet-wide scale or deal with the twist ending of the original episode. Sadly, it remains to be seen if that story will ever be more than a dream.
‘The Unquiet Dead’ is one of my favourite episodes. And while not a Christmas ‘special’ episode, it is set on Christmas Eve and is the best Christmas episode after ‘A Christmas Carol’.