Maxie Alderton joins the world of Doctor Who this Sunday, far from her usual stomping ground of Emmerdale. But as the architect of some of the soap opera’s most innovative and exciting episodes of the past decade, she’s a name to watch

At first glance Maxine Alderton, writer of The Haunting of Villa Diodati, seems like a strange fit for Doctor Who. After all, of the new writers to join the Doctor Who team this season, she easily has the least background in science fiction and fantasy. And her main track record so far has been across the Yorkshire Dales for popular soap opera Emmerdale. But as soon as you scratch the surface she quickly emerges as an exciting and dynamic writer. One showing every sign of bringing something very special to Doctor Who indeed.

To start with, we can probably put any misplaced snobbery about soap opera writers to one side. It’s an arena, for one, where some of the hardest working, most collaborative writers in television are to be found. And, for another, it’s also shown itself an excellent proving ground for Doctor Who writers before now.

It’s easy to forget, for instance, that the main television experience of Gareth Roberts prior to Doctor Who was the fifty-five episodes of Emmerdale he’d worked on. And he went on to create five Doctor Who episodes, as well as seventeen episodes of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Russell T Davies himself had already made his pre-Who name with the likes of Queer as Folk. But he cut his professional teeth on the cobblestones of Weatherfield on Coronation Street. And it was the world of Casualty and Holby City that gave us Paul Cornell (Father’s Day, Human Nature/The Family of Blood).

 

Maxine Alderton wrote the groundbreakingEmmerdale episode about the worsening dementia of Ashley Thomas (John Middleton) (c) ITV
Maxine Alderton wrote the groundbreaking Emmerdale episode about the worsening dementia of Ashley Thomas (John Middleton) (c) ITV

Alderton’s episode about dementia saw new casts, new locations, and altered sets to place audiences in the midst of Ashley’s confusion

But beyond that, it has to be considered that Alderton’s contribution to Emmerdale includes some truly exceptional work. Her contribution of 116 scripts across eight years would be formidable in any event. But moreover, it was Alderton that was behind one of the most heartfelt and innovate episodes of the past decade. And not just of Emmerdale, or even soap, but of television drama full stop. The storyline of local vicar Ashely’s decline from vascular dementia was groundbreaking in several ways. But most of all in Alderton’s script where she brought Ashley’s own point of view to the screen.

Long standing characters were played by different actors, and pictures on the walls of Ashley’s house were changed to be bizarre, unsettling images. When he pulls coins from his pocket they’re strange, blank tokens indecipherable to Ashley and viewers alike. In portraying not just the character’s terror and confusion from the outside, but allowing the audience in to see his experience for themselves, Alderton was responsible for crafting a powerful and unique half hour of television.

It wasn’t the only time Alderton stepped coloured outside the lines of normal soap opera practice to create something special. Following Ashley’s death and funeral, Alderton scripted a dream sequence for his widow Laurel. This provided an emotional and heart-rending climax to the episode.  But it also neatly found a path to allow audiences to say goodbye to Ashley as they remembered him.

 

Mildred Hubble (Bella Ramsey) and Enid Nightshade (Tamara Smart) in The Worst Witch (c) CBBC Maxine Alderton
Mildred Hubble (Bella Ramsey) and Enid Nightshade (Tamara Smart) in The Worst Witch (c) CBBC

Outside of Emmerdale, Alderton has also contributed to The Worst Witch

And no less powerful than that storyline was the episode revealing Charity Dingle’s hidden past. Dark secrets and shock revelations are the bread and butter of the soap opera. Yet, all too often it amounts to people standing around in rooms taking turns to yell and look shocked. Alderton’s exploration of Charity’s youth smashed that trope with an episode long flashback. With a new young actor taking Charity’s role, we witnessed firsthand her abuse at the hands of a paedophile ring hidden in plain sight within the Yorkshire Police. And it provided the opportunity for an end revelation a thousand times more effective than any discovered letter or confession. We see for ourselves that the baby Charity had always been told was stillborn survived. Material elevated beyond the ordinary by Maxine Alderton’s eye for telling stories in new ways.

Having also been responsible for some of the best episodes in the Rob/Ron storyline, Alderton has been an architect of some of the most vibrant and compulsive elements of Emmerdale for years. But she’s also stepped beyond that to write three episodes of child-friendly supernatural series The Worst Witch. Starring Bella Ramsey (Game of Thrones, Doctor Who Infinity), Raquel Cassidy (The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People) and Clare Higgins (Night of the Doctor, Hell Bent), it adapted the well loved book series from Jilly Murphy for a new generation.

The Haunting of Villa Diodati may share dark and stormy nights with The Worst Witch. However there’s no doubt Doctor Who is new and fertile ground for Alderton. However, her decade of experience with handling large casts and exposing the inner humanity of characters is sure to play it’s part as the Doctor and Byron’s two separate but well defined ‘fams’ collide to face thrilling dangers together.

 

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Doctor Who continues at 7.10pm this Sunday on with The Haunting of Villa Diodati

‘Nobody mention Frankenstein. Nobody interfere. Nobody snog Byron.’ Should be easy, right?

The Doctor and her gang arrive at the Villa Diodati at Lake Geneva in 1816 on the night that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The plan is to spend the evening soaking up the atmos in the presence of some literary greats, but the ghosts are all too real, and the Doctor is forced into a decision of earth-shattering proportions.

Series 12 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham), Mandip Gill (Yaz) and Tosin Cole (Ryan), with Chris Chibnall as Showrunner and Matt Strevens Executive Producing. The Haunting of Villa Diodati guest stars Lili Miller (Mary Shelley), Jacob Collins-Levy (Lord Byron), Lewis Rainer (Percy Bysse Shelley), Maxim Baldry (Dr John Polidori). It’s written by Maxine Alderton and Chris Chibnall, and directed by Emma Sullivan.

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