Along with Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner has been the co-executive producer of both the BBC’s revival of Doctor Who, and also its very popular spin-off Torchwood.
Recently, Monsters and Critics talked with her over the phone from LA about her new job, Torchwood: Children of Earth, Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead, and more.
Born in Wales, Gardner, 40, started working at the BBC in the mid-1990s. She was a producer’s secretary, a script reader and editor, then a producer. Moving to London Weekend Television in 2000, she worked as a Development Producer. While there, she began to work with Davies on the drama, Casanova.
In 2003, Gardner went back to the BBC as Head of Drama for BBC Wales, bringing the Casanova project along. Her first job was to oversee the revival of Doctor Who. She got in touch with Davies who had wanted to write and produce Doctor Who, and the series premiered in March 2005.
While commissioning other network dramas, she and Davies continued overseeing Doctor Who, Torchwood, and the “Whovian” related kids show, The Sarah Jane Adventures.
In 2006, Gardner became the Controller of Drama Commissioning at BBC Television, while still in her other position at BBC Wales. Earlier this year, her roles at BBC Wales and Doctor Who were taken over by producer Piers Wenger. Gardner is now an executive producer of scripted projects for BBC Worldwide America based in Los Angeles.
M&C: Where are you calling from?
Gardner: I’m in LA, I’ve been here eight weeks.
M&C: Do you like it?
Gardner: Yes, I am enjoying it but it’s terrible merging on the freeway.
M&C: And where is Russell?
Gardner: He’s been here for a month and having a good time!
M&C: With your new role at BBC Worldwide America in LA, are you still an executive producer of Doctor Who and Torchwood?
Gardner: I am currently Executive Producer, developing dramatic titles, and executive producer of the last Doctor Who specials Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars, which is in post-production, and the two-part show.
Oh, season 5 started shooting today [Tuesday]! For season 5, Steven Moffat and Piers Wenger are the new executive producers.
M&C: Was it hard working on three shows [Doctor Who, Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures]? Are they shot simultaneously?
Gardner: The shows were at different stages of production. It was a carefully plotted schedule. Also, we had a great production team that worked on Doctor Who and beyond, and we keep them together. The crews of Doctor Who and Torchwood are like a family.
M&C: Will there be another Torchwood season? If so, will it be based in Cardiff, Wales?
Gardner: It did incredibly well and we’re having conversations, but things are not firmed up. It depends on the story on where it will be filmed. I don’t know the future.
M&C: I have to ask, (spoiler here), in Torchwood: Children of Earth, what happened to the Weevil and the Morgue in the Hub after the explosion?
Gardner (laughing): Well, I think the Weevil could dig out and escape, and the Morgue is gone.
M&C: But what of Jack’s brother who is buried in the Morgue?
Gardner: The morgue is very deep, so maybe there’s hope for him.
M&C: And, what’s the deal with using cell phones and not the ear piece phones that have been used in the first two seasons?
Gardner (laughing): Oh, we need more like you! The ear phones didn’t work and there was a lot of discussion about them. They were too bulky and the actors kept tapping them. So we reverted to cell phones.
We also were looking at the real consequences of blowing up the Hub, and stripping Torchwood bare. They now had to work outside the Hub.
M&C: How long did it take to film Torchwood: Children of Earth?
Gardner: About three months, much shorter than a 13-week series.
M&C: Why was Children of Earth made into a five-part mini-series?
Gardner: There were two reasons. One, the show was moving to BBC One and we wanted to make a big event for that. Two, Russell T Davies wanted to do one big serial. So it was a scheduling and creative consideration.
M&C: What was it like filming Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead in the deserts of Dubai? How long was the shoot?
Gardner: It was a three-day shoot. We had a jigsaw schedule to make things cost effective. We shot the exteriors in Dubai. The interiors were shot in a skeleton bus in our Wales studio.
M&C: Was there a problem with the bus?
Gardner: The bus was bad luck. The bus was shipped and there was a lot of red tape to get it to Dubai. At the port, a container was dropped on it and it was trashed!
M&C: What did you do?
Gardner: There were two options. Get an alternate bus. But this show was the Easter special so the schedule wouldn’t allow that. So, as long as the bus was up to health and safety standards, we let the bus be damaged. [They ended getting a similar bus and brought it to the studio.]
We had to match the lighting to the other bus. If you look at the windows of the bus, they are quite dirty.
I didn’t go out to Dubai. There were very funny phone calls! Things got pretty hairy. But it worked out better. We never would have thought of trashing the bus. We’re not that crazy.
M&C: I’ve seen video clips of you, and you seem unflappable. Are you?
Gardner (laughing): I have my moments. It’s okay, there is always a way and most things get made. For five years, I’ve seen how inventive and creative the team is, and they can do it all.
Torchwood: Children of Earth aired on BBC America through Friday, July 24 and as a marathon on Sunday, July 26. Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead has premiered on BBC America. For more information, visit http://www.bbcamerica.com. Both programs will be available on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday, July 28th.