28 May 2023 The Irish Film & Television Network
Five Minutes with Daniel O’Hara – director of two episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ Season Nine
02 Oct 2015 : Seán Brosnan
O’Hara’s ‘Doctor Who’ episodes will air on BBC One on October 3rd and October 10th
With two episodes of long-running BBC series ‘Doctor Who’ about to hit the show’s huge, multi-generational fan-base worldwide – we talk to Irish director Daniel O’Hara who spent the first quarter of 2015 shooting and fine-tuning the episodes to keep the Doctor’s fans happy.

O’ Hara – who made his name with IFTA-winning short film ‘Yu Ming is Ainm Dom’ and has previously directed UK dramas such as ‘Skins’, ‘Silent Witness’, ‘The Game’ and ‘Being Human’ –helmed the two episodes entitled Under The Lake and Before The Flood which sees the Doctor and Clara investigate an underwater base in the year 2119.

Here, we talk to O’Hara about the institution of British television that is ‘Doctor Who’, the blurred lines between television and film and putting his unique stamp on shows.

IFTN: First off, ‘Doctor Who’ has become something of a landmark in British television and for many generations now it has been a staple of a lot of people’s Saturday nights – how did you land the job of directing these two episodes?

Daniel O’Hara: ‘Over the years, I have done a lot of work with BBC such as ‘Being Human’, ‘Wizards Vs Aliens’ and ‘The Game’. ‘Being Human’ and ‘The Game’ were written by Toby Whithouse who has also written these two episodes of ‘Doctor Who’. Taking all that account, I guess it came together quite easily really [laughs].

With something like ‘Doctor Who’ which is such a celebrated institution with a lot of people in the UK, how do you bring your own style into it or is it paramount to just blend in with the norm?

‘Doctor Who’ is obviously a huge show – an institution of television as you said – but what’s interesting about it is that what’s kept it going all these years are they have a lot of stand-alone adventures within them. This means that guest writers and guest directors are encouraged to come in and make it their own. The show has so much variety. In this series alone, there will be space, there’ll be Vikings, there’ll be scenes set underwater and they will be tied in with more ordinary stuff like scenes set in schools or housing estates. With ‘Doctor Who’, the adventures can involve anyone, anywhere at any time [laughs]. The producers are really open to people coming in and putting their own stamp on it – they want episodes that people will still be talking about in 15 years.’

What can you tell us about episodes three and four of series nine then aka the two episodes you are helming?

‘Yeah, it’s a two part story that sees the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman) turn up in an underwater base in 2119. The crew of the underwater base have found a spaceship at the bottom of a lake. People start dying and ghosts start appearing so I think that’s the best way to explain it [laughs]. That’s the beginning of the story.’

When we were talking to you in January, you were in the middle of shooting this so can you tell us how long the shoot took altogether for both episodes?

‘I did prep for about five weeks before Christmas and then we started shooting right after Christmas. We shot for about five weeks for two 45 minute episodes. I think about four weeks of that was in the studio – the set of the underwater base we built and then we had a week out in the cold in Wales around the first week of February. Being ‘Doctor Who’ there was also a certain amount of digital effects so we then spent about five or six weeks in the edit. After that, the work continued as I oversaw the visual effects work as well as the sound mix, the grade and the composing. So, I would say it was about the beginning of April by the time I was finished with it. The thing that dragged it out was probably the visual effects work as ‘Doctor Who’ has a lot more than your average show. There were so many effects in these episodes that were intrinsic to the story so I spent a lot of time emailing back and forth with the effects guys. It was quite an intensive process but it had to be.

‘You become very aware very quickly about how big this show really is when you work on it. Even around the Production Office, there are comics, t-shirts and toys everywhere and you get a real sense of how much this show means to a lot of people. With something like this, there could be no short-cuts – their high standards had to be maintained during every stage of production.

Does the size and scale of the show make you nervous about these episodes going out?

‘It will feel real to me when it actually goes out there! There’s a lot of hardcore ‘Doctor Who’ fans who will not be shy about telling me what they think [laughs]. But I find that exciting. You want your work to reach large audiences and I am excited to see what fans make of the episodes.’

Your work in UK television has been extensive now at this stage with ‘Silent Witness’, ‘Being Human’ and ‘Skins’ to name but a few. Is this a case of one thing leading to another or did you actively go hunting for the shows you have worked on?

‘I would say it’s a mixture of both. There is some really high quality material out there and every director wants to be doing the best stuff – projects where you get a chance to do something interesting and put your own stamp on it. One thing certainly does lead to another though. Doing work of a certain level certainly makes other people in shows of a similar scale look your way. I have noticed however that I have been drawn to shows where I get to do standalone pieces – as I have with ‘Silent Witness’, ‘Inspector George Gently’ and now ‘Doctor Who’. That gives you more of a chance to put your own stamp on it as opposed to something more episodic and I have really enjoyed that side of it.’

‘On ‘Doctor Who’ for example, I love the fact that I have just inherited this world with an underwater base and ghosts. That’s my world – it has not been handed to anyone else and in that regard it was a little bit like working on a TV movie.

Just touching on movies – you had two very successful short films here in Ireland with ‘Yu Ming is Ainm Dom’ and ‘Fluent Dysphasia’ – any plans to expand on that and direct a feature film in the future?

‘I think the lines have been blurred in the past couple of years between TV and film. Good stories are good stories. In saying that, I always keep an eye out for a good script and film is definitely something I would be interested in doing in the future.’

Can you tell us a little about what you are working on at the moment?

‘I spent the summer shooting in Manchester and Liverpool on a series called ‘Houdini and Doyle’ which is for ITV and Fox in America. It was created by David Shore who was the man behind ‘House MD’ with Hugh Laurie. I think that show will air next spring and it was very exciting to work on –more new ground broken!’

‘Doctor Who’ Series Nine Episodes 3 and 4 will air on BBC One at 8.25 on Saturday October 3rd and Saturday, October 10th. Check out the teaser below:

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