It's a Sin director Peter Hoar shares how *that* Doctor Who scene came to life

David Opie
·6-min read
Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

From Digital Spy

It's a Sin episode 4 and 5 spoilers follow.

Time is wibbly-wobbly, and no one knows that better than Russell T Davies, the former Doctor Who showrunner who's travelled back through time again with his latest masterpiece, It's a Sin. And now, ten years after Russell stepped down from his TARDIS duties, things have come full circle with a surprise Doctor Who crossover which pops up in the fourth episode of Channel 4's new drama.

After praying that Ritchie Tozer will catch his big break on screen, the aspiring actor finally lands a small role in a show that's Doctor Who in all but name. Dressed in a futuristic outfit, Tozer's character, Trooper Linden, defends a space station from what looks like a group of Daleks.

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

"Remember," says Ritchie, "If they get through, we lose the crystal, and if we lose that, it's the end of the world."

While we don't know if they were able to save the day on screen, this casting tragically led to the end of Ritchie's world, because this is the moment where the show's make-up expert notices something is "wrong" with his skin, which in turn leads to Ritchie's fatal AIDS diagnosis.

The scene quickly turns from fantastical wonder into something far more painful and grounded, but even through the tears, we couldn't help but wonder how this poignant crossover came about in the first place.

It's a Sin director Peter Hoar wondered the same, telling us, "You don't normally ask this question of Russell T Davies and [producer] Phil Collinson, but I was like, 'Have we got permission to use the Daleks?'"

To gain access, Russell ended up using his connections with Dalek creator Terry Nation and others too, bringing together "a ragtag bunch" from different eras of Doctor Who.

"It's all anachronistic because – as Doctor Who fans will tell you – the Daleks all come from different periods. They were owned by individuals, some of whom were ex-Doctor Who operators – Dalek operators. They brought their own Daleks, and they're all from different Doctor Whos."

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

It should come as no surprise hearing this that Peter is a lifelong fan of Doctor Who, just like Russell, and not only because he directed an episode himself, season six's 'A Good Man Goes to War'.

"It's a fact that I wouldn't be here talking to you if it wasn't for Doctor Who," says Peter. "I was a 9-year-old addict, and then a 14-year-old uber-fan. One of my friends used to call it 'the love that dare not speak its name', ironically, because no one dared to tell anyone else they were a Doctor Who fan."

There's long been a curious intersection between Doctor Who fans and the LGBTQ+ community, decades before Russell came along and made the show's queer subtext more apparent. Because queer viewers need to find ways to escape reality more than most, especially those who hail from a time when this kind of representation was even more alien than the beings Doctor Who encountered.

Decades later, Peter was thrilled to revisit the Doctor Who of yesteryear, the one that helped him when he was younger. "It was basically that show that made me want to make TV," says Peter. "So imagine getting to this point where it's my job to recreate Doctor Who from the '80s. I'd never been so high in my life."

Peter and his team built a small set – "that's sort of the same and sort of not" — in the "iconic" Granada studio, complete with "little, silly hats" that drew inspiration from 'Resurrection of the Daleks', a 1984 episode that Russell partly based this scene on.

"We had the right cameras as well," Peter tells me. "We got hold of some studio floor cameras from the period, and we stuck on little logos that said 'BBC TV colour'. I was just in heaven. It was brilliant."

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

"Obviously, I became a part of Doctor Who," Peter continues. "But I would have loved to have been part of it in the '80s when it really, really affected me."

What's particularly poignant about that is this scene was actually written as a tribute to someone who was there at the time. Speaking to Doctor Who Magazine, Russell revealed that this crossover wasn't just included as some kind of joke or homage to his previous job:

"It's not me going, 'Hooray, let's get a few pages in Doctor Who Magazine.' It, literally, felt natural. I was really desperate to do it. It's a little smile towards Dursley, who I loved. I did it for Dursley."

Dursley McLinden was an actor, singer and dancer from the Isle of Man who moved to London to study acting at the age of 16. Along with credits in Mr Bean and the film adaptation of Just Ask For Diamond, he also appeared as RAF sergeant Mike Smith in the 1988 Doctor Who episode 'Remembrance of the Daleks'.

Tragically, Dursley contracted HIV/AIDS seven years before his death on August 7, 1995, at age 30. Russell met him earlier at his friend Jill Nalder's flat, who readers might know better as the real-life inspiration behind Lydia West's Jill in It's a Sin.

"What a beautiful boy!" Russell recalled to Doctor Who Magazine. "He was one of Jill's friends and one of the first people I ever met who'd been in Doctor Who. I went to Jill's 30th and there he was. He was already very ill, but he was so hilarious and lovely. I was thrilled to meet him."

"He became very wonderful in his AIDS activism when he was ill," Russell continues. "But to me, he was that boy from Remembrance of the Daleks. That's why I knew I had to write a Dalek scene in It's a Sin."

By paying tribute to the past in such a beautiful, touching way, this scene connects It's a Sin with one of the many people whose stories deserve to be celebrated in real life too. Time might be wibbly-wobbly, but the AIDS crisis wasn't long ago at all, and remember it we must. A whole generation of queer people was lost to us in the blink of an eye, which is precisely why It's a Sin and other stories like it need to be told time and time again, ad infinitum.

It's a Sin airs on Fridays at 9pm on Channel 4. All five episodes are now available to watch on All4.

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