From the Archives: An Interview with Whovians’ Patrick Magee

On Saturday 13 July, the DWCA will be holding its annual Trivia Night and Cosplay Competition at Club Burwood in Sydney – this year to be hosted by actor and comedian Patrick Magee. In August 2017 the DWCA had the opportunity to interview Pat about his work as head researcher on ABC Comedy’s Whovians – the result was published in the club’s 2018 yearbook, Zerinza, but has been abridged below for your reading pleasure.

How did you come to be involved in Whovians?

Well, four years ago for the 50th anniversary, I did a show called Every Episode of Doctor Who Ever Live on Stage. It was a comedy show with me and two of my friends, and we just did 50 years of Doctor Who all on stage. And then through publicity for that I went to Triple J, went to some different radio stations and did promos and stuff for it. And then in about February or March this year, the executive producer called me up and said he’d like to meet up for a job thing at the ABC. I had no idea what it was for, and I was sort of chatting with my girlfriend. She said, “There is nothing the ABC would want you for that wouldn’t in some way be related to Doctor Who.” And I was like, “I don’t think the ABC’s doing something about Doctor Who.” And so I went the next day and he’s like, “So we’re doing a Doctor Who wrap-up show…” And I thought, “Oh, he’s going to ask me to host”, and he said, “Oh, you’re nowhere near famous enough. We’re going to get Rove to host.” I remember when I heard that, I was so underwhelmed. I was like, “Oh yeah, Rove, I guess he’s a real nerd.”

So as part of the pre-show preparation, I had to call up all of the panel members and all the guests and things, to try to gauge what their level of Doctor Who fandom was. I was kind of dreading calling Rove, ‘cos I thought I’d be like, “What’s your favourite episode of Doctor Who?” and he’d be like, “Oh, I just love The Impossible Astronaut” or something. So I call him up, I ask him his favourite episode, and he goes, “Probably The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” And I was like, “Okay. What scared you as a kid?”, and he was like, “Sutekh’s voice.” And I was like, “Okay, this guy knows what he’s talking about.” And then he came to the meetings and he had the River Song diary, and I was like, “Okay, this is all good. This guy knows exactly what he’s talking about.”

So I got into it because the guy at the ABC knew I was a massive Doctor Who fan, and in terms of research and asking questions and stuff, I’d be quicker than Google. And it was all Rove’s idea. I think he’d been wanting to do something like it for ages, and he had the star power to convince the ABC that it would be a fun, cool idea.

What was your first thought when you heard the idea for the programme?

I was apprehensive. Because I think originally they were going to make it an hour, and I was like, “I think that’s probably slightly too long.” And originally there were going to be a lot more sketches, we were going to get more musical guests, and all this kind of stuff, but it just didn’t feel right. And then we had our first rehearsal, we watched Hell Bent, and we realised that everyone in it was really on board, everyone had a different role to play. So you had Bajo, who was just very strangely excited by weird things; Tegan was really good at getting jokes that would appeal to non-Doctor Who fans, which was really important; Adam was great with his theories and stuff; and Rove was great at keeping them all together. So originally I liked the idea – I thought it would be a fantastic thing for me to do, and I was really excited to be part of it – but I wasn’t sure how well it would go. And then the first episode went out, and it just went gangbusters. We were trending on Twitter, it was great.

So the reaction from the audience overall was positive?

Oh yeah. I think we did have a few people who didn’t like it, for the first couple of weeks. They said, “You make too many jokes. You’ve got to be more serious about this.” But I think those people eventually stopped watching, and everyone else, especially on Twitter, the hashtag, the #WhoviansAU hashtag, the amount of people who were being brought together by this hashtag, and chatting about Doctor Who, and building this community – which obviously exists, but it was something that a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily know about, this community of Doctor Who fans in Australia. I thought it was really, really great that we could bring people together. And the ABC seemed to really like it. The ABC actually said to us, well they said to Rove, “So, do you reckon you could just keep it going after Doctor Who’s finished?” And we were like, “Uh, it kind of needs Doctor Who to uh, to work.”

And the BBC were fantastic. We used a lot of the facilities that The Fan Show uses. And in terms of getting interviews, they were fantastic. They would bend over backwards to get us interviews with people. For our last episode, we hadn’t even asked for an interview with Steven Moffat, ‘cos we’d done one at the beginning of the season. And they just said, “Hey look, do you want another interview with Steven Moffat to do a kind of wrap-up?” So the BBC were fantastic, the ABC were fantastic, the audience was fantastic – it was great. It was really fun.

What did your role on the show involve?

We started preproduction about four weeks before the show started. And so a lot of my part was finding well-known people who were Doctor Who fans and contacting them, seeing if they’d be keen. So looking at comedians, looking at politicians – as you know, we had George Christensen and Stephen Conroy on. So at first it was contacting people, and then, when we were still thinking we might need some filler stuff – like interviewing people who had big Doctor Who collections, or people who build Daleks – contacting those sorts of people.

Once the show started, we’d get the episodes a week prior. So we’d watch the episode and think, “Right, what can we get out of this? What kind of packages can we put in?” So in our first episode we had the connection with Australia package, and just on a whim I called Gai Waterhouse and asked if she’d like to come do an interview. And she was so keen, she was really, really keen. So basically, my role was working out what we were going to do for a package – and we’d aim to have two or three packages per show – and then we’d contact the BBC to get the episode. One of the things that we were limited by was that, because of the various copyright deals and everything, we could only use ten classic series episodes for each one. So for Smile, people were like, “You should have had a clip from The Happiness Patrol!”, but the problem was, we’d already used up all our clips on robots. So we were kind of limited there. But we just found ways to work around it.

And then the other thing I’d do was, I was writing scripts. Justin Hamilton was our head writer, and he was writing the episode script, which is all the links and segues and things, and then the two of us would also write a lot of the audition scripts – so you had Charlie Pickering, Jeremy Fernandez, Barrie Cassidy – all those people. ‘Cos everyone at the ABC wanted to be part of it. So I’d write scripts for that, and then I’d sit in. We’d do a quick rehearsal with the cameras, and if anyone wanted a quick Doctor Who reference or they wanted to get something right, they’d ask me and I’d give them the reference.

Basically, I was being paid to sit in an office five days a week and watch Doctor Who. I’d be sitting at a desk watching Seeds of Doom or whatever, and people would walk past going, “He’s clearly doing his job.” It was ridiculous – it’s the craziest job I’ve ever had in my life.

You mentioned that you got to watch the episodes a week early. How difficult was it to avoid leaking spoilers?

It wasn’t too bad. The only people that I kind of regularly speak to about Doctor Who are my girlfriend and my brothers. My girlfriend is more of a casual fan, so if I said something to her like, “Rona Munro’s coming back to write an episode!”, she’d just go, “Okay, great, cool, whatever.” Whereas with my brothers, more than anything it was kind tempting to kind of lord it over them, and be like, “I know what’s happening and I can’t tell you.” So it wasn’t too bad. The big moment was David Bradley coming back. I watched that, and then I emailed Adam Richard, and I was like, “Please can you watch it”, and they weren’t allowed to watch it early. Eventually I bullied him into watching it so I’d have someone to talk to about David Bradley coming back.

If someone had told your younger self that you’d end up working on a Doctor Who panel show, how do you think you would have reacted?

I’d ask, “Who are you?”, first of all, ‘cos Mum told me to never talk to strangers. I mean, if I was a kid, I wouldn’t have even imagined that you could work on anything related to Doctor Who. Doctor Who is just this thing that gets created somewhere in space, and then it ends up on our television. So it’s the craziest idea. I didn’t want to talk about it, with confidentiality agreements and all that. When I first got offered it, we were still kind of negotiating stuff with the BBC, so there was no guarantee that it was going to happen. And then as soon as it started, as soon as it got broadcast, I’d bump into people and they’d go, “Have you heard about this new show called Whovians?” I said, “Oh yeah, I work on it”, and they were like, “Oh thank God. ‘Cos if you hadn’t been, I was gonna go and burn down the ABC.”

I remember two years ago, there was a point in my life where I was thinking, “I have wasted my life. My brain is so full of Doctor Who facts, and this will never do me any good. If only there was some way of monetising my hobby.” And then there was! And it’s been incredible, and hopefully we’ll be back next year. You know what the ABC’s like, you know what the BBC’s like – it’s all negotiations, and obviously ‘cos Chris Chibnall’s coming in we might have to renegotiate stuff. So I’m hopeful we’ll come back, but nothing’s set in stone at the moment.

Is there any chance there’ll be more audience participation in future episodes of Whovians?

We really wanted to get more audience participation. But then I wrote a quiz for the audience, and people were rubbish at it. I didn’t think they were difficult questions, but apparently a lot of fans these days don’t know in which episode the Black Guardian first appeared. A lot of people these days don’t know who the Black Guardian is. So then I had to level the questions down. But we’d love to get more audience participation. At the end of the day, we just had so much stuff in terms of packages. In that prep time, we were like, “We need to have so much stuff. We need to have bands. We need to have comedy sketches.” But then when it came to the records, most of the records went for 50, 55 minutes and had to be cut down to a half hour. So we always had so much stuff. I really want to do Doctor Who fans speed dating, which’d be really fun. So we’re always trying to build new stuff.

I remember my favourite part from the recording – it was such a surreal thing. In the very first episode, we had this idea that Rove would run into places yelling “Shark attack!” to see who would react. And we did it, and we ran into this pub, and this guy was like, “What are you filming for?”, and we told him it was a Doctor Who wrap-up show. He was like, “I was in Doctor Who”, and we were like, “No you weren’t, old man.” And then it turned out it was Ian Cullen from The Aztecs! It made no sense! Why was he in this pub at the exact moment we were filming this thing for Whovians? And he was wonderful.

Following on from what you said about the Black Guardian, do you think some of the members of the audience had no concept of how old the series actually is?

That was one of the big things with making the packages and the montages and stuff. Obviously there are so many New Who fans, and we really wanted to emphasise this kind of continuing thing, and that this is an ongoing show that’s been going for ages. One of the things that we wanted to do, but again got cut for time, was that we wanted to do a classic series recommendation. So say if it was Smile, you’d go, “If you liked this episode, you should check out The Happiness Patrol.” We really wanted to do that, but again, we didn’t have time. But I think there were a lot of New Who fans, and I mean, the new series has been going for twelve years. It’s already longer than so many series on television, and that’s just from 2005 onwards. We definitely skewed slightly towards the New Who demographic, obviously because we’re discussing the new series.

We did have a very silly idea to try and convince the ABC to let us show classic episodes and then show Whovians after that, which obviously would have been a lot of fun, but then we also would have had to pretend we didn’t know what was happening; like, “Hmm, who’s this mysterious Watcher figure in Logopolis? Maybe it’s the Master!” But we were definitely very conscious of trying to bridge that gap. And Adam has seen every episode of the classic series and listened to all of Big Finish, whereas Bajo and Tegan only got into it with Christopher Eccleston.

What was it like working with Rove and all the panellists?

It was great. It was an absolute joy. Bajo is a nerd – he’s the most delightful nerd, who is just so excited about kids dying. He’s not a murderer himself – he’s happy just to watch. Tegan was great – I’ve known her for years through the comedy circuit, so it was great to be able to work with her on something. Rove was so down to earth, and he was such a big fan. It was such a relief to find that out. And Adam and I would just sit in the corner talking about the Rani. So everyone was fantastic, all the guests were lovely – everyone was just so excited and really happy to be there.

Are there any plans to release Whovians on DVD?

No, only because it’s obviously so tied to the individual episodes. So it’d be another bout of licensing issues, because we use clips from the episodes, we use old clips. So I think it’s probably a bit too much trouble, and the ABC wouldn’t exactly see it as cost-effective. Which is a pity. I didn’t realise this, but it is such a painstaking process to get licensing for all the different things that you need.

Which was your favourite Thirteenth Doctor audition?

Ooooo. Um, of the ones that I wrote, I really liked the Barrie Cassidy one and the Jeremy Fernandez one, just because they were the most serious people you can imagine doing it, and then throwing themselves into it and being so silly. My favourite one that I didn’t write, this is one that Rove wrote, was the Play School one with the Zygon song. Costa was great as well, apart from the fact that he pronounced Krynoid incorrectly. God, that was silly. But they were all just so dumb and so joyful.


Pat will be quizmaster and MC of the DWCA’s annual Trivia Night and Cosplay Competition – The Game of Rassilon – to be held on 13 July at Club Burwood from 6pm. The night will see teams test their knowledge of classic and revived Doctor Who – with the odd question on pop culture and general knowledge just to keep you on your toes – all for the chance to win some fabulous prizes. There will also be a special prize for the best Doctor Who cosplay!

Tickets are available now for just $15 per person or $75 for a table of six – register here to guarantee your place. Tickets will be available at the door for $20, if not sold out.

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