How much does Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice creator Shonda Rhimes love the British sci-fi show Doctor Who? “I feel the two highlights of my past five years are I got to meet (former Who executive producer) Russell Davies and I got to meet the star of (Who spin-off show) Torchwood, John Barrowman, who was in one of our pilots,” reveals the prolific TV showrunner. Indeed, an episode from the most recent season of Grey’s Anatomy featured a Who fan who lost his ear at a fan convention while rushing to get a model TARDIS signed by Davies.
Rhimes talked about her love for the show in last week’s Entertainment Weekly Doctor Who cover story (see above). But she had much, much more to say about the 49-year-old TV institution — whose new season debuts on BBC America later this summer — as you can read below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, are all the writers on Grey’s Anatomy fans of Doctor Who?
SHONDA RHIMES: We’re psychotic Doctor Who fans. I’m always talking about Doctor Who over there. Even the people who don’t watch Doctor Who at Grey’s know about Doctor Who because it’s all we talk about in the writers’ room. When we were doing that episode, it was supposed to be the all-male show, and we were talking about the things that we could never do in an episode that was geared towards the women and one was a comic convention. Then we were like, “Well, if we’re going to do Comic Con, what’s really interesting to us?” And for me it was Doctor Who. We loved the idea of people fighting over a TARDIS signed by Russell Davies. We wrote it as real fans, which was great.
How did viewers react to that show?
It was interesting. There were some viewers who loved it. Some of our guy viewers were like, “This is great, this is exciting.” And then there were some of our girl viewers who had just never seen Doctor Who and were like, “I don’t get it.” And I would just say, “Well, you have to watch it. Because it’s got all the good stuff in it.”
When did you start watching Doctor Who?
I’d never seen the original, old-timey Doctor Who. I’d heard about it but I’d never seen it. I probably picked it up around season 2 [after its 2005 relaunch] and then went back and watched season 1 and really loved it and have been an avid fan ever since. I own all the DVDs and I own the books that Russell wrote about it. I got up in arms about Matt Smith [replacing David Tennant] and then fell in love with Matt Smith, just like everybody else.
So many TV shows have referenced Doctor Who recently. Is it a show which is generally beloved by TV writers.
I think it is. I mean if you have any feelings for sci-fi, you know the show and you love it. I’m not even a giant sci-fi watcher. I liked Buffy and I liked Angel and I liked Battlestar but—I hate to say this because I’ll probably get some letters—I’ve never seen episode of Star Trek. But if you are at all interested in television that’s taking chances then, yeah, I think you like it.
It’s completely different from anything that’s on network television here, or even on cable. I’m not even sure it can exist on American television in the way it exists on British television. I think there is a freedom of storytelling and a leap of logic that Russell is willing to take and Steven is willing to take that I’m not sure network studios here would get on board with. I think there’d be a lot of questions. “Doctor Who travels through time?” It would just get strange for them.
Steven Moffat told me that he felt one of the big differences between the new Doctor Who and the old one is that the new version is more emotional and is thus more female-friendly.
I don’t know if it’s more female-friendly but Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who feels like it’s told from Amy Pond’s point of view, which is a departure from the way Russell did it. I think it’s interesting and I think it works. You’re sort of rediscovering the Doctor all over again.
You know Karen Gillan’s leaving the show, right?
I know. I’m very upset. When I heard she was leaving I tried to hire her. I think she’s really, really talented. But apparently she’s doing a movie next, so we couldn’t get her.
Can I ask what you wanted her for?
No. That’s a top secret.
Often. I’m saying that kind of tongue-in-cheek but I do keep pitching to people. “Let’s have an episode that takes place in the 1800s and see what surgery would have been like then” And everyone’s like, “And how would we do that?” “I don’t know.” There’s no way to travel through time on Grey’s.
What happened with the John Barrowman pilot?
It didn’t get picked. But that doesn’t mean I’m done stalking John Barrowman. I will be stalking him until the end of time.
I recently visited the set of Doctor Who. There was about 2% of me that was genuinely disappointed to discover the TARDIS is not actually bigger on the inside.
That’s the hard part. I keep trying to figure out a way to build a TARDIS in my house — And live in it.