Interview with ‘Being Human’ creator Toby Whithouse

Neela Debnath

Toby Whithouse image 300x230 Interview with ‘Being Human’ creator Toby Whithouse

The writer behind BBC3’s supernatural comedy-drama ‘Being Human’ speaks to Neela Debnath about series 4 of the show, vampires and ‘Doctor Who’

Toby Whithouse sounds like an affable type. Any writer would find it challenging to lose one main character from their television programme but to lose three in quick succession seems like a monumental loss that could spell the end of any popular series. However, this does not apply to ‘Being Human’ which is back for a fourth series, and if anything, Whithouse is very pragmatic about it all. ‘We’ve got to re-establish the format of the ghost, werewolf and the vampire show and so the next job of the series is to get that back in place after the histrionics of episode 1.’

The first episode of series 4 saw the departure of Russell Tovey as the loveable werewolf George and his girlfriend Nina, portrayed by Sinead Keenan, who made an off-screen exit. While Aidan Turner, who played the lead vampire Mitchell, left the show at the end of the last series. The sole surviving member of the main cast is Lenora Crichlow’s character Annie the ghost.

Despite this exodus of actors, the original format has been somewhat re-established following the broadcast of episodes 1 and 2. Michael Socha who played young werewolf Tom has become the show’s resident furry beast of choice while newcomer Damien Molony has been brought on as Hal the vampire. ‘We felt that our next job was to find and create a new vampire character. We wanted to get as far away from Mitchell as possible because with Tom in place the dynamic has already altered massively. Tom is as different a character to George as is humanly possible. Similarly, with Hal we wanted take that character in a completely different direction to Mitchell. Hence, his fastidiousness and his very rigorous self-control which we thought would be a really nice mix when put against Tom’s brutality and feral nature.’

Whithouse tells me what else he has in store for the occupants of the Honolulu Heights, the dingy bed and breakfast in Barry, South Wales, where the characters live. ‘As the series progresses, we’ve got the Old Ones approaching as we saw in the sequel after episode 1, so they’re like an approaching storm. They’ll arrive at the end of the series and in the meantime there’ll be lots more intrigue and we’ve got some fantastic guest characters in this series.’ Craig Roberts, who played Adam the sex-obsessed teen vampire, will be making another appearance while Mark Gatiss has come onboard as King of the Vampires.

There seems to be plenty of action and drama to come but surely he must have a favourite episode? ‘Genuinely, hand on heart, I love them all. Episode 3 is fantastic because it really explores the relationship between Tom and Hal and sets up their friendship. Episode 4 boasts an absolutely stunning performance from James Lance as our lead guest of the week. In episode 5 Craig Roberts comes back and completely steals the show. Episode 6 is incredibly funny. Then the final two-parter again, as the Old Ones get ever closer, the momentum builds and all the storylines that we set up starting from episode 1 start coming together. I’m really, really pleased with those two episodes, they’re genuinely thrilling and exciting.’

‘Being Human’ has radically changed now, not just becase of the new characters but also because of the wider scope of the story. There is a new, epic-style plotline which involves the mythology of the vampire scrolls and this series looks at the War Child legend, the one that prophecises the destruction of the vampire race. The storytelling is been taken up several levels and away from the original focus upon three supernatural beings living together and integrating into society. Given this shift in gear, what does the future hold for ‘Being Human’? ‘We’re developing series 5 [which has not yet been confirmed] and within that we always enjoy exploring the hinterland of the supernatural races. I don’t think we’re going to get to a point where each series becomes the exploration of a new scroll or a new piece of mythology. With such a rich history to the supernatural creatures it provides an incredibly rich vein of material which we will quite happily plunder for stories. But the thing is it’s difficult to know. Every year, whenever we sit down to start storylining a new series, we start pretty much with a blank page and see what grabs us. The future is undefined and that’s what makes it exciting.’

There is indeed a vast array of rich material to choose from but there are also numerous other supernatural films and television shows which are taking inspiration from similar sources. From ‘Twilight’ to ‘Underworld’, ‘True Blood’ to ‘The Vampire Diaries’, the list is only growing. ‘I think it’s a genre that people are going to have to find new ways of doing to keep it fresh. I keep thinking that the vampire era is over but it doesn’t really seem to be showing any signs of abating. I think it’s almost as if the vampire genre has become a mainstream genre like police or medical. There was a time when you could pitch a story to a broadcaster or a commissioner and say: ‘it’s about vampires’ and that would be enough of a spin but now there’s so many of them. It would have to be vampires from a different angle, a new take on vampires because vampires themselves are no longer a significantly interesting or unique enough prospect.’

Whithouse explains that the key ingredient to ‘Being Human’ is the use of character. He says that it is the driving force behind the show and sets it apart from other supernatural  programmes. ‘In a way it’s the advantage of having a relatively small budget compared with other shows, it forces you into the position where you have to make the show about character. And character is free so that’s always been our secret weapon in a way. We’ll always work out when we’re devising a new story what the character is, what the character arc is, and often then we’ll decide whether that person is best to be a vampire, werewolf or a ghost. The character always comes absolutely first and then after that we start adding the supernatural elements. I think that’s what kind of marks us apart from – not all – but certainly some supernatural shows.’

The popularity both of ‘Being Human’ and the supernatural genre has led to the creation of an American version of the show which takes some elements from the British series. The original concept of the ghost, werewolf and vampire are there but due to the longer length of American seasons new material had to be created to fill the additional episodes. Whithouse says that he doesn’t watch the US show because he doesn’t want to be influenced by it. Saying this, he is very happy with the episodes he has seen. ‘It would be very difficult for me to leave the British version but the American version has no impact on it whatsoever. It’s not so much a child as a slightly distant nephew that I’m very fond of and very pleased to hear from now and then and very pleased that it seems to be doing very well.’

Along with his work on ‘Being Human’, Whithouse has written several episodes of ‘Doctor Who’, including ‘The God Complex’, ‘Vampires in Venice’ and ‘School Reunion’ which featured former companion Sarah Jane Smith and robotic sidekick K-9. He has also penned a story for the new series. ‘I can’t tell you anything about it because if I did Steven Moffat would come round here and kick me in the shin. It’s very exciting, it’s not like any episode I’ve written before and I really enjoyed writing it. But I love writing ‘Doctor Who’. Even after all these years there’s still a very special thrill that comes from writing ‘INTERIOR: TARDIS’ at the top of the scene.’ He teasingly mentions that he knows all about the new series. ‘But I’m not allowed to say. They would absolutely kill me but it’s very, very exciting and I’m really honoured and excited to be part of it.’

He has plenty more going on this year. ‘I’m developing a series for BBC1 and developing another series of ‘Being Human’ and more than that I can’t really say – not because I’d have to kill you – but because that’s all I really know at the moment.’

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Image credit: Getty Images

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  • Brian Beuken

    Interesting interview, shame that he does not seem to realse that what made Being Human a good show in series 1,2 and 3 was the “being human” element of the show, supernatural beings trying to get by in a human world…now its a vampire apocalypse epic…..which is frankly…rubbish

  • Shege

    I think that he probably does realize it, after all he created the whole shebang. “Being Human” derives much of its innovation from placing the absurd campness of horror in a Rising Damp/Young Ones sitcom setting, whilst maintaining a grimy low budget realist visual style. Each series interweaves different homages into the patchwork of pastiche.

    I think that the “being human” element was grounded in Series 1. Series 2 started the epic themes with the Buffy inspired sci-fi fundamentalist scientists. The epic themes expanded in Series 3 with the worldwide vampire conspiracy, which owed a lot to Anne Rice.

    Series 4 has maintained the counterpoint between sitcom and camp horror so far. Trouble is, the departure of Mitchell, George and Nina has taken away much of the pathos and nihilism, which tempered the whimsical witterings of Annie.

    I’m not sure if the new characters have enough weight yet, but it’s good that Toby Whitehouse inverted the archetypes. The “Machine” was George the Werewolf and now is Hal the Vampire. The “Animal” was Mitchell and now is Tom. Contrast that inversion with the lack of imagination in Misfits when they replaced the lascivious Animal Robert Sheehan with exactly the same archetype.

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