In the Flesh: Interview: Dominic Mitchell – Post-Series 2

DominicMitchellDominic Mitchell is keeping busy. He has been working on another script (‘it’s good to be working again’, he comments), and the day we spoke, he had been contributing to a BBC Writers Room Workshop. The training of new talent is something he benefitted from, and is keen to promote wherever he can. At the end of a long day, he sat down for a chat with Paul Simpson about the just-finished season of In the Flesh – warning there are spoilers ahead for episode 6!

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Amy and PhilipWhen we spoke after episode 1, you said there was a character death coming up that you tried to find a way around but couldn’t – was that Amy?

Yes, it was Amy.

But is she really dead? My immediate reaction to that final scene was, ‘oh right, that’s a way for her to be back in Series 3’…

Yes, there are those two Halperin and Weston executives, and they’re searching for her, and there is something special about her.

At the start of everything, I always thought that Amy was special. Kieren isn’t a red herring – he’s the protagonist – but as normal as Kieren could be, he isn’t special. As he says himself, he’s not the Messiah, he just doesn’t want to hurt someone.

I wanted to do that: in a lot of shows, you’re almost forced to put on people those special powers. I’m not saying Amy would have special powers if she was resurrected by these terrible scientists at the Treatment Centre… Not terrible, I would argue they’re doing things for their own reasons.

They’re amoral not immoral…

Completely. They’re a business. They’re a multi-national: in England they are the biggest company because they’ve got a stranglehold over the government. They can just go, ‘We’re not going to supply neurotriptylene any more’. They can do what they want.

ITF 5In episode 5, those two scientists, John Weston and Victor Halperin, aren’t evil, they’re not horrible people, they’re just dealing with a situation which they have no idea how to handle. They’ve been asked to do it.

I’ve always felt that neurotriptylene was rushed and they were developing it for something else. There are drugs at the moment for people who have traumatic brain injuries, and I always thought neurotriptylene was the drug for that and then they found out by experimentation, as you saw, with Simon and the other disciples that it works – just offhandedly. It’s that thing with all medical discoveries – antidepressants came from tests on antihistamines. I always thought neurotriptylene wasn’t the goal to start with, but as the Rising happened, people said to them, ‘You’re the best and the brightest, help us. We’ll give you these test subjects and put you in a bunker; whatever you want to do, just do something.’

John Weston and Vic Halperin aren’t villains, they’re just desperate men.

Did Simon’s decision not to kill Kieren come about because he has lost his faith in the Undead Prophet, or did his feelings for Kieren override it?

Simon has always been constantly been trying to find the meaning in his life and failing, and then this guy comes up.

I think Simon is much more enamoured with Kieren than Kieren is with Simon: it’s still a starting off period for Kieren, which I think is good, and is healthy for him. I think if the series continues, you’d see an obsessive side to Simon in that relationship; he gets obsessed about things, and he needs something to fill the void that he still feels within himself. Up until that point where he said to Simon ‘you have to destroy him for me’, I think the Undead Prophet did fill a lot of the void.

Emmett ITF 2All the way through I thought that Simon may be a bit suspicious, but I never thought of him as a truly violent character, or someone who’d want to kill anyone. I think it just amplified his reaction because it was Kieren. I think if the Undead Prophet found out it was Amy who was the first risen, then I think he’d still be very conflicted, because that’s who Simon is. He didn’t want to kill his mother: there’s a little thing in episode 5 of the photo with him and his mum: he’s still got it, and if he was truly radicalised he wouldn’t have that photo.

There’s always been a bit of shades of grey with Simon; he needed someone concrete to believe it. I think Simon was grabbing on to straws for a lot of his life. With Kieren, those sort of feelings are much more concrete than something ultimately that is… not off with the fairies, but is elusive and ethereal.

If we were to see more of that relationship, it would be fascinating because where do you go from there? You’ve been in a cult, and a big member of that cult. He wasn’t just a follower, he was a disciple, and now internally where do you go? Where do you put your faith? Human beings all have to believe in something, don’t we, and I think that would be an interesting dilemma.

And he’s only just got out of it: in episode 6 there’s not a lot of totally-tied-in-a-bow resolution – Simon hasn’t even told Kieren why he went to the city. And that’s going to be a conversation! All that stuff is there: he did go, he was debating [killing Kieren]… If my significant other turned round to me one day and said, ‘One time I was debating whether to kill you because some man told me to’ there’d be quite a conversation after that – it’d be a bit of a worry! Simon is still raw.

Jen ITFI did wonder when you were talking about someone dying if you were referring to Jem – was she going to put into a situation where she ended up dead because of the guilt she was carrying?

Just for the Walker family in general, there’s been so much death and I was kind of wanting to not do that. I look at a lot of the fan sites and Twitter, and a lot of people were expecting me to kill Kieren, or put Jem in danger…

It’s not a happy ending, because Amy dies, but for the Walker family it’s a little bit less bleak. I just wanted to play with that: in series 1, we had Rick dying which was a huge blow.

Jem’s storyline was that she needed to ask for help, and the interesting thing about that is that both she and Kieren are killers. Kieren killed Lisa Lancaster, there’s no getting around that, and Jem killed Henry Lonsdale. There could have been a version of that scene where you see Kieren taking her to the police station or being upset or angry. I thought the interesting thing was that he isn’t; he’s actually supportive because he knows how she feels and what she’s going through. I didn’t want too much tragedy in the Walker household this season.

And it was good to have another bedroom scene (in the In The Flesh connotation of that!) between Jem and Kieren; those were some of the strongest parts of Series 1, and we lost them a bit in Series 2 because of their arcs. Harriet and Luke play them so well together…

Yes they do.

In The FleshAnd now let’s talk about Maxine, our wonderful MP…

Oh yes, our elected MP. Roarton gets what it pays for, I’m sorry.

That crossed my mind after the last pub scene – there they are, the living and PDS together, and nobody has learned anything…

No, they haven’t. It’s all swept under the carpet again. I loved writing that scene and I love how it’s performed.

It’s so indicative of Roarton’s attitude: in Series 1, three people are shot dead, murdered, and they go, ‘Okay, let’s sweep it all under the carpet, not talk about it, it’ll all be okay. Just wear your lenses and don’t say that you’re undead.’ Maxine kills someone – your elected official has a meltdown and then….!

That’s my feelings about those sorts of places. Their niggling narrow-mindedness always gets the better of them. There’s always got to be a war, there’s always got to be ‘the other’. They haven’t really learned that much. I’m sure there’s more friction for Roarton to go through.

Did Wummi know Maxine’s backstory before you started filming?

Yes, I wrote out before we shot anything. Jim O’Hanlon asked me to do a character bio, just so she knew what was happening.

It would have been really unfair for Wummi to just go through those five hours and then learn her brother died, and she wants the second rising, and that’s why she’s looking for the First Risen. It would have jarred.

I hope you can rewatch Series 2 and have hints about what she’s up to, how she feels, and where she comes from. You have to time those; we knew where we were going with Maxine because it was very important to know, and also to know about the Second Rising as well, whether it was going to happen or not. We always thought it was not going to happen.

Trio ITFWhat’s the future for the show?

It’s on hold. As you know BBC Three is going through a change – they’re like Amy Dyer at the end. They’re changing into a different beast, and all fingers and toes crossed that it’s a beautiful, wonderful beast, but until they know what concrete is going to happen, it’s on hold.

All the team would love to do more, and I feel like there are definitely more answers to be had and a lot more material we can mine. Me, I just love that universe. I love the world of In the Flesh; I would be very up for more. BBC Drama North would be up for more.

But it’s out of our hands – it’s up to BBC Three and what’s in store for them as an online channel… if it does go online. It’s a period of uncertainty because they don’t know if they are going to go. I think it’s important if it is going to go online then they make a positive song and dance about it, make a lot of noise. If they don’t then it would feel like a demotion. But as long as they can still do bold, risky drama, the documentaries they want to, the comedy they want to, and that they’re proud of themselves as well… we’re in a world of Amazon, of Netflix, and we watch everything online now: 4OD, iPlayer, ITV Player, Sky Go. I watch everything on my laptop. I think it’s the future and they should be proud of that – it’s the future of television. Fingers crossed it’s going to be okay.

So we’re waiting, and I’m getting on with other projects, but I’m so proud of everyone: the actors, the directors we got who were phenomenal, the production team. Everyone put their all into this season. It was tough: we had no time, BBC Three budgets aren’t huge but everyone rallied together and did it.

If this is the end then I feel like it’s been such a fantastic trip and adventure. I was thinking about it today when I was doing the iPlayer workshop: lots of writers never get to create their own shows. Even though it is about zombies, it is incredibly personal to me, and it’s been very cool to do it.

Thanks to Jenny Brown for her help arranging this interview.

In the Flesh (Series 1 and 2) is available from 9 June on DVD and Blu-ray

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