At first, the premise sounded a bit ridiculous: a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost sharing a flat in Bristol. But within just two seasons, the BBC 3 darkly humorous drama Being Human has become must-see viewing for genre fans who have anxiously awaited the further adventures of Mitchell the vampire (played by Aidan Turner) reluctant werewolf George (Russell Tovey) and ghostly flatmate Annie (Lenora Crichlow).
Series creator Toby Whithouse recently sat down to preview the upcoming third season of Being Human, which debuts in the UK on BBC 3 in January…
Is it strange to read about the US version of Being Human shooting 13 episodes for their first season? That’s more episodes than your entire run of the series so far.
It’s a weird thing. One season there is the equivalent of two over here. But I’m quite happy with the short orders here, because we run the show on what you would call a skeleton staff. We don’t have the money to do it any other way, but it also means that you can be a bit more bespoke with it.
If we were given a longer season, say 15 or 20 episodes, I think inevitably the quality would drop because of the way we do it here.
Do you end each season knowing what will happen when you come back or do you just throw all the cards up in the air and see what happens?
I quite like the freedom of not knowing what’s going to happen. It’s like being a kid again and making up stories. It means if you’re suddenly hit by inspiration, you can go off in a completely different direction. A perfect example of that is episode seven of series two when Mitchell and Daisy kill all the people on the train.
We really didn’t really know what to do with Mitchell as we were getting towards the end of the series and in a way, I felt we really done the struggling addict stories to death. He’s on the wagon, he’s off the wagon; he’s killed one person and now he’s back on the wagon.
But we always thought of Mitchell as a time bomb, and there comes a point when you think, ‘For God’s sake, let’s just blow him up! Let’s confront him with the thing he’s always been terrified of!’ So I came up with the idea that he and Daisy would massacre all these people on the train. That pushes the entire series in a completely different direction.
Similarly, pretty much all of the events in series three happen as a direct result of what happens on the train. Again, that’s one of the decisions I made while I was writing the script. It wasn’t something that was pre-determined and I quite like the freedom to be able to think, F**k it, we’re going to go in this direction and we’re going to do this with him now!’
Is it true that you’re doing a ‘Search for Spock’ storyline for Annie, who was sent to Hell at the end of season two?
As it is, she doesn’t spend that long over there, and while I was writing the treatment for that episode, we played with lots of different ways of presenting Hell.
It was getting us nowhere, because we realized that the moment you articulate or dramatize Hell, it always becomes less frightening because it becomes my version of Hell or the producers’ or whatever. I might find it terrifying, but a lot of people watching won’t, so it becomes less dramatic and potent.
What we came up with was the idea that everyone’s Hell is different. It then became about Mitchell, because he’s the only one who could safely cross over, who is then faced with certain points from his life and certain murders he’s committed. The moment that happened, it became a very rich vein of story.
The other thing that I think has characterized the show right from the very beginning is that our budget is, compared to an American show, insanely ridiculously small. But again, I quite relish the challenge of that. It also means that we are the latest in a very long and distinguished line of genre practitioners who have had to work with tiny budgets.
If you look at something like Blake’s 7 or Sapphire and Steel, those budgets were very small even by their standards so it means you have to develop a completely different kind of storytelling. You have to rely on suggestion and inference and character.
So if we’re doing something like Hell, you have to find a more interesting, more character-led way of doing it and I quite enjoy that. It means we haven’t got the money to do a huge CGI Hell, so it has to be something about the characters.
What was your motivation for bringing back Herrick this season?
He’s such an extraordinary character and Jason Watkins is such an amazing actor that perhaps it was a bit of self-indulgence on my part. I think we could have got away without doing it, but it was a bit of a treat for me and for the fans because Herrick was such a phenomenally popular character. But the Herrick that comes back is slightly different to the Herrick we remember.
If you’re going to bring back a character like him, you’ve to do something interesting. You have to keep moving forward and that’s something I hope we’ve done with him.
You’ve also got Robson Green playing a werewolf named McNair. What does his character bring to the series?
In series one and two, the vampires have been the dominant aggressive force. In a way, the werewolves have always been slightly reactive so McNair and his son are more of a proactive force. They’re taking the fight to the vampires. We thought Herrick had done a good job of dramatizing the aggressive ambition of the vampires so we thought it would be nice to turn the tables a bit.
In general terms, what are some of the major storylines we’ll be seeing in season three?
We will be dealing with the ramifications of what Mitchell did on the train; at the end of series two. The whole nation is talking about the murder of the ‘Box Tunnel 20,’ who were the people on the train, so series three will deal with that. There is also some interesting news for Nina and George, which you can probably work out.
Annie is also rescued from Hell and she has to deal with the fact that she’s now survived death four times. And then there are plenty of new characters coming in, like Tom and McNair, as well as the return of Herrick. I’m very happy with it.
[Next: Whithouse talks about the US version of Being Human, his upcoming episode of Doctor Who and a possible new genre series…]