I discovered Inspector Spacetime (and therefore, Community) thanks to this year’s Gallifrey One convention. How did I not know about this Doctor Who parody series-within-a-series before that? Fortunately, though, I have since been educated and have been a fan ever since. And now, Inspector Spacetime himself (aka Travis Richey), along with the Optic Pocketknife creator Brian Uiga, has been nice enough to let me interview them about the upcoming web series.
As you may have heard, there was a bit of a brouhaha when Travis started a Kickstarter campaign for an actual Inspector Spacetime series. NBC and Sony didn’t want it to happen, so Richey had to change the title of the series to something more vague: Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time. Say that three times really fast! For future reference, I’m calling it The Untitled Web Series. The Kickstarter project was a huge hit and the web series has now been made. In fact, it debuts next week on September 10th (mark your calendars).
I asked Richey a few questions about the new web series:
Before you were cast as Inspector Spacetime, were you familiar with Doctor Who at all?
RICHEY: I had older brothers who watched Doctor Who when I was a kid and so I was familiar with it. I remember watching it during the Tom Baker years. And I always had friends who watched Doctor Who, so I was constantly surrounded by Whovians, but I wasn’t a huge fan myself. And then when the series relaunched I was aware of it but I’m also the type of person who can’t watch shows unless watching from the beginning, so I never watched it until until it became available on Netflix right about the same time that I auditioned for the Inspector Spacetime role on Community. In preparation for that audition I watch the very first Matt Smith episode, and then after I got cast I went back and started the beginning with the Christopher Eccleston episodes and went all the way through including Torchwood and then actually I just watched the entire run again. I I’ve become a huge fan of Doctor Who. It’s great sci-fi.
I attended Gallifrey One last year and that’s where I first learned about Inspector Spacetime (and why I started watching Community). That particular panel was a hit, but how have other Doctor Who fans responded to the character and the upcoming web series?
RICHEY: I think Doctor Who fans have been nearly the entire reason that Inspector Spacetime has been successful at all! The Community fans who don’t know Doctor Who don’t really get it, and it’s the Doctor Who fans that built the history of the Inspector. And they did something really amazing with that, by actually fixing some of the things that they viewed as oversights in the Doctor Whouniverse. For example, they invented a female inspector and a black inspector; things that never existed in the Doctor Who universe.
Could you briefly describe the conflict NBC/Sony had with the Kickstarter program? Were you surprised by their response? Do you think they’ll change their mind?
RICHEY: Actually, I go into some detail on this in the interview I did for DoorQ.com recently, and the short story is that, yes I was kind of completely surprised that they weren’t into the idea and didn’t want to work with me on it. And I don’t think that the’re going to change their mind necessarily, unless we are just huge success. But now that we’re not technically Inspector Spacetime, they really don’t have any power to force us to do anything. But if they decide to offer to work with us, I’d certainly be open to having that conversation.
You decided to continue with the Kickstarter project. Were you surprised at how successful it turned out to be? Why or why not?
RICHEY: Well, by the time I’d gotten that call from Sony, the Kickstarter campaign was almost half successful. So we really had to go forward with that. As to the success of the campaign, I really was not surprised otherwise I probably wouldn’t have done it. I thought that was going to be possible. I mean, fans were literally demanding an Inspector Spacetime show, but Sony and NBC were either unwilling, uninterested, or afraid to do it. But I am at the same time very very grateful to the fans to contributed to the project.
How did you come up with ideas for the web series overall plot and story? What can fans expect to see?
RICHEY: My writing partner Eric Loya came up with the basic plot, which I don’t want to give away. I called him on the way home from that very first Community shoot and told him that we needed to write an Inspector Spacetime web series that we could pitch to the network. About a week later he emailed me first drafts of 5 episodes, and had cleverly written himself a role as the main villain. As for what happens, well, we use some conventional sci-fi tropes, but hopefully in a new and interesting way.
Will there be possibly be a second season of Untitled Web Series About A Space Traveler who can Also Travel Through Time?
RICHEY: We are really hoping that this first season is a big success, because we actually have come up with a multi-season story for the series. And also, I’m personally hoping that Karen Gillan, who said in a video from the BBC that she wanted to be in Inspector Spacetime, sees the show and wants to be in the second season. We’ve already written her a role, and it’s hers if she’s ok with the face that we can’t call it Inspector Spacetime and it’s not being produced by Sony…
About that extremely long title: Does the series have a shorter nickname yet?
RICHEY: No, though people keep suggesting other names. I love the long title. It says to people that “this is not what we wanted to call this show, but you all know what it really is.” It was me being a bit cheeky and a little bit of a smartass. I thought briefly about adding “for legal reasons” to the end, but that would have crossed the line to just plain bitchy.
What’s your favorite part of playing The Space Traveler who is NOT Inspector Spacetime?
RICHEY: He is just really, really neat. A lot of my other characters are not very high status, but The Inspector thinks – knows – that he’s pretty much the most important being in the universes. Except, at the same time he is SO very flawed. I mean, he’s good at what he does. He’s not bumbling – we’ve seen that before – but his arrogance and overconfidence are going to be fun things to play with. Plus, have you SEEN the Optic Pocketknife?!? That is the coolest working prop ever. And the new look is just incredible. Those are thanks to prop designer Brian Uiga and costumer designer Becky Jordan, both of whose work astounded me.
The Optic Pocketknife
If you attended this past year’s Gallifrey One, you’ll know that Uiga was part of the team that rebuilt the TARDIS from the Doctor Who movie. I also had the opportunity to chat with him about that optic pocketknife, too. He jumped aboard the project and contacted Richey after seeing a funny video of Richey with that very-same TARDIS console.
UIGA: I was handed a completely blank sheet of paper to come up with a design, the only input from Travis and the team being that it “should light up” and should be “MUCH cooler than a Sonic Screwdriver.”
So I put together a big bag of tools and gadget pieces I had, and met with Travis at a meeting of the Replica Prop Forum. We then came up with the idea of a small screen with a side-light that could be used to display graphics with some sort of iPhone-like icons.
The final Optic Pocketknife prop was over 50 parts to fill in all of the details and hide all of the wiring. A high-output camera battery was fit inside the body so we wouldn’t have to run wires down sleeves to get the amount of light we wanted.
I finished assembly on the first Optic Pocketknife in the middle of the night the day before the shoot, and brought spares of every part to the set to make sure that I could fix any filming mishaps – but we didn’t have a single problem with the prop at any time. The only work I had to do on that all day was to swap lenses in the laser pointer so that the prop could have different scanning modes.
At Comic Con, a couple of months ago, I met master sculptor Nick Robatto, who built many of the iconic props for Doctor Who – including all of the Sonic Screwdrivers seen on the series since 2006. He was very impressed with the prop and loved all of the little details I put in there as a nod to his iconic Sonic Screwdriver props.