Main image: Clara Rugaard as Neve, emerging from a lake. On the left in a circular insert is a picture of Pete McTighe, wearing a green t-shirt. (Credit: Vishal Sharma/Sky; Pete McTighe)
Pete McTighe is the showrunner of The Rising, a new supernatural crime drama set to begin on Sky Max and NOW TV on April 22. The Rising follows Neve (Clara Rugaard), a young woman who dies and comes back to life – and sets about trying to solve her own murder.
McTighe – who’s previously written for Doctor Who and A Discovery of Witches, as well as acting as showrunner on The Pact and Wentworth – recently sat down with Alex Moreland to discuss The Rising. He explained how the series developed initially, from the Belgian drama it’s based on to his own creative influences, as well as detailing his writing process and sharing some information about his unmade Doctor Who series 13 episode.
So, first of all, what was your starting point with The Rising? Am I right in thinking that it started development in 2019?
I just finished the series one of The Pact, my BBC show. We’d done that in the middle of kind of a pandemic [laughs] and I was ready to have a break. And then this came along, and I didn’t take a break!
Sky came to me with the concept of the show that had been running in Europe for a couple of seasons called Hotel Beau Sejour. They’d basically licensed this show to be able to remake it. I looked at episode one of that show, which was great – I love the initial concept of it, a victim of a murder comes back from the dead to solve the crime, I thought that was a really great genre twist. The ability to fuse a genre show with the whodunnit, that was exciting to me. But what I wanted to do was something completely different – to take that concept, and then build a brand-new show around it. Brand new characters, brand new setting, brand new story, basically, just taking that little kind of nugget.
For me, the most important thing about the idea of the show was giving voice to a character, Neve, who, you know, would usually just be a body on a slab in any other crime drama, she would just be a MacGuffin from the police officers story or someone else’s story. It was about putting a victim of a really terrible crime front and centre and giving them the agency that they wouldn’t normally have in any other show. That’s what made it really exciting for me – and then obviously, the ability to build a big supernatural genre show, my favourite thing, around the idea. It was something I couldn’t resist, really.
What you were saying there leads into my next question quite nicely: obviously The Rising is based on, or inspired by, this Belgian drama, and you’ve done a couple of adaptations before, things like Wentworth. How does that compare to something like The Pact, which your own original concept?
Yeah, if I was doing a kind of a straight adaptation, I would have found it difficult. I think it’s important for me that, if I’m going to do a project, that I’m able to really imprint myself on that and run with it on my own. That’s very much what I was what I was able to do with The Rising, you know, just taking that nugget of an idea and running with it.
I have done adaptations before, and I think it obviously really, really depends on the source material. However closely you have to stick to it, it can sometimes be tricky, because what works as a book, for instance, doesn’t work as a piece of television, and you need a license to be able to change that. With this, we were lucky; we’re able to have the license to do whatever we want to do, which was really freeing. And it was kind of the same with Wentworth, actually, when I rebooted Prisoner: Cell Block H. Again, I just wanted to completely reboot it and imprint myself on it, and I was able to do that.
So, for me this and Wentworth do feel really similar to The Pact, because I wasn’t completely slavishly recreating something that already existed, I was running at it in the sense of making it something new. The Rising still feels to me like a brand-new show. It’s its own thing, it’s definitely not a remake or reboot.
Just in terms of your own work on it, would you say what we see on screen evolved a lot from your original concept and early drafts?
It’s really close to what I wanted. I really wanted to show that fused a whodunnit murder mystery [with] a lot of supernatural and genre thrills. When I came on board, it was important to me that we really elevated that supernatural stuff through the show – episodes one and two, as you’ve seen, has the supernatural as part of the core concept because [it’s about a] girl back from the dead, but as we go on, we play with the supernatural more and more and more. By episode eight, we’re really kind of pushing a lot more supernatural stuff at the audience.
For me, it was about taking the audience by stealth almost, because I think normally a whodunit audience wouldn’t necessarily want to watch a supernatural show, and vice versa. But I think you’re getting both with the show. You come into, as you know, quite a traditional whodunit murder mystery, which then just twists and turns every single episode, stranger and kind of darker as it goes on. That was the fun of it, being able to do that.
What you were saying there, about the audiences not necessarily crossing over – do you think the supernatural and the crime genres are, maybe if not in opposition to one another, but aren’t always a natural fit together?
Yeah, I think… Traditionally, you know, ghost stories sometimes have an investigation element, they’ve always kind of been there. But to my mind, there’s never been a show that’s really kind of run at them like this has? You know, my favourite kind of genre shows are things like… I guess Twin Peaks actually did that, actually really successfully back in the 90s, one of my favourite shows, because that fused a murder mystery with the supernatural, and then went bonkers, in a good way.
But really, it’s only that show, I think that’s ever done this before. And Twin Peaks was obviously a big influence on [The Rising]. So was a lot of European drama like the French show Les Revenants, or The Returned, and the German show Dark. I don’t know if you’ve seen those, but it was just the mood and atmosphere of shows like that. Being able to take a traditional whodunnit and impose that strange mood and atmosphere and the supernatural on top of it was really exciting opportunity to give the audience – especially in the UK – hopefully something that they felt like they hadn’t seen before.
There’s a bit in the first episode where one of the characters is painting, and the dialogue is something like “what’s it going to be?” “I’m not sure, it’ll tell me” – do you think of writing the same way? Do the big images come to you first, is it very planned in detail before you start?
It really depends on the show. With The Rising, when I wrote the first episode, I had to write it in a really short space of time, like a crazy short space of time, because of the way things were working. So, I really kind of attacked it, and I think it has a confidence because of that, it has a momentum and energy to it.
I think sometimes you can, as a writer, you can sit and mull things over a bit too much and get lost in the detail of it and muddy it a bit. I’ve certainly had projects like that, where I’ve spent a lot of time rethinking things, and I feel like it hasn’t had the clarity or the momentum that some of the better things that I’ve done have. So, for something like The Rising and The Pact, they both evolved pretty quickly. I find the idea of, like Maria’s paintings, letting it tell you what it is when you’ve done a bit of it, a bit scary? I feel like I need to know where I’m going, and I need the confidence of knowing where I’m going to be able to attack it.
You co-wrote The Rising with Charlotte Wolf (The Last Kingdom) – what was your working relationship like? Was the process similar to other times you’ve co-written scripts?
It wasn’t actually a working relationship as such, because of the nature of what happened. So, Charlotte was originally going to write the series, and she did initially a lot of work on it. And then she got COVID really quite badly, and she developed long COVID, so she just found herself unable to write at all. That’s when I came in and took over the show and took it in my direction – but obviously, there’s a lot of her DNA still in the show, particularly in those early episodes. It wasn’t fair for me to kind of dismiss any of that, because there’s a lot of her spirit and energy still on the show.
So unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to work with her, which would have been great. I’ve met her at the premiere of the show, at the Berlinale Festival, which was great to finally be able to meet her. But yeah, she’s still getting better and still recovering. It’s been tough for her, I think.
That must have been… maybe not a strange way to write, but I suppose comparatively unusual?
It wasn’t really, because I came in and basically did my own thing, and I had Sky’s backing in being able to do that. Initially, there’s a part of you that’s going, you know, ‘you really don’t want don’t take the show off in any strange directions’. But you’ve just got to have the confidence – as a showrunner, particularly – to be able to know where you’re going to rework the elements that you that you think aren’t working, and then just kind of run with it. Everyone was really supportive letting me do that, so it was actually a really fantastic experience. The Rising was one of my favourite TV experiences.
So, as we’ve said, The Rising brings together crime drama with a supernatural frame – I was wondering what you’d say your influences were in each case, just expanding on what you were saying a moment ago? Other crime dramas, other supernatural stories that you were maybe inspired by, or things you’ve seen across the genre that you wanted to avoid here.
Growing up, and all through my life, the shows that I’ve really gravitated towards have been supernatural sci-fi-ish genre shows. For The Rising, for instance, I think the big three things that influence the tone in the atmosphere of the show for me were the German show Dark, the French show The Returned and Twin Peaks I think all of those things had managed to combine traditional mystery with something other, so those for me have been a big influence.
Going back to my formative years and my childhood, the two big things that have influenced me my whole life, are Doctor Who and Star Wars. [Those are] the two things that sparked my imagination when I was a kid and started me as a writer, I wouldn’t be writing if it wasn’t for those two brands. You know, I wrote my first stories when I was a kid, which were Doctor Who stories, I made my first films when I was a kid filming Star Wars figures. Those things are baked in my DNA as the brands that I always fall back on it and be grateful to, because they’ve kind of given me a career.
But then the other [aspect] is the kind of darker stuff like Twin Peaks that. as I grew up, just got under my skin a bit. That’s what I always try and do, with shows that I write, is just trying to get under people’s skin a bit, because I think that’s the secret to engaging people emotionally with the characters. Again, with The Rising, it’s a show that traditionally might not be as emotional as this version is – it was really important to me that there’s a lot of emotion packed into this show, so that we’re really feeling the loneliness and isolation and connection with Neve’s character, and then investing in the romance with Alex that develops through the series.
This is just an aside, which you might not be able to answer, but since you mentioned and I’m curious: you’ve written two episodes of Doctor Who, for the 11th and 12th series – I was wondering if you’d been working on an episode for the 13th series before they had to restructure that because of covid?
Yes, I had, I was going to come and do series 13. When COVID happened, I was doing The Pact at the same time – when COVID happened, we had to move our shooting dates for The Pact, which meant that I was kind of taken out for the production period Doctor Who. We shot The Pact series one at the same time Doctor Who was shooting – we were shooting, actually, in quarries next door to each other at one stage. They were in a quarry shooting the Sontaran episode, and we were literally over the road in the woods shooting The Pact.
Is there anything you can tell me about that episode, or are you holding onto that for the future?
Yeah, I’ll hold onto it, because Doctor Who ideas are never dead.
Okay, you’re holding onto your big Axon or Sutekh episode then?
[laughs] Oh, no, it wasn’t, it was – I can’t say. I nearly told you something! But hopefully one day I’ll get to use it.
I’ll look forward to that then! Finally, then, just to wrap everything up, what’s the most important thing you’d want someone to take from watching The Rising?
I just really hope people fall in love with Neve, and with those characters. I think Clara [Rugaard] is such an amazing actor, I think she just brings so much to that role. I really hope that people fall in love with that character and invest in her and just enjoy the ride, really. And I also hope people really respond to it so that we can make more stories in that universe, really, because I’ve got plenty of ideas. I think this is a show that could run and run potentially – so fingers crossed, we’ll be able to do that.
The Rising comes to Sky Max 22 April, with all episodes streaming on NOW.