This is not a word-for-word transcript, nor have I written up every single comment made. I hope, however, that – particularly because there are no subtitles – this may be helpful to people whose first language is not English or who struggle with audio-only dialogue.
Further extracts may be added in due course.
Please remember that some of the comments made by people may look serious in plain print but were frequently meant sarcastically or humorously.
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Direct links: Episode 1 / Episode 2 / Episode 3 / Episode 4 / Episode 5 / Episode 6
Commentary by Neil Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon
[Transcriber’s note: In this and the following commentary transcripts, I mostly won’t repeat things that were already said in earlier commentaries.]
DOUGLAS: Episode three!
NEIL: Twenty-nine minute cold open.
NEIL: Frances McDormand, who I think is a great God.
DOUGLAS: She’s the best God I’ve worked with.
NEIL: She agreed to do it mostly on the grounds, she said, that it would demonstrate some things to her family about her relative importance in things.
DOUGLAS: And by all accounts that worked. They now bow to her as she enters a room – as we did, naturally.
She had to re-record some lines but was busy making another film, so on one day off work, people from the film went to where she was staying and covered her bathroom with towels and the Sound guy from the film recorded her dialogue.
Douglas wonders whether everyone got the joke in the Ark scene about the kids – that when Crawly says, “You can’t kill kids,” he’s just been looking at kid goats as well as children. Neil has been asked by some people which ‘kids’ they meant; obviously they meant both, or either.
The sky was very beautifully blue that day and Gareth Spensley [Digital Intermediate Colorist] added in both the white clouds and then the growing stormy sky.
Neil comments that the special effects guys thought that two of each animal “meant that you had two chickens.” Neil had to point out that two chickens can’t be one male and one female, but they didn’t have a rooster and had to fake a tail on one of them.
DOUGLAS: David Tennant, being a Scottish person, had particular poignancy about talking about the unicorn, because the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. You can find it on the front of the British passport.
NEIL: Chris Sussman, our BBC Executive Producer, pointed out that Christ might not actually have died in 33 A.D. and I said, “In a universe that begins in 4004 B.C., he definitely has to die in 33 A.D. That’s part of the rules.” We did our best to make this as beautiful and respectful a scene as we could.
DOUGLAS: I’m personally an atheist, and I wanted to be respectful to both religious people and atheists.
NEIL: I think what was important for the story is that somebody’s getting killed horribly. My biggest contribution of the actual crucifixion act was saying I wanted the nails through the wrists as opposed to the traditional through-the-hands way. Our actor Adam [Bond] got to compare notes on being up on crosses with Michael Sheen, who had been a Jesus for the Port Talbot Passion. [There are videos on Youtube.]
The set for Rome was also the set for the Bastille cell. Lindiwe Dim, the bartender, was also a bartender in the deleted scene with War in Africa. Just out of the window you can see the Colosseum – “which hasn’t been built yet!”
Wessex, and “the castle that’s not a castle!”
NEIL: Every now and then people point out to me – pretty rightly – that in 537 A.D. things looked nothing like that, and of course they didn’t. They’re wearing twelfth century armour, but then all of the Arthurian romances were written in the 11th, 12th, 13th century and this is how they described them. [Our version] is a huge hat tip to Monty Python; it’s a huge hat tip to the idea of Arthurian fiction.
DOUGLAS: I think David and Michael particularly liked these costumes, and hated them at the same time.
Neil has repeatedly complained that we don’t see enough of David’s mouth in the armour, but Douglas is happy with the way the scene was filmed.
NEIL: We had to go in and trim a few lines of dialogue. I could happily have done an entire episode of Crowley and Aziraphale in King Arthur’s times.
Neil has often described how he divided the Good Omens book into six equal sections when planning the series, only to find that the two lead characters weren’t in part 3 at all, and this was what brought about the whole new journey through history.
NEIL: It was the most fun, I think, of all of Good Omens to write – except possibly some of the stuff of [Episode] 6 – because it felt like I was writing, actually creating stuff rather than adapting stuff.
In the original script of the Globe scene, it was the first week of Hamlet being performed and it was a huge hit. There was meant to be a full audience, but they were only given four hours to film in the Globe and so wouldn’t have time to get a huge crowd into and out of the theatre in the time available. Neil told Douglas that he could edit it to make it either a rehearsal or a flop, and Douglas plumped for the latter because it would be funnier. It was then that Neil included Shakespeare himself.
Douglas remembers that – more than any other time during filming – the crew and the cast got mesmerised by where they were. Neil says that when the scene was being staged in advance of it being filmed, the crew weren’t their usual jaded selves and paid full attention, laughed at the jokes and applauded at the end. This was probably the one time it happened during the entire filming. Douglas defends his crew, saying that he hopes the ‘jaded’ look is them concentrating on what they’ll have to do.
NEIL: Do you think [Crowley] cheats on the [coin] toss?
DOUGLAS: A hundred percent.
NEIL: Yeah, me too.
Neil originally asked Reece Shearsmith [Shakespeare] to be in the Blitz scene but he wasn’t available at that time.
NEIL: People have pointed out that in 1793 the Bastille had already fallen, and all I can say to them is, “... Sorry,” I guess. Yeah, you’re right.
Joe Vaz was dubbed by a proper French speaker so that he didn’t sound like he was doing comedy French; it’s his own voice once he speaks English.
Neil is impressed by Claire Anderson’s costuming and the fact that Aziraphale’s costume is about thirty years out of date. “It makes absolute sense for Aziraphale. He’s wearing fancy clothes, but he’s wearing fancy clothes [from] the last time he noticed that fancy clothes existed.”
Neil had written the scene to take place actually at the guillotine; they shifted it indoors to save money.
The executioner isn’t freeze-framed in the background; Joe is just standing still, which was considerably cheaper than technical alternatives. Douglas isn’t bothered by the fact that there is occasional slight movement.
Neil likes the fact that Crowley only freezes time when he wants a chat.
DOUGLAS: It’s quite enjoyable that the character that gets to freeze time has also been Doctor Who.
NEIL: No! David Tennant was in Doctor Who?!
DOUGLAS: He was. He was in it for a while, yeah.
NEIL: What, as the companion?
DOUGLAS: Yeah, it wasn’t a big part. He was in the background.
In the original script after Crowley says, “My lot do not send rude notes,” he goes on to say, “They send Hastur or Ligur if you’re lucky.”
NEIL: And Aziraphale watches someone quietly go off to their execution, planning food, and later, in Episode 1, is able absolutely to say that he’s never killed anyone with a clear conscience, because he’s an angel and ...
DOUGLAS: ... he gets other people to do that.
1862 was Day Three of filming. The carriage which drives past the boys nearly took the back of David’s legs out during one run. The carriage collapsed a few minutes later.
Michael is fake-throwing breadcrumbs. He isn’t shown really feeding the birds here (or in the present) because it’s now illegal to do so in St James’s Park.
Ella Wolfnoth [Lead Graphic Artist] does most of the handwriting which appears in the show, but the ‘Holy Water’ note was written by Neil. He can’t remember why it was decided that he should do it.
They CGId out the statue of Queen Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace because it didn’t exist yet in 1862.
[Transcriber’s note: It was only when I saw this episode on DVD that I noticed for the first time that in the opening sequence of the 1941 scene, the Bentley is parked outside the church, just around the corner from the door which Aziraphale enters.]
DOUGLAS: Interesting production problem here: we wanted Michael to [take] his hat off, but his hair was a bit of a fiddle for him, so we got his hat taken off at the end of the aisle so that his hair could get right for the entire rest of the scene. It’s one of the things as a director that the writers don’t really think about ... or bother about.
NEIL: I’d never thought about that!
DOUGLAS: This very, very English church was shot in Cape Town, which was a scheduling issue.
NEIL: People who were not us were convinced that this scene needed to be cut to save time and money, and because it could be; you could just lift it out. It was one day’s filming and it would save one day; and I kept saying No, it was important.
DOUGLAS: I thought it was important for all sorts of reasons, not least Crowley coming in and seeing Holy Water.
The scene was shot in the daytime. Douglas feels that all the candles add to the ‘night-time’ imagery. Neil says that they don’t hold up logically when there’s probably a wartime candle shortage.
DOUGLAS: But they look good!
Steve Pemberton and Niamh Walsh were shown a selection of guns by the crew’s armourer and each got to choose which one they wanted.
NEIL: I want to see these three [Harmony, Glozier and Greta] again so much. I want to see Greta persuading Aziraphale to work for British Intelligence. They’re just such great actors.
DOUGLAS: The other bloke that’s about to arrive is pretty good as well. The Doctor Who guy, the background guy.
NEIL: This was actually the scene – as I wrote this in the script – I realised I needed David Tennant to play the part. I had Crowley dancing down the aisle, doing the thing and delivering his lines and I thought, ‘I have to have an actor who can do all of the physical stuff.’ I had to hold out for David and persuade people to let me cast David, and I look at this and everything else and I’m just so pleased.
DOUGLAS: I think Michael and David together – the chemistry, as has been said in a lot of places, but if there is a scene that proves the chemistry, this is it. When we were in the edit and we were showing people little scenes, this was always the one that we’d go, “Look – see what we’ve got.”
The Holy Water was CGId into the font.
Neil is thrilled that the Twitter account OnePerfectShot occasionally tweets shots from this scene. Douglas loves the shot of the bomb falling.
Mr Harmony’s “Kill them, they are very irritating” is one of Neil’s favourite lines.
DOUGLAS: This is a very important scene for Aziraphale and Crowley and their relationship. Whatever the look is that Aziraphale gives Crowley as he leaves ...
NEIL: Michael always said that this was the point where Aziraphale falls in love with Crowley, and I love the fact that David Arnold writes a romantic score.
That is actually Mark Gatiss’ hand sticking out of the rubble clutching the briefcase.
The winged statue behind Aziraphale appears in Crowley’s flat in the future. The giant flaming beams were re-used from the cross at the crucifixion.
There was a scene before the 1967 scene, with Crowley in a tailor’s.
DOUGLAS: I still contend that when Crowley said, “Mr Shadwell,” David was doing a little bit of Sean Connery.
The room is a real back room of a pub. The props team put up huge adverts which would be seen through the window but they ran out of time to film them.
They didn’t know where they were going to shoot the outdoor Soho scene. Eventually they filmed in front of the bookshop; the signs and posters beside the Bentley are covering the side of the bookshop [and you can see the column on the left-hand side of the door but obviously they’re not meant to be near the shop really]. When they filmed this scene they had already burned the set of the shop for the beginning of Episode 5. They filmed the burning bookshop at the end of the year and the 1967 scene was set up over the Christmas break.
Partway through Crowley’s and Shadwell’s conversation [just as Shadwell mentions the Witchfinder Army], a man meets with a woman in the background and they walk through a door with neon lights inside. That’s Rob Wilkins, co-Executive Producer.
NEIL: Rob Wilkins was walking that lady into ...
DOUGLAS: ... that light shop in the background.
NEIL: ... into depravity.
DOUGLAS: No, it sells lights, I think!
NEIL: Oh, good!
DOUGLAS: Yeah, it sells neon lights.
When Crowley walks to the Bentley, one of the posters on the not-shop wall proclaims that the first wombat has been fired into space.
Michael was already sitting in the Bentley as Crowley approached it; they CGId him out.
DOUGLAS: The morning that we shot this, David Tennant broke the car. He broke the door on Aziraphale’s side so you couldn’t get in or out of it any more, and there was a broken window ...
NEIL: ... which we had to CGI out.
DOUGLAS: So at the end of the scene, although Aziraphale appears to get out of the car, he can’t. Took directing cleverness to get him out. Another thing to watch out for near the end is three little bullet holes [on the front of the side window beside Crowley]. They’re transfers, as per the book ...
NEIL: ... which says that Crowley only ever stopped to buy petrol/gas once to get the James Bond bullet-hole-on-the-windscreen transfers.
DOUGLAS: Twenty-eight minutes and forty seconds later, we actually start the show! We showed the entire series at the Edinburgh Film Festival and a couple of people came up to me and said, “That was so brave, that cold open. It was, what, ten minutes before you started the show properly?” and I went, “No, it was twenty-eight minutes and forty seconds,” and they can’t quite believe that much time had passed.
The flying saucer in the opening credits [and which, of course, appears in Episode 4] was designed by Douglas’ daughter Ruby when she was twelve. Douglas feels it’s important that, because the saucer came from Adam’s mind, it should come from a 12-year-old’s imagination, not an adult’s.
DOUGLAS: I never get bored of watching these titles.
NEIL: I never have been so far.
Neil suggests that everyone should pause on the close-up of the bookshop door and read the notice beside the Closed sign which gives the opening hours.
Aziraphale planning to call Gabriel “me old mate” is Neil’s little tribute to comedian and actor Tony Hancock.
Douglas thinks the casting department saw about five hundred kids. By the time Neil came in, they had it down to two possible Adams. Sam [Taylor Buck] stood out as being able to show Adam’s dark side.
By the time they got Sam back in to dub some of his lines, his voice had broken. They took advantage of that and dubbed his newly-broken voice into the times when Adam goes dark.
DOUGLAS: Little Ollie’s [red-glowing] eyes. We put contact lenses into Ollie the dog and they worked really well.
NEIL: You’re lying.
DOUGLAS: I don’t lie about that! ... That was just CGI.
NEIL: We’re gonna get letters from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for putting contact lenses into dogs!
The photograph of Witchfinder General Smith is a photo of Neil’s grandfather, Morrie Gaiman. Douglas also donated a photo, easy to spot because it’s the man dressed as a Viking. He’s Douglas’ grandfather, who was from Shetland and his name truly was Charles Manson.
NEIL: I’m also related to that milk bottle.
The Best Café in Wandsworth is real; they didn’t put a new sign on it. On the TVs in the corners of the café, the film The Witchfinder General is playing. Douglas says he got slightly obsessed with the idea that, wherever Crowley or Aziraphale went, they affected the environment around them.
Michael McKean improvised the “Sergeant Pepper” line on the day.
Douglas had Anathema’s hair made more ‘witchy’ as she got deeper into her task.
In the kitchen of Jasmine Cottage, Neil points out that when Anathema goes to the corner to get the magazines for Adam, you can see all her witchy tools on the table.
Ella Wolfnoth [Lead Graphic Artist] designed all the magazines.
Gabriel’s eyes were based on the colour of Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes.
DOUGLAS: ’Cause we thought that Jon Hamm wasn’t handsome enough.
NEIL: I like that we made him more handsome.
NEIL: Terry Pratchett and I had always talked about the idea that Heaven and Hell were floors in the same office block and that the angels had the nice floors at the top ...
DOUGLAS: ... because they won that war ...
NEIL: ... and the demons had the awful offices in the basement.
Michael Ralph the Production Designer showed Neil an early design for Hell where it was huge and fiery and impressive and Neil had to tell him that it was too impressive. “I said, ‘The key to Hell for this show is that everything is all a bit shit’.” Michael made that his mantra. Neil adds, “And Heaven is pristine but you wouldn’t want to be there either. The Earth is where you’d rather be.”
DOUGLAS: Of all the people I’ve worked with in Good Omens, which have been a spectacular bunch, my favourite is Bill Paterson [R. P. Tyler].”
NEIL: I thought you were going to mention Bill Paterson’s dog!
NEIL: Is that what the dog was called?
DOUGLAS: Well, it’s a sausage dog, so frankfurter. I first saw Bill Paterson in a play called The Cheviot Stag and the Black, Black Oil by John McGrath, the most important play ever to appear in Scotland. There’s a footnote!
The conversation between Anathema and Tyler was one of Neil’s favourite pieces to write.
Hambledon was one of the first potential locations which Douglas visited and he chose it immediately. Pausing to giggle at Anathema’s “Fatty spliffers?” line, he adds that – amongst many other productions – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was filmed there. The village is quintessentially English.
DOUGLAS: Good Omens is an exploration of Englishness. And, for international listeners, I say ‘Englishness’ very carefully, as a Scot.
NEIL: Yes, it is, by definition, English, and it’s classic English humour. It’s also why Crowley and Aziraphale are English.
DOUGLAS: We’ve had observations about Michael McKean’s accent, about its Scottishness.
NEIL: In the book it says that Shadwell’s accent careers like an accident around the country. It moves all around the country and it’s always awful.
DOUGLAS: And it’s not of any place particularly.
NEIL: We tried doing that thing first of all [i.e. Shadwell having accents from all around the country] and it didn’t really work, ’cause it just sounded like [Michael] had not made up his mind on a choice of accent, so we went for a Scottish accent that is not really a Scottish accent.
DOUGLAS: It’s not of any place, that’s for sure. We achieved the target.
Neil intended to have Michael in a tiny cameo part, but saw him in a play on Broadway and was so impressed that when they sat down, with Michael expecting to be asked to do a few days’ work, Neil asked if he’d like to come to the UK for several months “and, by the way, can you do a sort of Scottish accent?”
DOUGLAS: And he gave us a performance that’s turned all the way up to eleven.
NEIL: I see what you did there. That was a Spinal Tap joke.
DOUGLAS: That was a Spinal Tap Easter Egg in the audio commentary ... that you’ve now exposed.
There were going to be scenes introducing the Four Horsemen in Episode 1 but they were cut because it was too confusing so early in the series.
Neil admits that the diner may not look like anywhere in Iowa, but they’re working on the Great Iowa Desert and he’s sure it will be a thing. Douglas suggests that this scene happens in the same fictional world as the Bastille.
The shot of the delivery van arriving at the diner was CGId in.
Bobbie Edwards [Assistant Costume Designer] did the fast narration for Chow. Mitch Benn sang the Elvis lyrics.
DOUGLAS: We did a really great take of this scene with Elvis in the background, and the extra who was playing Elvis had gone off to the toilet without anybody noticing, and I shouted, “Cut,” and our [camera] operator Matt [Fisher] said, “I’m sorry, we have to do that again,” and I went, “Why?” He said, “Because Elvis has left the building.”
Neil loves the way Shadwell says, “Aye,” to Newt just after he’s closed the window in his flat, and asks Douglas if he gave Michael lessons. Douglas says he explained to Michael the different ways you can say ‘aye’ – “which, for international listeners, means ‘yes.’ There are as many versions of ‘aye’ as there is words in the world.”
The exterior of the Youngs’ house is in Hambledon; the sitting room and the kitchen are in a estate house; [as told in the Episode 2 commentary] the parents’ bedroom is in the same location as the nunnery while Adam’s bedroom was shot in South Africa; and the back garden was shot at another house altogether.
Neil suggests that anyone who wants to listen on headphones to the dialogue on the television during the conversation in the sitting room may be amused. [Neil has published the script he wrote for that television film/programme on his Tumblr account.]
NEIL: And this [the bandstand scene] is my favourite scene possibly in the entire thing.
DOUGLAS: This scene, for me, is the scene that is Good Omens.
NEIL: It was shot on a very bright sunny morning.
DOUGLAS: Well, it took a day to film.
NEIL: We set it in the evening, through the genius of Gareth, and Gavin [Finney, Cinematographer].
The street lights were CGId in to make it feel more like dusk, and the sky was replaced in Post-production.
NEIL: I kind of wound up having to write this as a love story, and part of the joy of writing a love story is the break-up, because you can’t get back together again unless you’ve broken up.
DOUGLAS: I think you can say it’s two actors working at peak.
NEIL: I remember watching this being shot, knowing how good it was.
DOUGLAS: As opposed to all the other scenes where you thought, “This is not as good as I thought it was gonna be.”
NEIL: Well, obviously; you were directing.
DOUGLAS: I remember watching it and thinking, “He’s actually got the writing right for once.”
[They both crack up laughing. Transcriber’s note: they’re teasing each other; they’re not for a moment being serious!]
NEIL (as Douglas): “All of the words are in the right order, finally!”
DOUGLAS (as himself): “All I have to do is film it and I’ll get away with it!”
NEIL (seriously): Such a beautiful scene, and so beautifully shot.
DOUGLAS: We landed on that location kind of by mistake, through scheduling, and I’m so glad we did it that way in the end.
It was originally set at night in St James’s Park.
DOUGLAS: But the Queen wouldn’t let us put on lights in St James’s Park at night.
Talking of ‘Queen’ reminds them that they didn’t think they would be able to get permission to use the Queen soundtrack throughout the series. They wrote a nice letter and David Arnold put them in touch with Brian May.
The nuclear power station is a real power station outside Cape Town.
DOUGLAS: Franceso Reidy, our First AD, hadn’t been on the recce with us. We went out into the space [where they open the silo] and I remember Francesco saying, “What is this place?” I said, “It’s a nuclear power station.” He said, “No, I know fictionally it’s a nuclear power station.” I went, “No, no, it’s a nuclear power station!” which it is.
The hatches were put in by the crew, and the silo is CGI.
NEIL: Except for the sherbet lemon, which is not a digital sherbet lemon. It’s a real sherbet lemon.
Neil suggests that this version of the end credits is performed by The Shadows. Douglas believes that David Arnold really loved playing the keyboards. He says that if he remembers correctly, the keyboard was also used in Blade Runner.
Douglas wishes they could pause on each page of the credits and explain who each person is and what they do. Milk do all the CGI stuff; Molinare do all the imagery.
On to Episode 4
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A full list of the episode commentary transcripts can be found here.