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: I mostly won’t repeat things that were already said in earlier commentaries.]
NEIL: There’s Dagon. Dagon is meant to be a fish. And there is the Usher of Hell, who is meant to be ... the Usher of Hell.
DOUGLAS: There’s Billy Connolly in the middle [of the denizens of Hell].
NEIL: How did you get Billy?
DOUGLAS: He was around, so I just put him in. I know – we’re Scottish.
[Transcriber’s note: They’re joking. It isn’t really him; just a long-haired bearded man who looks like a younger version of Billy.]
Andy Hamilton [who voices the Usher] plays the Devil on BBC radio.
DOUGLAS: For students of directing, the staging in here I think we did pretty well. We had this space, which was an old abattoir in Cape Town, and what we could have done is put the crowd behind Beelzebub and the guys, instead of which we put our crowd – which was about a hundred people, I think – we put them in the space that, in the abattoir, was where the carcasses of animals used to go past when people were buying. And I think it just makes it more frightening and more creepy, the way it’s staged.
NEIL: We also had a family of large birds living in that space, nesting, with young ones that needed to be fed, so we could only shoot while they weren’t actually screaming for food.
DOUGLAS: If you’ve studied [the super-fast rewind] really carefully, you’ll see the entire episode.
The army base is a real former air base; it was a hellish place and very cold.
The Bentley they blew up was built from various bits of Bentleys they acquired and the Effects team put them together to blow them up. The seat they found was taken out pre-explosion and used in the studio version of the car. Douglas says that one of the reasons they sometimes used a fake car when it was driving – especially when they needed it to go at 90 miles an hour – is because the real Bentley “could only go 50 miles an hour ... after an hour.”
[When Crowley sinks to his knees in front of the burning car]:
NEIL: I remember David turned to you and said, “How bad is it? What am I meant to be feeling when the Bentley blows?” What did you say to him?
DOUGLAS: I said, “It’s like Doctor Who watching the TARDIS blow up,” and I think that got the right emotion out of him! I don’t know why!
DOUGLAS: In amongst our very complex CGI, [the vanishing soldier] is a very simple one!
NEIL: Miranda Richardson’s performance [as Tracy and Aziraphale]: it’s so good, it gets underestimated. People talk about the wonderful Crowley and Aziraphale chemistry, and sometimes forget that that’s Aziraphale too.
This was Miranda’s and Michael McKean’s first day.
NEIL: I never got to do one thing that I planned to do – or I tried to do it in an early draft of the first script – where you got to see R. P. Tyler’s run-ins with Adam over the years. You got to see Adam aged 5 destroying his begonias and stuff, and Adam aged 8 destroying his greenhouse ... but eventually decided that it didn’t really work.
DOUGLAS: I think somebody could do an entire thesis just on the front title sequence.
NEIL: I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody already has.
Neil likes the Ennio Morricone-style Western harmonica music as the episode proper starts.
DOUGLAS: Here’s an interesting footnote: the harmonica is played by Mark Kermode, the Observer film critic.
NEIL: I actually knew that; I did that “Never” for dramatic effect.
DOUGLAS: I was gonna make a joke about ‘That’s how you get great film reviews,’ but we should have got a television critic in to play the harmonica, but there wasn’t a television critic who could.
NEIL: How many weeks were we returning to this air base?
DOUGLAS: I think we went back five times for this one scene, pretty much.
The air base control room was in a studio; when they turned up one time it was flooded.
The people on the computer screens were filmed about four months later, and Neil is impressed by their performances. On the day of filming, Jack and Adria were reacting to blank screens.
DOUGLAS: There’s David driving [the Jeep]. See that [large] yellow mark on the ground? With his contact lenses, that was the mark I gave him to stop the Jeep on.
Because they were coming back several times and the weather could change, they soaked the ground each time in case any of the filming days were wet.
DOUGLAS: It only added to the pleasure of being there, to have your feet wet all day!
NEIL: I just feel very sorry for those soldiers you can see lying down in the background. Occasionally they disappear from shots, but mostly they’re there.
They had a single Winnebago on the site (“A One-ebago,” says Neil) and the cast would pile in there and watch films and chat when they weren’t working. They kept telling the crew what wonderful stories everyone had been telling.
DOUGLAS: Meanwhile ...
NEIL: ... we were just cold outside ...
DOUGLAS: ... trying to get ready for the next time they had to turn up and say some words.
Neil loves the scene in which Newt admits that he’s not a computer engineer. He loves the way Jack and Adria play off each other.
The Sword was genuinely flaming when Mireille Enos was flashing it around. The flames were a bit enhanced in Post-production but it really was burning on set.
DOUGLAS: So there is that old adage, ‘Never work with children or animals.’ I think you could add, ‘Never work with children, animals, flaming swords ...’
NEIL: ... ‘members of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, angels, demons, animated Benedict Cumberbatches ...’
DOUGLAS: ... ‘mediums/prostitutes, Witchfinder sergeants ...’
NEIL: That’s pretty much it, isn’t it?
DOUGLAS: ‘And, above all, don’t do it on an old air field.’
Each of the hangars you can see on the set once contained an aeroplane which could drop a nuclear bomb.
Neil thinks that Amma Ris’ performance as Pepper is lovely and powerful here as she faces off with War. He borrowed the line “I believe in peace, bitch,” from Tori Amos’ song ‘The Waitress.’
DOUGLAS: If we’d been very clever, we’d have linked that up to the end music.
Yusuf Gatewood said that he based the character of Famine on Captain Peacock in the British TV comedy series Are You Being Served?
[As mentioned in an earlier episode commentary,] they had a ‘fake Ollie’ playing Dog in the scenes in Adam’s bedroom. The stand-in dog was painted to look like him because they couldn’t take Ollie to South Africa.
Elizabeth Berrington [Dagon] played Auntie in Neil’s Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife,” and Michael Sheen voiced House in the same episode.
Douglas thinks that Beelzebub is his favourite bad character. He adds, “Well, Satan’s quite bad as well.”
NEIL: I notice you have everybody standing in a triangle [shape outdoors].
DOUGLAS: Yeah, it was a way to manage the staging. In rehearsal we put a triangle on the ground with ropes to get people into their positions, ’cause we knew we were coming back over a period of weeks, if not months, to do this scene, so it was just a way to get people mentally into the right place and know where to come to when they came back.
Neil isn’t sure that they really got it all the way right with the moment when Death departs, but does like the way that the scene comes back into reality at the end of the sequence.
DOUGLAS: Just in case people were thinking that actors are all big softies, it is worth pointing out that they’re all dressed in what are essentially summer clothes in the middle of winter, and even with a bit of thermal help, it’s still pretty cold.
NEIL: They are freezing, and the wind that is blowing on that air field is blowing from the Arctic. If you look at [Anathema’s] hair being blown, that is not a giant fan of ours blowing around ...
DOUGLAS: ... with warm air to keep her comfortable ...
NEIL: ... it’s Arctic air.
Neil loves the bit when Aziraphale is trying to tell his story and Crowley shushes him.
NEIL: We planned to do weird things to Anna [Maxwell Martin’s] eyes, and that’s why we’ve got those two giant red lenses [on her hat]. Then we discovered that, for various reasons, we could not put anything on or around Anna’s eyes so I came up with the very odd idea at the last moment of making a sort of fly hat. Amazon were a bit baffled by it when they saw the dailies, but that was before anybody had seen the flies. This was Anna’s first scene.
DOUGLAS: I think I’m right in saying that – as we speak at least – the cosplayers certainly do Aziraphale and Crowley but they also have fallen in love with Beelzebub.
NEIL: It’s such a wonderful costume. People of any and all genders love being Beelzebub. And there seems to be a whole sub-set of people who are convinced that Gabriel and Beelzebub should be a couple. That one I’m not convinced by, but I love that there are people who think that. [And] at least that glorious wig kept Anna’s ears warm.
Douglas says that they did consider having millions of angels in the air and millions of demons coming through a hole in the ground during this scene but they felt in the end that it wasn’t necessary and didn’t add anything to the story.
Neil loves the performances from Michael and David once Crowley collapses to the ground.
DOUGLAS: And, just for people at home who are worried about children being exposed to the bad language ...
NEIL: ... we took them away!
DOUGLAS: All the kids were taken away when [David] did his close-up of the bad language. We looked after our kids on Good Omens.
NEIL: They all looked rather baffled and explained they’d heard words like that before, but we did our responsible job.
DOUGLAS: [And] they had to be given a lesson to explain that the line-drawing of the Devil was a fictional character.
NEIL: Yeah, I think they got that one, Doug.
DOUGLAS: So a lot of the shaking in this is in Post-production. Some of it is in-camera but most of it’s in Post-production. It’s ... I call it Star Trek acting.
NEIL: Yes, Cesco, our First AD, would shout, “Shake!” and they would all stumble around.
NEIL: And now he picks up the Sword and he says ...
AZIRAPHALE: ... or I’ll never talk to you again.
NEIL: Worst thing he can come up with, and it works.
NEIL: And of course, this is the moment where David Tennant got bitten by Ollie! The first time he did that, Ollie the dog – trained to go and bite Famine – went and bit David instead because he figured it was the same kind of thing. And David was glorious and just went back on stage to work.
The Sands of Time were filmed in South Africa, and Sam [Taylor Buck] was six months older by then [as was everyone else, presumably!] They’re the same dunes where they filmed the opening scenes in the Garden of Eden.
Crowley uses the starter handle from the Bentley to re-start time. [IT’S NOT A TYRE IRON! Forgive the shouting, and I know Crowley had a tyre iron in the book/radio show, but it’s absolutely a starter handle here.]
NEIL: This was interesting: the first images we got [of Satan] from Milk were (a) dull and (b) more like a monster movie and we had to say, “It’s not a monster movie. We’re not scared of the monster coming; we have to be scared that it’s his dad.”
DOUGLAS: One of the things that we asked Ben[edict Cumberbatch] to do was actually very difficult. He doesn’t have many lines here but it’s a big part – ’cause he’s 300 foot high. He had to arrive as Satan, and turn into a dad, and it’s quite a handbrake turn. While we were developing the imagery of Satan, we got Ben in to do the voice and he did this amazing voice ...
NEIL: ... and you were filming it on your iPhone to get reference of his face ...
DOUGLAS: ... and we fed that back into Milk and they adjusted the animation to work with Benedict[’s expressions].
[Transcriber’s note: Good grief. Benedict did the motion capture. (Only long-term Benedict fans will get that.)]
NEIL: And there he falls apart ...
DOUGLAS: ... then a man arrives in a box to save his son, [and the ‘box’ is] marked SIDRAT.
NEIL: And we had a scene here with all the people but we ended up trimming it all back.
Neil loves the purple and gold sunset.
They took out a narrator line at the very end of the scene: “But Adam seldom did what his father wanted.”
In the book the conversation between Aziraphale and Crowley on the bench in the village took place in the air base and they ‘borrowed’ a Jeep to go home ... “but we really didn’t want to go back to that air base again!” says Neil.
DOUGLAS: I think the question for the audience here is more to do with, ‘Is there a change in this scene that’s fundamental to the story?’ and we’ve seen debates about this all over the ’net, and with our Execs as well, about when things change here.
NEIL: What I love mostly about this scene is it really is the point where Crowley and Aziraphale realise that, yes, they’ve stopped Armageddon but they themselves are in deep trouble.
He wrote Agnes’ final prophecy specifically for the series.
NEIL: [And] I was worried that, from this point on – and we’re not quite halfway through the episode – the story would be finished and it would just be ticking on, so I decided to do stuff and this seemed like the best place to kick it off.
DOUGLAS: I think the big worry we had was that Armageddon had not finished with huge explosions and the world ending, so how do you take a story that’s had the air taken out of it and carry it on? And I think that the important thing that we saw at the beginning of the episode was the trial that we know is still to come, so how do we get there is one question here.
NEIL: I remember there were several Execs who would give us notes like, ‘Are you sure that trial is in the right place? Can’t you move it to later?’ and I was like, “No! We actually need to begin there.”
[As the coach pulls away and the boys sit down]:
DOUGLAS: And the question is: who was sitting on what side in that shot?
[Neil and Douglas had a Twitter conversation about this later. You can see it here.]
When ‘Aziraphale’ stands outside the bookshop, the pedestrians are marching. Douglas wanted everything in the streets to look more organised, so all the cars are also moving in one direction.
Neil explains that not all of the Just William books actually exist.
Neil got notes from at least one Executive speaking on behalf of several Executives who were all baffled as to why ‘Crowley’ took a cab instead of driving the restored Bentley, “and they’d read the script! They knew how it ended! And when we explained, they all just made noises.”
DOUGLAS: So there’s Ollie’s double-dog. I do remember that the first dog we were offered was about three times the size of Ollie and a different colour! Even for Good Omens that would have been strange, which is really saying something!
Anathema’s and Newt’s bed scene was shot on the longest filming day of all of Good Omens. Jack and Adria were going off to do other things and they had them for just one day to film all of the bedroom scenes. They started at eight o’clock in the morning and finished at 1 a.m. the next morning. They basically did three days’ work in that time. The ‘studio’ in South Africa was more like a giant shed with a tin roof and the sound turned out to be unusable and all their dialogue had to be dubbed in ADR back in the UK. Neil and Douglas pour praise on the Sound team.
NEIL: Adria said she was convinced that Newt and Anathema split up after about three weeks, whereas Jack was convinced they will stay together for the rest of their lives.
In St James’s Park, the brass band is playing David Arnold’s arrangement of Queen’s Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon.
The small child skipping around its parents before they turn into Hastur and Dagon went sick halfway through the shooting and had to go home.
NEIL: A careful observer will notice the people putting out the park benches. [Transcriber’s note: He actually means deckchairs.]
DOUGLAS: And that Crowley was on the left [initially].
NEIL: Yes, but that can have no significance, surely?!
[When Uriel and Sandalphon recite the changed ‘favourite things’ lines]:
DOUGLAS: Back to The Sound of Music again. It really had a bad effect on you, didn’t it?
NEIL: It did traumatise me.
[See the commentary to Episode 1.]
NEIL: I love the fact that the biggest crime against [Crowley] is murdering another demon, and then of course you get to see Hastur’s attitude to murdering another demon [when he kills the Usher]. [Transcriber’s note: He has also murdered at least two Disposable Demons and fed another one to the Hell Hound!]
Doon Mackichan’s costume [as Michael] in this scene is one of Douglas’ favourites.
Neil and Douglas regret that there’s a cut between Michael starting to pour the Holy Water and emptying the carafe; they feel that a longer shot would have made it clearer that far more Water is coming out than could be contained in it.
Douglas nicknamed the Usher ‘Boris.’
The drawing of the Usher was CGId into Shadwell’s book much later. Douglas remembers that it was very late on that they decided to do that.
DOUGLAS: Now, when you’re directing, it’s never perfect – I’m sure it’s the same when you’re writing. There’s always little regrets that you have, and there’s one coming up. I really wish that we only had two chairs at [Madam Tracy’s] table. Sounds like a little thing, but there’s only two places set, and those two extra chairs just makes it less perfect for me. It’s a small thing, but it always annoys me.
Sanjeev Bhaskar [Giles Baddicombe] desperately wanted to be in Good Omens. Neil was thrilled to have him in the show.
NEIL: Master Roby, who has no lines. [Transcriber’s note: But who is, in my personal opinion, the Good Omens equivalent to Sherlock’s Random Sexy Extra. Oh, wait, did I type that out loud?]
Neil thinks that the door to Master Roby’s house was the back door of Agnes Nutter’s house. The interior of his house was shot in the nunnery location. It was shot right at the beginning in a corner of the convent. [Transcriber’s note: And look how much detail, props-wise, they put into that tiny brief moment!]
DOUGLAS: I always thought this scene [in Anathema’s kitchen] was slightly weird, Neil. You write a scene where Series 2 is presented in front of us, and then you burn it.
NEIL (laughing quietly): I always think that that’s kind of fun. It does kind of set up for Series 2. Lots of people have suggested that Agnes, knowing the future, would have actually sent blank sheets ...
DOUGLAS: ... or indeed, more controversially, have another copy somewhere.
NEIL: I think she might have had another copy somewhere.
Neil loves what David Arnold is doing with the soundtrack in this scene: it’s so light and so easy. He also likes what Anathema and Newt are becoming in this scene. Douglas notes that Anathema’s hair is more ‘grown-up’ and less ‘witchy’ than it was after she moved into the cottage. Neil comments that Newt has gone from a boy to a man.
Neil loves how vulnerable Tracy looks in her last scene once she’s put away the wigs and the costumes. He thinks she just wants the company; he doesn’t see it as a romance.
It was the Editor’s idea to put the Hellfire flames coming out of Shadwell’s glass.
One of Neil’s favourite lines is, “Don’t talk to me about the Greater Good, sunshine. I’m the Archangel fucking Gabriel,” beautifully delivered by Jon Hamm, who Neil says manages to be the ultimate corporate hatchet man. The line was originally in an earlier cut scene, but Neil wasn’t going to let it go.
NEIL: I love the idea of what Crowley’s idea of Aziraphale is. His idea [of him] is a lot more heroic and standing-up to everybody than Aziraphale’s idea of Aziraphale; just as Aziraphale’s idea of Crowley is somebody who can be flippant and insouciant when faced with the monsters of Hell. They’re probably each rather better at dealing with things than the other one is, but that’s what they think the other one is probably like, and I love that.
NEIL: Now, the question of how [‘Crowley’] got into that bath without getting his socks wet will always [be raised]. It occurred to me later that possibly he was picked up and dumped into the bath.
They were thinking of CGIing in flames when the Water was being splashed about, but decided they didn’t need it. Douglas slightly regrets that they didn’t do it; he would have liked at least some steam coming from the glass whenever the Water hit it.
DOUGLAS: I think it’s one of our cheapest miracles, where the towel comes from: just offscreen!
DOUGLAS: That little flicker that David does at the end: I like to think that was our one little tribute to Bewitched!
Anathema and Newt in the park was Adria’s and Jack’s first scene – “which was unfair,” says Douglas. Neil agrees that it’s hard to do their last big scene as the first thing they do. Neil remembers that when he saw the dailies of the scene, he realised that he would have had Newt take off his Witchfinder Army armband. Douglas suggests that he could have then burned it.
DOUGLAS: You need to write that stuff down if you want it in the show. You’ve learned that now, haven’t you?
NEIL: I have.
Neil realises they haven’t talked enough about how fantastic the kids were who played The Them.
DOUGLAS: I really hope that, one day, chat shows will play this or some other clip of them and say, “They’re all famous now.” Not even ‘famous’; “They’re all accomplished actors.”
NEIL: It wouldn’t surprise me if they were.
DOUGLAS: I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this question: so Ollie goes off to the bushes here. I think Ollie does this miracle here. I don’t think it’s Adam. I think Ollie makes the bushes disappear – sorry, Dog does.
NEIL: Well, Dog is still a Hell Hound.
DOUGLAS: Yeah. He’s got powers.
They tried to have Agnes’ face in the smoke from the bonfire but it didn’t really work. Douglas says that they didn’t have the money to make it work properly. “Even with a nice budget like we had, we had limits everywhere,” he says.
DOUGLAS: Sam was being particularly brave, because he was running through nettles.
NEIL: In shorts!
NEIL: And now we are not in Berkeley Square. We should be. We are in Tavistock Square. ... And of course they both look like Jeff Goldblum as they transform, which is very strange.
DOUGLAS: And, at one point, Bono from U2!
NEIL: That was shot with a giant piece of film-making equipment that nearly fell on them and ended off both Mr Sheen and Mr Tennant. More dangerous, that camera thing, than a flaming Bentley.
DOUGLAS: Our motion control camera, yeah.
They put the park bench where the [natural] light was in the park.
As the boys stand up and walk away, one of the crew startles the pigeons in the corner of the park to make them take flight.
NEIL: You were very good at startling pigeons.
DOUGLAS: You’ve gotta startle some pigeons.
Some of the flares from the sun above the buildings were added in afterwards.
The Criterion(/Ritz) scene was filmed on Day One or Two of filming. Visually the Criterion is better for filming purposes.
Neil says he deliberately changed Crowley’s line to be “... to be worth knowing” rather than the book’s version of “... to be worth liking” because he thinks it felt deeper somehow, after all they’d been through.
DOUGLAS: When the shot switches round, Michael did some very funny improvising that we couldn’t use because it involved him describing various creatures – I would say – that he had inhabited over the years. [I assume he meant Aziraphale, not Michael himself. Then again ...]
DOUGLAS: And there’s the piano wing hanging over Crowley there.
NEIL: Just like the angel’s wing.
NEIL: I spent literally three days listening to every version [of Nightingale] on YouTube and Spotify and realised the thing that I needed didn’t exist, so I asked Tori to make it.
[As the credits roll – and I’m transcribing the rest of this verbatim]:
DOUGLAS: Our lovely, lovely cast – all good. Sort of crazy cast, isn’t it? We were so lucky they all came to play.
NEIL: We were lucky because of Good Omens.
DOUGLAS: And Queen helping us out.
NEIL: Yeah. Lots of people came in ... it was sort of made by love. I mean, it’s weird to describe this with Good Omens, ’cause it had a huge budget and thousands of people making it, but it is very hand-made, and it’s made with love; and people either respond to the love from all of us making it, or it leaves them cold.
DOUGLAS: It’s all you can do is make things with love, and mean it when you’re doing it, and take care of every shot and every sound and every CGI shot.
NEIL: And if you’ve been listening to this, you’re probably one of the people who responded to the love. And we’re really grateful.
DOUGLAS: Yeah, thank you. Thank you ... well, thank you for listening to us ...
NEIL: ... witter on.
DOUGLAS: ... witter on all these hours, but to everybody who made it and everybody who watches it and loves it, thank you.
[At this point, your transcriber is in such floods of tears that she can hardly type.]
NEIL: It’s taken us completely by surprise, the way that the world has taken this to its heart. We always knew people would like it, but what’s happened has been something very special and very different, and we’re really grateful, and thank you so much for listening, and thank you for watching and re-watching, and re-watching that night in Berkeley Square.
DOUGLAS: Maybe see you again.
NEIL: That’d be fun, wouldn’t it, doing it again?
DOUGLAS: I wouldn’t mind doing some more.
NEIL: For Terry. That’s the most important thing for me.
DOUGLAS: Very much so.
NEIL: Done it all For Terry.
PLEASE NOTE: If you post a comment on this commentary and you’re not registered with Dreamwidth/Livejournal, your comment will be screened automatically until I unlock it, so please be patient for it to appear on screen.
A full list of the episode commentary transcripts can be found here.