‘Vienna Blood’ interview: ‘Sherlock’ writer Steve Thompson introduces Season 2

Vienna Blood is back for another season!

Set in 1900s Austria, the period crime drama is adapted from the best-selling Liebermann novels by Frank Tallis.

Vienna Blood premiered in 2019, and returns next month in the UK on BBC Two with three brand new feature-length episodes.

Season 2 is expected to air on PBS in the US in early 2022.

Matthew Beard (The Imitation Game) and Austrian actor Juergen Maurer return as brilliant young English doctor Max Liebermann and Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt to investigate more unusual and disturbing murders.


Shot on location in Vienna, the series also stars Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones), Charlene McKenna (Peaky Blinders), Amelia Bullmore (Gentleman Jack), Lucy Griffiths (True Blood), and Luise von Finckh (Schlechte Zeiten).

Sherlock writer Steve Thompson has once again penned the scripts, and here Thompson talks about what to expect from the new season:


How do you go about adapting the Vienna Blood novels?

“Writing a TV script based on a novel is completely different from the process of writing an original piece. Clearly, because you’ve got this fantastic material to start with on which you can base all of your decisions.

“The novels are about six or seven hundred pages long, and for a 90-minute TV drama that’s simply too long. And what Frank Tallis does in the books, is follow the journeys of many different characters – multiple protagonists.

“What we’ve done in the TV version is focus on these two people, the police inspector and the doctor and their relationship as they solve the crime. And consequently other small characters have to be lost along the way, we simply don’t have time in those 90 minutes to focus on everyone.

“Part of the process of adapting, in this case, is actually stripping out some really good things, some really rich storylines. There’s quite a job of restructuring the book and throwing away a lot of beautiful details that we are not able to use as we simply can’t fit them in the time.

“A lot of the restructuring is just focusing on the particular story we want to tell. The restructuring was the biggest part of the rewriting.”


Do you have a viewer in mind when you write?

“When I write the viewer I imagine watching it is me. I write things that I enjoy and I would want to watch I think.

“I guess different writers write for different people but I don’t, I write stuff that I think I would enjoy watching. When I used to write plays, occasionally I used to write them with my mother in mind, because if I put swearing in she’d always complain.

“I was a playwright 15 years ago and if there was a lot of swearing in it, I could hear my mother’s voice saying “Stephen it’s not clever to swear” and I’d take some of the swear words out! But most of the time I just write for myself.”


Where did you want to take the characters in Season 2?

“When I started the second series I wanted it to be the same but different. I wanted people to tune in and feel comfortable and familiar with the characters and the central relationship with Max and Oskar, to recognise it and to feel they were getting more of the same. At the same time, I want to serve them up something different and we did that in two ways.

“The first is that Max and Oskar have both moved on in their personal lives. Max has started his own private practice – emulating Freud very much, he’s now taking private clients for psychoanalysis sessions.

“When we met him in the first series he was just working in the hospital, now he has his own private practice. And that gives us some really good drama because in the first episode of the new series he has his first private patient and it’s his patient who’s involved in the murder. So you can see Max’s world expanding.

“At the same time Oskar’s world has changed. He has a new boss, one of his colleagues (Von Bulow) who doesn’t like him at all, they have a huge animosity between them. At the end of the first series Von Bulow is actually promoted and becomes Oskar’s boss, so that at the beginning of the second series, Oskar’s work life is very difficult and very tense and there’s this very abrasive relationship at the centre of it. Both of their worlds have changed.”


How true to the period is Vienna Blood?

“I think when we’re writing historical fiction it is incredibly important to be accurate. But at the same time we are representing a world that is distant and alien and it’s very important to be sensitive as we are doing that.

“For example, in the first series a woman is appallingly badly treated by the medical profession. She has an illness that the doctors of the period decide is hysteria, which is kind of a catch all for a lot of psychological problems, and she is treated with electroshock therapy.

“And actually watching that as a modern audience it’s appalling and yet at the same time we have a duty to say that this is as it was, this is actually what happened in the period and as shocking as it was we have a duty to represent it accurately.”


How faithful are the scripts to the novels?

“In the drama we make one or two decisions which are different from the original novels. When we first meet Max and Oskar in the first novel written by Frank, they’re old friends and they’ve been friends for a long time.

“I was interested in their first meeting because Oskar, immersed in the world of police investigations and crime, was not necessarily going to meet Max that easily. I was interested to find out how they had met and I wanted to write about that.

“So an essential difference between the books and the TV version is you get to see how they meet. And it’s quite an explosive relationship to begin with.

“They are not immediately friends – they are not immediately drawn to one another. There is a certain amount of animosity and friction and that can provide some really good drama for us, so I think that was an essential difference.”


What worlds did you want to explore in Season 2?

“With each episode we enter a new world, a new part of Vienna we’ve never seen. The first episode of the new series is set in a hotel, and is very much about the politics of the hotel and the different strata – upstairs and downstairs – and the different people that mingle there.

“It includes the complexities and intrigue and the different, very rich characters who would mix and collide in a Viennese hotel of the period – they were incredibly elegant, beautiful palaces.

“Our first episode focuses on this precinct of the hotel, which is somewhere we have never been before. Equally, the final episode of the second series is also set in a place we have never been to, and we enter the monastic world.

“A murder takes place in a monastery and that gives us a whole new aspect of Vienna and a different lens through which we can see the city. There are new worlds to explore and that makes it very exciting.”


Would you have made a good detective?

“Would I have made a good detective if I hadn’t chosen to become a writer? Actually, I didn’t choose to become a writer it happened by accident. I’m a mathematician by trade.

“My degree is in mathematics and I used to be a mathematics teacher, so I have a very structural, logical mind. Does that make a good detective? Yeah, probably it does.

“Some great detectives work entirely on instinct and they can almost sniff out the criminal. If you look at some of Thomas Harris’ novels, the FBI detective in the novel Red Dragon for example, it seems not to be based on logic at all, it seems entirely based on instinct. Whereas other detectives are incredibly logical in their processes.

“That would be me, I would be the person who would sit down and sift the facts. And of course, somebody like Sherlock is a mixture of the two, he has an incredible encyclopaedia of facts in one half of his brain but in the other half of his brain he has an extraordinary imagination which, however strange the crime turns out to be, he can actually imagine how it was committed and visualise it happening.

“The marriage of the two makes him brilliant. I’d be the logical half of the brain – Mr Maths here!”


Vienna Blood is available on DVD on Amazon.