Steven Moffat interview: Doctor Who, The Day Of The Doctor

Interview Simon Brew 13 Nov 2013 - 06:21

Steven Moffat chats to us about the upcoming 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who, The Day Of The Doctor...

Earlier this year, before we knew Matt Smith was leaving and that John Hurt was popping into the world of Doctor Who, we were lucky enough to visit the set of The Day Of The Doctor. While we were there, we took part in a round table interview, with the likes of SFX, Gay Times and The Guardian, and got to spend the best part of half an hour with Steven Moffat.

Here's how the chat went...

Have you had this story in your head for a while...

... for 50 years, I started early! No, I knew it was coming, knew it was going to happen. And when it was the next thing to come over the hill, I started thinking 'what are we going to do now'? It's not good to have an idea two or three years ago and then write it. You should have an idea in the moment, then you're responding to everything around you. So I had a notion, then it became clear in a blinding flash of nonsense!

Did you get any sense of pressure then? Did you feel that you had to upstage, in a way, everything you've done so far?

No. People quite reasonably ask - about the other show too - do you feel under pressure because it's been so successful. I can tell you that I've worked on some real stinking failures in my life, and they're pressuring. A show that you had to do a second series of, when the first series is currently tanking on television. That's pressure, that is real pressure. It's like asking you if it's more pressure being on a ship that's sailing magnificently towards the horizon, or sinking. I can tell you, not sinking is better! There's your exclusive!

There are expectations though, this being the 50th...

I kind of think that every Saturday. I don't want to sound ridiculous, but I think 'we've got a fantastic one on Saturday, it's going to knock 'em for six'. And generally speaking we do, dammit! You feel pressure, but there's a challenge, and also a massive opportunity. I happen to be lucky enough to be the person writing and exec-ing the show at a time when you get that audience. It's everything you ask for. They say be careful what you wish for: no. Don't be careful what you wish for. Absolutely wish for stuff. It's good. Nothing wrong with that.

A lot of the initial fan expectation when there's an anniversary coming is for an Expendables of Doctors.

Expendables of Doctors? That's a crude way of putting it!

A fair point. But was getting lots of Doctors together something you dismissed from the start, though? Was that ever on the cards for you? Because the logistics alone of that would be tricky...

I'm not going to talk about what we didn't decide, but I am going to talk about what we absolutely had to do. You're going get to every kind of retrospective in the entire world when it comes to the 50th, you're not going to be short. To make this show just a tribute to the past, a backward glance, would be one of those end of year shows. That was the year that was. Look back and feel slightly older and sad!

Don't do that. Of course it's a celebration of the past of Doctor Who. Rather, I'd like to avoid the word 'path'. The myth or the legend, all the really cool words. But more importantly, it's ensuring that there's going to be a 100th anniversary. And so it needs to be a huge important story to the Doctor. That was my mission statement. It's very rare in Doctor Who that a story matters very much to him at all. My impression is that he runs around, defeats a mutant space badger, saves a civilisation, and causes epiphanies to happen in everyone he meets. Then he rushes back to the TARDIS and forgets about it 20 seconds later. If you asked him, he'd have a vague memory of the badger, that's it. He doesn't really recall.

So my intent was to move it forward. To have a show that was equally about the next 50 years of Doctor Who. Because that in the end is more important to me and the audience. Attaching the word '50' to anything? I almost tried to rip the logo off. Why is that 'good'? That show you're watching is really old. Why is that a great thing to say? It's about proving we've got many, many more stories to tell, and in a way, being able to say the story really starts here.

People ask me how am I going to please the fans, the regular viewers? I'm actually trying to recruit. I'm on a recruitment drive the entire time. Getting people who have never watched Doctor Who before to watch Doctor Who: that's what matters. If you've got a massive show with all the publicity we're going to have - I apologise in advance - then some of the people who have never watched the show before, you want them to think are we missing out? I'm going to join in now.

It's not just a walk-down, a parade of our greatest hits. You'll get that anyway!

David Tennant said that you mentioned to him that you had a chat with him about the 50th coming up, and he responded positively to that. Did the wheels start turning then?

Well, I was just checking him out [at first]. I wanted to see if it was a possibility. I just happen to know David socially, and we hang out from time to time. He takes tremendous interest in the show. It's one of those things that Doctor Who can do. You can't have a James Bond film where Pierce Brosnan turns up for a couple of the action scenes and two of the women! You actually can with Doctor Who have another Doctor revisit. So that was part of it. But this story, hopefully... what would be the Doctor's most important day? What would be the show that would change him as a person forever? Alter the course of his life? That's what's big enough to do for his 50th. Rather than have, as I say, a parade of greatest hits. That's the adventure that he really, really remembers. That was the day that everything changed. Doctor Who might celebrate the Doctor, but it's very rarely about him. This one is.

When did that eureka moment come?

I can't really recall. It's just if you're going to celebrate Doctor Who, you're celebrating the Doctor. Why not tell this story? What's it like to him? What's it like being him? What defines what he is? How do you make that a mighty moment in his life. Look at what the Bond franchise did with Skyfall. It has enough nostalgia in it. I was practically tearing up when that Aston Martin turned up! But they were very clear that they were all about newness and modernity.

What made the Zygons the right fit for this? Presumably they're not the only villain...

They're not the only villain. They're the villain we shot outside. So I'll be honest with you: what you know is entirely conditioned by which bits we had to shoot outside. So then we say 'we've decided to tell you...'. We just tell you what we have no choice about. If I could make this on the dark side of the moon and tell you nothing at all, I'd do it. I'd also lie to you prodigiously and regularly if I though it would help keep a secret. Watch me!

So the Zygons: we no longer need to mine old Doctor Who for the icons that establish it as an identity, because the new show and the old show have someone become the same show. They really have joined up now. But what is worth harvesting from the old series are the really great bits, and God knows there are some fantastic decisions in Doctor Who. Whether it's a story idea, or a character. Or in this case what I think is an absolute design classic. It's beautiful. The original Zygon design is so good. Neil Gorton agreed with me, we've been talking about it for years. And we just agreed that we would do the Zygons, but we'd just do the same design. With all the modern resources - we've got better rubber now, so they can move more easily! - but it's the same design. It's the same thing. Just to bring that back, because it's fantastic.

You've said that it's not a massive retrospective of the 50 years of Doctor Who. But did you look back at some of those older classics, just to get the vibe right?

I don't have to, I know them all! [Laughs] No, I didn't. But really and truly I'm sufficiently focused and dedicated and lifeless a fan that I sort of remember it all!

And I never put this very articulately, but it's not about... the kids lead this audience, telling them that it's old is nothing. So what if it's old? Great, you've been doing it for years, I don't care! What are you doing on Saturday, is what they'd say. So it's about throwing forward, it's about the future. But there are many who seem to think... the thing about that is that there are many things in the past of Doctor Who that are just great. You want to do them again, not because you want to revisit the nostalgia of it, because nostalgia is a very brief emotion, it goes instantly the moment you satisfy it. You want to take things from the past that are great, that you haven't got to yet. Not because it's a repeat, but because it's worth another outing.

Where do you see the show being in another 50 years?

On television! I can't imagine what'll happen to Doctor Who in the next 50 years. I would say that I'm absolutely confident that it'll still be around. Heaven knows in what form, heaven knows there will be interruptions at some point. There's no evidence of that right now. Particularly internationally it's going from strength to strength, it's quite extraordinary. It's getting 77 million viewers around the world. It's a massive thing. If letting it die in public sight and leaving it off the air for 15 or 16 years didn't work, what the hell's going to work? It's indestructible. The day it was announced it was coming back, it seemed to be in every newspaper, and everybody was talking about it.

What's the campest thing about Doctor Who?

The campest thing? It's funny that. I know that if I stand back sufficiently from Doctor Who I can see elements of it as camp. But I don't think of that when I'm making it. I make it in a very full blooded way.

If I step back from it, then of course it's complete nonsense. But I always think that it's important that when you watch Doctor Who, you are completely invested in it. You're emotional: wiping away a tear, frightened, laughing your socks off. All that stuff. There's a saying about fridge logic - that when you go to the fridge afterwards, you're thinking 'ah, that didn't really work'. My response always to fridge logic is: who fucking cares? If you're still thinking about it by the time you've got the fridge, the show has already won.

I can exclusively reveal that most things about Doctor Who, on closer inspection, may not make complete sense. They make emotional sense, they can inflame and excite you. But I'm not absolutely sure - and I say this as their creator - that the Weeping Angels are an entirely sensible decision on the part of evolution!

Writing for Matt and writing for David, how do you keen the voices of the Doctors distinct?

Well, oddly enough that was a problem with the regeneration. Literally switching from writing David to writing Matt. It's just David and it's Matt: sometimes they're very, very similar, sometimes they're very, very different. The voices are hardwired into my head, it's not really very difficult.

Interestingly, a lot of Doctor dialogue is the same. And actually one of the comments that David and Matt made to each other after the read through was 'it's really weird hearing somebody else doing it, because I keep thinking is that how you're meant to do that bit?' And they other says 'I was thinking exactly the same thing'. They're dealing with frequently the same sort of input. The flourishes change between the Doctors, I think. The essentialness though is he's just the Doctor. And I know the men very well, and I've written for both of them many times. It wasn't difficult, it was great fun.

Will the events of the 50th affect series eight? Is it game changing?

Yes. Yes. I think I was the person who appallingly introduced the phrase 'game changing' into Doctor Who. Oh God. It's a terrible expression, I wish I'd never said it!

Yes. We're going to make a change. It's going to have an effect.

You don't very often do that with a character in a running series, but after 50 years you can maybe take the risk. It's going to have an effect on him. Everything is not going to be the same. Chapter two.

Are there unique things that Jenna and Billie bring to their companions?

Yes. They're very different actresses playing very different parts. You start thinking of them not as the companion, but as who they are. There's a fair amount of contrast between the two.

They're two very different people, both as performers and as parts. But I suppose in a terribly shallow way, you do think that for an apparently asexual Time Lord, by God you pick 'em!

You've talked about it being the mighty one, the big one that you want to make. Was there a point in the writing where you though you'd gone too far? Or did you never reign yourself in?

I had a pretty clear idea of where we were going to go. And because I'd been doing the job for so long of writing the shows for so long - ten years! - I've pretty much got a handle on how you do all that, and what you can do. And the truth is what you have to do in Doctor Who - it's a tough thing to say to the writers - is don't you make the decision of what the production team can do. Let them make that decision. Don't limit yourself yet, because it's sometimes surprising what they can and can't pull off. They can't do that cocktail party, because that'd be difficult and involve lots of extras. But that giant mutant space badger hatching in the middle of Big Ben? We can do that.

David Tennant said before that as soon as you take the part of the Doctor, people want to know when you're going to leave. But with you exec-producing and writing it, do you see up and coming actors and actresses and think maybe in a few years, they'd be someone I'd be interested in?

You must be great to go out with! I don't, actually. I really don't. I don't want to ever think that Matt's leaving. That'd be an awful thing, I'd be very upset [Matt's departure was announced a month or two later]. It would feel wrong to think that way.

You can get relaxed towards this. I think there was a danger towards the end of the original run. It's not that easy to find someone to take on that part, and to replace someone as popular as Matt has become. That's really difficult, and has every possibility of colossal failure.

You've said in the past that when you've been writing Amy and writing Clara, you've used differing companions to throw differing lights on the character of the Doctor. Is that what you're looking to do here by writing more than one Doctor into the script as well? Does that allow you to take the process a bit further?

It's a different version of it, because he can critique himself. He can respond to himself. I tried to imagine what it would be like to interact with yourself, your younger and older self. I concluded that I'd absolutely fucking hate it. There's nothing good about it. My younger self would be a prat, and my older self would be even uglier! Imagine the lack of hope you'd have if 30 year old me came into the room and saw the 51 year old me. 'Shit, really? Is that as good as it's going to sodding well get?'

I didn't write the show like that! That would have been depressing!

Have you almost got a two person soliloquy in there?

There's a certain amount... there's a point where the Doctor has a specific line about what that's like. What it's like to interact with himself, and not always in a friendly fashion! But sometimes he's friendly!

Matt said that you'd be more excited than anyone seeing him and David together...

Matt's been more excited! I've never seen him so giddy on the set, and he's usually pretty giddy! I know the incident he's talking about, because I turned up to watch the two of them round the console together. And he kept saying 'isn't this great? Isn't this great?!'

We're both very excited. But Matt having been apprehensive, as you would be, absolutely adores David, and the two of them get on so well!

How exciting is it to have John Hurt in there as well?

It's acting royalty isn't it? Acting royalty. One thing we wanted with the 50th was to have acting royalty in this show. An actor who almost represents a statue of Doctor Who. So to have John Hurt here, and for him to be so enthusiastic and so nice, is thrilling and amazing. It's not an original observation, but he's a very good actor. He's fantastic.

One last thing: is the version in cinemas going to be exactly the same as the version screened on television?

There'll be different Doctors! No, it'll be the same one. Exactly the same one, yeah.

Steven Moffat, thank you very much...

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.

Disqus - noscript

10 days and counting. 10 days and counting...

I sense more Moffat BS and overstatement. If this turns out to be an 8 1/2 year anniversary show, rather than a 50th I might actually give up watching the show until Moffat goes. I really, really hope I am proved wrong.

I'm really curious about this game changing thing that Moffat talks about!

I bet you have a doctor who advent calendar counting dow. What was the chocolate today?

It was K9...

I'll be expecting some mutant space badgers in series 8 now. Bring 'em on!
Something involving bringing Bill Bailey's character back, ideally :)

nice, can't wait to see whats behind door 23

"Attaching the word '50' to anything? I almost tried to rip the logo off. Why is that 'good'? "

Because it's an illustration that people like it a huge amount SO it's stuck around for 50 years. It's not rocket science, Moffat.

I do tire of the flippant trying-to-be-funny way he talks about the show. It's almost as if he's embarrassed by it - and describing it as "nonsense" on a couple of occasions doesn't further endear me to him either.

Yes, must as I've found Lawrence Miles to be a bit of dipstick, his comments on Moffat often ring true when interviews like this appear.

That's easy....

But... Doctor Who IS nonsense. That's half the reason why I love it so much.

10 days and counting, your wife is thinking that too.

Only 10 more days of being seriously worried listening to RichieC squealling with delight everyday just like a little girl.

Looking at it it's the Trenzalore version of the TARDIS, slightly worse for wear.

Is there more chocolate on the inside than the outside?

And he's conscious that his words are going to be read at some point by people who are comparing the show to much more serious fare (where people frown and point guns and triangulate positions and things). I don't think a healthy dose of wry perspective is uncalled for.

This is a standard Moffat interview and boils down to "Everything I do is brilliant, and I will keep telling you it's brilliant until you reach the same conclusion"

He is also wrong about kids being the core audience, it's a family show and the revival would have fallen flat without the hard work RTD put in to entice classic fans and new viewers, be they old or young. It's the parents who control the wallets and the TV remote controls. Doctor who is a family show, it's inclusive to everyone. If anything he's made it less child friendly with it's convoluted plots, and the youngsters in my family, and kids of friends are drifting away from the series because of his involvement, but funnily enough are enjoying classic DVDs and in the case of my Nephew & Niece, enjoying the target books. WHat he also has to remember is that some of those kids that started watching in 2005 are now going to be old enough to be starting families of their own and it's incredibly short sighted to ignore them.

Wasn't 'A Good Man Goes To War' meant to be game-changing, too? All that really happened there was that we found out some inconsequential information about River Song.
But he sounds absolutely driven with the 50th, like he's genuinely putting in his 100%. And the trailers look fantastic. I'm going into this one far more positively than I have into a Moffat-era Who ep in a while!

She's going away for a conference from the 22nd to 24th. I'm not sure if it's a co-incidence or she scheduled it that way just to escape the madness!

I hate those damn triangulation shows.

Oh well, when Mrs RichieC gets back there's always the madness of the DVD/Blu-ray on the 2/12 to count down to too.

I am seeing it at the cinema (Poole) and not sure who will be squeeling the most. The kuds or the 'grown-ups'.

That "first season tanking" - surely he's talking about Joking Apart, one of the most unappreciated British comedies of all time?

Along the lines of what others have said here, self-deprecation is so tedious when it's so obviously the exact opposite of what the person really thinks. However, some tantalising snippets in here. Game changing events that will affect the character? And that said before, apparently, Matt Smith's departure was known. 10 days...

That's not true of a lot of shows.

The fridge has already won. Or something.

I believe he is talking about "Chalk" which had a second series commissioned by executives who loved the first before it aired. Then critics savaged it and ratings disappointed

yeah, "game-changing" sounds like the usual Moffat hype talk, but I guess we'll see.

I know I appear to be in a minority but I really like reading and listening to Steven Moffat. I think this is a very particular kind of interview where he is selling something that he can't really talk about so hyperbole is the name of the game. Generally I find him rather clever and often insightful.

Not a minority. I think there are lots of us who have still been enjoying the show since 2010 (and Sherlock!) and think of Moffat as nothing more or less than an outstanding writer.
But there are people who haven't been enjoying the show, and since it's so much easier to be cynical the rest of us are drowned out.

Name one show that's been around for 50 years that *isn't* liked a lot by the people that watch it.

(It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Unpopular shows don't tend to stick around for five decades)

Ah, never mind then.
I meant shows that have/had generally been going for a long time.

Interesting comment about the "recruitment drive". I've tried to interest some friends in seeing it at the cinema with me and my wife, and several of them have said the same thing - effectively that they've been frightened off by the arc-heavy direction that Moffat has taken the show in. It doesn't bother me, because I watch every episode, but I can see how it could be intimidating for those who watch it on and off.

You look in through the door and via an almost impossible feat of science and magic, an entire world of living chocolate is visible. Standing at the chocolate console is a dashing figure - the choctor and his beautiful and faithful companion, "sweetie".

I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.

I am a huge fan of Steven Moffat when watching any of his work for a second time.
The only episode of his that captured me on first viewing was "blink". Oh and the first episode of Sherlock.
I think that I have the same problem as the rest of the internet in the fact that I get excited because it is a Moffat episode, so there are bound to be twists and clever plot details, crazy dialogue and huge revelations - only to find that it is not what I was expecting, or worse it is exactly what I was expecting. The anticipation ruins the first viewing. So I go back soon after and watch it again to get the enjoyment from it.

That's fair. Mind you, I've found many episodes of Who (by other writers as well) gain something on subsequent viewings. As for expectation, that'll kill it every time. I try to rinse my mental palette before I go in :)

I really do bloody hate it when Moffat starts banging on about "this changes everything" and "game changers" because he as used that cliché so many times in his tenure, it as become completely meaningless. Every season he trots out "this is the one that will change it all" line, and at the end of every season, nothing as changed, except my growing underwhelming lack of appreciation for Moff's non existent game changers. Please Moffat, I don't want game changer rhetoric, I just want a well written, well acted, episode of Who.

Dude, I have loved every era of Who, and I have forgotten more about it's mythos than I can care to mention, but Moff's "epic plot arcs" are over convoluted and mostly, total empty and pointless. I can see how the casual viewer would be switched off. At the end of 7A, I was close to tuning off myself. It was only out of my sense of duty to the 50th that I was able to drag myself to watch it for 7B. I don't like Smith as the Dr. And I hate the way Moffat as taken the show. But I will stick with it because Matt is gone soon. And let's hope that helps Moff put out some more interesting material, more akin to my tastes.

That's odd because I can't bring myself to watch any of Moffs episodes, a second time. To me it feels like a chore and I just want to get them out of the way So I can watch another writers script.

Well said.

He also admits here he never bothered to watch any of the old series. Apparently he doesn't need to, but I am never going to forget what he said that time he was drunk.

She's probably off with her lover, and knows you won't be bothered at all with your Who about to start :)

Wasn't the whole Clara reveal meant to be a game changer to? And I can't remember anything about that, it was that inconsequential.

I'm not sure which other writers you are referring to. Gatiss's episodes are always full of great ideas that don't come to fruition on screen, then there's writers like Neil Cross who deliver episodes that belie their reputation - Hide was good on second viewing, but nowhere near anything from Luther, the less said about Akhaten, the better.
Although I felt Chibnall's two episodes from the first half of the series were amongst his best DW work to date. And he has some good ones.

And I have been proved wonderfully, amazingly wrong. The Night of the Doctor has fulfilled my wishes for the 50th. A totally respectful gesture to the fans and to, in my opinion, the best Doctor of them all. Mr. Moffat you have my honest and sincere apologies- and my upmost gratitude. 7 minutes of utter brilliance!

.. clearly you misread it, as all he says was that he didn't rewatch them before the 50th, not that he never bothered to watch any of the old series?

Well she wasn't impressed when I said that watching The Night Of The Doctor was the most exciting 7 minutes I've had in ages, so it's entirely possible!!! :-)

Sponsored Links