Ahead of the press screening of the Doctor Who Christmas special last week, we joined an assembled throng of Who-loving chums for a grouped interview with executive producer Steven Moffat, and the Time Lord himself, Peter Capaldi. The pair were at the back end of a day of press, but seemed in fine fettle.
You can find the questions others asked at said grouped interview at their assorted outlets around the internet. Here are the couple of questions we got in…
Steven, given Doctor Who’s ability to push against what happens to be popular at a given time, when you come to write a superhero story, are you looking to skewer a little bit, have fun, or pull the leg at the predominance of superhero stories?
SM: Well, I don’t think just taking the piss out of something works for a modern family audience. Five minutes would be pushing it. One minute. I think you’ve got a sketch. You’ve got to take it not so much seriously, but sincerely. We try and tell a good superhero story, and talk about things I think are fun about superheroes. Which is mainly that I think it’s fun you have to have a secret identity. It means that shy, socially awkward people can believe that sometimes, when nobody’s looking, they’re a god!
A follow up to that. I’m a parent of three. One of the big things for me, looking around popular culture at the moment, is having something for my kids that’s reachable. One of the things you said, Peter, when you first got the role was when you came to discuss the costume, you just wanted to button up the top button of your shirt. That it was something people, even if they didn’t have much, could easily copy.
How ingrained to you, when you come to write Doctor Who, is the reachability of it for a younger audience? That you give them something they can copy, and play?
SM: Very much. I always say you have to be able to draw the monster. We talk a lot about what’s the playground game? That doesn’t mean we take it simply. Doctor Who stories can be complicated, and can be emotional. But it means you have to keep in mind the slightly different, more intense, more emotional way that kids watch television. At its heart, it is a children’s programme. One that adults absolutely love. But that’s who it belongs to. There isn’t a Holby City lunchbox, or if there is, they’ve probably not sold very many! It’s their show, and I feel very strongly about that. But that doesn’t mean it’s dumb. Children’s television has to be challenging. You have to stay ahead of these things. Kids, let’s be clear, are smarter than us.
PC: It’s also very clear when you’re acting that that’s the challenge of it. You have to be able to entertain six year olds and 80-year olds, and everything in between. That’s quite tricky, because sometimes there’s a conflict. If you’re aiming for a truthfulness about something, that may be a consequence of your mature experience as an actor, you may come across something that’s broadly comic, or too sentimental or whatever. But then you realise, no, this programme is for children, as well as for adults. This moment is one they will reach more quickly, and it’s more accessible to them. So do it: be funny, be silly, be sad, juggle all of those things. That’s the challenge of it.
The Doctor Who Christmas special screens – guess! – on Christmas Day. Our spoiler-free review is here.