BAFTA-award winning writer Steven Moffat has just been handed his dream job: being in charge of Doctor Who, as the show returns to BBC One for a fifth series this spring.
How big a fan of Doctor Who are you?
“I suppose I could say the reason I started working in TV is because I was such a huge fan of Doctor Who. I was absolutely fascinated and thrilled by the show. I wanted to know how the TARDIS disappeared, how all the special effects worked and why the Doctor changed. As a viewer you want to know why he looks different; it’s a show that compels you to look behind the scenes. In fact, over the years I think I’ve bought every single issue of Doctor Who Magazine since it launched.”
During the long period when Doctor Who was not on screen; did you ever worry that you wouldn’t get the opportunity to achieve your lifelong ambition and write for the show?
“I tumbled through the door of children’s TV, became quite a cool children’s TV writer for about 48 seconds in 1989 and they basically axed Doctor Who that day! After 26 years, just when I thought I’d finally get to write for the show, I missed out by an afternoon.”
Fate was obviously on your side and in 2005 Doctor Who was resurrected and has become one of the biggest shows on UK television under the guidance of Russell T Davies…
“The transition has been strange and has lasted a long time for me; since I first got an email from Russell about the job in fact. We’ve been saying goodbye to each other for two and a half years now – we’d really better stop before one of us drops dead in a desperate bid for closure. I hugely enjoyed working with Russell and every time I came back to Doctor Who during those years it was an absolute treat. I knew this job was going to be difficult; I was never under any illusion about it. I could see that Russell was getting tired and he has acknowledged he is a workaholic. I’ve managed to take up workaholism, but it never sits quite as easy with me.”
The actual moment of regeneration was, of course, the pinnacle of that transition and your first chance to write for the new Doctor…
“It was Russell’s courtesy to allow me to write Matt’s first scene when the regeneration happened and he was adamant about that. He’s a fan like I am and he’ll always be motivated by that. He wouldn’t like to think as a member of the audience that the old writer had written the new Doctor. In our heads that’s where the new era begins, that’s what matters to us.”
What was it like casting a new Doctor?
“I had a clear idea, which actually turned out to be the absolute opposite of what we ended up doing – which always happens when you get the casting right. I actually remember at the beginning of the process when I got a little bit cross whilst looking at the list of actors as it was full of people in their twenties. I said to everyone that we couldn’t have a Doctor who is 27. My idea was that the person was going to be between 30–40 years old, young enough to run but old enough to look wise. Then, of course, Matt Smith comes through the door and he’s odd, angular and strange looking. He doesn’t come across as being youthful at all, in the most wonderful way.”
Alongside the new Doctor is a brand new companion, played by Scottish actress Karen Gillan. What was it about her that made her perfect for the role?
“The challenge with casting the companion is that there are only so many people that would actually go through those blue doors. It has to be someone that loves adventure and doesn’t quite feel at home with where they are. They have to be a feisty, fun-loving and gutsy person – and now we’ve got Karen Gillan. She was just exactly right for the role despite inhabiting Amy Pond in a way that was quite different from how I originally wrote the part.”
How does the new series differ from those that have gone before?
“I’ve never done anything differently, at least not deliberately. I just try and think of all the best and maddest Doctor Who stories I want to watch, and get them made – there are worse ways to make a living. You could say that I’m more into the clever plots; I like the big twists and the sleight of hand. I like playing around with time-travel but I don’t think it should be at the front of Doctor Who in every episode.
“However, I do think it should happen more often and reinforce the fact he has an odd relationship with time. For example, no one is ever dead to him. He can’t say ‘I knew Winston Churchill’, he’d say ‘I know Winston Churchill’. Everyone in the whole universe is still alive to him and he has no sense of time passing. I find that all fascinating. If you look at the stories I’ve written so far I suppose I might be slightly more at the fairytale and Tim Burton end of Doctor Who, whereas Russell is probably more at the blockbuster and Superman end of the show.”
What do you feel is the most important ingredient to Doctor Who?
“I think it is centrally vital for Doctor Who that at its heart and in its soul it is a children’s programme. Not one that excludes adults, but one that welcomes them in. But when Doctor Who is really working, when it really delivers, the entire audience is eight years old – whatever age they started out!”
What was the first day of filming like?
“By accident it was the most magical beginning. We went down onto this perfect, white beach. The TARDIS and our two main characters were there and we could just see that blue rectangle facing us. It was like a stamp stuck on a picture, it was so perfect! I remember walking down thinking this is properly magical; we’re not starting with some secondary characters that end up getting killed by an electric slug, or something. We’re actually starting with the Doctor and the Companion stepping out of the TARDIS talking to River Song.”
In the past, you’ve described the TARDIS as the best storytelling and plot device that there is. But if you had your own, where would you choose to go?
“I have no real desire to go anywhere else because I’m genuinely so happy with my life the way it is at the moment. I’d probably like to go to the future but stay away from libraries in case I found out when I died; that would be a bit miserable. I’d like to see what the toys and gadgets are in the future and all the fun I’m going to miss out on. But most of all, I’d like to know who’s playing the Doctor!”
So, as a life-long Doctor Who fan, who is your favourite Doctor?
“The one with the two hearts that travels in the TARDIS… and word on the street is, he’s never looked finer.”