Steven Moffat wrote one of my favorite stories from the ‘Nu Who’ run Girl in a Fireplace. As a result I have high expectations that this new series under his command will be one of the best. Here we have an interview with him supplied by BBC America.
Steven Moffat is a BAFTA-award winning writer whose career in television has spanned more than 20 years and produced some of the UK’s best-loved television dramas in that time. But more than that, he is a Doctor Who fan who has just been handed his dream job – in charge of this iconic drama series.
“I suppose I could say the reason I started working in TV is because I was such a huge fan of Doctor Who,” explains Steven. “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.”
But there was a long period when Doctor Who was not on screen; did Steven ever worry that he wouldn’t get the opportunity to achieve his 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!” says Steven with a chuckle. “After 26 years, just when I thought I’d finally get to write for the show, I missed out by an afternoon.”
The transition to lead writer and executive producer
However, fate was obviously on Steven’s 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,” explains the Paisley, Scotland born writer. “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 Steven’s 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.”
Casting the Doctor
Doctor Who has already had multiple incarnations on television, so casting the perfect actor for the lead role presented some interesting debates. “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,” reveals Steven. “I actually remember at the beginning of the process when I got a little bit cross while 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.”
Casting the new Companion
But 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,” explains Steven. “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.”
The new Doctor Who stories
An inevitable question that will be asked of the new series is how it differs from those that have gone before. “I’ve never done anything differently, at least not deliberately,” says Steven. 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.”
First day of filming
Despite the lengthy transition, there finally came the day when all of the hard work was realized; the first day of filming of the new series. “By accident it was the most magical beginning. We went down onto this perfect, white beach,” reveals Steven. “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.”
Where he would travel in the TARDIS
Steven has, in the past, described the TARDIS as the best storytelling and plot device that there is. But if he had his own, where would he 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 his favorite Doctor? “The one with the two hearts that travels in the TARDIS… And word on the street is, he’s never looked finer.“