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Doctor Who – Steven Moffat keeping it lively

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Doctor Who (2000's), Series 6 - Herb Scannell, Steven Moffat, Matt Smith and Alex Kingston
President of BBC Worldwide America Herb Scannell, writer Steven Moffat, Matt Smith and Alex Kingston at the New York Premiere © 2011 BBC America

After Russell T Davies’ re-imagining of Doctor Who with David Tennant, which practically brought the franchise back from the dead, who could have imagined that the Doctor could be regenerated again with such success? But producer/writer Steven Moffat has done it. When the new season of Doctor Who premiered in April, with Matt Smith, the youngest actor to ever portray the Doctor, it delivered record ratings for BBC America.

Steven Moffet spoke with the journalists at the TV Critics Association this week about his phenomenal achievement.

The structure of this season is remarkably different than anything we’ve seen in this reinvention of the Doctor, in that its ongoing storyline is much stronger than we’ve ever had before.

Doctor Who (2000's) - Karen Gillan, Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill
Any (Karen Gillan), The Doctor (Matt Smith) and (Arthur Darvill) © 2011 BBC

It was just something different. It’s not all we’ll do next year, but it’s been so traditional that we always start with a big one-off romp that’s jolly and happy, and you think, ‘Oh, we’re back on board with the Doctor and Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill).’

Instead of doing that, we kill him, and it’s a rock to the nation. Everyone goes, ‘My God, what? He’s actually going to die?’ So we just started off on a different foot, and it kind of shocked people. It excited them.

The trouble with a series as it gets older is it can feel like a tradition, and tradition is the enemy of suspense, and it’s the enemy of comedy. It’s the enemy of everything really. So you have to shake it up.

That doesn’t mean it’s the new tradition. We’ll shake it up in a completely different way next time. But that’s what it’s about, keeping it lively, keeping it brand new; keeping it exciting.

Usually the episodes are more episodic. My sense from what we’ve seen already is that this storyline dominates through the season.

Doctor Who 6.7 A Good Man Goes to War – Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan
Episode 6.7 A Good Man Goes to War – Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) © BBC 2011

Well, it does and it doesn’t. Always with Doctor Who the story of the week, in truth, takes center stage. And I think it always, as a show, pushes back towards the anthology model.

What we’ve got is a more extreme version of what we’ve always had, which is a story that links it all, but we’ve really amped it up to see what would happen to have bigger mysteries.

You’ll find when you see the next six episodes, you’ll get answers to all your questions. All the stories will end, and they will end satisfyingly, buy you’ll have absolute standalone episodes as well, and most of them are, in fact, complete standalone episodes.

Every time you have a revelation on the show, like River Song, you’re leveling yourself up. So do you ever reach a point where you’re just not even sure where you’re going to go next?

No, it’s all a master plan. There’s always something else to tell. There’s always some other part of the story. The thing about stories is nothing can ever be a destination. Everything has to be a waystation, you’re going off somewhere else.

You think, oh we’ll find out who she is, and that will be over. No, it’s not.

Doctor Who (2000's) - Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Alex Kingston and Arthur Darvill
Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Alex Kingston and Arthur Darvill face the press at the New York City Premiere © 2011 BBC America

That little girl the Doctor first met when she was seven and who, when she was a little bit older, snogged him against the TARDIS, turns out to be the mother, possibly, of the woman he’s possibly married to in the future. How terrifying. That’s not going to make your life simpler.

Every revelation has to be a story. You can’t just tie off the narrative. It’s got to send it off in a new way, and each time you think you know the truth about River, you don’t know it yet, and there’s loads more to come.

Each reveal makes you go, ‘Oh, right. So that means, that means, that means….’ That’s what the story is, I think.

I don’t think there’s ever been a show like this where you keep changing the lead actor and the fans accept it and it just goes on successfully.

I have worked in many other shows where I’ve thought, ‘My God, regeneration would be a good idea to spread out through the rest of television!’

Doctor Who’s got it. I think the brilliance of it, back in the 1960s when he first solved the problem is that you not only get a new actor in the role, you get a new Doctor.

Doctor Who 6.7 A Good Man Goes to War – Matt Smith and Alex Kingston
Episode 6.7 A Good Man Goes to War – The Doctor (Matt Smith) and River Song (Alex Kingston) © BBC 2011

You’re not obliging one actor to re-create the work of another as in a way they do with James Bond. You’re saying, because you actually change the Doctor, he’s a different person. To use a rubbish word, you optimize the part for this new actor.

When Matt’s favorite Doctor, Patrick Troughton, first took it over in a very bold television-making decision, he played a completely different man. Not only was he a different face, he was different in style and temperament.

It forced the audience to try, as it still does, to find the same man inside him, who instead of looking at all the differences they’re hungry for the similarities. That’s brilliant. And that’s what you have to try and do.

Every time you bring on a new Doctor [the viewers’] get the shock of the difference, the shock of the new, and then as the story progresses [they] think, ‘I can tell it’s still him. He still thinks that. He still feels that.’

I think it’s one of the boldest and cleverest decisions ever taken in a TV show. I can say that with no conceit because it was nothing to do with me. I was about four at the time. They did phone me. I said, ‘Yeah, it’s good!’