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

Interview Simon Brew 11/13/2013 at 7:17AM

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 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 movie 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 thing 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...