Steven Moffat, custodian of Who.

By David Knox on April 14, 2010 / Filed Under News 18

For almost any British schoolboy, and more than a few schoolgirls, the idea of being handed the reins of Doctor Who would seem like a dream come true.

For screenwriter Steven Moffat (Jekyll, Coupling) it is just as exciting, now the Executive Producer of the long-running sci-fi franchise. He has been a fan of the show since he was a child, as he explains to TV Tonight.

“It was such an exciting show and I became a huge fan, and remain a huge fan,” he says. “When it came back I was very keen to get a shot writing for it, when Russell (T. Davies) was running it. And that went well. So it’s an incredibly exciting job.

“I think anyone doing this job would have to say it’s a career highlight. A dream come true, yes.”

With Matt Smith as the new Doctor and Karen Gillan as his companion Amy Pond, Moffat can effectively refresh the franchise. Yet at the same time, such moves could put a fervent fanbase at risk. As the writer of some acclaimed episodes, most feel he is the perfect man to inherit a television legacy.

The success of the Who brand by the BBC has even spawned other fantasy dramas in the UK, in a genre that is frequently dominated by American television.

“I have to say the shows that have come along since Doctor Who have been great,”declares Moffat. “I think Primeval’s a great show, and Merlin and Robin Hood. I’m very happy that kind of show’s being made again. I think they got very dreary for a long time with lots of boring grown up shows with people arguing in the rain. It’s good to see big, mad series that children will remember for the rest of their lives.”

So as the custodian of all things Who, does he have some shifts in store that will distinguish the series from the Davies-era?

“Yes, but I’m not going to tell you, am I?” he says.

“The whole point of that journey is you don’t know where you’re going.

“There’s been far too much ‘Spoilering’ in Doctor Who. Yes there are places where you’re going to go, but I’m damned if I’m going to tell you where they are!

“Let’s not blow the punchlines. Yes there’s big stuff that’s going to happen and it’s going to change and you’ll be surprised but you won’t get a word out of me.

“There’s an awful lot of coverage in the press which is wonderful, and very exciting for us. But I’m always in despair when plot twists are revealed or given away. We’ve been very successful at playing it very close to our chest with this series and we will continue to do so.”

Such is the fascination with the Who brand that both media and fans alike are constantly on the lookout for news, from plot moves to location shooting to guest stars. Moffat says actors are asked to keep details confidential.

“We don’t have executive power over what they do in their individual life. We ask them not to give stuff away, but it’s not like state secrets,” he says. “We’re just trying not to spoil the show for the kids, really. It’s not like we can sue them or anything. But it’s not a grim and terrible process, and we’re not keeping secrets from the audience, we’re keeping secrets for the audience.

“It’s the exact same equivalent as not blurting out the punchline halfway through the joke. We want to keep it exciting.”

For the most part this simple, but effective, strategy achieves the desired outcome.

“It’s quite easy to get trust in that sense. We’re clear about what we’d like from people and we tend to get it. There are newspapers who will do anything to spoil us but we’ve so far managed quite well to preserve the surprises that are coming, which is all we really what we want to do.”

So far Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have been rapturously received in the UK, allaying initial concerns that the casting of the Smith, at 27, might have pitched the show at a younger audience. A defensive Moffat scoffs at suggestions he would take over the show and knowingly seek to reduce the size of the audience.

“The fans might have that worry, that we might be trying to appeal to children, but the rest of the audience would probably understand that is Doctor Who‘s primary domain,” he says.

“As for ‘going younger’, what does that mean? He’s still 900. He just doesn’t look 900. He’s no less qualified to play a 907 year old than anyone else who has played The Doctor.”

Finally, Moffat is also busy overseeing production on Sherlock which he has co-written with Mark Gatiss. The series is intended for broadcast in the UK autumn and later in Australia on the Nine Network.

“It’s Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day, but not by freezing anything, we just relocate the stories into the modern day. I think it’s absolutely brilliant. The way the characters map onto the modern world … it’s so easy, so effortless to make it work. I think people are going to love it.”

Doctor Who airs 7:30pm Sunday on ABC1 and is available at 12am this Saturday on iView.

18 Comments »

  1. zls April 18, 2010 at 12:16 pm -

    -Loved the season premiere-one thing though. I feel the small girl should have not had to see a psychiartrist. Following the logic of the show, the last episode had just had a planet appear over England-all there had seen it. Also, “the doctor” is known to show up to people randomly. With all the episodes showing the doctor saving planet earth from aliens; one could resonably assume a small child could have seen a version of the doctor.

  2. Ben April 17, 2010 at 12:37 am -

    Great scoop!

    I’m very happy about Moffat taking over – he’s written (or co-written) my fave eps, incl The Library and the Sally Sparrow one. Also pleased that it’s staying true to its roots and appealing to kids – a third generation!

  3. Jack! April 16, 2010 at 11:42 am -

    Sorry, i should have said: “…the rest of us, except Mandy,… ” the comment was more related to what Russell said in his extended version of “The Writer’s Tale” which explained it as a self indulgent decision on his part …

    I am also looking forward to Sherlock … Jekyll was not my cup of tea …

    Jack!

  4. ilis April 14, 2010 at 10:18 pm -

    Thanks for that interview David. I can’t wait for new Doctor Who this Sunday!

  5. Mandy April 14, 2010 at 9:08 pm -

    Hey, speak for yourself “other Jack!” – I enjoyed the Gallifrey/Time Lords arc immensely. Don’t want to get into a slanging match over opinions stated as givens but I do object to being lumped in as “the rest of us”. And I like both old and new Cybermen. We’re a broad church, remember.

    It’s really great to get so much coverage from you David on DW, thanks. Verrrrry excited.

    Also, not generally a Sherlock Holmes fan but…Moffat! Gatiss! No Nesbitt!! I can’t wait.

  6. Jack! April 14, 2010 at 5:33 pm -

    The other Jack! here …
    I feel some of you have been unfairly hard on RTD and the previous four years of DW … however, I do agree that there was too much of some things (like the new and unimpressive Cybermen) and that his desperate need to keep Gallifrey and the Time Lords out of the picture until the very end was a very annoying game that the rest of us did not want to play.

    As for this year under Steven Moffat … I was very concerned that he would not get it right … but, having seen the first two episodes, I am more than impressed, infact, i think they were two of the best episodes i have seen in a very long time … since “Blink” which he wrote anyway … This is going to be an amazing year for Doctor Who … I think both the new Doctor and companion Amy Pond are superb and i am usually very hard to impress … that new TARDIS interior is breathtaking!!!

    Jack!

  7. Jack April 14, 2010 at 4:10 pm -

    Paul, Moffat helming the show will make a difference, it should suck substantially less and have me tuning in again. He’s a considerably better and more consistent writer. I don’t want to say RTD was bad as such, but he’s a one trick pony who did the same thing every year for three years I watched the new DW with his ridiculous and overwrought finales that are carbon copies of the year before. I can only assume the 2008 and 2009 series were the same. Bring on less hack writing with Moffat!

    Though I am a little concerned that he’s a fan of Primeval.

  8. Paul April 14, 2010 at 2:02 pm -

    Well, I’ll give Sherlock a go but I’m doubtful it’ll be any good at all. It really seems like the BBC are – like Merlin and Robin Hood – using a well known out of copyright brand and fiddling with it a bit yet in Sherlock’s case sufficient to make it something other than it is.

    For all the razzle dazzle going on in the hype machine, there really is precious little ground breaking or substantively new going on in Doctor Who aside from predictable stylistic emphases, marketing and budget. Formulaic with flashy packaging is about it, really. Yet this is just as true of the recent almost as creaky Trek movie revamp, and people seemed entertained.

    I doubt Moffat’s run at the top will change very much at all. DW seems to work for people as it is, and his comments suggest both a complacency and the sort of reality distortion field one finds accompanying the pronouncements of Steve Jobs. Perhaps if there was the possibility of something startlingly new to be seen I might be more enthused but from what I’ve read elsewhere it seems to be a bunch of celebrity appearances and famous faces. No matter how skillful, zzzz!

  9. GuanoLad April 14, 2010 at 1:26 pm -

    As much as I trust Sherlock will be good, I hope it isn’t just another murder mystery show. Lately I find I have a soft spot for period drama, and the show “Murder Rooms” about the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, Dr Bell, that came out a decade ago, was wonderful. I kind of wish more for something like that, than a modern upgrade.

  10. Sydney2K April 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm -

    Interesting about the emphasis on secrecy. Russell T Davies instituted that policy, with the result that no news is big news. I was in Britain at the time of the broadcast of the fourth season finale, and the amount of interest on the ground was immense. Central to this was whether or not there was going to be a new incarnation of the Doctor- if you remember the Docotr was running towards a tearful reunion with Rose when he got hit by a glancing shot from a Dalek. Safe within the Tardis he started to regenerate. It was amazing to see the coverage given to this in the print and electronic press. I don’t mean from fan circles, I mean from reputable newspapers. I remember watching an interview with Freema Agyeman on BBC Breakfast TV and while she talked about how exciting it was to work on the episode she never let anything about what would happen slip.

    RTD talks in interviews how important secrecy is- that it helps promote programs, it builds anticipation. The fan community is obsessed with having to know now what is going to happen. By strictly enforcing the secrecy policy the production team helps the program gain great ratings. Far from being Davies’ rival (as many would like to see it) Moffat is continuing a lot of Davies’ policies.

    @ Paul: Sherlock sounds exciting to me. Think of the movie version of State of Play- the old school detective reporter versus the high tech-savvy online journalist. That movie says that as much as having the internet and forensics labs helps get the story, it’s old fashioned nose and ears to the ground investigation that gets the story in the first place.

  11. RoD April 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm -

    From memory, Nine was the only other party (besides Aunty) bidding for nu-Who when it returned in 2005. So someone there has been thinking of getting some quality BBC shows for quite some time.
    Top Gear’s success just swung that from a trend to a craze.

    Great interview, David.

    @Paul – jazzing up old ideas is hardly new! Consider Dracula – the biggest vampire phenomenon ever. That involved moving a 14th Century Wallachian politican to a contempory setting (as the 1890s were when Stoker wrote it). There are no new ideas…

    Sherlock should be good – esp. with Gatiss co-writing.

  12. David Knox April 14, 2010 at 11:05 am -

    He brilliantly revived Jekyll so he most surely has the benefit of the doubt.

  13. Paul April 14, 2010 at 10:47 am -

    Thanks David.

    Sherlock sounds iffy to me. Holmes worked as his skills in forensic science and method were not commonplace, which is hardly the case today. There’s also a heck of a lot more consulting detectives than in his day, too. And if they were to operate as Holmes did, they’d likely be in the clink. So either the cops are going to be unbelievably lazy twits or the stories will change a lot. And in the age of the web, cellphones and helicopters rushing for trains and the like seems less necessary. So what does that leave? IV drug use, violin playing and bromance?

    It’s also interesting that the shows Moffat talks up are all based on very old material, no matter how much they’ve been stylistically jazzed up. Perhaps that says something significant about the state of modern television.

  14. Craig April 14, 2010 at 10:31 am -

    Thanks for the interview David, Sherlock sounds interesting but why does Nine have the rights, okay I know ‘why’ but why! it would have been better suited to the ABC.

  15. David Knox April 14, 2010 at 10:06 am -

    Paul: yes, don’t know, no, not sure, up to you, yes, doubt it, sort of. Think that covers it. ;-)

  16. Madame Tango April 14, 2010 at 8:18 am -

    Nice piece – he is a master storyteller – Hans Christian Anderson with even more nightmares!!

  17. Matthew See April 14, 2010 at 7:09 am -

    A very good interview and as well Doctor Who on the ABC, I will be seeing Sherlock when it comes on Nine.

    Hopefully the Steven Moffat era gets to be judged by its own merits in regards to Doctor Who since 2005 rather than simply lumping it with the Russell T Davies era which a lot of people seems to be doing.

  18. Paul April 14, 2010 at 6:46 am -

    I don’t quite understand this. Did TVT actually ask these questions?

    If so, why are they so much like anyone else’s? It reads like a press release.

    Did The Moff not want to answer more specifically Australian questions – or slightly tougher ones?

    If he dislikes spoilers, how does Moffatt react to foreign broadcasters like the ABC considering them synonymous with promotions/adverts?

    In a profitable, predictable family-rated show that’s just about 50 years old, surely not much of substance has or can really be changed – but should we care or not? If so, why should we keep watching?

    The BBC back catalogue along with Sherlock going to Nine – is the ABC being put on notice that profit is a more significant influence in overseas sales?

    I’m also surprised about the reveal of the new TARDIS interior accompanying the article. Has it been previously announced here?

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