EXCLUSIVE - Steven Moffat Talks John Hurt and The Day Of The Doctor

Speaking exclusively to SFX, Steven Moffat tells us a little more about the Time Lord's most mysterious incarnation, soon to be seen in 50th anniversary tale "The Day Of The Doctor"...

John Hurt is a huge piece of casting for the show. What does he bring to the mix?

“Well, you get to see John Hurt play the Doctor, which by any standards is incredibly cool.”

Was he familiar with Doctor Who? You always imagine that these big stars slightly float above it…

“He’s not an uberfan or anything but he absolutely knew Doctor Who and knew who the Doctors were. On his last day he gave a little speech saying how thrilled he’d been to have been a part of Doctor Who , and how thrilled he was to be the Doctor and that if anyone ever said he was slumming it in Doctor Who he was not. He knows it, but not the way we know it. And rather wonderfully he said he’d always rather fancied being in it, because people always said it was a great, fun show to do - it was a good show, and you get a good script. He said yes with remarkable speed, it must be said. We sent it off to him and thought “How long do we have to wait for someone who feels like a peer of the realm to respond to you?” Twenty-four hours later he said he’d do it.”

You spoke about the casting of Peter Capaldi and said that when he walks into the room, you know the Doctor’s there. Did you get that with John Hurt?

“Yes, because he’s John Hurt, in a way. We didn’t have that moment of audition – we didn’t audition him. When he turned up, when I saw him on set in the costume that Howard, our costume designer, had rustled up apparently overnight, you just think yeah, there’s another Doctor. What’s exciting about seeing John Hurt as the Doctor is it’s the first time in a long time we’ve seen the Doctor in his 70s. He really is the grizzled older man, and that was automatically and instantly exciting. And you sort of believe it. You’re always nervous about all these things. You do think, given that we’ve portrayed him in this youthful kind of way for a while, is it still going to fly? But it does. You have no issue with it at all.”

Will kids will be freaked out by him turning up?

“People always worry about that, and they worry about it with Peter Capaldi too. How many young Santa Clauses have we cast? How young do you think Matt or David look to an 8 year old? They don’t. I was a teacher at 24, and my kids thought I was ancient. I don’t think kids will worry about that at all.”

I meant more that you’re suddenly stripping away the clownish exterior and revealing this terrifying figure…

“Well, wait and see. I always think that the clown and hero are different levels in the Doctor – there is no completely straight Doctor. The folk memory of Hartnell is he’s a cranky old man, but when you watch him he plays the Doctor as a stroppy child. Very twinkly and he’s not crotchety, he’s sulky, the way that an infant would be. Ian and Barbara are sort of his parents, indulging him to go and behave himself a bit better. The Doctors are always like that. He’s either an extraordinarily youthful old man or an extraordinarily old young man. He’s always both.”

John Hurt’s costume is quite striking. Is it meant to be a patchwork of previous Doctor costumes?

“Not particularly. I can see why people say that. Looking at it face to face it didn’t occur to me as a patchwork of previous Doctors at all. It’s a rougher, tougher Doctor. It looks like somehow he’s been through it a bit. We are saying ‘This isn’t a Doctor who’s just appeared, he’s been around, he’s been in this form for a while.’ So one of the notes was make it look as though he’s been knocking around in this incarnation for a bit.”

And he’s the first bearded Doctor, too…

“I suppose he is – apart from Tom Baker in 'The Leisure Hive'. Well, he asked if he could keep his beard, and I looked at it and I thought actually, he looks quite good with it. And it’s another indicator that he’s not a fresh-born Doctor. We didn’t want to imply that he’d just been around for a little while. There’s a whole lot of stuff you missed! It’s a nice thing to be able to say in the show, and for no one to be able to contradict you, that there were years that you didn’t know about… we lied and lied, there’s a whole big old chapter you didn’t know.”

Nick Setchfield

"The Day Of the Doctor" airs at 7.50pm on BBC One on 23 November.

Nick Setchfield
Editor-at-Large, SFX Magazine

Nick Setchfield is the Editor-at-Large for SFX Magazine, writing features, reviews, interviews, and more for the monthly issues. However, he is also a freelance journalist and author with Titan Books. His original novels are called The War in the Dark, and The Spider Dance. He's also written a book on James Bond called Mission Statements.