Steven Moffat thinks outside the box. Not just any old box. This particular box is blue, battered and beloved, maybe just a little obsolete and incongruous around the edges. Outside its doors youll find the future and the past, possibly the present. Therell be something nasty in the dark, just you see. Terror, dread, dire peril, all that good stuff. Daleks? You never know your luck in this cruel and merciless universe. The sane response, naturally, would be to high-tail it back inside the box and hit the dematerialisation switch. But its Saturday. Its BBC One. No one wants to watch the sane response.
The latest series of Doctor Who the ninth since the show returned a decade ago will hurl Peter Capaldis Time Lord and Jenna Colemans human go-between into a breathless run of adventures. Were promised Vikings, highwaymen, ghost-haunted seas, global threats, new worlds, old worlds, fresh monsters and familiar fearsome favourites. We speak to Steven Moffat, the mastermind behind it all...
So these are the glory years for the Doctor and Clara. Does that shape the kind of stories youre telling this series?
"Its more their attitude to the stories. Obviously Doctor Who is all about death, destruction, terrible villains, huge threats, fear So what do you think about that? Are you having an argument about the moral implications? Or are you diving in and getting an adrenaline rush from it? Clara, in a dangerous way, has acknowledged that beneath that prim and proper teacher is a proper thrill-seeker. And thats what the Doctor has always been. They surf along on all these terrible events properly morally engaged, but still enjoying the living hell out of them."
Youve said youre writing the Doctor as a funnier character this year. Were you looking to lighten him up or is that just the way the scripts came?
"I say these things and they get hung around my neck for the rest of time! Hes more relaxed about certain things, more relaxed about his relationship with Clara. He spent series one trying to deny that he is sort of besotted with her. In a lovely, non-sexual way, of course, but he properly crushes on her again, in a non-creepy way. So, now that hes acknowledged that, hes more relaxed. And hes no longer worrying about whether hes supposed to be a good man or whatever. Hes just an idiot with a box and hes trying to have as much fun as possible. Still in his grumpy, unsociable way."
You really played with that brusque, prickly side of the Doctor last series
Yes, and its still there hes still like that. He doesnt understand that people find that offensive. He wasnt intentionally being rude to anyone he was just wondering why everyone got so upset! If you look at the previous Doctors they were also socially inept. They were just socially inept in slightly different ways. Matts Doctor would turn up naked at Christmas and kiss the wrong people. Theres a sort of social disengagement with the Doctor at all times. And this time around he sort of got bored of being charming all the time.
Does that feel like a risk, given most TV is powered by charming characters?
There are characters who are actually being charming and there are characters who charm us. Were charmed by House in House, even though he is charmless. People who have no clue about that kind of thing are fundamentally interesting. Sherlock is an example of that too. The lack of filter on them can be bemusing and exciting. It gives an illusion of honesty, I think it isnt really, its just another set of neuroses. I didnt really worry about it because I dont think thats how the Doctor operates. Theres possibly less of a filter with Peters Doctor. The charm especially to children is that the Doctor always behaves like some variety of kid. Capaldis rudeness is the rudeness of a child, who hasnt really understood thats not what you say to people. And Claras still having to be his human interface. This year she gives him little cards that he can use as prompt sheets for when he gets things wrong how to talk to the bereaved and so on. In a way the other Doctors needed them too. They might have needed to have different things written on the cards
Youve got the return of Missy in the opening story. We take it you couldnt wait to bring her back?
"Obviously I thought she was such an amazing hit that I wanted to write her again, but the truth is, as I was planning the first story I realised she fitted into it really well, and would give us a different way of looking at her, so I was automatically excited about that. But Doctor Who has always capitalised on its successes. Thats what it does. If we roll out a good monster we roll them back in again. Missys been one of our biggest hits in recent times so yeah, of course youre going to see her again. And I wanted to get back to the idea that the Master isnt a character who comes in and has a story every now and then. That character should turn up quite often, causing trouble but in different ways."
Youve given us a female Master, a secret incarnation of the Doctor and shown us the soul of the TARDIS, all of which would have felt like forbidden territory once. How brave can you be with the show? Is everything fair game or do you feel like the tempor
"I think theres a duality to that. You have to treat the show like you own it. I dont just mean me I mean every writer, every director and every actor that comes onto this show. Im always saying, Its not a fancy heirloom. Youre not carrying this carefully to the next room. Youve got to engage with it like you own it, otherwise its not a TV show, its a perfectly tended mausoleum. At the same time I actually feel quite strongly that there is only so far you can go. Secret incarnation of the Doctor? Thats the one that gave me an anxiety attack! The moment I pitched it, everyone else involved in the show immediately leapt up and down and said, This is great! You can do this! This is the thing that can make the 50th special! And I was the one going, Oh no! Im changing the numbering! What are we going to do? What if someones got tattoos with numbers on them of all the Doctors? Whats going to happen to them? [laughs]. I sweated blood over that one!"
You gave us some cheeky hints at the Doctors childhood in Listen
There were moments in Listen where I thought How far can you go here? I was very careful that we never saw the little boys face or, indeed, said that it was definitely him. You dont know. If you choose to reject that as an idea then you can fantasise that its somebody else. The boyhood of the Doctor is something Ive always definitively rejected from everybody else. Youre not supposed to know. I wrote that scene several times, just trying to get it right. You dont see his face. You know very little about what hes doing, why hes there, what hes crying about, any of those things they all have to remain secret. So we dont really tell you anything more than youd hear from Jon Pertwee, talking about the hermit on the hill in The Time Monster. That feels right. You cant reveal his name, you cant reveal what set him on his way, you cant do those things, because if you tried the audience would simply reject them as not true.
Youve got more two-parters this year. What does that do to the rhythm of the series?
The 45-minute format served us incredibly well for 10 years lets not decry them but you almost had a muscle memory of where those 45 minutes would go. Youd think, Ah, its time for the hero music, time for the Doctor to have his epiphany, time for the running to start Aside from having a lot more two-parters this time, we blur the lines between whats a two-parter and whats not: taking one strand of plot over two stories, that kind of thing. So you dont quite know that everything is going to wrap up when you hit 43 minutes. I thought that was becoming predictable. The only thing I ever missed in the 45-minute version of Doctor Who was that first episode feeling from the old series, where its sort of slow and ominous, like the first episode of The Ark In Space, where the Doctor wanders around and nothing really happens. Its utterly creepy, utterly involving, and yet the story doesnt start for the full 25 minutes. With 45 minutes you have to be quite definitive. By the end of the pre-titles youve said, This week its going to be like this. With a two-parter you dont know which way were going to jump for a longer period, which is quite exciting.