Here’s the article you would have read in our SFX Top 100 Sci-Fi Icons Of The 21st Century special if Doctor Who had won. Interview by Will Salmon
During the making of our recent Top 100 Sci-Fi Icons special, I was lucky enough to bag ten minutes of Steven Moffat’s time. The aim was to talk about the Doctor. At that point we didn’t know which character would come in at number one, so I wrote an extended piece, naturally assuming the big man from Gallifrey would win it for sure. When he didn’t (and hey – controversial!), it was scrapped. But we know how much you like hearing from Who’s showrunner, so here’s the full version.
The children’s own hero that adults adore
Of all the characters on this list, there are few that can be called not just an icon, but also a national treasure. The last of the Time Lords is certainly one of them.
But then he has an advantage. The Doctor isn’t one man, but eleven (and counting). For Who head honcho, Steven Moffat, that was always part of the appeal. “The Doctor can change with the times,” he says. “I always thought the new Doctor episodes were the most exciting. That idea [regeneration] really caught my imagination. I didn’t really get that thing of being disappointed about the old Doctor going. I was more excited about the new one!”
Another aspect that appealed was the Doctor’s lack of a modus operandi . “He’s not James Bond. He doesn’t have a mission and his superpower is just that he’s a really good improviser. I don’t think the Doctor sees himself as a hero. He’s always on the way to do something else and he just gets caught up in these adventures.”
That said, the Doctor has managed to build a bit of a reputation over the years, something that Moffat hints might come to a head in the new series. “There’s a difference between how his enemies see him and how he sees himself,” Moffat continues. “He convinces his enemy that they can’t shoot him in the head, but that would actually work! And that won’t stop them from building a bigger gun… The Daleks see him as this destroyer of worlds, but Amy would just laugh at that. She thinks he’s just this wonderful man, not a dark warrior at all.”
And he’s an alien! Previous showrunner, Russell T Davies, describes writing for the character as, “like looking into a furnace. Whole universes turn inside his head”. He’s a mystery. Nearly 50 years on, we don’t even know his name. Then again, for a Gallifreyan, he’s distinctly human.
“He’s not very alien,” Moffat agrees. “I think fans overstate its importance, to be honest. I could never quite tally the Doctor with where he’s supposed to have come from and what you see in ‘The Deadly Assassin’. I can’t picture him in those robes! I can imagine him coming from a Victorian gentleman’s club in London. People say he’s aloof and unemotional, but he isn’t. He can be distant but he’s not cold. Sherlock is more alien than the Doctor.”
That, perhaps, is the secret of the Doctor’s success. Everyone can relate to him on some level. “You could almost be like him,” Moffat says. “He can die and regenerate – it would be harder for you to do that! But I like the fact that anyone can be a little bit like the Doctor. That’s very important, I think, for children.”