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Countdown to Doctor Who: More with Executive Producer Steven Moffat

Geronimo!

With the US premiere of Doctor Who just two days away, anticipation for the new series, overseen by new head writer/executive producer Steven Moffat and starring Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, is about to reach a fever pitch, thanks to a series of well-timed publicity stops around the country this week.

I had the opportunity to speak to Doctor Who's Steven Moffat and Matt Smith (who replaces David Tennant as the Time Lord known only as the Doctor) a few weeks back for a feature piece for The Daily Beast (which you can read here in its entirety), but wanted to dive back into both interviews to bring you the stuff that you didn't get to read in my original feature. (You can also read my review of the first two episodes here.)

With Doctor Who set to premiere on Saturday on BBC America (with an extended-length episode with limited commercial interruptions), I thought I'd spend the next two days offering up the offcuts from that feature. First up: Steven Moffat, who talks with me about following Russell T Davies on the series, Tintin, why Doctor Who endures, and Sherlock, among other things. (Click here to read more from my one-on-one interview with Matt Smith.)

Televisionary: Was there a lot of pressure taking up the reins from Russell T Davies and rebooting the series?

Steven Moffat: There’s a lot of pressure making 13 episodes of this kind of show by any standards. Taking over from Russell isn’t a particular thing I think about, to be honest. You’re taking over from an awful lot of people when you’re taking over on Doctor Who. They’ve been making the show since 1963! So that wasn’t the first thing on my mind at all. But it’s very exciting. People keep asking me about the pressure. It’s a very, very exciting job. I’m not going to waste time feeling pressured about it. There’s enough to worry about without worrying about that.

Televisionary: You were originally attached to write three scripts for Steven Spielberg’s Tintin trilogy but opted to focus on Doctor Who. Can you explain the draw that the Doctor had for you?

Moffat: I’ve always been fascinated with Doctor Who so to be offered that job. Two: the movie business, while I love it dearly and all that, isn’t as good a place for a writer to be that’s why—I’m hardly the first writer you’ve heard of departing movies to work on a television series. Bluntly, television is a better place for writers to be, so it’s not such a radical decision, frankly.

Televisionary: Would you say that this Doctor Who is tonally different than RTD’s Doctor Who?

Moffat: Doctor Who changes tone every single week. That’s the truth. One week it’s a comedy, the next week it’s a romance, the next week it’s a horror film. We can do a musical, if we wanted. It’s not really got one tone but that’s for other, more boring shows than ours. Generally speaking, I suppose I fall back on this cliché of calling it a dark fairy tale and we probably pushed it more towards that storybook fairy tale feeling. But I feel that the most important central thing about Doctor Who is that its tone changes every week. It’s not the same show every time. It’s the same main character, the same main two characters, and it’s the same TARDIS. Everything else changes.

Televisionary: How would you describe the Eleventh Doctor in terms of him as a character? What makes him tick?

Moffat: First of all, really, really importantly, he’s the same man. There isn’t an eleventh Doctor. There’s just one Doctor, he’s just now got his eleventh face. So the fundamental things that make the Doctor tick haven’t changed in a very long time. If you put on different clothes, you feel and act differently. Can you imagine putting on a new body? That would change you even more. He’s altered in that sense and he feels and acts different... He’s both clumsy and graceful at the same time. Both elegant and a mess at the same time... The best thing about the Doctor is that he’s always a set of contradictions. You can’t quite nail him in a sentence and you shouldn’t be able to.

Televisionary: Why was Matt Smith the right man to take on the mantle of the Doctor? How would you describe him as an actor?

Moffat: Because he gave the best audition. [Laughs.] First and foremost, he’s an astonishingly brilliant actor. Within the industry, he was already tipped for stardom, absolutely was. It’s been a meteoric rise. People refer to him as an unknown but the truth is, barely out of acting school, he’d had major acting roles in the West End, major roles in television, already been cast in a movie. He was already tipped for the top, right from the off. That’s the first thing. He’s a proper star and a proper actor.

There was something about Matt, though he didn’t at the very beginning know the show very well at all, he just—-taking it off the page—-got the tone you need. The kind of actors we get in to audition for Doctor Who tend to be very, very high-level, very, very good actors. You don’t get any bad auditions for a role like this. It would be inconceivable. But you can miss the tone of Doctor Who, the playfulness, the joy of it, the energy of it and Matt just got that. I don’t know if it’s a matter of instinct or that he’s just a very clever man. He read the scripts, which was all he really knew about Doctor Who, and gave us, fully formed in that first audition, exactly what we were looking for.

Televisionary: When I spoke to Matt, he said that the Doctor was one of very few roles—the other being Hamlet—that a 60-year-old and a 27-year-old could both play. What is it about the character that innately allows for such flexibility and range?

Moffat: Just the simple and rather brilliant device that they came up with back in 1966 of regeneration. The Doctor, when his life is in danger, just creates a new body for himself. And when he does that, he’s not exactly the same man, he’s a bit different. He reboots himself into a new face and form. That’s what’s innate about it, a simple, brilliant piece of plot mechanics which enables the Doctor to be literally a new person.

Televisionary: We’ve seen many incarnations of the Doctor over several decades. Why do you think the character endures?

Moffat: To theorize about that, you’re talking about people like James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. I think you need a strong, clear, visually identifiable character. I think you need one where there can be different takes. There are different James Bonds, there are different Sherlock Holmeses. There are many different Doctor Whos. You have to have a character where it’s not static. It’s not that he’s going to date, it’s that he’s going to adapt to the modern age very easily and properly. But above all else, let’s be clear, Doctor Who hasn’t lasted for any mysterious reasons; it’s lasted because it’s really, really good. It’s really, really entertaining and vital and brilliant and I think, probably, the best character that television has yet come up with.

Televisionary: You’ve also got another project for BBC One coming up. What can you tell us about Sherlock?

Moffat: Sherlock, which I devised with Mark Gatiss and is being filmed at the moment also in Wales, is Sherlock Holmes but Sherlock Holmes set in the modern day. Not by any trickery; it’s not like he’s resurrected or any nonsense like that but we just do the stories but we relocate them in the modern day.

What Mark and I both felt was that the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes is getting obscured by all of the trappings of Victoriana whereas to the contemporary readers of Sherlock Holmes, it was sort modern and vital and now. Just taking all that Victoriana away, I honestly really think reveals the character, just what a great pate of character in Sherlock Holmes and Watson are and it’s a dream project for Mark and I. We’ve been talking about it for years and finally my wife, who is producing it, made us sit down and get on with it.

I’ve seen quite a bit of it now and I think it’s absolutely astonishing. The director, Paul McGuigan, directed Gangster Number 1 and Lucky Number Slevin. I think it’s a really remarkable piece of work and I’m just thrilled by it.

You can read the finished feature for The Daily Beast here, and Part Two of this series, the rest of my interview with the Doctor himself, Matt Smith, can be found here.

Doctor Who premieres Saturday at 9 pm ET/PT on BBC America.

Comments

Heatherette said…
I loved your Daily Beast Doctor Who piece and am thrilled for more! Thanks!

I like how Moffat said that there "...isn't an eleventh Doctor. There's just one Doctor, he's just now got his eleventh face." Very fun way to put it.

Looking forward to more Matt Smith tomorrow!
HipHopAnonymous said…
Brilliant. Thanks for asking about SHERLOCK, Jace! Listening to Moffat describe it, I may be even more excited for that series than the Doctor. The casting of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson couldn't be more perfect.

And funny enough, thus far I've been struck by the fact that Moffat has given the 11th Doctor a few distinctly Sherlockian touches as well. In the first ep we saw the Doctor's almost superhuman powers of observation at work, and then in ep 2 he displayed some impressive ratiocination for Amy. Great stuff.

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