What’s this? Fa­ther Christ­mas meets Doc­tor Who? “I haven’t gone off my rocker,” Steven Moff at tells Nick Setch­field

SFX - - Doctor who -

SSteven Mof­fat has one very im­por­tant stip­u­la­tion for SFX.

“Look,” he says, as our chat be­gins with the Doc­tor Who showrun­ner. “Kids are bound to read this. So you have to re­mem­ber. Fa­ther Christ­mas is real. You’re not al­lowed to say that he’s not.”

It’s an un­usual re­quest. Has the pres­sure of mas­ter­mind­ing the na­tion’s great­est tele­vi­sion show fi­nally bro­ken the man? Of course Fa­ther Christ­mas is real. All sen­tient be­ings know that ( kids – sen­tient be­ings is just a grown- up/ show- off way of say­ing you, your mum and dad, the cat, ev­ery­one… well, maybe not your nan after her third cheeky Mal­ibu on Box­ing Day). Come on, Steven. You may as well ask us to re­mind peo­ple that doors are use­ful and grav­ity’s a good idea.

Yes, we know this year’s Doc­tor Who Christ­mas spe­cial sees the lord of time face to face with the lord of gift- wrap, brought to the screen in all his big- bel­lied, be-whiskered pomp by the mighty Nick Frost. But we imag­ine that in­spired piece of cast­ing in­volved months of del­i­cate brand man­age­ment ne­go­ti­a­tion with Claus’ peo­ple. Or else the cry “Get me Saint Nick!” some­how mu­tated into “Get me Nick Frost!” Stranger things have hap­pened in Cardiff.

So yes, of course Fa­ther Christ­mas is real. Just don’t tell us the Doc­tor isn’t. Deal?

Matt’s Doc­tor al­ways seemed to be Christ­mas per­son­i­fied. Peter’s Doc­tor strikes us as a Doc­tor who doesn’t re­ally do Christ­mas. Is that the case?

The Doc­tor al­ways loves Christ­mas. The fact that he’s putting on a slightly dif­fer­ent front from the one he used to doesn’t mean any­thing. He is no more re­ally a grumpy old man than he was a flopsy young man. Fun­da­men­tally Christ­mas is such a sugar rush of bright lights and ex­cite­ment and roller­coast­ers that the Doc­tor couldn’t help but love it. Of course he does. He just has fiercer eye­brows now.

You’ve got Fa­ther Christ­mas in this. Does that feel like you’re push­ing the bound­aries of what Doc­tor Who can do?

We do it prop­erly. Rest as­sured, I haven’t gone off my rocker and for­got­ten what kind of show it is! His com­pan­ion is not go­ing to be a Tele­tubby or any­thing like that. That’s not go­ing to hap­pen. There’s a proper sci- fi ex­pla­na­tion for the pres­ence of Santa Claus in the Doc­tor’s life. So you can re­lax on that score. In some ways, of the Christ­mas spe­cials we’ve done, this is the one that’s most like the nor­mal run of

Doc­tor Who. The nor­mal Christ­mas spe­cials are the over- sug­ared, sen­ti­men­tal ver­sion, and this one isn’t quite that. It was lovely to have Fa­ther Christ­mas in the show, be­cause that took care of the Christ­mas el­e­ment. The rest of it is very tense sci- fi Doc­tor Who. Do you see the Doc­tor ex­ist­ing in the same sort of mythic realm as Santa?

I think in lit­tle chil­dren’s minds he does. I al­ways thought of the Doc­tor and Santa and Robin Hood and Eric More­cambe as all ex­ist­ing in the same world, the same place in my heart, some­how. It’s a moot point as to which is more ab­surd, the Doc­tor or Santa. Which of them breaks the most rules of cred­i­bil­ity? They do have a sort of ab­surd- off in the show it­self, be­cause nei­ther of them are par­tic­u­larly cred­i­ble! What does Nick Frost bring to the role of Santa?

He’s per­fect. He’s not only per­fect for Santa in that he phys­i­cally looks like Santa – younger, but he looks like him – but he’s ex­actly what Santa should be, within the

Doc­tor Who uni­verse. He simultaneously sub­verts it and is sort of de­fin­i­tive. He’s the cud­dly old Santa but he’s a lit­tle bit spiky too, and he feels mod­ern. He feels like a mod­ern

“There’s a proper sci- fi ex­pla­na­tion for Santa”

Santa in the way that our cur­rent Doc­tors feel like a more mod­ern ver­sion of Doc­tor Who. But he also has all the tra­di­tional trap­pings. He’s ex­actly what Santa should be. He will not dis­ap­point you. And he has the per­fect name, of course. Ni­cholas! Frost! Per­fect.

How do you go about writ­ing Santa? What’s your way into that character?

Well, I feel as though I’ve al­ways known him! It doesn’t feel as though that’s a new one for me to do. If you got to meet Santa, what would you ask him – how do you get around all those houses? How do you know every­body’s ad­dress? We cover all of that. And of course, be­cause he re­gards him­self as a real per­son – and quite rightly, be­cause he is - he’s be­mused that any­one would think it was their mum and dad who put the presents out. He re­gards that as a fan­ci­ful fairy tale. Of course it’s him. So there’s a line – “How do you think those Christ­mas presents got there ev­ery year? By magic?” He doesn’t re­gard him­self as any kind of myth­i­cal fig­ure. He’s a hard­work­ing man. At least once a year. Do you feel a spe­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity writ­ing Santa and bring­ing him to kids on Christ­mas Day?

Yes. You want him to be a great Santa. And when I was a kid I would’ve loved to have seen Santa on the TARDIS or Santa and the Doc­tor bat­tling to­gether, Santa and the Doc­tor snark­ing at each other… I would have loved those things. So you get all of that. I hope it de­liv­ers ev­ery­thing you would want of that. This Christ­mas spe­cial fol­lows a se­ries that was fairly dark. How does that tone square with Christ­mas Day?

Well, not all the se­ries was very dark. That’s been slightly talked up. Peo­ple are for­get­ting “Ro­bot Of Sher­wood” or “Time Heist” or “In The For­est Of The Night”. We did lots of silly, silly things. Just be­cause Peter frowned at you dur­ing them doesn’t

mean that we’re any less bark­ing mad than nor­mal. We cer­tainly pick up the threads of where we were. We don’t just say oh, we’re step­ping aside for Christ­mas to have a party and then we’ll pick up the plot again in episode one. To be fair some­times we’ve come close to do­ing that with the Christ­mas spe­cials. This time you’re go­ing to see the con­se­quences of the last things you saw on screen, and it’s played out quite se­ri­ously. The dark­ness re­ally comes from the com­plex­ity and the dan­ger in the friend­ship be­tween the Doc­tor and Clara. A lovely and won­der­ful and warm and se­ri­ous friend­ship though it is, if oc­ca­sion­ally ex­plo­sive, it’s a trou­bling one. It would trou­ble you if you saw it. If you were Clara’s best friend, you’d be say­ing “He looks bark­ing mad to me…” Dan Starkey says there’s a touch of an MR James ghost story about this one…

Don’t tell Mark Gatiss, but I’ve never read any MR James! I know Mark’s read all of it. It’s tat­tooed on his body or some­thing. I must go and read MR James. And watch Sap­phire

And Steel. Th­ese are the things peo­ple keep telling me I must know a lot about. I don’t know any­thing about ei­ther of them! There is some creepy stuff in the Christ­mas one. It’s a bit of a fake- out. At the be­gin­ning you’ll think it’s more of a quite tra­di­tional Doc­tor Who, but we do some­thing more com­pli­cated than that. But yeah, it’s the scari­est one we’ve done. There isn’t any ques­tion about that. Even though Santa’s in it, it’s a full- on scary one. You in­tro­duced Michelle Gomez as Missy this year. What ap­pealed to you about the idea of do­ing a fe­male Master?

To be hon­est, it was ini­tially sort of a gim­mick. We were go­ing to bring the Master

back be­cause the Master al­ways has to re­turn at some point. And I thought okay, this time it’s a woman. And then I paced around the house think­ing “What does that mean?” The Master never paid the slight­est bit of at­ten­tion to the fact that he was a man, so why does mak­ing him a woman make any­thing dif­fer­ent about the show? It’s the very thing I al­ways say you shouldn’t do – you mustn’t be led by the gim­mick, you have to have some­thing else there. But for quite a few weeks I was be­ing led by the gim­mick. And then I saw Michelle Gomez’s name on the list for another part. And I thought, “Oh my god, never mind about cast­ing a woman and what­ever that means for the Master… Michelle Gomez as the Master! Now I get that! Now I know what we do with the part, be­cause I know what she can do.” And, un­usu­ally for me, I was ter­ri­bly em­phatic. She had to turn down the other role be­cause she was busy, and I wasn’t sure if she re­ally meant that or if she was just be­ing nice to me. But she wrote to me and said, “I would love to be in Doc­tor Who and I’m re­ally sorry I had to turn it down. If there are ever any other op­por­tu­ni­ties…” And im­me­di­ately I thought right, let’s get her in for the Master. I was ut­terly dog­matic about it from that point on. No one else was con­sid­ered. Just cast her. And I’m not usu­ally like that. I’m usu­ally much more con­sen­sus- based. But I just got it into my head that that’s who it had to be.

You must have known peo­ple would leap on that as proof that a fu­ture Doc­tor could be fe­male…

Well, there are sev­eral things we’ve done there. There’s been quite a lot of ground­work pre­pared in the time I’ve been on the show. The very first thing Matt says is “I’m a girl!” I put a line into “The Doc­tor’s Wife”, I put

one into “Night Of The Doc­tor”… In another, slightly more in­sid­i­ous way, you have River Song run­ning around ba­si­cally be­ing a fe­male Doc­tor, fly­ing the TARDIS and zap­ping peo­ple with the sonic. And this year you’ve had Clara do­ing a bit of that in “Flat­line”. So you’ve been soft­ened up. That’s what it would look like. It’s not so strange after all, is it? So the ground­work has been laid. Whether it ever hap­pens or not, I don’t know. But it’s cer­tainly a great deal more pos­si­ble for a main­stream au­di­ence to go with it now than it used to be. And that is ab­so­lutely true. If you just sprung it on peo­ple out of the blue, I wouldn’t be so sure. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think now we’ve had all that it just makes it less alarm­ing. It’s re­ally quick, isn’t it, when you stop be­ing be­mused by the fact that Michelle’s fe­male and you start think­ing she’s great at play­ing the Master. And given that they’re two asex­ual char­ac­ters, does it mat­ter that they’ve switched re­pro­duc­tive or­gans? They don’t seem to use them any­way! You’ve just started writ­ing the next se­ries. What do want to build on?

Ob­vi­ously Peter and Jenna. Well, if Jenna’s in it… [ laughs]. Just the depth of that com­pan­ion re­la­tion­ship. We took the Doc­tor/ com­pan­ion re­la­tion­ship to a place that’s much more real, much more dam­ag­ing and with more con­se­quences. And who­ever the com­pan­ion is, you want to con­tinue that idea. It can be a thrilling, ex­cit­ing re­la­tion­ship but ac­tu­ally it can be a dan­ger­ous one too. That felt quite pow­er­ful and po­tent. What we did this year felt like what it would be like if a young girl got into a very in­tense friend­ship with an older time trav­eller. It’s not the ro­man­tic ver­sion, it’s not the thwarted ro­man­tic ver­sion, it’s not the friend­ship ver­sion, it’s not the fairy­tale ver­sion or the imag­i­nary friend ver­sion. It’s prob­a­bly the ver­sion that would ac­tu­ally hap­pen. And when you’re a

“the cosier A SHOW gets the nearer to death it gets”

few years into the show, once you’re ac­tu­ally se­cure in its fun­da­men­tals, you can do that. You can ac­tu­ally play it out as if it’s real – of­ten ex­cit­ing, some­times a bit dan­ger­ous. And of course Peter’s Doc­tor is es­tab­lished now. Where do you want to take him?

In a way we can stop shock­ing the au­di­ence with him. I was look­ing for the Ca­paldi mo­ments ev­ery episode, say­ing “We need a Ca­paldi mo­ment, that mo­ment where he’s not Matt Smith, he’s not David Ten­nant, where he’s a dan­ger­ous, un­pre­dictable, volatile character.” Be­cause that slaps the au­di­ence awake, in a way. The longer you do a show the cosier it gets, the cosier it gets the nearer to death it gets. You re­ally have to say to peo­ple “Pay at­ten­tion. He’s far more un­pre­dictable than that.” So now, hav­ing done that, and hav­ing blasted our new Doc­tor at them, we can go other places with him. We don’t have to work at that any­more be­cause peo­ple just ac­cept him. I won’t be look­ing for the Ca­paldi mo­ment next year be­cause the whole show is a Ca­paldi mo­ment. “Last Christ­mas” airs on BBC One on Christ­mas Day.

“For­get ‘ Am I a good man?’, mate. The ques­tion is: have you been naughty or nice?”

Elf ser­vice: Mis­fits’ Nathan McMullen ( left) and Dan Starkey.

Clara was so ex­cited to open her presents she didn’t even get dressed.

The Doc­tor’s one Christ­mas con­ces­sion: his ho­lerid­den “snow” jumper.

Will this be the last Christ­mas for Clara?

The Christ­mas wal­nuts were get­ting out of hand.

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