He’s just an idiot with a box try­ing to have as much fun as pos­si­ble

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So these are the glory years for the Doc­tor and Clara. Does that shape the kind of sto­ries you’re telling this se­ries?

It’s 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 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 you’ll find the fu­ture and the past, pos­si­bly the present. There’ll 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 it’s Satur­day. It’s BBC One. No one wants to watch the sane re­sponse.

“This year it’s more about the glory years of the Doc­tor and Clara,” the showrun­ner tells SFX, tee­ing up the TARDIS’s im­mi­nent re­turn. “It feels tonally quite dif­fer­ent, in a way that a new se­ries of Doc­tor Who should al­ways feel tonally dif­fer­ent from the one you’ve just watched.”

The latest se­ries – the ninth since the show re­turned a decade ago – will hurl Peter Ca­paldi’s Time Lord and Jenna Coleman’s hu­man go- be­tween into a breath­less run of ad­ven­tures. We’re promised Vik­ings, high­way­men, ghost- haunted seas, global threats, new worlds, old worlds, fresh mon­sters and fa­mil­iar fear­some favourites.

“They’re hav­ing the best of fun, but they earned that friend­ship through the last se­ries. Now they’re do­ing what you re­ally ought to be do­ing if you’ve got ac­cess to a time and space ma­chine: hav­ing the time of your bloody life…”

dan­ger­ous way, has ac­knowl­edged that be­neath that prim and proper teacher is a proper thrill- seeker. And that’s 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. You’ve said you’re 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! He’s 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 he’s ac­knowl­edged that, he’s more re­laxed. And he’s no longer wor­ry­ing about whether he’s sup­posed to be a good man or what­ever. He’s just an idiot with a box and he’s 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 it’s still there – he’s still like that. He doesn’t un­der­stand that peo­ple find that of­fen­sive. He wasn’t 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. Matt’s Doc­tor would turn up naked at Christ­mas and kiss the wrong peo­ple. There’s 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. We’re 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 isn’t re­ally, it’s just another set of neu­roses. I didn’t re­ally worry about it be­cause I don’t think that’s how the Doc­tor op­er­ates. There’s pos­si­bly less of a fil­ter with Peter’s Doc­tor. The charm – es­pe­cially to chil­dren – is that the Doc­tor al­ways be­haves like some va­ri­ety of kid. Ca­paldi’s rudeness is the rudeness of a child, who hasn’t re­ally un­der­stood that’s not what you say to peo­ple. And Clara’s 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… Jenna Coleman re­ally came into her own last year. What does this se­ries give her?

It’s an amaz­ing se­ries for Clara. She’s in a dif­fer­ent place. Last year she was – in her quite con­trol­ling way – say­ing, “There’s my boyfriend and my job, there’s my Doc­tor and my time ma­chine, and I’ll just keep them in their sep­a­rate boxes.” And now she’s think­ing,

“You know what, teach­ing’s just what I do for a liv­ing – I’m good at it, that’s fine, but re­ally my heart is in run­ning away in time and space and hav­ing huge ad­ven­tures.” She gets on hugely well with the Doc­tor but at the same time she’s slightly ir­ri­tated by him. He keeps say­ing that he has a duty of care to her but she’s say­ing, “I’m not ac­tu­ally ask­ing you to – this is what I want. I want to have the ad­ven­tures.” That’s about the only re­main­ing ten­sion. And, you know, she sorts his head out from time to time, which is nice for both char­ac­ters. You’ve got the re­turn of Missy in the open­ing story. We take it you couldn’t 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. That’s what it does. If we roll out a good mon­ster we roll them back in again. Missy’s been one of our big­gest hits in re­cent times so yeah, of course you’re go­ing to see her again. And I wanted to get back to the idea that the Master isn’t 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.

You’ve 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 tem­po­rary cus­to­dian, ter­ri­fied of break­ing some­thing?

I think there’s a dual­ity to that. You have to treat the show like you own it. I don’t just mean me – I mean ev­ery writer, ev­ery di­rec­tor and ev­ery ac­tor that comes onto this show. I’m al­ways say­ing, “It’s not a fancy heir­loom. You’re not car­ry­ing this care­fully to the next room. You’ve got to en­gage with it like you own it, oth­er­wise it’s not a TV show, it’s 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? That’s 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! I’m chang­ing the num­ber­ing! What are we go­ing to do? What if some­one’s got tat­toos with num­bers on them of all the Doc­tors? What’s go­ing to hap­pen to them?” [ laughs]. I sweated blood over that one! You gave us some cheeky hints at the Doc­tor’s 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 boy’s face or, in­deed, said that it was def­i­nitely him. You

I ac­tu­ally feel quite strongly that there is only so far you can go

The great thing about Doc­tor Who is that it’s a chaos of a se­ries

don’t know. If you choose to re­ject that as an idea then you can fan­ta­sise that it’s some­body else. The boy­hood of the Doc­tor is some­thing I’ve al­ways defini­tively re­jected from ev­ery­body else. You’re not sup­posed to know. I wrote that scene sev­eral times, just try­ing to get it right. You don’t see his face. You know very lit­tle about what he’s do­ing, why he’s there, what he’s cry­ing about, any of those things… they all have to re­main se­cret. So we don’t re­ally tell you any­thing more than you’d hear from Jon Per­twee, talk­ing about the her­mit on the hill in “The Time Mon­ster”. That feels right. You can’t re­veal his name, you can’t re­veal what set him on his way, you can’t do those things, be­cause if you tried the au­di­ence would sim­ply re­ject them as not true. You’ve 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 – let’s not de­cry them – but you al­most had a mus­cle mem­ory of where those 45 min­utes would go. You’d think, “Ah, it’s 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 what’s a two- parter and what’s not: tak­ing one strand of plot over two sto­ries, that kind of thing. So you don’t 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 it’s sort of slow and omi­nous, like the first episode of “The Ark In Space”, where the Doc­tor wan­ders around and noth­ing re­ally hap­pens. It’s ut­terly creepy, ut­terly in­volv­ing, and yet the story doesn’t start for the full 25 min­utes. With 45 min­utes you have to be quite de­fin­i­tive. By the end of the pre- ti­tles you’ve said, “This week it’s go­ing to be like this.” With a two- parter you don’t know which way we’re go­ing to jump for a longer pe­riod, which is quite ex­cit­ing.

Does it shake you up cre­atively?

It re­freshes us all. It changes our heads. If you do the same thing ev­ery year you get bet­ter at it but you also get duller. You get very ex­pert, and ex­per­tise, while re­as­sur­ing, is also slightly bor­ing. The mo­ment the se­ries feels re­li­able isn’t the point where you think, “I have to watch it again.” The great thing about Doc­tor

Who is that it’s a chaos of a se­ries. You never quite know which one you’re go­ing to love. You’re never sure which one you’re go­ing to hate. With most other shows you think, “I know what this show is like, and it will be like that again this week – I know who’s go­ing to be in it, what sets I’m go­ing to be look­ing at, how many guest char­ac­ters there will be…”

Doc­tor Who is a mad­ness. So you have these ex­tremes of re­ac­tions. You say “I ab­so­lutely hated that episode” to your best Doc­tor Who fan mate whose favourite it was. That, I think, typ­i­fies Doc­tor Who. It’s chaotic, it spikes and troughs all over the place. You don’t know what you’re go­ing to get. And that’s not some­thing I’m try­ing to sug­gest that we brought to it. That’s some­thing that’s been true of Doc­tor Who since it started.

Doc­tor Who re­turns to BBC One on 19 Septem­ber. Read an ex­clu­sive, in- depth in­ter­view with Peter Ca­paldi next is­sue!

Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald will be get­ting out and about even more this time around.

Os­good ( In­grid Oliver) is back from the dead. No won­der she’s smil­ing!

At least he hasn’t landed in the mid­dle of a mo­tor­way.

Michelle Gomez’s Missy re­turns, pur­pler than ever.

Rest­ing be­tween be­ing one of the most evil be­ings in the uni­verse.

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