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Saturday, 24 August 2013

"Writing Coupling doesn’t feel different from writing Doctor Who.": Moffat interview

So Steven Moffat talked to TV Drama about all the usual things (John Hurt's in the anniversary special, Matt Smith was wonderful), but expounded at length in a slightly more interesting fashion than usual. Full interview at the link, but here's snippets.

WS: When you succeeded Russell T Davies as head writer of Doctor Who, what did you want to do with the show?
MOFFAT: I just wanted it to be good. People always want me to have some form of agenda. Sometimes in desperation I say I want it to be a fairy tale or I want it to be this or that. I just wanted it to be a good Doctor Who...
So that sales pitch for Series Six about how Amy was going to be this mysterious girl in a fairy tale-ish idiom was born out of desperation? The whole "Doctor Who is a fairy tale now/Doctor Who is for scaring children/Doctor Who is for XXX" was sold much more as a Moffat-era phenomenon than a Davies one.

WS: Was it ever intimidating, being responsible for such an iconic television franchise?

MOFFAT: You don’t really feel much pressure at the beginning of a TV series because you’re just making a home movie in a big shed! You don’t really think anyone is ever going to watch it...
Essentially, he was a bit worried in 2010 that he'd tank the two of the UK's biggest franchises and then didn't worry about it again when both series turned out well.


WS: What did Matt Smith bring to the role as the 11th Doctor?

MOFFAT: It’s interesting to look at the three modern Doctors—and there’s about to be a fourth—and see what each of them bring to the show. Christopher [Eccleston] brought a gravitas and an importance, a statement that this is a serious proposition—a famous actor playing the part [of the Doctor]. He brought a toughness to it, a sensibleness to it...
It's a nice followup to his comments on Billie Piper. He goes on with all the usual Tennant was 'cool and sexy' and 'Matt Smith's Doctor is quite, quite mad' schtick, even if Smith's been fairly serious this last half-season.

WS: How stressful was the casting process for the new Doctor?


MOFFAT: [Laughs] The key to these things is, don’t think it’s stressful. It’s exciting, it’s challenging, it’s thrilling. You might get it wrong, in which case everything will collapse, but you might get it right and you’ll have a huge hit...
That's the second time in one interview he's mentioned being worried about tanking the show. No, we're not inferring anything.

WS: How do you decide how much of Doctor Who’s deep mythology to draw from?

MOFFAT: When it first came back, if we hadn’t done the Daleks or the Cybermen or The Master, it wouldn’t have felt like Doctor Who. Now, the two eras of the show have merged into one big glorious tapestry. It is better to add to the mythology than to draw from it. I have a slight fear that the first appearance of any given monster is always the best. But that doesn't mean you shouldn’t bring them back if people love them. It’s an age-old debate. I think I’d probably rather invent new.
Judging by the Weeping Angels, he has a point about the first appearance of monsters. Odd how excited he sounds about inventing new monsters, though, when the last half season saw so many returns. It's also interesting that he automatically correlates DW mythology with returning monsters.

WS: You’ve had such a broad career in British television. Does writing sci-fi or fantasy flex different creative muscles than mystery or comedy or any other genre?

MOFFAT: I never feel as though it does. I never feel as though the job is any different. Comedy is good training for writing anything. It’s a very clear-cut proposition—you must be funny several times a page. Comedy writers, by instinct, are very severe on themselves. If there aren’t sufficient gags, in a wider sense of the word “gag,” in the scene then I’m not keeping it. It has to do something to the audience. But writing Coupling doesn’t feel different from writing Doctor Who.

Then some material about Sherlock.

WS: Thanks to social media, fans are much more vocal about their opinions on shows. How much attention do you pay to what people are saying about Doctor Who and Sherlock on Twitter or on fan blogs?
MOFFAT: I used to be on Twitter, I left. I found it to be a huge distraction. Most people are very nice and lovely. There are the occasional nutters, but there are occasional nutters on the street. There’s no way of avoiding the occasional nutter. I don’t pay much attention to it because you can’t. If I were doing a cult, niche show, I’d pay attention to the fans. But frankly, both these shows are huge mainstream hits. That means the vast majority of the audience never express a public view on the show at all, except in their decision to watch or not watch it. So if you start paying attention to people who are incredibly focused and think about the show every hour of the day, you’re skewing your approach terribly towards people who watch it in a very untypical way. You are romancing the casual viewer on these kinds of shows. With Doctor Who and Sherlock, you want the casual viewer to think, I like this show, I’ll watch it.

WS: What’s your sense of the impact of binge-viewing on the business of making television drama?

MOFFAT: It’s going to impact everything in television in ways that we can’t imagine. My two sons don’t really watch television as it is scheduled. My older son prefers to watch television on the iPlayer on his iPad because he prefers the interface. That generation is not going to understand the notion of getting home in time to watch a show. Your bookcase doesn't tell you when you can read. Why should your television tell you when you can watch? We’re heading towards the world of the download, and that’s a good thing. It will favor quality, I believe.

WS: And is it also opening up new opportunities for serialized storytelling?

MOFFAT: It’s already happening that the casual viewer is well caught up. And you’re slightly less forgiving of people having missed last week’s episode in an environment where last week’s episode is still available—go and bloody well watch it!

So does that mean we'll have all those plot threads from the last three years wrapped up soon? Putting these answers together makes it sound like he's thinking the perfect way to watch his episodes will be in one huge archive binge that will hold together cohesively because the viewers will be caught up on everything that happened. This doesn't exactly chime with his insistence that Doctor Who should be in no way regarded as cult programming and should be friendly for the casual viewer. It's also a definite move away from what Davies, Gardner, and the BBC were hoping to achieve in 2005, to reclaim the Saturday night teatime slot for family viewing, which is perhaps why Moffat's allowed the show to go all over the schedules as it has lately.

WS: It’s quite a milestone. Why do you think it’s endured the way it has?

MOFFAT: I frequently call Doctor Who the most perfectly evolved predator in television. It is the perfect television show. It is the show you can’t kill. We could all drop dead tomorrow, all of us who work in Doctor Who, and they’d just carry on making it. [Laughs] It is dependent on no individual. You give it your all for the years that you do it and when you leave it won’t even notice—you’ll be shed like scales! And you can recast the Doctor. Not only can you recast the Doctor, you can create a Doctor who is appropriate for the times. He can always be modern. He can always be new. It’s an ancient tradition and yet it’s a brand-new iteration of that tradition. So it feels old and new at the same time, old and young.

Third time in this interview he's talked about killing the show. Also it's a shark.  

1 comment :

J said...

When SM took over from RTD,it must have been an HUGE amount of pressure. Not only was it now a flagship show, but practically the entire team was going at the same time. Russell, Julie, and David Tennant being the most visible. Who wouldnt be concerned? He was also wooing Hollywood with Tintin, and presumably wanting to pursue that. I don't think its fair to say he was worried about tanking TWO franchises though. Sherlock was hardly a BBC exclusive property, and when he and Mark brought it to the screen, it was as a new show, not a continuation. The last series has taken a lot of stick. In my view it didn't have ENOUGH involvement from SM, and some things that needed tightening up were just left alone. The RTD era worked because RTD wasn't afraid to rework scripts. SM has a more lassez faire approach, which may be the way he works, and may be due to other commitments.