When the British sci-fi series Doctor Who was revamped in 2005, Steven Moffat quickly emerged as the long-running show’s finest writer, surprising British TV fans who knew him primarily as the creator of the naughty BBC sitcom Coupling. The prolific Scottish television scribe has emerged as the go-to writer for updating classic characters such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2007’s Jekyll) and Sherlock Holmes (2010’s Sherlock) for British television, and wrote a movie script for Steven Spielberg’s animated The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (a project he had to drop in order to run Doctor Who). With both Season 1 of Sherlock and Doctor Who’s Series 5 coming to DVD this week, we called Moffat to talk about his updates to the good Doctor, such as the radical choice of actually showing him attracted to women.
One of your big changes in Doctor Who was introducing some sexual tension, with his new companion, Amy Pond. What was your thinking behind that?
I just thought it would be, you know, Bad Girl in the Tardis. They’ve always been so well behaved, those girls! I just thought, I haven’t met any girls like that. Most of the girls I know would just jump the Doctor as soon as they look at him. I said, It’s time we have one of those.
And one thing that got the fans riled up in Series 5 was that Amy did, in fact, start making out with the Doctor, putting him in this position where he had to say no. That’s never happened before, has it?
On Doctor Who, no. But I think if a man and a woman go through a life-or-death experience and they’re both young and attractive, that’s really quite plausible. In fact, you’d really have to ask why it hasn’t happened before in Doctor Who. I just thought it would be funny. ‘Cause the Doctor is used to deflecting people who are madly in love with him, but he’s never had to deflect someone who has a much shorter and more passionate agenda.
Do you think the Doctor is capable of having a sexual relationship?
We know that he had a family once. And we could pretend that he doesn’t have an eye for the pretty girl, but you’d be struggling to justify that view, wouldn’t you, looking at his choice of travel companions. I think he has at some point in his life indulged. Whether he still does is a secret between him and that big blue box.
You seem to be reluctant to kill your recurring characters on Doctor Who, even when they leave the show.
In the old series, they did off a couple of them. I’m not saying we’ll never do it, but it’s not that kind of a show. It’s not gritty. It’s kind of a lovely, life-affirming, optimistic show without a cynical bone in its body. It’s almost odd when you see it in competition with things like Battlestar Galactica, and you think, Well that’s not us at all. We’re the story of a wonderful man from space who can travel in a telephone box! But I’m not guaranteeing I won’t kill someone in the future!
[MILD SPOILER ALERT] In Series 5 you deliberately insert a continuity error into one of the earlier episodes in order to come back to that scene in the finale. How do you go about planting a moment like that?
Optimistically. It’s very, very hard, but I knew we needed one big event where we’d pull a switcheroo on the audience and have a scene which they thought made sense in context, and would understand it better later on. I spent a lot of time setting that up. Of course, a lot of fans picked up on [the intentional continuity error] and wondered if it really was a continuity error, which of course it wasn’t. Sadly, they then went around finding all the other continuity errors and elaborating huge theories about them — but that was the only one that was on purpose. The rest were just mistakes! So we’ve now got our whole eagle-eyed bloody audience looking out for our next ruddy mistake, which I wish they wouldn’t, ‘cause we’ll make quite a few, I’m sure.
Can you tell me a bit about the role River Song will play in Series 6? I was surprised to learn that she’s kind of a polarizing character.
Polarizing in what way? All our feedback is tremendously positive.
Well, I found a Facebook group …
Oh, you’re talking about the Internet. Twelve people and their talking dog. Ignore it! I never go online. The Internet stuff is bonkers. You must not look at it.
Did you know there’s an entire blog dedicated to Matt Smith’s hair?
Well, you see, these people just need some form of relationship in their lives. Go on a date, in the name of mercy! [Laughs] Oh, I’m so mad. Anyway, you were saying?
What can you tell us about River Song?
Well, you will find out who she is and what’s going on and how it all makes sense. And that will explain a number of things. I’m writing the episode right now where the Doctor finds out who she is. We’re not just going to endlessly tease.