Amy and Rory are gone, the Doctor is considering retirement, the new companion bears an uncanny resemblance to a dead Dalek, and evil snowmen are on the loose — now what? With less than a week until the Doctor Who Christmas special (airing December 25 at 9 on BBC America, sans Ponds, sniff), Vulture rang up series boss Steven Moffat with all our burning questions, and boy did he oblige. He spills on what’s next (the Doctor on a submarine!), why he doesn’t believe his version of Who is all that complicated, and how it would be “intolerable” for David Yates to bring the Tardis to the big-screen. Of course, we threw in a question about the delay to Sherlock. Read on to see why he pretty much told us to keep calm. (And watch our video in which Matt Smith and his co-star go Christmas shopping for each other here.)
What were you looking for in the Doctor’s next companion?
This time we are very well acquainted with the Eleventh Doctor. He’s our pal and the companion will be the new person. So I wanted somebody with a bit more mystery to them, someone you have to get to know in a way that you didn’t have to get to know Amy because we met Amy and the Eleventh Doctor at that same time. Someone more challenging and difficult, someone who will lead him in a merry dance. I always felt that Amy and the Eleventh Doctor grew up together. They’re like childhood friends. It’s a very different feeling now.
You introduced Jenna Louise-Coleman as a doomed Dalek named Oswin last season, which was only slightly confusing because Doctor Who fans knew the actress had been cast as the new companion. I know you won’t give away the twist, so I’ll just ask what made Jenna right for the role?
Casting isn’t very difficult. It’s very easy to be blown away by somebody who is brilliant. She fit beautifully with Matt in a very different way from Karen [Gillan]. For one thing, she’s little and so Matt is suddenly terribly tall. It feels like a bigger age gap somehow. He suddenly is the irascible older man, which Matt does extremely well despite the fact he’s 30. As for the twist, I didn’t exactly know how they’d connect in the first draft [of Jenna’s first episode, “Asylum of the Daleks”] but I did quite early on. I pitched the idea of how we were going to do all this far in advance and I’m saying no more than that.
One of the things critics who cover Doctor Who have said of the Eleventh Doctor seasons is that the stories have gotten overly complicated. River Song’s timeline, for example. Do you think that’s true?
Well, we haven’t actually had any complaints from the general audience at all. Not one single bit of audience feedback has even mentioned complexity. I don’t know, I think people just say things. They used to go on about Russell’s “gay agenda” and that became a subject discussed endlessly and you’d look at the show and say, “Where is it? What gay agenda?” He never had a gay agenda but people started saying it and everybody else started repeating it.
Doctor Who can be complicated at times, it absolutely can be — but it’s supposed to be. You’re supposed to pay attention. I’m also addressing children, hugely the case in the U.K., and children are demanding of complexity. So no, I don’t think it’s true. I think we do some complicated stories, we also do incredibly simple stories. I always think this: I don’t care if it’s complicated or too scary or too grown-up or too childish or whatever they are saying this week, so long as they never say it’s too boring. If anyone says “Oh, it was a bit dull this week” is when the show will start to die.
Do you ever talk to Russell Davies about the show since he left?
We e-mail quite a lot. He always sends me something after each episode. He just reverted to being a fan. As did David [Tennant]. I had dinner with David a few weeks ago and I was showing him photographs on my iPhone of the monsters this season and he was getting all excited about it because we’re all fanboys.
What did Russell say about the Ponds’ good-bye?
He sent a glowing e-mail. He said he was crying and all that so he was pleased with it I think.
The animated online epilogue with Rory’s dad was very sweet. I’m crying thinking about all of this again. Why was it never shot?
It wouldn’t have been on television. It would have been an online extra. That would have been a very odd ending, wouldn’t it? But it was meant to be filmed. It was the actor availability that stopped it, unfortunately. Mark [Williams] wasn’t around.
I read that you actually changed something about how the Ponds left the series. What was the original version?
The ending was the same. It was the mechanism by which they defeated the angels. I added the big falling-off-the-building scene. It was always going to end with Amy getting sent back in time. I think I had the Doctor more central in defeating the angels and there was a certain point I realized that if he becomes utterly ineffectual for the second half of the episode, which he does, then the story is more interesting. It’s an odd thing to do in Doctor Who; I haven’t done it for a while. He doesn’t win the day. He more or less gets in the way and is defeated because he knows it’s going to end badly and he is so paralyzed by that.
Neil Gaiman is back, and he’s taken on the return of the Cybermen. What were your instructions for him?
I wanted to make them creepier, and a bit more active. I thought we had gone as far as we could with the stumpy Cybermen. I wanted to do the colder, deadlier version and I was interested in Neil giving it a ghost-story feel. Neil’s a good ghost story writer.
David Yates attached himself to a Doctor Who film a year ago, one that would not stem from the current series. You’ve since shot that report down, but could it ever happen?
Well, first of all, when? We spend all year making the series. The thing that I would find intolerable is that you get a film instead of the TV series because the TV series is more important. And I don’t think any showrunner or future showrunner of Doctor Who would tolerate the idea that David Yates was talking about, of rebooting it and having a second continuity. That’s just nonsense. Absolutely insane and a straightforward insult to the audience. We’d never, ever do that. The question would be how could we do it without delaying or harming the TV show?
So the idea of a movie isn’t offensive, just the idea of rebooting it?
I think it could be incredibly exciting to see that Tardis fly on the big screen. It would just be how do we arrange it? And how do we make sure we have … no offense, but you suddenly take American money and they expect to tell you what to do and all that. I wouldn’t be happy with that. But it will happen someday, I’m reasonably confident.
The first five episodes of the season were promoted as a series of movies, complete with theatrical posters. Will that continue?
We’re really pushing that very hard. It’s nearly killed us doing it. We’re convalescing. But wait until you see the range. We’ve got the best alien planet we’ve ever done. We’ve got a submarine. Seriously. There’s even a proper modern urban thriller in London.
Can I ask where you are with Sherlock? There was a report that production had been delayed.
The delay is completely insignificant as far as the [airdate] is concerned. It was just to fit around Benedict Cumberbatch’s schedule. We’ve got two scripts in second drafts. I haven’t started yet because I’m still finishing up with Doctor Who. We’re fine. The production delay means nothing at all. I was never going to present over the summer in the U.K. so this doesn’t affect that at all.
Any plans to reactivate your Twitter account? Keep us updated?
Not really. It takes up time you know. I should be focused on my work. I retired myself for that reason.