The Moff speaks…and Doctor Who fans should welcome his words. (Notice that the previous sentence contains no value judgments. None. Zip.)
by Graham Kibble-White
It’s the end of an era. On Christmas Day, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor will regenerate into the character’s 13th incarnation, to be played by Jodie Whitaker. But he’s not the only person leaving the show. The story also marks the departure of showrunner Steven Moffat, who’s been in the role since 2009. TV Choice caught up with him to look ahead to the upcoming special, Twice Upon A Time, in which the Twelfth Doctor meets the First, and to look back at his time steering the Tardis…
David Bradley steps into the role of the First Doctor (originally played by William Hartnell) in the Christmas special, and there doesn’t seem to have been any resistance from the fans to that. Has this pleased you?
I don’t know what I expected. I didn’t really think about it. I thought people would just be quite excited. There’s a huge section of the audience – and when I say huge, I mean as close to 100 per cent as makes no practical difference – who will be unaware it wasn’t David Bradley in 1963. He looks sufficiently like him that we actually start with footage from the old show and blend it in with Bradley. It helps massively that he played the part in An Adventure In Space And Time [2013’s drama about the creation of Doctor Who]. I think that sort of sanctifies him in a strange way. I don’t know why that should be the case, but it’s true, you feel, ‘Yes, he’s allowed to be the First Doctor’. Also, he pays tremendous respect to William Hartnell. He’s not impersonating him, but like Chris Pine does with William Shatner in the Star Trek films, he’s riffing on it. He’s respecting it.
Did the fact that the Star Trek films had already done something similar help?
I’m actually vaguely obsessed with this. Why does it sometimes work, and why does it not? One of the most fascinatingly effective recasts was when they replaced Dr Watson in the Granada series of Sherlock Holmes – David Burke into Edward Hardwicke. They’re manifestly different people, but when Hardwicke came along, he recreated enough of David Burke that I accepted it was the same person almost instantly. And I don’t normally. I’m quite twitchy about recasts. In fact, I’m not a fan of them. I always think, ‘Well, why doesn’t everybody notice this person has changed?’ I was very resistant to the idea of a new crew of the Enterprise, I have to say. But throughout that film – throughout all those films, in fact – they so cleverly riff on the original performances you somehow go with it as the same people. And they get away with showing you photographs of the other cast within the film! So, they’re obviously doing it well.
Would you stop short at recasting other former Doctors? Do you think it only works with the first?
I don’t think there’s anything special about the First Doctor in that sense. Except maybe the wig helps. It was more of a calculated look, in a curious way. It’s one of the most distinctive looks the Doctor’s ever had. If you had somebody who could do a brilliant Patrick Troughton [the Second Doctor], who was really spot on and captured the essence of that performance, I think, yes, you would accept it in the same sort of way. It’s tough – it really has to be spot on. But I bet it happens someday.
There’s a school of thought that this story has been conceived as a particular treat for the hard core fans because, from next year, the show will be trying appeal to a broader audience. Is this a last hurrah for a certain style of Doctor Who?
Not really. Because we shed everything for series 10 [the most recent] as well. We just started again there [with no ongoing storylines, and a new companion]. But Doctor Who is allowed to be self-referential. Where you have to walk carefully is, you have to use Doctor Who as the generally accepted mythology that everyone in Britain has imbibed since they were born, rather than the meticulous detail that we fans live in. What I mean by that is, it’s okay for Daniel Craig to mysteriously have Sean Connery’s old car in the Bond movies, for reasons that cannot withstand any analysis at all, because we all know about that car. It’s the same with Doctor Who. I mean, ‘real’ human beings don’t know all the actors who played the Doctor, and can’t rank them in order, or anything like. But they absolutely know – they absolutely know – that Jodie [Whittaker] is the 13th. So, it’s fine to bring an old Doctor on. Of course, you have to clarify who it is you’re meeting, and I spent a lot of time trying to make that clear in The Doctor Falls [the final episode of last series]. If you look at it from the point of view of a kid who doesn’t really know the old show, they will still think, ‘Oh my goodness, this is incredibly exciting – that’s the very first Doctor Who! The very first one came back!’ That kid already knows that Peter’s the 12th, that Jodie’s the 13th, so he knows there’s a number one. Works perfectly for a brand-new viewer.
Are Doctor Who fans conservative about the show being reinvented?
I don’t know how conservative Doctor Who fans think. I honestly don’t. Why did you choose this show? Why did you choose the show that depends, thrives and exults in change? Why this one? It’s just bonkers. I think they’re the bonkers, loud people on the internet. Most people go, ‘Wow!’ when you do something radical. When you say, ‘Ah ha! John Hurt was the Doctor as well!’ [as revealed in 2013] Folk bloody loved that. That’s what I think the audience wants Doctor Who to do from time to time. It’s just to say, ‘Do you know what? We’re doing this now. To hell with it.’