While “Doctor Who” has a long history in comics, it also occupies the top spot in my personal hierarchy of geekery (yes, even above comics) — which is why I jumped at the chance to interview the series’ award-winning lead writer and new showrunner, Steven Moffat, ahead of this weekend’s UK premiere. Longtime readers will recall I spoke to former “Doctor Who” star David Tennant during last year’s Comic-Con International about his final season as the time-and-space-traveling Timelord, and with the sonic screwdriver passing to Matt Smith in this new season, I chatted up Moffat to get the scoop on the upcoming season.
I’ve broken the interview up into two parts, with the first half addressing the theme of the new season, where the premiere will find our new Doctor, and some discussion of returning characters (Weeping Angels!). Check back next week for our discussion of the series’ new stars, Matthew Smith and Karen Gillan, the part romance plays in “Doctor Who” history, and the casting process leading up to the new season.
MTV NEWS: Right off the bat, let’s talk about the season premiere, since most “Doctor Who” fans will find a way to see it this weekend no matter where they live. Where does the episode (titled “The Eleventh Hour”) find The Doctor and his new body?
STEVEN MOFFAT: Assuming you’ve seen “The End Of Time,” it starts a heartbeat later. We don’t miss anything. It’s what happened after [Smith] shouted, “Geronimo!” so we’re straight into the TARDIS crashing. And unlike just about all the previous regeneration stories, The Doctor gets absolutely no time to rest up. We see almost in real-time the first hour of his new life.
He finds himself pitched straight into an appalling crisis that just gets worse and worse and worse. And he’s not done yet — he’s not quite ready. He’s not even sure who he is yet, but immediately he’s put into a terribly dangerous situation that escalates and escalates to the point in which he has 20 minutes to save the planet and no equipment to do it.
MTV: You’ve mentioned in the past that the theme of the season — and the series itself — often has a lot to do with The Doctor’s companion, not The Doctor himself. What does that mean for Karen and her character, Amy Pond, when things kick off this time around?
MOFFAT: The companion is always the main character in “Doctor Who.” Right from the very beginning, it’s been that way. It’s always their life that’s changed forever, whereas The Doctor, he changes his face on occasion but even that isn’t as big as what happens to Amy Pond when she makes the decision to go on board the TARDIS. In a way, you follow them — whether it’s Rose Tyler, or Sarah Jane Smith or Amy Pond. It’s what happens to them.
“Doctor Who” always begins with the companions going on board. It always does — because it’s their story.
MTV: Well, from the teasers we’ve seen for the new season, it looks like we finally get another adventure involving the monsters from one of the most popular episodes in the series’ history, “Blink.” As the author of that episode, have you been eager to bring them back? It must be nice to see so much demand for them…
MOFFAT: Well, as they got bigger and bigger — because that episode was, I say immodestly, terribly successful — the angels were such a hit that it was, well… That’s what you do with successful “Doctor Who” monsters, you bring them back.
But the truth is — and this is always true — you only ever bring back something because you have a good idea. When you do anything, there’s absolutely one rule: is it a good story? If it isn’t a good story, it doesn’t matter what you’re bringing back. So, yes — we’re bringing back some stuff, but we’re bringing a lot more new stuff, too. “Doctor Who” should never be mostly a sequel.
MTV: On the subject of bringing back stuff, it felt like “The End Of Time” was a good-bye of sorts to many characters from the series. With “Torchwood” becoming its own animal and so many other “Doctor Who” spin-offs carving out niches for themselves, is that the last we’ve seen of Captain Jack Harkness and the rest?
MOFFAT: Again, there is only one rule: is it a good story? I have nothing against bringing them back. I’d love to see Captain Jack back with The Doctor, and I’d love to see him react to the new Doctor. If I thought of a good story that brought back any of them, I would. I haven’t drawn a clear line between the past and the future — that would be rubbish.
Clearly, “Doctor Who” is the continuing adventures of the same man, but with a new face and a new friend, and things are buffed up a bit. You spoil the whole thing if you start acting like everything has to be new from now on — you spoil the sense of this big, grand epic that’s been going since [John F.] Kennedy slumped forward suddenly in his car.
MTV: When I spoke to David Tennant last year, he said he’d like to wait a while before he even considers appearing on the series again in one of those time-twisting episodes where a current Doctor meets one of his old incarnations. Where do you stand on the whole issue of Doctors meeting their former selves — is a cameo by Tennant out of the question for a few years?
MOFFAT: I think you want clarity for a while, and that is always the risk when you bring back old Doctors. Although it’s great fun to do “Time Crash” and all that, I was slightly worried it hit against the idea that it’s all the same man.
A very important part of the mythology in “Doctor Who” is that those other men didn’t die, they’re still here — he just changed. When you start putting them all together in a room, you start to damage the sense of it all being one person at different moments in his life. But again, the only rule is: is it a good story?
MTV: As the series has grown in popularity here in the U.S., I’m finding myself having to explain its premise to a lot more people — which is a great problem to have, I think. What do you think about the series’ reception overseas? “Doctor Who” seems to have hit an all-time high in popularity these days, and so many people are getting interested in the series’ history…
MOFFAT: To be honest — and this is a terrible thing to say in an interview with an American news organization — I haven’t really given any thought to the reception overseas at all, because principally “Doctor Who” is for a British audience. If it does well anywhere else, that’s great.
The thing is, very few people watching “Doctor Who” keenly now have ever actually seen the first episode, or are even familiar with the first few Doctors. It won’t be that long, with a bit of natural wastage, before it becomes physically impossible for any human being to have seen every episode of “Doctor Who.”
But “Doctor Who” is quite simple to explain, really. It’s a man with a space-time machine that can go anywhere and any time, and has adventures. There you go. It’s quite a simple format, and that’s why it’s so brilliant.
The new season of “Doctor Who” premieres this Saturday, April 3, on BBC One. The series premieres on BBC America two weeks later on Saturday, April 14.
Keep an eye on Splash Page for the rest of my interview with “Doctor Who” showrunner Steven Moffat next week.