‘Doctor Who’ Writer Steven Moffat Details His Glorious Return: ‘I Threw Myself Enthusiastically Into Reverse’

Plus, find out if that extra Disney+ money is actually helping

Doctor Who Boom
Disney+

The latest series of “Doctor Who,” airing on the BBC abroad and on Disney+ everywhere else, is notable, creatively, for the return of Russell T Davies, who helped revitalize the franchise back in 2005. And he brought along someone key to that revitalization – writer Steven Moffat.

Even if you’ve never heard Moffat’s name, you know his work. He wrote six episodes of “Doctor Who” between 2005-08, including the Hugo Award-nominated two-parter “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances,” and perhaps one of the most famous episodes of the entire franchise, the BAFTA-winning “Blink” (the episode with the scary angel statues, also remembered for featuring a young Carey Mulligan). Moffat would return in 2010 as writer and showrunner, continuing with the series through 2017 and writing many, many more episodes that fans know and love.

Moffat’s latest episode, “Boom,” is a good, old fashioned bottle episode, with our new Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) standing on a futuristic landmine in the middle of an intense war, leaving his companion Ruby (Millie Gibson) helpless. It’s a humdinger of an episode and another Moffat classic.

TheWrap spoke to Moffat about his return to the series, whether or not the new Disney-sized budgets actually helped and if he’d be back for more (spoiler: he’s penning this year’s Christmas special). And, before you ask, yes, we tried to ask about Varada Sethu’s “Boom” character and whether or not that character was connected to her upcoming role as a new companion next season. Moffat wouldn’t budge.

Can you talk about returning to the show?

I threw myself enthusiastically into reverse. I’ll shortly go back to university. No, to be honest, I love the show. I love the people who make the show.

It was a challenge. I was just chatting away with Russell because he just told me in advance, he’d sent me an email, saying, “I’m going back to ‘Doctor Who.’” I had been out for a very merry dinner with my wife. I wasn’t quite sure that the email was real. I thought, I better wait until tomorrow morning and see if that email is really there. And that’s fine. I phoned him up and said, “Are you insane? Why are you going back?” And he was explaining away, I was filming “Inside Man” at the time. He was saying, “I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do that.” That’s exactly how he talks. He said, “Would you do one?” And I said, “eh.”

Just because we talk a lot anyway, I just started pitching various ideas, none of which were setting me on fire. One of which, I accidentally pitched an idea. And Russell said, “That’s ‘The God Complex,’ Toby Whithouse wrote that.” I said, “Oh, yes.”

And then I had this notion of — I wanted the idea of doing suspense and “Doctor Who,” because we don’t really do it. We do action-adventure and sci-fi and love stories and musical numbers these days. But we don’t do suspense. So I thought, What could put the Doctor in danger of that? And I love that. As a kid, I love the bit in “Genesis of the Daleks,” if you remember that, when he stands on a landmine for two minutes. When I was a kid, I thought that was so exciting. I thought, OK, how about we just take that and do it for that whole episode? Because there’s something that’s really thrilling about it – there’s this superhuman adventurer/scientist, but he could just die like that. He could just step in the wrong place and blow up and that’d be the end of the show. It was just the idea of doing suspense in “Doctor Who” that brought me back for one last go.

It’s also fun because Ncuti is such a physical performer and you’re making him stay completely still.

There’s an extent to which all the Doctors are quite physical. He’s a very physical one. He runs a lot, but a lot of the Doctors depend on whirling into the room. Both Peter Capaldi and Matt Smith ended up with the exact same knee injury caused by swirling round to make their frock coats fly. And they ended up getting the same knee injury. I warned Jodie Whittaker when she took over – don’t swish the coat, love. It’s mad, but true. So yes, Ncuti is the most vital. He’s an incredible mover. He’s the man who’s so excited by life that he can’t stop dancing. You’d better fear what happens when he has to. That’s good. But also, you kind of want to unleash pure Doctor. The doctor is many, many different people. But the truth is, he isn’t any of them. He is something else. There’s an ancient powerful beast looking out of those eyes. And when he stops playing, and the crisis hits, he just becomes the magnificent, terrifying general that he really is.

Coming back, what is it like having Disney be a part of the show now?

To be honest, I was always — when I was running it — completely ridiculous about what I demanded or asked. We got a load of staff. So I’ve always been saying, “Well, I don’t see why we can do that. Let’s go to Paris and blow it up.” I slowly find a rational way to do it. The absolute reality of “Doctor Who” is – and it’s great to have Disney on board, both creatively and financially, obviously – it will never have enough money, it just can’t. Because however much money you give us, we’ll say, “Well, we could have had four monsters.” Every single show, no one ever got to the end of the show saying, “It’s a shame. You gave us so much money. We didn’t know where to put it. We have to put it in the back room. It’s just piled up there. What do we do with it?” And also, I wasn’t writing the most flamboyant episode. I was writing the one act play episode. I just dabbled.

You also get to write for a new companion, Ruby Sunday. What was that like?

She’s a wonderful actor. So that’s a great thing. I like the fact that we’ve gone back to a much younger one. From Clara onward, we sort of push the age up a bit. And I think it’s really interesting to go back to one who is 19, because we’re slightly more frightened for you. You think, like all 19-year-olds, you’ve got the measure of this. You really don’t. So that’s great. That’s a sort of inbuilt tension – when are you going to notice this guy is insane? But he’s nuts. Do not trust anything this man says, he doesn’t understand half of the words coming out of his mouth, because he largely isn’t listening to them.

You described this as “one last go,” but you’ll be back, right?

I accidentally revealed this the other day. So everyone knows that now. I think it’s snuck out anyway. I think I appeared on some piece of paperwork somewhere as writing the Christmas one. You can’t say no to Christmas. I always loved doing the Christmas ones. I was away with my wife and son and I was sort of thinking, I just more or less reassured my wife that I wouldn’t be doing ‘Doctor Who’ again. And I got this email from Russell and I thought, I can’t say no to Christmas. I love Christmas! So I said, “Honey, can I wander off and do a Christmas one?” She said, “Oh god.” I’m not sure if they are fan favorites, but they are audience favorites. And I adore “Doctor Who” at Christmas. I love it.

Catch new episodes of “Doctor Who” on Disney+ every Friday.

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