After the masterclass last week, it’s time to post about the second conference given by Steven Moffat at Comic Con’ France last July.
This time it was all about Doctor Who!
As per Comic Con’ rules we can only share 10 minutes of each conference on video but again, we also have a full transcript below.
Please don’t re-upload our videos anywhere, even credited.
In case YouTube doesn’t work for you, here’s the link to Dailymotion.
Question: You said that your entire career was planned around becoming the showrunner of Doctor Who and that you’d apply to this job before but the BBC said no because you were 7. Was it a joke or did you really send a letter?
- It’s a joke. No, I didn’t. I’m sure I would have liked to have sent that letter If I’d known who to send it to. And at 7 I probably wanted to be The Doctor, rather than just write him. But, it was a joke to talk about how long I wanted it, how excited I was to have the job. That was it. I wish it was true, I could produce the tear stained bit of note paper, but sadly not.
Q: You might not have written that letter, but you sent many signals. You had a character in the 4th series of Coupling, Oliver, a geek who owns a memorabilia shop and is fan of The Doctor. In 1999 you wrote Curse of the Fatal Death for Comic Relief. Was it to identify yourself as a fan and suggest to think of you if the show ever came back?
- It wasn’t the strategy. I wish I could say it was cause it was quite remarkably effective. But no, it was just my own enthusiasm for the show coming out. There were quite a few of us doing that. Russell was doing the same, he did the same in Queer as Folk, he had a big Doctor Who fan in that. So, not the strategy but just fannish enthusiasm, the same impulse that brought them all here today.
Q: When Russell T. Davies got the job, what was your reaction? It seems his signals were stronger than yours?
- I think his career was stronger than mine was perhaps the critical thing. He was perfectly positioned in what he’d done to be the first person to bring Doctor Who back. He’d done these big swooping drama series, he knew those people and that style perfectly. So even as I was thinking, “Damn it wasn’t me”, I was also thinking “very good choice”. And as a fan, I just wanted it to be a good choice. I also emailed him to congratulate him on getting the job, but also to remind him of my e-mail address.
Q: Before becoming showrunner, you wrote episodes for the show, including the famous Blink, shown here at Comic Con. [audience cheers] Was it a challenge to write an episode that barely featured The Doctor at all as David Tennant wasn’t available?
- It wasn’t difficult at all. I thought it would be. One thing, one element of drama you get by taking The Doctor off the board, so to speak, is that everything is more frightening. The Doctor is a wonderful character, but he does in half, turn the drama off at times ‘cause he’s cleverer, and funnier than the bad guys. And you sort of think, he’s just gonna make a joke, explain the plot, wink at a girl and leave. It’s quite nice to have a situation, where he’s just not there. So that’s quite frightening.
-To say one more thing about it. I’m sure you’ve all read The Hobbit. Throughout the first part of that book, Gandalf is leading a useless bunch of dwarves and hobbits towards danger. And they’re all terrible and stupid, except him. And throughout the book you’re told about the dangers of Mirkwood and what a terrifying place it is. And then they get to the gates of Mirkwood and Gandalf, the only competent character in the book, says “sorry…I’ve got something else to do.” And when you were livin, you’re just going “oh nooo”, and dear God was Mirkwood scary after that. That’s ‘Blink’.
Q: After writing these brilliant episodes, you finally became showrunner but in fact you got the job almost 2 years and a half before your first episode as showrunner made it to TV. Was it frustrating to wait for such a long time?
- Well, it was quite nice to have some time to make it. So, no. (Stammering) I mean… Was it that long? When was I announced?—
Q: You got the job a year before it was even announced?
- My memory’s to bad to remember if it was frustrating. Not really. We had a massive job on our hands. Not really the replacing of Russell with me. No one would notice or care. 90% or 99% of the audience would not be aware of that. But replacing David with a new actor, that was going to be major surgery. So, the time was put to good use.
Q: This time allowed you and Russell to work together as I think that you wrote the very first lines of the Eleventh Doctor.
- Actually we didn’t really do any writing together, and I’d written ‘The 11th Hour’ before he’d written ‘The End of Time’. The slacker. So the only bit where- the closest Russell and I have ever come to collaborating was that I wrote the tiny bit of Matt Smith at the end of his last episode. And I wrote that at Russell’s invitation. He said you should write the 11th Doctor, I should leave with the 10th, which was a lovely, gracious and fun thing to do. But, no, there wasn’t much of a collaboration beyond planning. He said ‘who do you want him with, where should I land him, I’ll get him there.” So I just said, I want him to be crashing to Earth in the TARDIS.
Q: You’ve not only changed the Doctor but also the titles, the filming methods, the TARDIS, the Daleks… you changed everything, is it your personal touch?
- No. I never really thought about that, and as I said before I don’t think anyone watching it cares whether there’s a new guy running it. And why would The Doctor Who fans care if it was my show or not, it’s irrelevant. It was time to do a Spring clean, it was time to change everything, ‘cause Doctor Who does that from time to time. Had Russell still been on the show, he’d have done something similar. He would have changed everything. You look at the history of Doctor Who and I know it’s not- the French fans probably don’t know as much of the long term history- but every now and then, it changes absolutely everything for no particular reason. That does seem to work.
Q: You mentioned the history of Doctor Who, which era is your favourite? I read that you really liked the films because of who the Daleks looked in it.
- No I quite like the feature films, the Peter Cushing films. I don’t think they’re really Doctor Who, but I think there’s a couple of design things I really liked, as did Russell. And in some ways they resemble the show as it became more than the William Hartnell versions, in that they’re more humorous and The Doctor is more benign. In terms of my- I mean, I was always a proper Doctor Who fan. I always liked the version that was on now, you know? I didn’t want to be saying it’s not as good as it used to be. But I suppose I really clicked in as a Doctor Who fan with the arrival of Jon Pertwee and I sort of grew out of it some day I suppose.
Q: You really like using time travel in your writing. The Doctor used to arrive at a specific time or place and remained there for a whole episode but with you time travel is a main part of the plot.
- I think it’s slightly a waste of a time machine if you don’t. Having said that, you know I’ve gone quite far with it this year. I think I’ll go less far with it next year. I think there’s fun to be had. It is the only show on television where time travel can be assumed as background noise. It’s just there for whenever you want it. I’m less interested as it goes on in the mechanics of that, than in what it does emotionally to a man who lives his life in the wrong order. For whom, everybody is still alive. What does that do to you after a while? How mad are you?
Q: Another particularity of your writing is that seem to favor situations where The Doctor has two companions. You wrote for Rose and Mickey, Sally and Larry, River and Donna, and now Amy and Rory. Why do you like these interactions better?
-It’s only a slight preference and I’ve written it both ways. And in a way I had my cake and ate with with Amy and Rory in the first series, because he was there sometimes, he was dead other times. He’s like that, and I think what’s nice about two companions is it pushes The Doctor back one step. He’s not in a direct relationship with a companion, there’s two of them, and they can talk about him and that’s interesting. What do two people, who love each other and are friends make of this weird man they know? And it sort of pushes him back, makes him a stranger, more remote character. Which I mean, he’s not your boyfriend, he is this strange, remote thing that can be dangerous at times. I like the opportunity in the scripts. It’s not essential, but it’s fun.
Q: In terms of genre, it seems like with you the series is transitioning towards more magic, more fantasy. Is that how you see the show?
-More fantasy and more magic than the story of a man that lives in a time traveling phone box? I mean that’s, that’s the base line. That’s what you’ve got to be madder than. Nutty specially, and magic isn’t real in The Doctor’s world. I suppose there a- I’ve often been quoted, accurately, as saying The Doctor, who is nearer to a fairy tale than science fiction. But I didn’t particularly mean my version. I meant, it always is. He’s the visiting wizard with the magic wand and the magic box, who dresses a bit funny and looks like a children’s entertainer. You know? He’s that rather than Buck Rogers or Gandalf. So, only in those senses. In one episode we can go quite hard Sci-fi, in the next we can be much more whimsical. I don’t think Doctor Who should ever settle for being just one thing. He should be lots of things. To entertain by any means possible.
(after translation is over)
-Blimey, I talk a lot. Don’t I? I’ve never had to sit and listen before.
Q: You’re in a particular situation as you wrote for the three latest Doctors (Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith), and even for Peter Davison for the mini-episode Time Crash. How different is it to write for the same character but four different actors. Does the actor’s personality changes the character’s?
-The first time I had to face this, obviously, was when Chris left and David came in. And it was all a bit sudden and unexpected. So I got on the phone to Russell and said, “what are we doing?”, and he said “I don’t know…I’m just gonna write him the same and see what David does.” That was the strategy and it’s true. The Doctor is always mostly the same man. That’s what you have to make clear in the writing and the performance. It’s still him. Then as the actor plays it you start picking up on what they like to do, what they’re good at, where they’re most charming and you play towards that. It’s a gradual process and you don’t- and it’s not conscious. You just think about it. (To cheering crowd in background) They all agree.
Q: How did your writing change the more you got to know the current Doctor, Matt Smith?
- Again, it’s a very unconscious process. It’s not true that the scripts I write are absolutely clearly Matt and clearly not David. That was not clear at the start. The idea at the beginning was The Doctor used to be David Tennant, he’s still hasn’t settled in to be Matt Smith. So if he’s a bit David Tennant-y sometimes, that’s fine. But, there comes a point and it’s a surprise to you yourself, where you realize you’re definitely writing the new guy. You know that David Tennant in the face of a crumbling universe wouldn’t get distracted by a fez, but you realize this guy would. And I think, the main thing I would say is, the Matt Smith doctor is just the maddest doctor yet, and that’s what we play.
Q: Another important thing about The Doctor is his costume. I heard that for Matt Smith it was initially a pirate costume, can you tell us about this?
- It started to sound as though we’d put him and a parrot. It was a vaguely, very vaguely nautical, I suppose, stripey shirt and long coat. Matt’s reaction to it was he thought that’s how somebody else would dress The Doctor, it wasn’t how he, The Doctor, would dress himself. The Doctor thinks of himself not as a hero or a swashbuckler but as a man of science, an investigator, someone having fun. So, he was very keen on this geeky costume, and I knew that when he phoned me up and told me how much he’d loved watching Tomb of the Cybermen, he was doing his research, and Patrick Troughton, I knew we were gonna get a bow-tie. There was nothing we could do to talk him out of it. They’re cool apparently.
Q: What if The Doctor was a woman? Would it be going too far?
- The more people discuss it, I suppose, the more the idea gets to be possible. I don’t have any doubt that there are loads of women who could be absolutely brilliant Doctors. I could think of ten off the top of my head. My worry, and maybe I won’t always have this worry, maybe other people won’t always have this worry, would only be, will you still believe it’s the same person. I think that day may be coming, I don’t know if it’s here yet. But the absolute confidence trick we have to play on the audience is not that it’s a new Doctor. Really, underneath it all it’s the same doctor, and will it still feel that way if it’s a woman. The answer is probably becoming yes, since we’ve already seen the married couple Doctors. Clearly The Doctor himself has relaxed on the subject.
- Could I just ask, out of curiosity. And don’t feel pressure in any way at all. Would, put your hand up, if you would accept a female doctor? Well there you go, that’s about- Sorry? [Inaudible response] You don’t mind him changing height? You think he changes height? Where does the extra stuff go? Changing sex is nothing compared to that! How many people would stop watching if he became a woman? [Raises hand in jest, nods head to acknowledge majority] I think the women have it, as they so often do. Ok…ok, interesting, thank you.
Q: The show had many showrunners before you and given its success it will probably go on for a long time too. To which extent are you free to do whatever you want with the show and the character? Do people tell you not to go too far or do you set the limits yourself?
-Well I couldn’t, and I say this aware of how ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ opens, “kill him”. It’s a major BBC franchise, so they’re not going to accept any old thing. I’ve never been in a situation where anyone said you can’t do that. It would always be a discussion if I were doing something radical with Doctor Who, I would want to know that everybody was on site. You know, it’s not my possession. It’s not mine, and I’d want to know that everybody agreed that we thought this was a good plan if it was a radical thing. But I haven’t got to that place yet, that hasn’t happened. But, in the end it belongs to the BBC, and to the audience. It doesn’t belong to me. I keep saying ‘you have to treat it like you own it’, that means you do behave that way, it also means ‘you don’t own it.’.
Q: You’re not the Doctor’s father, but you’re sort of Captain Jack’s father. [audience cheers] How do you feel about Captain Jack’s evolution, as you were the first one to write him?
- Well first of all I have to say I was the first person to write him but Russell gave me the character and said what he should be like. I can take some credit for a little, a tiny amount, for pushing him in certain directions, but you know Russell gave me the gung-ho adventurer who was omnisexual. Although he said at the time, that probably won’t come up. (Gasp) Dear God. What next for Captain Jack? Well, I’m delighted to say, I don’t know! I get to be a viewer for the first time in ages, when the new series of Torchwood comes out, which I know will be brilliant and I’m hugely looking forward to it. I haven’t read the scripts. I had the most brief, spoiler free conversation with Russell about it ‘cause I didn’t want to know. So, I will find out, I will find out. Alongside the rest of you, the way it should be.
Q: Could Captain Jack ever come back to Doctor Who or is his universe too different now?
- Given that I don’t know what’s gonna happen, in the next series of Torchwood, I genuinely don’t, he might not survive. So, the rule is, which Russell has and with which I agree, that the doctor cannot visit Torchwood because Torchwood is a much more adult series and the younger viewers of Doctor Who would feel entitled to go and watch silly old Matt Smith suddenly being surrounded by an unfamiliar amount of sexual activity. The blushing would never end. But there is absolutely no rule at all against having Jack visit The Doctor, and I might well have done it this year if he hadn’t been a little bit busy elsewhere. So it’s entirely possible, yes.
- Russell was asked this question recently, and while he thought that possibly, that the part of Jack was sort of being taken by River Song in the new series. He did speculate that it would probably be more fun to see Jack meet River, which would strike the doctor dumb with horror I think at the sheer amount of innuendo.
Q: These past few years there’s been a few episodes of Doctor Who that were shot abroad. The beginning of season 6 was filmed in the US. A season 4 episode was filmed in studios in Rome. Would you like to film in Paris, like the episode City of Death back in the 70’s?
- You mean, presumably another episode in Paris. In fact Tom Bakers doctor visited Paris for very very good episode in the old show called ‘The City of Death’. Absolutely, I love Paris. It’s- it really is story-driven, and I think it would be a brave man to attempt to follow Douglas Adams into the fray who wrote ‘City of Death’ and one of the best ever Doctor Who stories and such a Parisian story. How do we beat that? But, yes! Possibly…possibly. Get us some cheap flights, we’ll go anywhere.
Q: We’re now going to talk about episodes unaired in France so if you don’t like spoilers, you can leave now. How long have you known who River Song was? [Audience cheers]
- Well thank you for the applause but it wasn’t that clever of me working it out. I knew. Not at the very beginning because the character came about for the most practical of reasons in that David Tennant’s doctor was stuck inside a giant library and he had to be found by a team of archeologists. And given that the library was sealed and everyone in it had been slaughtered, and there he was just standing there with a screwdriver, I was wondering how he was going to avoid being arrested. The psychic paper wouldn’t really cover it, so I thought, what if the archeologist already knew him? And I thought, well that’s a bit lame. What a coincidence. Then I thought, what if there’s an archeologist that knows him but he doesn’t know yet? That was a bit more interesting. What if it was a woman? What if it’s Alex Kingston? And then, although I wasn’t necessarily as I wrote the first few words thinking there’d be any hint of romance here, you’ve got David Tennant and Alex Kingston throbbing at each other, and so you sort of know it’s gonna go a bit that way. I then started to think about how could such an apparently closer than normal caring relationship come about? And I thought quite early on, what if she’s the daughter of a companion that he’s pledged to protect? That would make sense to me. So I did introduce Amy Pond with that in mind but I did know that I might never get to it, it might never work out, that I might change my mind. It has worked out pretty much as I thought it would, though in all honesty, you know nothing yet.
Q: The beginning of season 6 is in continuity with the end of season 5, it directly follows it. Were you afraid to lose part of the audience who wouldn’t remember what happened in the previous episodes or missed it?
- Yes, I did worry about doing that. We did talk a lot about whether or not starting in such a, making such presumptions about assumptions about the audience was gonna work for us. It did. We got massive ratings and very very high appreciation figures. It was a success, but yes it’s a risk. I did also start to think that as far as the British audience is concerned, it was time to stop pretending everybody wasn’t watching it. You know? Everybody does watch it, everybody does know what’s going on. So, it was time maybe to try a more complicated kind of storytelling. I don’t think it’s the only card we should play. I think you have to be simple as well. So we’re straight into a lovely story about pirates next week and it’s very simple and accessible. I think we should not be afraid to make demands of the audience, and where we have made demands of the audience, we have been rewarded with some of the most successful episodes. So that’s the truth. They’re not stupid out there. Why should we assume that they are.
Q: What’s the plan for next year? How many episodes are you planning to do?
- Contrary to what anything you may have heard, the same number.
Q: 2013 is an important year for Doctor Who, it’ll mark the 50th anniversary of the show. What’s in store for the 50th birthday of the Doctor?
- We’re already talking and the BBC themselves started the conversation. About- (towards audience member) hello…you’ve escaped! – The BBC started the conversation about: what do we do about the anniversary? We’ve got lots of ideas which I’m not going to tell you, but all I can tell you is we will hit that year very, very hard indeed. And the ambition will be to make it the best year ever to be a Doctor Who fan.
Q: Are you thinking of bringing back old characters like Rose, Donna…?
- It’s always possible. There’s certainly no rule against it. I do worry. Bringing back someone isn’t a story, it’s just a moment. And most times that you bring something back to a show, the only exciting moment is in it, is when they come back. Then it’s what are you gonna do now. That’s the problem with it. There’s no rule against it. If I had a great story I wouldn’t hesitate, but it has to be a great story. That’s it. It’s not a stand alone idea. An awful lot of fan suggestions do start with the words “bring back…” Sequels are never as good as the original and that’s what you’ve got to remember.
Q: I have a suggestion for a female Doctor: what about Gina Bellman? What made you pick Matt Smith over the other actors who auditioned?
- We saw a lot of really, really brilliant actors for that part. There just was no doubt. Nobody who saw the tapes thought there was any doubt. He wasn’t the most famous, he was far younger than I thought I would cast, but he was unequivocally and definitely the one who was gonna get the part. He gave on that first day in the audition the performance you see now. How could you not cast a man who is simultaneously a hot young guy and an eccentrical professor. That’s him.
Q: Thank you for coming, and my question is: Why do you keep on killing Rory? Is it a recurring joke, or should we really be worried?
- I keep bringing him back as well! I was gonna say short of scattering the ashes, what more can I do, but I have already done that. In fact, he’s only actually been only killed once. Which I’m delighted to be able to use as an excuse. It was only one real death. But we are- I’m a romantic, I wouldn’t be too worried- but we are gonna pay it off. It is about something.
Q: Do you get Writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?
- I think I’m blocked everyday. Some days I’m not. How do you overcome it? That’s all of writing. That’s all of writing, because what’s blocking you is not having a good enough idea. And the only way out, is to have a good enough idea. I think I’ve been close to tears of frustration on just about every script I’ve ever written, and on those that I wasn’t, that just means I was actually crying. It’s tough. Everyone is blocked. That’s because it’s difficult. That’s about the most depressing portrait of the writing profession that I’ve ever come up with. I apologize for all the writers writing.
Q: Have you already written and shot episode 8 of season 6?
- Oh it was written ages ago. Actually January and shot, oh, about February. It’s written and shot. All done. All in the- all in the can. Finished.
Q: How do you deal with the clues you put in every episode last season to make [a] very big episode, and if every clue means something?
- Well you know where you’re going, broadly speaking, is always gonna change. You know how it’s gonna end, so you know what you need to set up earlier. The really, really tough bit- was if you remember in season five, there was a scene in ‘Flesh and Stone’ where The Doctor is talking to Amy and it turns out that wasn’t the episode 5 Doctor at all, that was the episode 13 Doctor. Now what was difficult about that, was we shot that in the first week of Matt Smith filming, and I hadn’t written episode 13 yet. So I was really ‘by guess and by god’ on that, and it actually works, except for the fact that he’s not wearing a vortex manipulator. And of course because it’s just the very beginning of the shoot, Matt Smith looks about 12 years younger. Other than that it was perfect. But, it’s just planning; it’s just writing. That’s all.
Q: What do you think of fan creations (graphics, stories…)?
- I’ve seen some of it, you’ll have to excuse me for not having seen that much of it because I don’t have an awful lot of spare time and I probably don’t do a lot of Doctor Who stuff in the spare time. But what I was looking at, at a book I was given today by some Doctor Who fans, which has some brilliantly funny and beautiful stuff in it. So yes, I do. I mean, it’s very sort of heartwarming when you see stuff that you’ve done get a sort of proper detailed response. And that’s how people become writers, responding to other writing. It is! So, I love it. I think I’ll probably catch up with it all properly when I’m done, you know? At the moment Doctor Who is like a blizzard, combined with a storm, during a hurricane in a swamp, in the middle of a war…(rest is overshadowed by laughter and claps)
Q: How difficult is it to write for a show that has such a long history and rich mythology?
- I’ve been a fan all my life. I’ve got it all memorized. I can’t forget it. It’s a tragedy. At the same time, every Doctor Who story has to be brand new, the way you deal with all that massive backlog of history, all those endless details is you mostly ignore them and tell a new story. The mistake that people tend to make coming into a mythology like this is thinking it’s your job to tell it all again. It’s not. Do something new with it. All stories are not what about happened before, they’re all about what happens next. There’s the answer.
Q: Hello. I have come with the dullest question, but what does one have to do to get an audition for the cast of Doctor Who?
- Well be an actor or an actress the casting director thinks would be suitable for a part. I mean, ultimately that’s what it’s down to. There isn’t a way to be somewhere and get on the list. It’s the casting director looks at each script and says we need an incredibly fat ugly person, let’s go and find one. Or something. You know? So, there isn’t a proactive way, I’m afraid of getting cast. I think there used to be one in Hollywood but you really don’t wanna go down that road. It’s not civilized. So, sorry I can’t be more helpful.
Q: I was just wondering about Fish fingers and Custard, where does it come from, is it a secret Scottish recipe…fish fingers and custard?
- Fish fingers and custard, have I tried it? No it sounds disgusting. No, it was just I thought it was a funny thing for The Doctor to have a craving for. I thought maybe giving birth to yourself might give you, like, maternal cravings. So that was the reason, I believe a lot of people have tried it now, fish fingers and custard. And if you look it up on YouTube you can see some brave pioneers trying it. By their faces I don’t think it’s a magical combination. There you go.
- Just one more thing, I think we’re done on the questions. I just wanted to add an addendum cause I was asked earlier about the number of episodes we’re making next year. And as I correctly said, there is no reduction. There will be, as some of you may know, or there is coming a change in transmission pattern. I’ll explain…later!
END OF TRANSCRIPT.