DAYS TO DOCTOR WHO IN THE US: He’s heeee-eeeeeere....
Whenever I meet a Whovian here in the States, and we start talking about our favorite episodes of the current Doctor Who series, they usually start citing Steven Moffat-penned episodes. BLINK! I couldn’t sleep for three days after that! Or, Oh my God, you have to watch “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances!” That story is so amazing! His episodes are not only fan favorites, but they are widely recognized by the television and science fiction communities as being some of the best episodes of Doctor Who. In fact, all six of his episodes were nominated for Hugo/Nebula awards, and all but 2 won. His taking over as showrunner for Doctor Who’s upcoming Fifth Series marks an exciting time for the show, as he has gotten to start from scratch and essentially build Doctor Who in his image. I had a chance to speak with him when he was in New York promoting the BBC America premiere of Doctor Who, and he gave wonderful insights into The Doctor and the new series, even though I think I inadvertently insulted his comedy-writing prowess...
When did you first fall in love with Doctor Who?
When I was a kid! I watched it for so long, I can’t remember starting! It was 1963, and I would’ve been about nearly 2 years old. And apparently I did actually watch the first one, but I have no memory of it. I’d just be sitting on the floor impressed by the fuzzy black and white on the television set. And I just grew up watching it, really. I remember maybe around 1970 when it went to color with Jon Pertwee, I became quite devoted to it, and became a proper list-making, watch-it-every-week fan. And I just stayed with it. And by the end of the original run, which was 26 years, I was grown-up working in television with my own show! That was kind of surreal. And then many, many years later—I say many, but you know, 15 or whatever it was—it came back! And when Russell [T. Davies, but you knew that already] got the job, I emailed him congratulations, because I knew him, just to sort of just to remind him I was out there. And he knew I was a fan, so he said that in the event that it went to more than six episodes, he was going to ask me to do some scripts, which he did...and that’s all been quite successful for me!
No kidding! Who is your Doctor?
Oh, the one with the two hearts who travels in the TARDIS.
I guess you can’t really pick just one...
And why does one have to? That’s a reductive principle, isn’t it? You’re allowed to like them all at once! They’re all brilliant. That’s like having a favorite James Bond! Who cares?! You don’t have to choose one! You can have lots of them!
And The Doctor really is one character.
Yeah, he is. Absolutely. And it’s not “the eleventh Doctor,” it’s THE Doctor with the eleventh face. Now, of course, at this moment, my Doctor is Matt Smith, and like everybody else in the country, I’m falling in love with him, and that’s what is most exciting for me now. But, hand on my heart, I was always, during my time watching and working on Doctor Who, I always loved the current one best, ‘cause that’s now. And now is more exciting than then.
There are a lot of recurring motifs in your work; stuff like things that move and look human, but aren’t (the Weeping Angels of “Blink,” the androids in “The Girl in the Fireplace”); or coming back in time for someone too late (“The Girl in the Fireplace,” “The Eleventh Hour”). What is it about these things that fascinates or scares you?
I think that’s a thing that runs throughout Doctor Who, throughout almost 60-70% of it, that a lot of the monsters are things that look almost human, but aren’t. Which is one of the most visceral, disturbing things you can see. Something that’s just not quite right; too still, too shiny, too dead-eyed. All of that, I think, is the proper stuff of nightmares.
As for the timey-wimey thing...he lives in a time machine! He doesn’t just have a time machine, he doesn’t just own one that he pops into from time to time, he actually lives in the bugger! That’s an extraordinary idea! That means that the universe, for him, happens in the wrong order! What an extraordinary, farcical way to live your life. And not only that, he’s this ancient creature that doesn’t age properly. He hasn’t got any real notion that time passes for us, irreversibly, and we get older and uglier and fatter. He just carries on in this sort of going through our lives popping up at the wrong moment. And that’s something that, I mean I don’t think it should ever be the dominant thread of the show, but I think it should be touched on; that those of us chained to a normal sequence of day after day have a very different view of life from this madman who can just scuttle around anywhere he likes. And sometimes it brings him up short. He misses Reinette, he screws up Amy’s life [in “The Eleventh Hour”], he hasn’t a clue who River is. If the Doctor were real, and was out there and traveling, that’s what his life would be like! A constant litany of confusion, because he’s not doing it in the right order, and everybody else is.
What was the handover from Russell T. Davies to you like?
We had the handover in Hong Kong. We both wore uniforms. They fired canons from Buckingham Palace and all the lights in the country were turned on…
What was it like? It seems to have gone on forever. We decided to give up saying goodbye to each other since neither of us has actually left. I mean, I was talking to him this morning, so it’s a bit silly....
Well, you know that people have been talking about me taking over for a long while...I know looking back on, I realize they’ve been finding me out for a long while and I’d been oblivious. I remember Jane Tranter (BBC producer) saying to me “We need to talk to you about the next five years” and I just thought, “Blimey! They must have a lot of plans for me at the BBC. Wonder what they’re going to ask me to do!” Hadn’t realized she meant 5 years of Doctor Who! And then I remember Julie Gardner (producer on Doctor Who), in LA over breakfast, we were over there for something or other, saying “Russell’s leaving, and there are going to be four specials, and then we’ll need a new showrunner.” And I was like “Ohhhh...” But I was so hungover at the time I couldn’t really understand what she was saying. Until eventually, Russell emailed me and said “What do you think of taking over Doctor Who?” And this was as I was on getting on a plane to fly to Greece to have a look at the Greek version of Coupling. And then it was a long process of negotiating an exorbitant fee of course, and just working out that that’s what I wanted to do with my life, which of course it was. But you know, it’s a big old thought. I was in the middle of the Tintin movie, so I had to run away from Steven Spielberg and LA to Cardiff and Doctor Who—a move that may have never been made in a coherent career before!
Your Doctor Who episodes have tended to be really serious and/or really sad. Will the The Doctor and Amy become part of The Giggle Loop? Are there any funny episodes we should be looking forward to from you?
(Laughs) Well, you wound me! I think some of my stuff is rather funny. I was watching “The Empty Child” the other day and thinking that I was quite surprised by how many jokes are in it. Everyone remembers how frightening it is, but every second line is a gag! But oh yeah, there’s plenty of humor to come in Doctor Who. I am at heart a comedy writer, so there’s no shortage of that! You know, Jokes and Fright. That’s not complicated: big jokes, big fright.
Describe Amy Pond without referring to her physical appearance.
She’s mad. Completely mad. A bit restless. She’s been made a big promise by this amazing man when she was 7 years old, and he didn’t come back. So she has this sort of...I mean, the traditional word is feisty, but it’s got more attitude to it than that. It’s a little bit...challenging the world to disappoint her. She’s skeptical, a bit scathing at times, gives people a hard time because at basically some deep-rooted level feels hard done by. And of course, with The Doctor she both simultaneously adores him and doesn’t let him out of her sight, because she doesn’t quite trust him; can’t quite get over the fact that she sat on that wee suitcase all night and he didn’t come back...
And she’s got great legs. There, I did so well for a while...
Doctor Who premieres TONIGHT on BBC America at 9PM ET!!
Teresa Jusino was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. She is a contributor to PinkRaygun.com, a webzine examining geekery from a feminine perspective. Her work has also been seen on PopMatters.com, on the sadly-defunct literary site CentralBooking.com, edited by Kevin Smokler, and in the Elmont Life community newspaper. She is currently writing a web series for Pareidolia Films called The Pack, which is set to debut Fall 2010! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, Follow The Pack or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.
Photo of Steven Moffat by Denni Schnapp, taken at the 2007 Nippon World Con.