Saturday marks the return of ‘Doctor Who’ and to promote the return of the series, BBC America held a press conference with executive producer Steven Moffat and ScienceFiction.com was there to get all the juicy details the showrunner was willing to impart.
‘Doctor Who’ has been on a 3 month hiatus since the last episode, ‘The Snowmen,’ and it left Whovians with a lot of unanswered questions like” Who is Clara Oswin?”, how will all this lead up to the 50th anniversary episode and what will the second half of the season hold for the Doctor? While Moffat wouldn’t disclose a lot of details, he did give enough for us to ruminate about. Here’s some of the highlights.
Moffat was first asked what this new companion (and the actress who plays her, Jenna-Louise Coleman) will be bringing to the second half of the series:
Well in a way ‘Doctor Who’ is almost more in a way of the story of the companion. It’s her take on the Doctor. It’s her adventure and goes on with the Doctor if the story didn’t tell because, you know, the companion the other character changes more than the Doctor ever does. So what Jenna in particular brings she has a tremendous speed and wit and sort of an unimpressed quality that makes the Doctor dance a bit harder I suppose, he works a bit harder with Clara.
Clara is always just a little bit out of reach not in I mean, you know, obviously, you know, secretly devoted to him but a little bit harder to impress. She’s tough, she’s fast and she’s hard to impress exactly the way the Doctor generally speaking doesn’t like them but of course he’s absolutely devoted to Clara.
That’s very much driven by Jenna’s particular style, which is it’s a very, very fast, snappy style. A very, very beautiful girl but there’s a real sense of toughness in that face of someone that, you know, who can be a real adversary if she wants to be.
What inspired you to create a different type of companion much different than Rose and Amy?
I mean the thing about the Doctor, the Doctor is always the remote, inaccessible, mysterious one and the companion is always the fluffy, friendly one well Amy tested that theory from time to time. Where at this time Clara is the slightly difficult to get to know one that is probably going to be slightly difficult to hug and because the Doctor is haunted by her and met her twice before he is slightly the needy one. So I like throwing in that around, she’s the unsolvable mystery in the enigma and he’s the one chasing after her. It’s a reversal of the normal Doctor companion dynamic, which I’ve been rather enjoying.
The last time we saw Clara, the Doctor had lost the lass fighting the Ice Governess and then realized she was some sort of anomaly and set off to search for her. In ‘The Bells of Saint John,’ he does find her, but is she the same person that we’ve come to know in ‘The Snowmen’ and even farther back ‘Asylum of the Daleks’?
Well, until we see the play out but you will notice on Saturday’s episode significant resemblances yes. Just as there were significant resemblances between Clara and Oswin there are significant resemblances again that are consistencies. And this time they might be pointed out in a slightly more obvious way.
During the course of discovering the mystery behind Clara, do you think this Clara is ever going to remember her other incarnations? Will viewers get to see that?
Well I would know the answer to that question and I certainly wouldn’t give it to you. And you will uncover the mystery of Clara in the next eight episodes all will be made clear and you’ll get your answer that way.
The interest in Clara has been overwhelming. Why do you think the companion is such an important element of storytelling in Doctor Who?
It’s the person to whom the story happens, you know, a hero is somebody who saves the day and is extraordinary and you stand back and admire and that’s the Doctor. But for the storytelling the emotional connection has to happen to somebody. The Doctor himself has to happen to somebody. And so you very often in ‘Doctor Who’, the companion is sort of the main character, not the hero, not the one with all the cool lines, not with all the cool moments but is the hero. The person whose story it is and how this experience changed them, you know, we never see how the Doctor began his journey, we will probably never see how he ends it, we’ll probably never know why he embarked on it but we know all those companions who they were before they met the Doctor. We know why they ran away with him and we know roughly where they ended up. Those stories are complete the Doctor is the enigma that enters their lives and changes them. The story is always about the person who changes the most rather than necessarily about the person who does the most – who effects those changes.
Not too long ago a prequel for ‘The Bells of Saint John’ was released depicting scenario much like the one when the Doctor met Amy. Was that a parallel that you sort of purposely wanted to draw for a long time fans of the series?
I liked the idea because he had such an odd introduction to Clara, having met her twice and lost her twice in such exotic surroundings, you know, in the Dalek and then the governess who was also a bar maid and all that. I sort of thought wouldn’t it be nice if we just did something quite sweet and ordinary and something that specifically goes back to Amy, which I’ve done twice now. It sort of keys up the fact that that relationship, whether he likes it or not, is coming back.
And there are resemblances and I suppose I’m only a bit interested – maybe too interested I’m sure some people would say – that in the fact that the Doctor’s lifespan and time traveling ways means really when he knows somebody he probably knows them over a huge amount of their life span and a tiny span of his. And I’m always quite interested in exploring that. He can know them as a child, he could know them as an adult, he could know them as an old person. I’m absolutely fascinated by that, possibly too fascinated I’m sure I should stop repeating myself but I think that’s probably why.
‘The Bells of Saint John’ takes place in present day London and will introduce yet another new monster called the Spoonheads. What can you say about the Spoonheads and what sort of nemesis they’ll be?
Well I’m not going to tell very much because you’ll learn all about them on Saturday but suffice to say Wi-Fi covers every civilized country now. So if something got into the Wi-Fi that would be a problem for us all, a new way to invade us beyond that the Spoonheads are for Saturday.
How did the Spoonheads compare, in terms of scare factor, with villains like The Silence and the Weeping Angels?
Well that’s not really for me to say. I don’t know. I never really know which ones are going to be the big scarers and so on, but I would say that I suppose that ‘The Bells of Saint John is an action roller coaster, where the Weeping Angel stories and the Silence story were more consciously designed to be sort of scary adventures. So I think, you know, it isn’t really up to me it’s up to the kids to say which one gives them nightmares so I’ll not prejudge it. I think they’re quite creepy, I think it’s a roller king adventure ride I think it’s a cracker of an episode but let’s wait and see what the audience think.
Of all the monsters he created, Moffat does share which one was his favorite one to write about:
The ones so much fun to write I probably, I mean I’m tempted to say Weeping Angels because I’m standing looking at one because it’s in my back garden. I probably – the one I got the most kick out of might have been the Silence. I loved the gimmick of the Silence you couldn’t remember them. I just thought finding ways to employ that and finding ways to make that frightening and I think pretty involved than I’ve used so far. I think was a very exciting thing I (hugely) enjoyed writing the Silence.
The Weeping Angels are of course by far actually was the most popular adversary I’ve invented and I’m sure will always be the most popular ones I’ve invented. But they are a bugger to write because they don’t move and it’s always really hard to work out how you’re going to do a chase scene this time.
It’s no secret that Moffat was a Whovian before coming on board to work on the series and was asked what it was like to make that transition from fan hiding behind the couch while watching the series to the person making us hide behind the couch:
It sort of happened so long ago that I’ve been involved in this for quite a long time, nearly ten years that I’m starting to forget. It’s very very exciting, I mean it’s massively demanding. I don’t have any doubt that ‘Doctor Who’ had always been and will always be that. And, you know, I mean your fanzy remains intact, you stay excited by ‘Doctor Who’ and the idea of ‘Doctor Who’ always remains thrilling. I think you couldn’t function on the show unless that was true but, you know, it’s a terrible thing to say in a way but I’ve been on the other side of the curtain for quite a while now and I’m starting to forget that this used to be a show that I wasn’t involved in. One day when I’m not involved in it again it will all come rushing back but, you know, right now it feels as though I have always worked on it. You know, it retains its excitement, it retains its shine that’s the main thing to say about that I think.
As a writer and a producer, what were your biggest challenges and surprises in these eight episodes coming up?
Every episode is a challenge, and what’s challenging in most episodes is the monster. You’re always a heartbeat from the monster looking ridiculous. You really have to work so hard to make them not look like ridiculous when they turn up on the set. ‘Doctor Who’ is the most exhaustingly planned show on earth. We have so little time to make one, so everything is planned to the last detail. It’s relatively rare for something to surprise you because you’ve tried to factor in every single thing that could go wrong. I was very pleasantly surprised with how effectively and realistically we were able to create a submarine for the episode “Cold War.” I think they did a stunning job on that, in just really, really convincing you that you’re on board a sub. At every level, that was a bit of a design triumph.
How much pressure do you feel to deliver on the 50th anniversary, and is there any way it can possibly live up to the hype and excitement?
I don’t know. Right now, I’m going to stick to talking about Saturday and this series. We’ll deliver a good show. But, more on that later. Right now, I want to concentrate on what we’re going to do on Saturday, which is a whole eight episodes before we even have to worry about that. But, we’ll deliver. I’m pretty confident.
And so are we!
You can see the new nemesis, the Spoonheads, and more of the Doctor’s new companion, Clara, when the series returns on BBC America Saturday, March 30th, at 8pm. And be sure to return to ScienceFiction.com for our review of the first episode ‘The Bells of Saint John’!