Interview: Steven Moffat on the Past, Present, and Future of 'Doctor Who'

This Christmas marks a turning point for Doctor Who. This year's Doctor Who Christmas Special is the final episode for current Doctor Peter Capaldi and for Steven Moffat, the Doctor Who showrunner who has guided the series for the past five seasons.

ComicBook.com had a chance to talk to Moffat about this year's Christmas Special "Twice Upon a Time," which he wrote, as well as to look back at his time serving as showrunner, and look ahead to what the future will bring.

Do you find it at all strange that Doctor Who has turned saying goodbye to beloved actors and writers into a kind of Christmas tradition?

Steven Moffat: Oh god, is it? I guess. I suppose Matt [Smith] left on Christmas Day, but Peter arrived on Christmas Day. David arrived on Christmas Day. So I mean, I don't know...I'm the first to leave on Christmas Day, I think.

Oh, I don't know, I mean, truthfully, I think the audience is far more excited about welcoming in the new than sad about waving on the old. That's the truth of it, I think. And I think that's how I want them to feel, I want them to be excited about the future, not lingering on the past. We've had our day. And it was fantastic fun, but now it's time, more than anything, to want a new Doctor and a new showrunner and see a whole new, glittering future for the show, that's what I want to happen.

When you were making this episode, were you considering it more in terms of being your grand finale or more as specifically a Christmas story?

SM: Well, the grand finale to my time on Doctor Who was “The Doctor Falls,” and that was the Doctor stating his case and choosing a hill to die on. That was our grand finale. But we had the awkward business that Chris [Chibnall] didn’t want to start with the Christmas episode, quite rightly. So, there was the momentary possibility there wouldn't be any Christmas episode, so I suggested that I do the Christmas episode and talked Peter [Capaldi] into doing one more so that Doctor Who wouldn't lose the slot.

Having done that, of course, we had the problem of doing the grand finale plus an hour. And so it's a different kind of story. It’s a story about the Twelfth Doctor, the Doctor himself at the end of his life, thinking, "I don't know if I can keep doing this, I'm tired,” and finding the strength to carry on. You see, it's a Christmas story resurrection for both him and for the First Doctor who's in the same mental state. So they both have to convince each other that one more regeneration is possible. So it's that kind of story.

We've come to the grand finale. This is the warmhearted decision to get back to the good fight.

Where in creative process did you decide that the First Doctor had a role to play in this story?

SM: As of New York Comic Con, not this year, but last year, I hadn't really thought about what I was going do to. I knew I was doing Christmas but I had no story for it. I knew it would be the grand finale and then keep going for an hour, and I was slightly worried about it.

Somebody asked a question about, "Which Doctor would you like to meet Capaldi's Doctor?" And I said, "Well, obviously the best Doctor to meet the modern Doctor would be the first Doctor, the William Hartnell Doctor because there would be the greatest difference, the biggest gulf between them. We'd see the original Doctor contemplating his farthest flung future.” But we couldn't do that, because William Hartnell is dead and Peter Capaldi piped up with, "Well, we could get David Bradley," who had played the part of William Hartnell in An Adventure in Space and Time and had a remarkable resemblance to William Hartnell and know how to capture the First Doctor, so I thought, you know what, we could do that, we could bring back the First Doctor, and we could have it meet the current one.

What do you most hope will come to people’s minds when they think back on the Moffat era of Doctor Who?

SM: Oh, god knows. I don't think they will look back on anything called “the Moffat era.” They might look back at the Peter Capaldi era, or the Matt Smith era. I don't think they'll look back on it, at me, at all. I don't think that's how an audience works or thinks nor have I wished they did.

The main legacy you'll always want is, “the show's still here, it's still successful.” That's what I wanted. I want my legacy to be that you can still watch it. That's exciting to me. As to what people will look back and think of it, I don’t know, I haven't a clue. I hope they think of it fondly.

You’ve created a lot of supporting characters for Doctor Who that are fully formed enough to feel like they have their own adventures going on the time and just happen to run into the Doctor from time to time, characters like Vastra and Ashildr and others. Hypothetically, if you had the chance to spin any of those characters off into their own series, which would you be most interested in exploring?

SM: I suppose Vastra and Jenny are the ones that lend themselves most easily to a different kind of series that would stand free of Doctor Who and just be good in its own right. I think that they have their own little world and you sort of feel as though when you leave Vastra and Jenny, they have continuous adventures when the Doctor isn't there. And I think it might be quite fun to see what other adventures they do have. But I don't think anyone - I mean I'm not sure how many spinoffs a show can bare. So, we'll see. Maybe that one I think, maybe Vastra and Jenny.

I think you might find a surprisingly large audience for a Victorian, alien, lesbian, romance, mystery series.

SM: Yeah, well, It ticks a few boxes, that's for sure.

You worked on Doctor Who as a writer before you became showrunner. Can you imagine sometime in the future where you might return to write another episode or two while Chris Chibnall or someone else is running the series?

SM: I'd have no problem with it from a ego point of view. I'd have no problem not being the boss, that's not an issue for me, but I don't think I will. I think I've written so much Doctor Who. I've written more television Doctor Who than anyone else had. I've written more Doctor Who than I have written anything else. I sort of think it might be time to draw a line under that. I've loved it so much, but really in five years time, and it would have to be about that amount of time, would I really want to go back? I think I might want to be doing new things. I hope I'll be doing new things. I'll concentrate on those and treasure my memories of the time that I used to have control of the TARDIS. I think that's more likely.

I mean I certainly couldn't come back in the short term because Chris has to be able to take over that show and command that show and not have his old boss looming around the place like a relic. So, I think it's important to let it go. I don't mind letting it go. I had my amazing run, which I loved so much, but I don't mind that being over. That's okay. They are great memories to have. Great friends to have made. But drawing a line under it doesn't devalue the experience. Good stories should have good endings and this has been a good ending.

Is there any advice you’d give to Chris Chibnall or Jodie Whitaker as they get ready to begin their run?

SM: I think my solitary piece of advice, the only thing I could think of to say when asked for advice and I don't know if they'll listen to me at all but give the Doctor a symmetrical haircut because you might have to flip the shot and Matt Smith's coif used to drive me mad because he made it very difficult to flip the shot and use it the other way around because you could tell, because his coif was pointing in the wrong direction.

You’ve said that you’ve had your time and you’re ready to draw that line. Did you get to tell all of the stories you wanted to tell, or are there some that are still in your head that never quite made it out?

SM: Well, I tend to just write ideas as I had them. I mean that's what I did. I had an idea and I just wrote it, I didn't hold it back. Sometimes I hadn't formed ideas and I waited until they were fully formed but, for the most part, I did them. That's not to say I couldn't, if there was a terrible emergency and they needed a Doctor Who story from me - and I have said and Russel has always said to me, "If you're really stuck, I'll come and help you out" - if I had to have a Doctor Who story you know that I could do it. I'd think of something and it would be okay. I know how that show works.

I'm not out of ideas. I thought of a Doctor Who monster the other day and realized I had nowhere to put it. But that's okay, you know, that's okay. It's good to have ideas left over.

You’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of writers and directors during your time on Doctor Who. Are there any you hope to reconnect with on future projects?

SM: Well I always feel very bad about naming anybody because all the people that I didn't name will feel upset. But, you know. If you look to the people I've worked with and saw the ones that came back and maybe switched from one show to another, you could see through that. But I feel hesitant about picking favorites that would be upsetting for somebody so I'll maybe not do that.

In your own mind and in your words, how do you feel the Doctor has changed as a character in your time with him?

SM: I don't think he's changed very much. I don't think he's changed in a long time. I think you have to go as far back as the William Hartnell Doctor to really find a different version of him, and even that William Hartnell Doctor is quite similar. I think that the Doctor, for all these superficial changes, is very much the Doctor, with the wanderlust and the preciousness, the compassion, the excitability, the joy, the restlessness, I think the Doctor is the Doctor. And you know, I'm only saying, but no one ever believes me, when you read them on paper, when you read them in the script, you can imagine any Doctor performing those parts.

Now that you’re stepping away from the series and stepping back into the role of a viewer and a fan, what are your hopes for the future of Doctor Who?

SM: Oh, just that it finds new ways to be exactly the same, which is the trick with Doctor Who. Doctor Who in a way doesn't change very much but the surface details do. What I absolutely know that Chris will do and that Jodi will do, is find new ways for it to be Doctor Who, for it to go on and be talked about and be successful and be loved and for it to be handed down to another generation of creators after that. Just for it to go on. I do think it's the greatest thing ever. And I do think every generation of kids deserves their own Doctor. So I just want it to carry on and surprise me and reassure me as it always has in the past.

The Doctor Who Christmas Special "Twice Upon a Time" airs Christmas Day on BBC America and at select theaters December 27th & 28th thanks to Fathom Events.

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