Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Steven Moffat talks Doctor Who

Back in 1995 I contributed occasional articles to a New Zealand Doctor Who fanzine called TSV. For issue 43 I arranged a round-table discussion about the show with three writers - Steven Moffat, Paul Cornell and Andy Lane. At the time Paul and Andy were well known to Doctor Who fans, having both written several original novels for Virgin Books based on the science fiction series. Steven was a professional TV writer, then best known for creating Press Gang and several sitcoms. The discussion was wide-ranging and often hilarious, with Steven particularly acerbic in his enthusiasm for and exasperation with the original run of Doctor Who.

Fast forward twelve years to today: Russell T Davies has resurrected Doctor Who and turned it into British TV's most acclaimed and beloved series of recent times. One of the key contributors to that success is writer Steven Moffat, whose episodes The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances and The Girl in the Fireplace are among the show's finest. Paul has also written for the revived show, contributing Father's Day to the first series and a two-parter to the forthcoming third series.

After a long break from Doctor Who publishing, Andy is gracing the bestseller lists at the moment with his Torchwood novel Slow Decay. Meanwhile I've written four Doctor Who novels, invented a new Doctor in my Unbound audio drama Full Fathom Five and have scripted more adventures for Sarah Jane Smith than anybody since Terry Nation, thanks to my SJS series for Big Finish. But I'm still a novice when it comes to broadcast drama.

TSV has just uploaded #43 as part of an ongoing online archive project and you can see the full text of the round-table discussion from 1995. It makes for fascinating reading, particularly Steven Moffat's forthright opinions about the strengths and weaknesses of Doctor Who. Here's a brief excerpt:
Paul: I saw Remembrance of the Daleks recently. When it was first on, we thought it was fast paced. Now it looks slow and staid.

Steven: None of this is true. We've had an absolute perception of pacing for a very long time. Some of Shakespeare is pretty pacey.

Andy: Shakespeare has people standing around on stage spouting for ten minutes at a time!

Steven: Okay, I agree, Andy; Shakespeare is not as good as Doctor Who.

Paul: When it comes to Shakespeare, it changes with the times. Modern interpretations of Shakespeare are much faster.

Steven: Doctor Who was not limited merely by the limitations of the times or the styles that were prevalent then. It was limited by the relatively meagre talent of the people who were working on it.

Andy: And yet the people who worked on it turned over on a regular basis. Are you saying they were all mediocre?

Steven: Mostly they were middle-of-the-range hacks who were not going to go on to do much else. The hit rate for the 26 years is not high enough... There are people who have worked on Doctor Who who have gone on to great things, who are great talents, like Douglas Adams. I just think most of the people thought this was going to be the big moment of their lives which is a shame. As a television format: Doctor Who equals anything. Unless I chose my episodes very carefully, I couldn't sit anybody I work with in television down in front of Doctor Who and say 'watch this, this is a great show.'

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