Dr Who. New York. Cardiff.
They are not words I ever imagined I would be uttering in the same sentence. But on Thursday night, on Broadway in New York, I found myself on stage saying those very words.
I wasn’t in a show. I was actually in the Institute of Technology’s Auditorium on Broadway and, despite having a microphone in my hand, I was managing to resist bursting into song.
I was in New York interviewing Steven Moffat: showrunner, executive producer and chief writer of Dr Who, which, in March this year, celebrated its 10 year revival. In 2010, Moffat took over from Russell T Davies, who had resurrected the series in 2005. And on 21st May, it will be 10 years since Moffat’s first Dr Who script, The Empty Child, starring Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, hit the screen (to many, it remains the scariest episode of all time). Courtesy of the Cardiff Business Council and Bafta Cymru, the auditorium was packed with an eclectic mix of die-hard fans, both US and UK.
‘Before Dr Who, I had never been to Wales,’ Moffat confessed, but declared passion for the revitalisation of the TV and film industries, particularly among young people. ‘It used to be the case that if you wanted to do something in either, you had to go to London. But now, there is whole generation who don’t have to do that. And the future is always more interesting than the past – because we don’t know how it ends.’
Moffat is one of the easiest interviewees one could have – and yet, ironically, one of the toughest. He speaks so easily and with such fluidity, it would be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. He cares passionately about the Doctor and is fiercely protective about the show; he is also very, very focused about what really matters.
We are talking about criticism he has received about his female characters who, to some, are perceived as weak, and needing a macho man to “rescue” them. ‘These are strong women,’ he argues. ‘If anyone needs rescuing, it’s the Doctor. As for “macho” - Matt Baker, David Tennant? Really?’ (At this, he does a really hilarious, rather camp Dr Who action that is all 12 Doctors rolled into one).
Moffat’s background in comedy has, he feels, given him a good grounding in writing drama. ‘In comedy, you have to be doing something all the time. Have we done anything is always the question. Everything is about the next laugh. And the change in comedy has been that the audience now knows how it works. In the kind of comedy we do in Dr Who, you need to surprise the audience: do something you didn’t tell them you were going to do.’
It was a childhood dream of Moffat to work on Dr Who, and he still emanates an innocent glow when he talks about working on the show – a show that has come a long way from the one that, back in 1963, was conceived as an educational programme to explore scientific ideas and famous moments in history – ‘Well that lasted all of five minutes,’ he says.
His latest episode, Listen, is an extraordinary piece of work, with no monsters and just three characters. It’s a beautiful, lyrical piece that focuses on childhood fears – what’s under the bed. The truth is, like the Doctor’s “demons”, as Moffat calls them (oh yes, and ‘The Doctor’s also mad’), those things still lurk within all our lives. It’s a brilliant metaphor in the writing of someone whose subtlety often escapes people seeking an agenda.
Having just signed up for another year of Dr Who, and with the ongoing success of Sherlock, Moffat’s place in the Tardis of broadcasting in Wales looks secure. And for that, we really can be very grateful.
You can check out the interview at https://youtu.be/SGsGD9m3mIk