Shopping Cart -

Your cart is currently empty.
Continue Shopping
This website use cookies and similar technologies to improve the site and to provide customised content and advertising. By using this site, you agree to this use. To learn more, including how to change your cookie settings, please view our Cookie Policy
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

“When I agreed to do one more run, I thought, ‘Sod it, I’m not doing the march to the scaffold.’ I want it to feel like a brand new show.”

As shooting on next year’s series continues apace in Cardiff, we conclude our in-depth chat with outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat...

“The lovely thing about Doctor Who is, I don’t have to run it. That’s Steven’s problem.”


Heaven Sent is about many things – fear, loss, loneliness, reflection, death, rebirth – but most of all it’s about grief, and how we survive it. But last year, when I interviewed Heaven Sent’s writer, Steven Moffat, for DWM’s preview of the episode, he offered one further interpretation: Heaven Sent, said Steven, is about being the showrunner of Doctor Who. “I do think there’s a reading of it that living the same life over and over again while you smash your face against a wall of pure diamond is roughly what it’s like making Doctor Who,” he told me. “You kill yourself every time, and then you get up and do it again. You never stop.”

We decided to cut that bit from the preview – the ‘wall of pure diamond’ talk was too spoilery for pre-transmission – but now it’s Wednesday, 27 April 2016, and I’m sitting in Steven’s living room in Richmond-upon-Thames. He’s here, too. Obviously. It’s the evening. It’s raining outside. Yesterday,Hugo Award (the winners will be announced in August; it could be Steven’s fifth Hugo win). So I ask him about this alternative reading of the episode: smashing your face against a wall of diamond for near-as-hell eternity – is that really what showrunning Doctor Who is like?

The Hugo-nominated Heaven Sent.

“Yes,” he laughs. “You get up every day, and every problem you encounter is brand new. It seems to you that you’ve never encountered this problem before. ‘My God,’ you say to your wife, ‘I’ve never encountered a problem like this before.’ And your wife says, ‘Yeah, you single time. You don’t remember that you’ve done all this before. You get convinced that this is the one that’s going to destroy you.’ ‘But,’ you say, ‘this is the one that’s going to destroy me.’”

He recalls a conversation with director Daniel Nettheim at Roath Lock, the Cardiff studios in which Doctor Who is made, during the filming of 2015’s Zygon two-parter, The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion, which Steven co-wrote with Peter Harness. “We had the usual script difficulties,” explains Steven. “I had this insane conversation with Dan where he was saying, ‘This bit just doesn’t work. What am I going to do? I’m shooting on Monday.’ And this is about Wednesday. I said – and I didn’t mean it ironically – ‘I told you, I’m going to get up early tomorrow and fix it.’ And that made total sense to me, but Dan just looked at me, like, what?! But that’s the job. ‘These are the episodes that will break us,’ I remember saying to Brian [Minchin, executive producer]. But I love those Zygon episodes. I absolutely love them. They’re probably my favourites of last year. Peter Harness is a joy to work with – big brain, big ideas, constantly inventive. And Daniel Nettheim shot the hell out of it, he really did.”

When Steven’s impending departure – he is leaving Doctor Who at Christmas 2017 – was announced back in January, his friend (and fellow Who writer and co-showrunner on BBC One’s Sherlock) Mark Gatiss tweeted, somewhat cryptically, ‘Sclavus liberates felix est,’ which translated into English means, ‘The freed slave is happy.’ Has Steven ever felt trapped on DoctorWho? Is showrunning Sherlock – the fourth series of which began shooting on 4 April – light relief in comparison?

2015’s The Zygon Inversion – one of the episodes that Steven co-wrote.

“Well, no,” insists Steven. “In all honesty, I’ve never, ever really lost my enthusiasm for Doctor Who. There have been darker times, and lighter times, but mostly lighter times. The workload on Doctor Who is so savage that unless you utterly, completely love it, you wouldn’t show up. And it’s the kind of well-paid job that you would absolutely only ever get if you were already being offered better-paid jobs. That’s the truth. And I can point to the one that I gave up on: I walked out on my three-picture deal.”

When Steven was offered the role of showrunner in 2007, he’d been contracted to write three Tintin films for Steven Spielberg, but he wrote just one; turning down the other two – and a lucrative Hollywood deal – in order to work on his beloved BBC sci-fi show.

“It’s not just hard work on Doctor Who; it’s also difficult work. It’s painstaking, and tricky, and fiddly, and demanding. It’s not like any other show, where you’ve got certain mainstays you can rely on. Sherlock is not an easy show to do at all, but I do know that, if asked, I can give you a yard of Mrs Hudson talking to Sherlock Holmes, and it’d be really good. You’d really like it. There is no equivalent on Doctor Who. There’s a little gang around Sherlock and John, and you can generate stuff that’s good and strong… not easily, but without making a huge effort of imagination. It’s the same world, it’s the same London… whereas Doctor Who, from the moment they step out of the TARDIS, you’re saying, ‘Why don’t they just go back in?’ From that point on, you’re kind of screwed.”

Has he ever been tempted to co-showrun Doctor Who? It works on Sherlock, with Mark.

“Well, the reality, is I do co-showrun. With Brian. With the script team, with the producers, with the directors. Doctor Who is hugely collaborative. It’s a slightly different situation with me and Mark on Sherlock: we literally came up with that show at the same time. Sherlock is, like, me and Mark. That’s what it’s always like. It’s what you’d expect if Mark and I were to work together. You can hear both our voices quite distinctly, I think. Whereas Doctor Who is such a different thing. You want Doctor Who to belong to everybody who writes it. You want it to be Sarah Dollard’s show, and Jamie Mathieson’s show, and Peter Harness’ show. Ideally, you want a niuses writing it. And sometimes that works. But Doctor Who is not a show that you want to screw up on, because it never gets forgotten.”

Purchase options below
Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Doctor Who Magazine - 502
If you own the issue, Login to read the full article now.
Single Issue - 502
Or 799 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 1.92 per issue
Or 2499 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 3.00 per issue
Or 3899 points
Annual Digital Subscription
Only $ 4.31 per issue
3 Free Back Issues
Was $55.99
Now $55.99

View Issues

About Doctor Who Magazine

DWM 502 looks forward to the new TARDIS team of the Doctor, Bill and Nardole! Contents include exclusive interviews with showrunner Steven Moffat and with casting director Andy Pryor; artist Mike Collins shows how he created the storyboards for the 2015 series Doctor Who; the new comic strip, The Pestilent Heart by Mark Wright continues; the history of DWM with BBC Enterprises in the mag's earliest days is revealed; the Time Team watch Amy's Choice; The Fact of Fiction focuses on the 1973 Third Doctor adventure, Frontier in Space; plus prize-winning competitions, official news, reviews, previews and much, much more!