SDCC 08: ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Torchwood’ Press Roundtables Part Two

At this year’s San Diego Comic Con Julie Gardner, Naoko Mori and Steven Moffat met with reporters to talk about all things Doctor Who and Torchwood. This was the first press event of the con, happening on Wednesday before Preview Night. We journalists gathered at a closed off restaurant in a nearby hotel to meet with the three Brits, who had literally just flown in from London, dropped their bags in their rooms and then joined us for some great conversations about our favorite shows. Despite the jet lag, all three were very gracious and happy to chat.

Doctor Who (the Torchwood part can be read here)

Next, Steven Moffat joined us and, despite being very, very jet lagged, he was in a jovial mood, prompting us to dive right in with the questions. The first question was how involved he was in the specials that will be airing next year and the answer was “not at all.” He will be checking out the scripts, which he normally wouldn’t do, but being the incumbent show runner he wants to be aware of what will happen and be able to plan things out with what he wants to do with the show.

Next, I asked him if the show would retain the same format as it has since it’s return. I clarified that by wondering if they would continue to seed things throughout the series with a big payoff in the last two. Steven said that really was the only way to do a show like Who, but it certainly wasn’t a format invented by the show. Likewise, he wouldn’t do a structure where you have to watch every single episode to understand what’s going on. He likes the idea of stand-alone stories that have elements in them that payoff later.

Steven was very thrilled with the series four finale and though it was thought fanboy-ish by some critics, he found it to be more of a celebration of the new show’s mythology. He talked about how Russell T. Davies re-introduced elements of the old show into the new, but now the new show has been around long enough that it has its own mythology and can pay homage to its own history. The core audience for the show is children and four years is a long time for them, so, in a way, things from the first series are “old” to them so it’s important to celebrate the new mythology. Basically, he found the finale fantastically fun and how could you not enjoy that?

When asked if he was coming on board to a clean slate, Steven said that was one of the great things about Doctor Who, you don’t have to have a clean slate. You can choose whether the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS in a completely new environment or runs into an old friend or villain.

However, he does think it’s “inescapably true that Doctor Who is at its most pure when everything the Doctor meets and encounters is brand new, that’s what the show fundamentally is. It’s nice to bring back old things, but new things, new friends, new allies – that’s the really exciting thing. Each series there’s a whole bunch of new kids watching for the first time and they must think this is their show, not the one that their parents watched, not the one that their brother and sister watched, but their show. We don’t want them thinking, ‘well, who’s that, what did he mean when he said that?’ It’s that simple. He’s a fantastic man who travels in space and time with his mate and walks out and has adventures. That’s the whole format.”

The point that the American networks showing the program don’t get that the show is targeted at kids (it’s generally broadcast in the US at nine and ten o’clock at night) was brought up with Steven saying dryly “you’re [Americans] are getting it wrong, what can I say?” Being serious, he said that he’s really vexed by it. It’s a show that has sticker books and trading cards and is a “toy shop show.” Even though there are more adults than children that watch it, he theorized that adults watch it in the same way that they read Harry Potter and watch “Star Wars” or “Toy Story”, because they are targeted to children. The show is high adventure and adults can enjoy it as much as the films and TV shows they are supposed to enjoy. Given all that, he wouldn’t write the show for an American audience or for any audience, for that matter. His philosophy is to write the Doctor Who he would want to see. He believes the show would catch on in the States better if Americans just realized it’s really a show that the entire family can watch and have a really good chat about it afterwards.

He talked about how in England Doctor Who is so ingrained that parents will use it as a behavioral tool, as in “if you’re not good, you’re not going to watch Doctor Who!” So, those kids feel that if they’re watching the show they must be really good. Therefore, since he’s now running the show, he must be the best-behaved boy in the whole country!

Staying on the topic of the show’s perception in the US, the point was brought up that folks here either have never heard of it or really, really love it. Asked what he was going to do to increase its profile over here he quipped that “it would be really good to reduce the number of people who have never heard of it and increase the number that love it.” He continued to joke that it would be terrible if they decided to do the opposite. He did say the key to it to get the message out that kids, their dads and their moms will really love it. “There’s explosions, babes, spaceships, time travel – what’s the rest of television doing?”

The big topic was tackled next as the Time War was brought up and the question was put forth as to if we would ever find out what happened then. He said no, nothing to live up to it. As an example, he cited the original “Star Wars” where they talked about the Clone Wars and you’re little child brain went “woah, fantastic! There must be millions of clones, all identical that were grown in vats, lots of clones. New clones! Clones grown from trees. Brilliant! Then it [the Clone Wars in the prequel trilogy] showed up and it was a bunch of meetings.” He loved Russell T. Davies throwing in all those lines to the Time War, but nothing could ever really live up to the expectation. Somethings are better left mentioned, but not seen.

Steven said he has a fair amount plotted out for series five, but told us plainly that he was not going to talk to us about it. The main reason is that it’s almost two years away and if he starts talking about it now it will feel like a repeat before it even airs. He also wouldn’t talk about whether or not he had a commitment from David Tennant as far as continuing as the Doctor. Basically, if you want to know what happens to the Doctor, you watch Doctor Who. The show runs on surprise, so they don’t give away plot developments ahead of time. He firmly sees the show staying open-minded and described the Doctor as “the ultimate liberal and by which I mean he tells everyone what to do and blows up their planet if they disobey.” Steven says its an adventure show at heart and he keeps reading articles about them “sexualizing the Doctor” and he keeps thinking he’s been missing the good episodes. He was, of course, joking through all of this.

He did address a few things directly related to him, such as he didn’t really apply to the BBC when he was seven years old to run the show, but it was a quip he made that took on a life of its own. Also, the latest stories about him giving up five hundred thousand dollars to run Doctor Who instead of writing the last two “Tintin” scripts for Steven Speilberg are rubbish. He said those figures are completely made up by the press to sensationalize the story and he will be paid quite handsomely to run the show. He cleverly dodge more questions designed to get him to reveal more details about series five, other than agreeing that River Song’s backstory and which incarnation of the Doctor she was involved with was left purposefully vague for a possible return. After more talk about how the show is aimed for kids, but is definitely for the whole family, and some more about choosing writers that was very familiar with writing for TV and writing high adventure our time came to a close.

Steven Moffat is a very witty person and I really think he has the right concepts and themes behind Doctor Who. He’s the perfect choice to take over the reigns of the show and I very much look forward to series five in 2010.

Thank you to Steven Moffat for taking the time to talk with all of us. And thank you to BBC America for making it all possible.

Joseph Dilworth Jr.

Joseph Dilworth Jr. has been writing since he could hold a pencil (back then it was one of those big, red pencils, the Faber-Castell GOLIATH. Remember those? Now that was a pencil!). As the instigator of this here website he takes full responsibility for any wacky hi-jinks that ensue. He appreciates you taking the time to read his articles.