Steven Moffat: Interview

Steven Moffat


Words by Matthew Bell

This year’s Special Award recipient was never in any doubt about what he wanted to be when he grew up. As a child, he loved TV’s Doctor Who and devoured Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. He even wrote his own version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella Jekyll and Hyde.

“I never really had any other ambition and I was always very clear that I wanted to be a scriptwriter,” reveals Steven Moffat, who, of course, went on to write Doctor Whoand Jekyll, and create (with Mark Gatiss) Sherlock.

Moffat‘s big break in TV came in 1989 on ITV’s BAFTA-winning teen drama, Press Gang, for which he wrote all 43 episodes. More than two decades later, having penned hundreds of hours of drama, this most prolific of writers is now the showrunner (creative head) of the BBC’s two biggest dramas, Doctor Who and Sherlock.

Moffat’s early work mined his own experiences: a stint as a teacher for Press Gang and BBC1 school-based farce Chalk; and the ups and downs of his relationships in the BBC sitcoms Joking Apart and Coupling. Is it important to write about what you know? “I was a teacher once so I wrote about teaching; I was going through the terror and the triumph of dating so I wrote about that,” he replies.

“Every writer writes about what they’ve personally been through, just because that’s what’s to hand. I don’t know if it’s an important rule of thumb – you should tell the story that most animates you. But I think it’s important to not make a mistake like writing Chalk,” he adds.

“Chalk didn’t work, although there were some very good people involved,” Moffat recalls. The early signs were promising. “Of any sitcom I’ve ever witnessed being made, and I’ve seen loads of them like Men Behaving Badly and The Vicar of Dibley,Chalk had the biggest laughs on the night. As a piece of theatre it was brilliant in the studio – people came back every week; the audiences were rapturous. The trouble was when I watched the tape at home, it was far too loud and raucous [for TV],” he says.

“The second series was commissioned before the first went out and they didn’t have time to cancel it. There’s no feeling on earth like working on a show that you know is doomed and already tanking.”


“I’ve always been much more passionate about television than movies and I don’t particularly want to be a foreigner. I‘d rather work here – working in British television is pretty cool.”



Writing comedy is a tricky business. Coupling, which followed Chalk, was a hit with both critics and viewers. Yet while making it, Moffat had a few shaky moments. “When we filmed the best ever show we did for Coupling – half of which was in Hebrew – the audience kept leaving on the night; I was barely getting laughs at all,” he recalls. “We moved the episode later in the run because we assumed that it was terrible, but when it came out it was the show that put us on the map.”

When Coupling ended after four series, Moffat jumped genres, writing episodes for the regenerated Doctor Who, including ‘Blink,’ which won him a BAFTA in 2008, and a modern-day version of Jekyll for BBC1.

“After many years of doing comedy, and rather farce-based comedy at that, it looks like a leap, but it didn’t particularly feel like one,” he recalls. “People talk grandly about range, but the truth is that you’re just writing.”

As a writer, Moffat prefers the end result to the process: “I love having written and getting a good show out there. I think it would be overstating things a little to say I love the actual writing.”

His advice to would-be scriptwriters is “just write. The big break is easy if you’re good enough. I hear people saying, ‘I’m desperate to write – I’ve written this script.’ And I want to say: ‘Why haven’t you written 50 scripts?’

“The first 50 will be shit and so will the next 50 and probably the 50 after that,” he continues. “You have to write all the time and not worry so much about going to the right parties or the contacts you have in the business – they’re completely irrelevant. And stop badgering people for advice because there almost is none – If you write a truly brilliant script, it will get on the telly.”

Doctor Who returns this autumn and Sherlock next year, and Moffat has no plans to move on. “The moment it’s time to stop on a show is not an ambiguous feeling – you just suddenly think, ‘I can’t do it anymore; I’ve had enough’,” he says.

Moffat has dipped into Hollywood, co-writing the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’sThe Adventures of Tintin: “I left it early and handed over to Edgar [Wright] and Joe [Cornish] – I ran away from LA to Cardiff to do Doctor Who, which is an unusual career path.”

“I’ve always been much more passionate about television than movies and I don’t particularly want to be a foreigner. I‘d rather work here – working in British television is pretty cool.”

And, rarely has there been a better time to work in TV. “It’s extraordinary,” says Moffat. “Our drama is doing phenomenal business everywhere and look at the amount of bloody brilliant comedy we’ve got at the moment. This is a golden period.”

Peter Capldi as The Doctor



I’m not sure how I feel about this casting. On one hand it’s nice to see an established actor have the roll. It might bring a darker, more mature Doctor than before. On the other hand, I think he might be a touch too old. But, like I did with Matt Smith, I’m going to give him a chance to grow into the role and see what happens.

I don’t think it’s fair for any of us to pan his ability to be The Doctor without seeing how he does first. He may surprise us with a very complex, and intriguing portrayal as Smith did.

It will be interesting to see how things turn out, but I’ll tell you one thing: I’m betting the regeneration is during the 50th anniversary special. Why? Because there’s something River said the Clara and The Doctor. To enter your own time stream is fatal, that the winds of the vortex would tear you apart. Ok, so where’s the Doctor? Inside his own time stream. How will he get out if it’s fatal? Sounds like a regeneration to me.

Always pay attention to the words spoken during a Moffatt episode. He writes from the back to the front, so a lot of them foreshadow the climatic episode.

50th Anniversary Special Funding Problems

The Radio Times is reporting that Steven Moffat had quite a lot of trouble with the budget for the 50th Anniversary special. Here’s the quote: “It was unbelievably tough actually making the 50th…It was extraordinarily difficult mainly because we were trying to push the boat out and as ever we didn’t have enough money. We were making a feature-length Doctor Who on the schedule and budget for an hour. We’re doing it in 3D on the budget for 2D.”

This sort of using-Doctor-Who-as-a-testbed for shiny new special effects isn’t unprecedented; as mentioned in “The Writer’s Tale”, RTD recorded similar woes about the budget for “Planet of the Dead” and “The Waters of Mars”. He’d been asked to start making high-def telly but didn’t get commensurate funding for it (reading between the lines, it would appear that they pulled it off by cutting some FX shots and the miracles Julie Gardner could work negotiating with other BBC departments to obtain extra funds; unfortunately, Moffat doesn’t have a Julie Gardner). We’ve mentioned the show’s funding issues before (and, for that matter, that the BBC has decided to scrap future 3D productions on grounds of not being worth the trouble for money), but Moffat has been fairly discreet about the show’s budget up to now. Perhaps that’s something to do with why Moffat was so cagey on the length of the anniversary episode, if he wasn’t sure how much money he was going to have to work with (and BBC Worldwide, which is putting up part of the funds, just did their annual budget).

Peter Capaldi The Oddsmakers Favorite To Replace Matt Smith



Peter Capaldi remains the bookies’ favourite to be named the next Doctor Who on Sunday.

Capaldi, 55, who is better known for playing hot-headed Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It, has been placed above Daniel Rigby, Ben Daniels and Rory Kinnear to play the next Doctor.

Click here to see the other favourite actors in-line to be the new Doctor

William Hills has 11/8 odds on Capaldi, making him the favourite to be handed the role, although Black Mirror actor Daniel Rigby has made a late entry into the top five seeing his odds slashed from 40/1 to 9/2.

Joe Crilly, a spokesman for William Hill, said: “Peter Capaldi remains the favourite as we await the announcement, but it does not appear that the result is as cut and dry as first thought with Daniel Rigby coming in for some late support.”

The unveiling of the 12th Doctor will be announced on Sunday during a special live showon BBC One, which will see the next incarnation of Doctor Who emerge from the TARDIS.

It is thought that Capaldi’s name began to surface after Doctor Who creator Steven Moffat said he would not rule out casting an older Doctor.

He said: “We’ve never not considered an older Doctor. It is completely on all the lists we make- there are absolutely older Doctors.”

Previous frontrunner Rory Kinnear has slipped to fourth place at the bookies after he revealed he had never seen an episode of the show.

Billie Piper, former Doctor’s assistant Rose Tyler, is the only woman listed by Paddy Power to take on the title role after it was rumoured earlier this week that an actress might be in the running.

But with odds on at 33/1 it doesn’t look like Piper will be emerging from the TARDIS on Sunday.

Odds to replace Matt Smith as the Doctor

Peter Capaldi: 11/8

Daniel Rigby: 9/2

Ben Daniels: 5/1

Rory Kinnear: 15/1

Andrew Scot 10/1

Doctor Who: Steven Moffat’s 12th Doctor audition script

Want to know what potential 12th Doctors have been auditioning with? Doctor Who Magazine has shared one of the scripts…

No Doctor Who scoops, no rumours, and certainly no spoilers lay ahead. Instead, what we have here is a little piece of behind-the-scenes info inching open the tiny aperture into the 12th Doctor casting process.

In the new edition of Doctor Who Magazine, showrunner Steven Moffat has shared one of the not-to-be-filmed audition scenes written for potential 12th Doctors. Why not grab a friend during this morning’s coffee break, make haste to the stationery cupboard, argue over who’s going to be Clara, and act your TARDIS socks off. It’s what we’ll be doing.

Here’s Moffat’s introduction to the scene, courtesy of the Radio Times:

“I had to make up some scenes for the auditions, cos I haven’t written the real script yet. So here, in an exclusive, as a big old tease, is one of the imaginary scenes I wrote. Couple of things. Nothing to glean about what’s coming in the stories – this scene will never appear in the show itself. Also, you’ll learn very little about Number 12 – naturally, this was written before the casting began. And anyway, the scenes we use for the auditions are designed more as obstacle courses than ‘proper’ scenes. Fairly generic Doctor stuff, for someone to spin into a new version of the Time Lord. So, with the proviso that there’s nothing to learn here (won’t stop you trying, I know) here is – sort of, kind of, not really – the first scene for Number 12…”


The new Doctor is checking out the new body. Clara, watching. It’s been a few minutes, they’re both still adjusting.

THE DOCTOR: Right then, eyesight. Not bad, bit blue. Ears – not pointy, right way up, more or less level. Face – well I’ve got one. Oh, no – French!

CLARA: French.

THE DOCTOR: I’ve deleted French! Plus all cookery skills, and the breast stroke. And hopping. Never mind hopping, who needs to hop. Ohh, the kidneys are interesting. Never had that before – interesting kidneys.

CLARA: Are you all right?

THE DOCTOR: I don’t know, do I look all right?

CLARA: I don’t know.

THE DOCTOR: How’s the face? Seems all right from the inside. Nice action, responsive. Bit less heft on the chin. How is it?

CLARA: It’s… okay.


CLARA: It’s a bit… you know.

THE DOCTOR: No I don’t, I haven’t seen it yet.

CLARA: Maybe it’s just new.

THE DOCTOR: Have you changed height?


THE DOCTOR: You sure?

CLARA: It’s you, your height, you’re the one who’s changed.

THE DOCTOR: And look at your nose.

CLARA: What about my nose?

THE DOCTOR: It was really cute, I loved your nose, you should’ve kept it.

CLARA: I did, it’s the same nose, it’s the same all of me. You’re the one who’s… regenerated, whatever you call it.

THE DOCTOR: Are you wearing a smell?

CLARA: Do you mean perfume?

THE DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose it could be perfume.

CLARA: You’ve always liked that perfume, you said so.

THE DOCTOR: No I didn’t, that was the Doctor.

CLARA: You’re the Doctor.

THE DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose I am. That’s going to take a bit of getting used to.

CLARA: Yeah, it really is.

Read more:

Olivia Colman plays down Doctor Who rumours

Not sure if this has any legs or not, but it’d be interesting to see how a woman doctor will be received by the fan base. While it doesn’t bother me at all, I’m sure they’ll be a lot of fans that’ll leave in droves. Thus, each move my Moffatt and company will need to be made carefully to prepare the fan base for any major change such as this. For me, as a writer, I prefer a female heroine over a male anyway. Strong male characters in science fiction are a dime a dozen, while female heroines aren’t. Thus, why all my MC’s are female.