‘Every Doctor and Davros scene is great!’
At this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, Steven Moffat took part in an audience question-and-answer session following an advance screening of The Magician’s Apprentice, the first episode of Doctor Who series nine. This is the spoiler-laden compilation of Moffat’s answers from the session introduced by Andrew Collins and featuring several audience questions.
That’s quite a cliffhanger…
Steven Moffat: Yes. Ending on ‘Children’s favourite’ Doctor Who about to shoot a kid in the face… No one’s going to say we’re cozy. Is he dark…? A little!
There’s fun in there too, like the Doctor on a huge tank playing a guitar. Where do those ideas come from…
I think I was with Brian [Minchin, Executive Producer]. We were talking at the time about the fun of keeping the Doctor off stage for a while. The Doctor’s off-stage presence is a very powerful thing in Doctor Who. The moment he’s not there, everybody’s talking about him. That’s slightly transient, so if you’re going to do it, when he does come on, he better be doing something unexpected and fun. Also, Peter [Capaldi] rather fancied the idea of playing the electric guitar, so… I think he meant in the TARDIS. I don’t think he realised it’d be on a tank in front of an audience. So, that was fun. I mean, it’s a great moment. I love that. And if you listen carefully, he’s actually playing the Doctor Who theme tune in there… Never knowingly under tarty, us lot!
What kind of tank was that?
I’m not a tank expert, so I can’t remember what kind of tank it was. I remember [Doctor Who designer] Michael Pickwoad saying, ‘You don’t want a Centurion. They don’t handle well’. He says something like that at every tone meeting. He says, ‘Of course, chimneys didn’t have steps like that in the Edwardian era…’ He’s a very educated man who has lived, I think, about 700 different lifetimes, including driving various different tanks and being able to assess their manoeuvrability. He doesn’t seem like that at all… He something of a gentlemen. If we needed a tank, he could drive it…
You’ve seen Doctor Who before, haven’t you?
Is this something where you specifically looked for a ‘moment’ or is this something you’ve wanted to come back to for a while? It is one of the most popular stories of the whole 50 years.
Well, I remember watching that [Genesis of the Daleks] when it first came out. I remember thinks, ‘That is the best ever Doctor Who story’. How clever Terry Nation was, in having invented the best Doctor Who monster ever [the Daleks]—and to this day it stand as the best Doctor Who monster ever—he then invents the best Doctor Who villain ever, in Davros.
The surprise to me, when I went back to re-watch Genesis of the Daleks, was that your memory of it is that it’s all about the Doctor and Davros arguing, then you realise that it’s one scene. It’s a beautifully written, brilliantly played scene, but it’s actually quite short. Then I went through all the other Davros stories and noticed that every Doctor and Davros scene is great, they’re all great. You can say what you like about the surrounding story, and I think they’re all good, when those two characters are on screen together, it’s magic. It is always, always great. So I though it was time to [see that again]. As you’ll see in the next episode of this, getting a lot of screen time between those two just works. I don’t know why it works, but it’s brilliant.
Am I grooming people…? I didn’t expect it to go so dark!
I mean, do you make sure everybody else’s work is a little bit bad so you look good…?
That went from grooming people to deliberately sabotaging them. No, part of my job is not about grooming people… or deliberately sabotaging them. ‘Right, I’m going to change all the spelling in this script, they’ll never give him a job now!’ I do that sometimes. I can confirm I’m doing neither of those things. When the time comes, it’ll all be taken care of and it’ll all be marvellous.
Brian J. Robb
Thanks to the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Steven Moffat and the audience at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh.