Peter, is River Song pleased to see her ‘old man’ again… and do we finally get to see that Picnic at Asgard, hinted at when River first (last?) met the Doctor in Silence in the Library?
Peter Capaldi: She doesn’t know it’s me! So that’s quite strange. No matter how much I tell her, she doesn’t believe it. [Chuckles] She thinks I’m mad, so that’s quite fun. She doesn’t realise [who I am] and I keep trying to convince her. Along the way I get to see her flirt with all of these people and behave in an inappropriate way… and I’m rather shocked by it. Then, finally, I get to convince her that it’s me and she’s slightly disappointed. What’s happened to her husband? He’s aged terribly! And do we get to see the picnic? (Pauses) I don’t know if we get to see it. But we set it up – we almost get there.
Steven Moffat: No, it was much more selfish than that. First of all, every year I have to contemplate that this could be the last one I ever write – because I hadn’t signed up for next year at that point. At that point I hadn’t – unless they fire me – which would be quite sensible! (Laughs) So, as I thought it might be my last one I thought I’d get River in, which would bring me full circle. Also, and much more importantly, I was very very tired and Brian [Minchin – producer] was going at me ‘What are we going to do for Christmas?’ and it just cheered me up that River could be in it.
I hadn’t written River for years and I love writing for her. Also Russell [T Davies – Showrunner Seasons 1 to 4] has been at me for a while [booms] ‘You can’t write her out yet – Capaldi and Kingston. It’s a sex storm!’ It’s not called ‘Sex Storm by the way! I think he was in the middle of his Cucumber phase and I told him that’s not what happens in Doctor Who. ‘You’ve forgotten, you old fool!’ (Laughs) And they are very sexy together.
You’ve got Matt Lucas and Greg Davies in the Christmas special. Did you have them in mind when you were writing these parts or was that at a later point?
SM: It was at a later point. I didn’t have them in mind particularly, no. Those were our first outlandish ideas and then, on that occasion, it happened. It’s not even a very big part but they were available and fancied showing off on Christmas Day.
The 2014 special, Last Christmas, was quite dark and bleak in points. Is this special a reaction to that and lighter in tone?
PC: It’s more festive fare, although I do like a scary ghost story at Christmas. This one’s much more fun – it isn’t as frightening [as last year’s].
Steven, do you agree with Peter that people should be scared on Christmas Day?
SM: Peter thinks that about every day! (Laughs) Doctor Who has got to be a bit like that but I think that this one is quite a funny Christmas special. Last year, although Father Christmas was in it, we had it quite dark. This year, because the series itself goes quite dark towards the end, we bring it back up. It’s Mr and Mrs Who, back in action – and it is mainly about them. It’s one huge domestic in space… with a huge robot!
SM: We have to mention Christmas a lot! No, not much else. I suppose you are slightly aware that it sits on its own; it’s not part of a run of a series. They’re quite rightly insistent at the Beeb that it is properly Christmassy and you have to be aware that some poor bastards are being dragged screaming in to the living room to watch Doctor Who when they are normally excused that duty. So you want to be accessible to them as well. But, to be honest, I think that Doctor Who fans like myself are always a bit concerned how accessible Doctor Who is while the general audience have no problem understanding it. It’s just a man in a box who travels in time and talks crap.
Because you have to make it accessible on Christmas Day, do you have to double guess yourself to avoid it becoming ‘purists versus the rest of the world’?
SM: If you mean hardcore Doctor Who fans like me versus the other one hundred percent, there are almost no hardcore Doctor Who fans. That’s the truth. Internationally, Doctor Who is watched by 70 odd million people. It’s not that I don’t love hardcore Doctor Who fans – because I am one, and I obsess about all the same things. I suppose I’m a purist, but professionally I can’t be. You have to make it for a wider audience or they’ll take it off the air. That’s a bad thing, and we don’t like that.
PC: Not really, no. I think they’re great. Steven’s fantastic, the team we have is fantastic, and to be honest my hands are pretty full just playing the Doctor. I trust Steven completely… they already bring together great people. I have my ideas about where we should go and what the characters should be like and generally we agree. Sometimes we don’t, but generally it all comes out in the wash. I think it’s good to have creative relationships where you can disagree with people. Doctor Who is a programme that, although it’s a very big show internationally, people have a very individual relationship with. Everyone has their own idea of what Doctor Who is. And it’s not the same. Everybody doesn’t agree – and that’s the way it should be. I have a very personal view about it, but in answer to your question, no, I’m not interested in sticking my oar in where it’s not necessary. I will make my feelings felt if I think it’s going in the wrong direction.
Now that we know the name of the Doctor is Basil – as revealed to Osgood in The Zygon Inversion – I wondered if it had been influence by Brush or Fawlty?
SM: I don’t know! [Laughs] I don’t know why we decided on Basil – I’m trying to remember. I’ll have to ask Peter. I don’t think he’s being serious [about being called Basil]. But if he had a first name, I think Basil would be a good one for the Doctor. I think he’d like Basil – shades of Basil Brush and shades of Basil Rathbone.
While still on the subject of The Zygon Inversion, one of the highlights of this season is that episode’s climactic ten-minute speech. How did that feel when you got that script? Do you think the Doctor should be giving out this message of peace – of people sitting down and just discussing things?
PC: Yes, I think he should be sending out this message about peace, because it’s also evoking who the Doctor is. Those are his opinions and I think it’s very good that he expresses them. Yes, it was quite a challenge to see quite how long it was – there was more and more of it! But it was a great speech and a great expression of that Doctor’s character, so I was thrilled to have a go at it.
I remember doing it the whole day long. It’s quite challenging and also it was the day the American ambassador visited [the BBC Studios at Roath Lock]. There were so many visitors on set – on Doctor Who we’re thrilled when people come to visit us and generally I’ll show people round the TARDIS – but I also had nine pages to do, which is a bit of a struggle. The American ambassador arrived with all of his security guys and they all gathered around a monitor to watch. It was very sweet because I heard this round of applause going out; they weren’t used to the workings of a television studio and didn’t realise it wasn’t a theatre!
Did they enjoy your American accent?
PC: Did I do an American accent? (Pauses) Yes I did! I think the new show has not engaged so much with the real world where the old show used to do it more, particularly in the 70s. There’s a real place for engaging with events that are going on in the world – the Doctor was always at the forefront of environmental issues of population. He was always on top of all of that during the 70s and we seemed to have drifted away from that. It was nice to do something that was more reflective of what’s going on in the world and also to help children understand more about what’s going on in the world.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times that you’re working on series 10. Is there any firm start date on filming?
SM: If you’re talking about scheduling, that’s BBC One and they will speak [for themselves]. I know that what I’ve signed on to do is 13 more episodes of Doctor Who including a Christmas special, but I’m trying to argue for slightly more than that. But we’ll see.
SM: Oh yes, it’s all in action. It’s not that long away. It’s pretty close considering that we’re doing Sherlock as well. I don’t know why people think I don’t work hard enough. People actually say that. I might be shit at it, but I work very hard.
Perhaps you could squeeze another Tintin film in when you’ve got the chance [Steven co-wrote the screenplay of the Steven Spielberg-directed The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn]?
SM: People say I don’t make enough Sherlocks. With Tintin there’s one! One!
Peter Jackson [Director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and producer of Tintin] has mentioned a few times now that he’d like to direct an episode of Doctor Who.
SM: He mentioned it, and when we email he doesn’t reply! I think his plan is that we all go to New Zealand and spend six months making it and our plan is for him to come to Cardiff and make it in 12 days, so I think there’s the disparity. I think he’s a genuine big old Doctor Who fan but I think his schedule is difficult. I don’t know, but I’m not quite sure what a movie director who can do anything he likes would get out of our budget and schedule, because the skillset required is pretending you’re Peter Jackson without a budget. I’m just trying to wind him up now! (To see Peter’s response to this, visit his Facebook page )
SM: Beyond the fact that I permanently think we don’t have enough money? No. Doctor Who is a moneyspinner, so it’s not that straight a transaction, Doctor Who does bring in money and we’re not getting cuts, no.
Final words to you, Peter. Summarise the Christmas special in a single sentence
PC: It’s certainly Doctor Who in a more comic sort of vein, with lots of snow… and Dickensian streets… and monsters… and flying saucers and stuff like that!
So, let’s a raise a glass for the Christmas Special. Incidentally, a merry Christmas to all of you at home!
The Husbands of River Song airs at 5.15 pm on BBC One on Christmas Day.