Interview: Doctor Who: Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat: Heaven Sent

Who 9.11.2The devastating conclusion of Fear the Raven has left the Doctor alone, fighting for his life. Doctor number 12 – Peter Capaldi – and showrunner Steven Moffat recently shared some spoiler-free hints on what to expect next. Nick Joy dodged the ripples in time to report for Sci-Fi Bulletin…

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Episode 11 (Heaven Sent) has been described as a one-hander, insofar as it has the Doctor more or less alone. What was that like to play as an actor?

Peter Capaldi: That was quite challenging. It was both delightful and frightening because you realise that there’s only a certain amount of faces you can pull and tones you can use in your voice. If you’ve used them all up in the first five minutes you hope others won’t get too bored, because there’s nowhere else to go! There’s no other actor. While they might wind you up sometimes, it’s great when other actors show up because they’re interesting and exciting. Otherwise it was just me… and it was hard.

What I really enjoyed about it was working very closely with the crew. Usually there are lots of other actors around and the focus is spread, but because it was just me and Rachel [Talalay – director of last season’s finale] – who I love – and the crew, we could all focus acutely on this story. It’s a great a story… even though it’s just me [chuckles]. It’s not just me sitting in a room talking, and that’s the funny thing. When they told me it was just going to be me I thought it was going to be pages and pages of dialogue, but it’s not, and that’s what really surprised me. It’s actually a story with a real threat and a real villain; it’s a very wonderful piece of writing.

Who 9.11.4Steven, when you started writing this episode – the show’s first single-hander – did you even think ‘What have I done?’ It sounds like a very difficult challenge.

Steven Moffat: Yes, I think I thought that every single day! I thought I was going to go mad. You don’t release how much of a scene is based on several people talking. On the other hand, I think I’d just written the big ten minutes at the end of Episode 8 [The Zygon Inversion] which is essentially just the Doctor. Other people nod but really it’s just him. I’d just written that and I was still thinking ‘Could he just monologue for the [whole] episode?’ He’s one of the very few characters you could do that with because he’s sufficiently conflicted, mad, full of different opinions, talking to himself – not necessarily agreeing with himself! – he is that kind of person. Some people alone in a room wouldn’t be that interesting. If the Doctor was alone in a room I think we’d still feel it was a bit crowded. Yes, it did drive me to the edge of madness; maybe when you see it you’ll think I went over the edge of madness!

While it’s essentially the Doctor on his own, there’s a monster actor in Heaven Sent played by the actor who was Colony Sarff in season-opener The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar.

PC: That’s right, Jamie [Reed-Quarrel plays] the Veil. But it’s more than just what it is. It’s a key that opens up… a pile of other things.

As early as last year you said you’d already worked out what was going to be the cliffhanger for this season’s penultimate episode. Has that structure/idea changed much since then, or has the idea pretty much remained the same?

SM: It’s pretty much the same as the idea I previously had. Oddly enough. [Laughs] That’s a surprise to me! It was an idea I had on the train because I was writing production notes at the time. I wrote that down and it has remained pretty much the same.

Who 9.11.1Was the cliffhanger companion specific? By that, I mean did it have to feature Clara, or could it have been a new companion?

SM: It wouldn’t have mattered, no.

Considering the chain of events that the Doctor set in to motion by resurrecting Ashildr, would you say that the Doctor is more reckless this year, or more devil may care? He’s gone from this period of introspection – Am I a good man? – and gone a bit too far now.

PC: Yes, I think he’s quite reckless. He’s realised that he has this wonderful gift – to be able to travel through time and space, to range around the universe with Jenna [Clara] by his side. What a wonderful position to be in. He’s really enjoying it, but the trouble with the Doctor is that he knows too much. He knows that there’s an ever-deepening shadow. He knows that things are in pursuit and he knows where it’s going to go, so I think he’s pushing that away. He’s deliberately trying to enjoy himself because there’s something very bad that’s coming.

Jenna was leaving the show, and then she wasn’t, and then she was again. How did this season’s stories change with her staying on? Were you able to play out Clara’s departure over a longer period of time?

Let me be braveSM: What we’ve done this year with Clara’s departure was Plan A. This was what I wanted to do with Clara all along. But Jenna said she wanted to leave at the end of Series 8. I sort of knew she didn’t really want to leave – I think she just felt that she ought to leave at the end of Series 8. And despite my various attempts to tell her what she was thinking – which I find never goes down well with human beings – she decided to leave at the end of Death in Heaven. So I wrote her out at the end of the episode. I was halfway through Christmas [special Last Christmas] without Jenna and then she said: ‘I’d actually like to be in Christmas’ and I discretely threw away the script I was writing and started again! Never told her that. I should have. And I wrote her out at the end of Last Christmas… but this time I sniffed the wind and wrote two endings. I wrote one version where she actually is the old lady and we last see her going up the spiral staircase and kill her on Christmas Day – so that was an ace idea! And then I wrote the other one [as used in the episode]. At the read-through we did the big heartrending departure and she changed her mind.

Peter and I did perform every form of emotional manipulation known to people on the world tour [summer 2014, to promote Series 8] – badly and ineptly – but I like to think in the sheer ineptitude of our apparent subterfuge we were charming. But what we’re doing now is the right way for Clara to go – in my view. I don’t get to write the reviews… but wouldn’t it be great if I did?

Who 9.11.5Will we still see the spiral staircase for her ending?

SM: No you don’t, sorry. It was a nice idea for an ending but it’s gone. Actually they always cut the spiral staircase. I only ever got one in The Snowmen. There was meant to be one in the 50th too [The Day of the Doctor].

Jenna said that she might want to come back to the show at some point but you’ve been reported as saying she couldn’t because of the way the storyline plays out. What’s your line on that – could she make a comeback?

SM: I think I said something which was translated from Italian and then back into English! I didn’t quite say that. I didn’t say she could never come back. That could never be true in Doctor Who because they always can. This is a show about time travel, so it’s entirely possible.

Speaking of things coming back. Is there a way that Gallifrey could return?

SM: Yes, because it’s out there, so you could definitely see planet Gallifrey again.

Your Doctor seems a lot more fun this series. He’s loosened up a bit. Did you enjoy that?

PC: I have enjoyed that. The great thing with Doctor Who is that he struggles to find himself. I still don’t even really know who this character is and I think that’s right – I think that’s how I’ll continue. Having the struggle with some of the darker aspects of himself has freed him to be more joyful. He’s really delighted about the position he’s in – what he gets to see is so amazing – and he gets impatient because he doesn’t want to look at dull things like reading gas meters or stuff like that. He just wants to look at the stars and planets and the excitement of all that. He gets impatient with human beings because he’s not a human and doesn’t see why he has to waste his time catering for them. So I think it’s nice to see him more cheerful but, of course, the weird thing is the way the whole series develops. So even though he’s being more cheerful, more terrible things are happening to him [laughs]. In fact, by the end [of the season] he’s thinking ‘I was right! I should have remained cynical and suspicious.’

Are we going to see a resurgence of the grumpy Doctor in Series 10?

PC: I don’t know. I think it’s an interesting position to be in because in a way I don’t think we were wrong to be grumpy [in Season 8] – he just can’t be bothered with dull human beings and their concerns. It’s an interesting combination now because if you’ve been following this Doctor you’ve seen him go through all these colours in all these different places. Where he goes now in series 10… I don’t know. But he’s been put through the mill.

Season 9 has in many ways been defined by its use of two-part stories. Have you been happy with the way they have played this year and do you think this is a format something you might stick with or will you change it up again?

SM: I’ll change it up again… on principle! Because changing up again is what you should do every year, otherwise you’re just doing the same thing you did last year, and why not just show the same series again? I think it has worked very well. I like it, partly because it has made the episodes unpredictable. Of course, the longer you do it, the more predictable it becomes, but it has made you not quite trust where you are five minutes before the end of an episode, which is what I like.

The second episodes are often different to the first parts.

SM: Yes, even the Zygon two-parter is quite different; the first one was global and the second one is quite intense. I think that makes sense. You can’t treat it like a movie because you don’t take a week’s break in the middle of watching a movie; that would probably ruin the experience for you. This is our movie where it has to be acceptable that you take a week off in-between and watch other people’s television shows – but I think it has worked. I like cliffhangers; the show was designed for cliffhangers.

And that’s where we’ll leave you hanging… for a couple of weeks, until we return with Peter’s and Steven’s views on future companions, petitions against sonic sunglasses and more…

Check out our spoiler-free review of Heaven Sent here

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