Unreality TV was at London’s BFI this afternoon for a screening of the Doctor Who series 7 premiere, Asylum Of The Daleks. Exciting stuff! But let me tell you how a Doctor Who screening traditionally goes: You walk in, become a wee bit star-struck when you see Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and the other one with the awesome hair (more on that later). You bundle into the plush BFI screening room and watch a jaw-dropping hour of television, loaded with spoilers and at the end, Steven Moffat modestly implores everyone present not to ruin the surprise by posting spoilers.
And how does he repay that (anticipated) silence? By being irritatingly vague and non-committal on virtually every question thrown at him. As usual.
So, without spoiling any of Asylum Of The Daleks (which is really an episode about a Sontaran ping-pong match that turns ugly – the title’s a red herring), here’s some of the best bits from the Q&A session that followed:
Host Richard Bacon tries to blackmail Steven Moffat into spilling details on the 50th anniversary episode: “I won’t tweet spoilers for this episode if you confirm you’re going to do a multiple-Doctor episode for the 50th anniversary celebration.”
Caro Skinner: I was on set the other day with Steven, and he was standing between a Dalek and a Weeping Angel, and there was a moment where he didn’t know which to touch first.
Arthur says Karen wouldn’t read their final script. He said: “I’d read it and wanted someone to talk to about it.” Karen says: “I didn’t want to make it real.” She went on to say that it took her a few weeks to get round to reading the script.
Chronologically speaking, the final scenes Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill filmed for Doctor Who were not their exit scenes for the show. Matt Smith confirmed that the final filmed scenes were in episode 4, The Power Of 3. Arthur said their final scene together involved Amy, Rory and The Doctor walking into the TARDIS.
How long have Rory and Amy lasted in comparison with other companions? Moffat says: Well, actually Karen and Arthur have been in Doctor Who longer than any of the new series companions. But I suppose on average, on the old series, three would be a lot of years for a companion. I mean, most of the Doctors didn’t last more than three.
When asked if he found writing for a show that has no boundaries in space or time stressful, Moffat gave this answer:
You’re writing a show which has limitless scope. Is it also quite stressful because you don’t have parameters – you can just go anywhere and do anything with this show: It’s extremely hard work, rather than just stressful. In most shows, people could just have a chat for a while. Any other show I’ve ever written, you say “Well, they can just have a chat and the plot will just slowly evolve.” With Doctor Who, you’ve got a very small number of regular characters and they’ve got to walk out the door and into a completely new world, whatever that is. So you’re on your mettle, you’re working all the time. Everything has to be described and catalogued and all that. It’s tremendously hard work. I’m never going to say it’s daunting or stressful, because it is far too much fun to be in this position to call it that. I love this show. I absolutely adore it. And if I didn’t I would leave instantly.
Does Steven Moffat prefer Doctor Who or Sherlock? With a typically evasive answer, he says: “Actually, by a remarkable effort of will, I am able to like each of them better than the other. I do actually prefer them to each other. And I think, scientifically with maths, they are actually better than each other. What a piece of luck!”
Moffat talks about dropping two-part episodes from this series: The one thing we dont have this year is any two-parters. I asked Marcus, does it actually save us any money to do a two-parter, and the answer was no. And it’s better to have a first night than a second night. My little boys always get cross when it’s a two-parter. I haven’t got a rule against it, but what I said was if we’re working on a script and it suddenly becomes clear it needs to be a two-parter, that’s where a two-parter comes from. Not from saying we will allocate two episodes here. We wanted big, movie sized ideas, brand new every single week.
Karen Gillan says the Doctor Who Tumblr account is the second biggest in the world after Beyonce. Matt Smith describes being in a room full of Tumblr fans as ‘humbling’.
Matt Smith says he was always signed to Doctor Who until 2014:
I hear this too, people keep telling me this. But I haven’t signed anything. [Moffat: He didn’t understand what he was signing. We’ve got him for 50 years.] But that was all signed years ago, and I’m not an idiot. I’m not going to leave Doctor Who when it’s in its biggest year ever. [Moffat: It’s always in its biggest year ever, Matt!] But it’s his birthday. There’ll be a party and stuff. It’s going to be exciting next year.
Well, it just sounds like I’ve signed something else, when I was always going to be around. There was never any plan not for me to be around next year.
Richard Bacon asks Moffat about lunching with David Tennant, hinting that Tennant might reprise his role for the 50th anniversary: “No, I had dinner with him the other day. He’s a friend of mine. Why wouldn’t I have dinner with him? So you’re asking if I’ve eaten in the presence of any previous Doctors recently? Do you want me to give you a list? It would mean nothing. I’ve had Sunday lunch many times with Peter Davison.”
I’m not telling you what we’re doing for the 50th. But if you want, I will email you every time I go out for dinner.
What’s Karen Gillan going to miss about Doctor Who? “I’m going to miss these guys (pointing to Matt and Arthur), and I’m also going to miss running down corridors away from monsters. And now I’ve got to do TV shows and stuff where I’m just talking at people. Matt: “Steven actually said to her earlier ‘So, Karen, how’s the slow decline?'”
Arthur Darvill talks about the effect of Who on their futures: “Anywhere we go, there’s always the chance that we’ll end up working with someone who’s written or directed or worked on an episode of Doctor Who. It’ll never leave us. There’s a huge network of people who have been involved in the show.”
Nicola Bryant (who played Peri in the classic series) was in the audience, prompting Richard Bacon to ask if Moffat was having dinner with her: “Is it the multiple companion episode?”
Moffat says the line between die-hard fans and casual viewers is getting blurrier: “The most difficult thing is working out who the fans and casual viewers are. They’re getting awfully close together. They really are. The level of knowledge of the casual viewer is greater, they watch every episode several times, download it, buy the DVD. Fandom is spreading. To be honest, I don’t find it that difficult. The absolute hardcore fans like me are gonna watch it anyway. We just watch it repeatedly, even if we hate it. For the casual viewer you just have to keep it accessible. With Doctor Who, there’s always a new companion to have explained to us, and like Karen said years ago, people in this country are sort of born knowing about Doctor Who. It’s like they know it before they’ve seen it.
[Points at Matt Smith: Everyone knows that he’s the Eleventh. No-one’s ever called him the third.]
On how many times The Doctor can regenerate. We thought he’d cleared this up last year when The Doctor said he could regenerate a potentially unlimited number of times, but Moffat said today: “He can regenerate 12 times, so there can be thirteen Doctors. UNLESS…I make something up.”
Asked why he can’t put Sherlock in Doctor Who, Moffat says that Sherlock is a fictional character in The Doctor’s universe. To which Richard Bacon replies: “You could MAKE SOMETHING UP.”
Rory Who? It became a running joke that kids in the audience addressed questions to Matt and Karen, but many of them hesitated to remember Arthur Darvill’s name. We like to think it’s because they were about to call him Rory, then realised their mistake.
Steven Moffat talks about why he doesn’t read fan forums (again):
I used to look at the forums back in the day before I took over the show. People were aiming invective at Russell all the time and were quite nice to me. But when I took over the show, I left it two weeks and watched what happened. And without having done a thing, I was already a hateful, terrible man. With various agendas. No, you can’t go on those things. Apart from anything else, they are entitled, are they not, to have their pub conversation without me eavesdropping. They’re entitled to say “I hate that guy and they’re doing it all wrong”, because that’s what we all do when we go down the pub. That’s fine. We shouldn’t be eavesdropping on those conversations.
Do the fans expect you to listen to them: No. Absolutely not. I’ve been a fan of the show. I am a fan, it’s just complicated at the minute. The fans don’t think they should be running the show. They don’t think I should listen. And what they always say when you ask them is no, ignore us, we’re having fun. What the fans want and what I want is to appeal to a mainstream audience and have a massively successful show that they can – in the privacy of their own homes and forums – complain about.
Matt Smith’s favourite Doctor Who monster: “My favourite is the Weeping Angels. The Silence creeped us all out, but I think it would be the Weeping Angels. In this, the Daleks have come up really scary to be honest.” Karen Gillan says: “I’ve got a strange choice here. Not from any series that we’ve done, but the Sisters Of Plenitude. The cats! I mean they are really freaky, imagine meeting them in real life!”
Moffat asks a girl in the audience if she was afraid of the peg dolls in the episode Night Terrors. She bluntly replies no.
Which episode is Steven Moffat most proud of? “The Eleventh Hour because what it had to do was so difficult. I don’t suppose it’s anyone’s favourite and all that, but what it had to accomplish – in an hour, which seemed so impossible – we had to replace the incredible David Tennant, we had a new era of Doctor Who, we had to convince people that it was the same show, even though not one particle of it was the same. I remember saying at the first read-through that this is the most scrutinised hour of our television lives.
And which episode does he feel was his weakest? I’m not that wild about The Beast Below. Bet you didn’t expect an honest answer, did you? I don’t think I nailed that one. I think the world of it never felt real. I think it was a lot of very sweet ideas not cohering into a real world. Matt agrees: There were great moments, like showing someone the stars by hanging them out of the TARDIS by their ankles. I think it’s ingenious.
In case you think I’m being randomly humble, since Doctor Who came back in 2005, I don’t think there’s been a bad episode. I think some have been better than others, and by the standards of Doctor Who, I don’t think there’s been a bad one.