The bulk of the book is taken up with his Doctor Who work, which is familiar but covered in precise detail. There are early synopses and numerous quotes from rare interviews with Holmes and his colleagues, along with letters sent by Holmes to Doctor Who fanzines where he sounds like a die-hard fan of the show, with ideas and opinions uncannily close to those expressed by Steven Moffat! There’s a sense that Doctor Who ‘got in the way’ of Holmes enjoying a more celebrated career, but also a sense that Holmes didn’t want that. Indeed, his attempts to pitch his own series are self-effacing to the point of being self-sabotaging; they are rambling, vague, almost unreadable documents which give little idea what the shows will be like or even if Holmes is capable of writing them. There’s a sense that he had no ambition to move outside his comfort zone; rather than generating new ideas, he kept resubmitting the same ones, which were unfortunately, mostly, crap. That said, his piloted-but-unbroadcast sitcom On The Run seems to have been the One That Got Away and both Northcliffe and Lituven 40 had great potential.
So is this really a defence of Moffat, that he adopts an approach to storytelling and to Doctor Who history that seems to be an elegant combination of Holmes and the equally notable Douglas Adams? My point is that Holmes was an iconoclast – derided by some fans (later to be in such a minority that they seem now to be almost like a misguided cult) for his disregard of myth and his tendency to introduce major ideas (such as the regeneration limit) seemingly for minor plot purposes. These are exactly the strengths that have made him such a popular figure in Doctor Who history, and exactly the aspects of Moffat’s episodes that the current showrunner is being criticised for.
John Nathan Turner always used to say the ‘the memory cheats’, that fans have a way of nostalgically raising old episodes of Doctor Who beyond their actual level of quality. He was wrong. Now that we can see most of these stories on DVD, we know that for the most part, history doesn’t act hagiographically, instead it gives us a clue as to how the present might be interpreted in the future. Moffat isn’t destroying the series, he’s Robert Holmes reborn.
Robert Holmes did a lot to set the mythology and style of Doctor Who. As we have seen in the 50th anniversary, Steven Moffat has done the same.
The “deconstruct your heroes” trend may have begun in 1986, but it’s The Dark Knight with which it becomes the default approach to big, heroic characters. And notably, Sherlock was developed in the wake of The Dark Knight. But here we have the story in reverse - the dark and tortured hero learns to be human. It’s not a story about the awful price of heroism, but about the fact that the ordinary and the heroic can be connected and brought together.
This is, of course, increasingly standard territory for Moffat. Indeed, there’s a sense in which he’s been writing this basic story for most of his career. Joking Apart and Coupling are both about brilliant but difficult men learning to interact more functionally with the world. The River Song arc eventually settles into this dynamic, and really, all of his “the Doctor learns about girls” stuff is a variation on it.
While this article was written before Capaldi’s debut as the Doctor, the statement is equally true for the twelfth Doctor.
"Kill the Moon" has been controversial due to its apparent pro-life slant (or at least, its attempt to feature abortion). The Blue Box podcast team suggest another view: that the author never sets the message; it is the audience who creates it.
I struggle to agree that authors never set a message to their work. They do not always only set out to create something populist. But audiences always bring something of their own to the story. If they did not, the art would not be durable.
How are we supposed to take this any other way than the program saying that it’s never a good idea to have an abortion, or that people can’t be in control of their own fate about such things, or that the medical professionals don’t want anything to do with it and can offer no help? It’s intensely troubling; whichever way you fall on the debate.
Anderson was concerned that he did not pick up on the “abortion” theme of the story. Is it a concern when you do not identify a theme in a story? We all bring our own things to the stories we watch. We should never be ashamed when we do not see the same thing as others. Neither should we attack others for not seeing what we see.
Harness has written large Pyramids of Mars’ famous exchange about balancing the death of one man against the lives of many across the entire story; here we see a Clara whose concern is for an individual, in sharp relief against the Doctor – whose concern is similar but universal. It’s either exceptionally intelligent writing, or an incredibly lucky coincidence, but the way the two characters reflect one another’s preoccupations and yet arrive in entirely different places by the end of the story is as apt a demonstration of the series’ newfound maturity as anything we’ve yet seen.
Andrew Ellard, in his tweetnotes for “Kill the Moon” describes the story as “A cool beer after a season of tequila shots.” This story was the first (ignoring “Robot of Sherwood”) story in series 8 not written or co-written by Steven Moffat.
[…] This is the dark version of the Gareth Roberts’ joyous Who sitcom-dramas. As @PhilSandifer said, it’s forcefully old-Who. […]
The last half of series 8 is something fascinating. While each of the first five stories were a spin on Moffat’s Doctor Who (with Roberts’s “The Caretaker” transitioning to his vision of Doctor Who), the last half of series 8 is different. Three new writers, with three new voices.
Were you inspired by any previous writers? How much freedom were you given in writing your episodes? Thanks!!
I like to think that the Mummy concept is a very Moffat idea. Of the monster that only the victim can see. But that’s just me self-aggrandizing. I was given a ton of freedom, but am very open to good notes, which from Steven tends to be the case. If he gives you a note which improves the ep tenfold, but means completely rewriting it, you shake him by the hand and start the rewrite with a spring in your step.
While Steven Moffat has co-written three stories this year, and apparently re-wrote “Vincent and the Doctor” and “The Doctor’s Wife”, Mathieson’s comment blurs the authorship statements. Art may have strong voices, but it is always a collaboration.
How much does the story change from concept to production? […]
In my case, massive changes. In both Flatline and Mummy, lots of big rewrites, but when you get a good note from Steven Moffat, you pay attention. In the case of Mummy, I was far too ambitious to begin with. The train was stopping off and visiting ‘The Seven Wonders of the Universe’. The Mummy’s method of killing and origins were also a lot more convoluted to begin with. But then the reality of 45 minutes sink in…
Focus on the story that needs to be told. 45 minutes is a short time, but enough to tell a whole story.
I’ve always been fascinated by the process of collaborative writing that goes into making this show.
How much input did Steven Moffat have on your two scripts (or just Mummy, if you want to avoid Flatline spoilers)? Were you given a story outline and asked to expand it, or did you have more or less free rein? Were many scenes or moments added by Moffat after you handed in your last draft?
Steven steered me away from an overly complex version of what you just saw, which is too complex to get into here. He also direct wrote a few bits between Clara and the Doctor, which I feel is as it should be. Their relationship has to have continuity between scripts. The ‘sad smile’ stuff was him, the talk about Clara hating The Doctor.
“You don’t give them what you think they want. That would be mad! The only useful index you’ve got is what you would like,” said Moffat, speaking during a panel session at the MIPCOM conference in Cannes.
“It’s really a strange way to write a story, and an arrogant way to write a story: to give them what they want. You don’t even know what birthday present to give the person close to you! How would you know what everybody wants?” he said.
“I honestly don’t think anybody makes a film or television programme for any reason other than ‘wouldn’t it be brilliant to get someone to pay me to do this?’”
This could be argued as a reason why series 8 is not popular for some. Or this could be seen as another Moffat quote that hides its sageness in a silly joke.
Let’s consider this quote on what it means: do you give an audience what it wants or give them a story you want to tell? The latter doesn’t need much arguing, though can lead to something more obscure. However, giving the audience something they want is closer to pornography: temporary satisfaction.1
Such as the fan-service stories “The Five Doctors”, “Journey’s End” and “The End of Time”. ↩
This, to me, is the story we’ve been waiting for Peter Capaldi to have. Fully formed, the Twelfth Doctor is a bombastic, infuriating, arrogant, charming, scatterbrained, dark and manic man of action as he takes charge of the situation with absolute ease, despite getting the psychic paper a little wrong and having the “stupid” sonic go on the blink. He even talks to himself, literally, with a fabulous little cameo of sorts which will make you punch the air. And, whisper it, the jelly babies are back!
Mathieson’s script manages to blend humour with darker moments, and this work perfectly for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, who has perhaps never struck that balance as effectively as he does here. There’s something almost joyous about watching him piece together the mystery of the mummy, and lie awake at night, talking to himself in the absence of a companion. The episode deals somewhat with this incarnation’s coldness, but we get to see him enjoying himself again, too, showing off to a carriage of people, or waxing lyrical about the area of space they’re flying through.