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Feature: Doctor Who
Steven Moffat has won awards for his own series, Press Gang and Joking Apart, but writing as part of a team proved to be a whole new challenge, as he tells us…
Over the course of a 20-year career, Montreux winning writer Steven Moffat has generally avoided writing for other people’s series, apart from one contribution to the Dennis Waterman vehicle Stay Lucky. Instead, he’s written his own creations, including Press Gang, Joking Apart and Chalk, and contributed to anthology series such as Dawn French’s black comedy Murder Most Horrid. So how tricky was it working as part of a team on the new Doctor Who?
“Fairly difficult,” he writer comments. “It was very different to adjust to – I don’t mean that in ego terms, I had no problem with the direction and the tonal notes as it were, as I thought they were exactly right in what they were doing with Doctor Who. Were I making it up for myself I’d have gone in very much the same direction, I thought they were spot on. It’s just it’s harder…
“It’s questionable which is harder,” he continues after a moment’s thought. “Being in charge of your own show, which is usually what I’ve done, you never really have to think about tone or style because you just do it. So if somebody else had come in to write a Press Gang or a Coupling, although they never did, then I suppose I’d have had to do an awful lot of talking about how it worked, and it could be quite hard for that writer to adjust to what is, ultimately, just how I write as it happens.
“So on this, with Russell as very much the authorial presence, I’m having to adapt to his style and his approach to the characters as best I can, and it’s questionable which is harder. I think being a junior writer on a show like this might be harder, in some respects, than running your own show. The work isn’t as lengthy, but the head writer is operating on their natural instincts and everybody under him is working on someone else’s natural instincts. It’s a tough old job actually,” he concludes self-mockingly.
Prior to this, Moffat had of course written the Who spoof The Curse of Fatal Death for Comic Relief, though he doesn’t think that had anything to do with him getting the job. “I doubt Curse of Fatal Death had much to do with it,” he says. So what did? “Truthfully, I really, really don’t know what the selection process was. From my point of view, when Russell got the gig I sent him a congratulatory e-mail, because I know him, and he e-mailed back saying if it was more than six he’d be asking me to do some, which was great, and when it was more than six they got in touch again. From their point of view, I don’t know what the process is. I mean, I’m not a terrible catch for something like this, because I don’t normally do series television, other people’s shows, but I don’t know… I know that Julie Gardner and Russell are both very keen on Coupling, so that probably had more to do with it than Fatal Death.”
by Anthony Brown
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