The new season of Doctor Who doesn’t premiere on BBC America until September 19th, but that didn’t stop showrunner Steven Moffat and current Doctor Peter Capaldi from having a laugh over at NerdHQ in San Diego.
During the conversation, for which all proceeds go to Operation Smile, Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi talked about what sort of hero the Doctor is, how many more Doctors there might be before the show is done, their favorite past Doctors, personal favorite episodes, the sonic screwdriver, whether there might ever be a female Doctor, how many ideas get discarded each season, favorite fairy tales, and which movies they quote most often. Here are the highlights of the chat.
How the BBC treats Doctor Who, since it came back on the air and had an explosion in popularity:
STEVEN MOFFAT: It’s hardly affected the catering, at all. The BBC, it has to be said, is incredibly supportive of Doctor Who, and always has been, since we came back. Maybe not back in the day. The BBC is passionately supportive of Doctor Who. We couldn’t really ask for more support than we get. I could ask for more money, but then we don’t really have any in Britain. We lost it all. We just lost the money, so we’ve been pretending for awhile. The BBC is also under considerable threat, at the moment, which is a tragedy for all broadcasting everywhere.
What sort of hero the Doctor is:
PETER CAPALDI: For an alien, I think he’s pretty human. He has a lot of flaws, but he’s basically on the side of good and he wants to protect people. He wants to protect the weak.
MOFFAT: The Doctor doesn’t know that he’s a hero. He doesn’t know that there’s a show about him. He’s racing around the universe, trying to see everything and experience everything. Anything that he’s on his way to, he encounters injustice, fear or people who need help, and he can’t stop himself. He’s always the passerby that becomes the last man standing, which is the best story. He’s somebody who isn’t a hero, but becomes a hero when he needs to be. He also has this idea in his mind of someone called the Doctor, who is never cruel, never cowardly, never gives in and never gives up. That’s the ideal to which he aspires. He doesn’t privately think he’s as good as that, but my god, he tries. In that struggle is the heroism, and in that struggle is the story.
How much Capaldi enjoys playing the Doctor:
CAPALDI: I love playing the Doctor. Who wouldn’t? It’s the best role that’s ever been, and ever will be.
How many Doctors there might before the show ends:
CAPALDI: I hope that many, many actors and actresses will have the opportunity to play the Doctor, at some point in their careers, so there will be a lot of Doctors.
MOFFAT: End?! It will never end!
Whether Steven really chose the name Clara because it’s a good name to shout:
MOFFAT: Yes. I was going around the house shouting various women’s names to try them out. I don’t know what it sounded like. I must have sounded to the neighbors like I was remonstrating with a large number of women. “Abigail! Clara! Oh, that’s good! Clara!”
Their favorite past Doctors:
CAPALDI: I love all the Doctors. I think they’re all fabulous. I grew up with the first four because the show started when I was five years old, and I started watching it when I was five. I don’t know what my mother was doing. So, those first four guys – William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker – are the guys that got into my DNA, and I was with them, all the way. And then, you reach an age where you get into sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and you leave the show behind. But, I always kept going back and watching it. We’ve had amazing actors. They’re all fabulous. But you have to think that Christopher Eccelston took on this role when nobody knew whether it was going to work. I’m really lucky. I came to the show when it was incredibly successful and I stepped into the shoes of Matt [Smith] and David [Tennant], who have done fabulous things with it. They made the show really successful in America. I’m just surfing the wave of what they’ve done. But, Chris came to the show when nobody knew whether Doctor Who was just going to be a giant turkey. We knew it wasn’t going to be, but the rest of the world didn’t know that. And he was brave enough and courageous enough to put his acting cojones on the line, as it were. Hats off to him. He’s amazing.
MOFFAT: When the Doctor says sex, drugs, and rock and roll, he means love, ibuprofen and easy listening. When I was a kid, I always thought that the best Doctor was the current one.
Their personal favorites, of all the episodes that you’ve filmed:
CAPALDI: I have to say that I’ve just been really excited to do every episode that I’ve been in. I still look around and I’m amazed that I’m Doctor Who and that I’m on the TARDIS and that there are Daleks and all of the creatures around. Every single episode has something very particular and individual to it that always makes it exciting. I loved “Listen.” I loved the idea of seeing what the Doctor got up to when he wasn’t having an adventure. That was also an episode that really set the tone for the relationship between Clara and the Doctor, and how understanding of him she is.
MOFFAT: I loved “Listen,” as well. I thought that was great. I also loved Robin Hood. I adored watching that. I thought it was so much fun. I know it’s a controversial one, but I loved “In the Forest of the Night,” which I know not everyone went for. I thought it was lyrical. If you didn’t like it, it’s really worth a second look at it because there’s some extraordinary dialogue. There are loads of them. Whatever we’re doing, at the time, I think is the best thing, ever. We’re shooting one, at the moment, and I think, “This must be the best thing, ever.” And I’m finishing writing one that I hope will be the next best one, ever.”
Whether the Doctor’s daughter might ever come back:
MOFFAT: If I had a plan, I wouldn’t tell you. What I would say, if I had a plan, is that there are no plans yet.
Why the sonic screwdriver on-set prop is dangerous and not as cool as the toy version:
CAPALDI: It’s a prop. It doesn’t do that stuff. I’m sorry to disappoint you. I’ve gotta have a word with you about Dalek’s, as well. It’s a very handsome looking prop. It’s much heavier than the toy ones, and with very rough metal at the edges. If you’re not careful, it would slice your thumb open, and it also rips up your inside pocket. It created a hole in my jacket and it fell out of the lining. So, it’s not a prop that people throw around or have fun with. It has to be taken great care of. Also, my very first day with the sonic screwdriver, I was really looking forward to the moment where I got to use it, and the end came flying off. Some bumbling props guy had to go into the bushes to find it. So, I have to tell guests who come onto the set to please handle it with care.
MOFFAT: I remember when they first brought the toy version to the set, and I looked at it and thought, “This is brilliant! This is a toy version that can do all of the different things, as opposed to the three different screwdrivers that we have. How come we can’t make a screwdriver like the toy? And the art department looked at me and said, “We don’t have their budget.” So, when you buy a toy one, understand that you’ve got a better one than Doctor Who, and it makes the noise.
Whether there might ever be a female Doctor, now that the Master has been regenerated as a woman:
MOFFAT: I think my answer is very clear in the show. It’s very, very clear in the show, and that’s the only place it matters. Nothing good will ever befall Doctor Who, unless you always cast the best person for the role, at the time, whoever he or she is. That’s it. It’s very clear what I think, as far as the mythology is concerned. You can see it. It’s on the show. It’s possibly potentially even on this panel.
How many ideas Moffat goes through and then discards before deciding what to include, in any given season:
MOFFAT: God knows how many. It’s an infinite number. People say, “Where do you get the ideas from?” And I say, “By knowing which 99% of your ideas are rubbish.” Most of the ideas you have are terrible. I think of an idea, and then I think, “Oh, that’s awful.” That’s the process. Very, very rarely and occasionally, you have a good idea. People say, “Do you write it down?” And I say, “I don’t have enough good ideas to need an aid.” I will remember a good idea. I will remember where I was standing, and I will go home and tell my wife, “I had an idea today, and it was good.” It’s what you don’t write that makes a script good. It’s about the stuff you throw away.
What impression Clara will leave on her Doctor, since the Doctor and the Companion always leave an impression on each other:
CAPALDI: I think she has taught him to know himself, and to try to understand human beings in a more generous way. I think she brings him an understanding of love and compassion for the depths of the human soul. In the form of Jenna [Coleman], she’s brought me immense comfort and happiness, and made my first season as Doctor Who unforgettable as an acting experience because she’s such a class act. She’s a star, and an incredible person. She’s fabulous.
Whether Capaldi has ever had any desire to direct an episode of Doctor Who, if Moffat would allow it:
CAPALDI: I don’t know whether he’d let me or not, but I don’t really. I absolutely love playing the Doctor, and I also see that the task the directors on Doctor Who have is such an immense challenge. The reason Doctor Who looks the way it does and the reason it’s so good is because of the extra effort that all of the people who work on the show put in. What they’re asked to do, on a day to day basis is like director’s boot camp. They’re asked to deliver massive scenes with lots of monsters and explosions and gags and tragedy and comedy. I’m just really happy to be playing the Doctor, and not to have all of those problems. I think they do it so beautifully, and I just admire them so much for doing it. I have enjoyed directing, but I think I just like directing to explore that whole artistic thing, as opposed to saying, “I want to be a director.” That’s a whole different ballgame when you take it on, as a profession. I just wanted to have a go at it. But, Doctor Who is too technically challenging. You have to really know your stuff.
MOFFAT: He is good enough to do Doctor Who, absolutely. If you imagine I go around disallowing Peter Capaldi from doing this, you understand very little of the ecology of television. But, I would have to question how in the hell you could do both of those roles. We work the actor playing the Doctor into the ground. It’s insane. It’s unfeasible. And we work the directors into the ground. Short of coming out of the episode to direct it, instead of being in it, and maybe missing another couple while you’re in prep and post, it would be very, very hard. Yes, he’s good enough. Yes, he understands the show well enough. It’s not me disallowing anything.
Their favorite fairy tales:
CAPALDI: I enjoy Rumplestiltskin. In the original version of Rumplestiltskin that I read, which was the Grimm’s fairy tale one, when they find Rumplestiltskin, he was so furious that he’d been discovered that he stomped his foot onto the ground with so much power that his foot went into the ground right up to his waist. And his fury was so great that he grabbed his other leg and tore himself asunder. I was a lovely kid, as you could imagine. That was a Scottish bedtime story.
MOFFAT: Are you sure that’s the original, or did your parents just hate you? I’m not very good with fairy tales. I never remember any. The story that I most often was a book called Tom’s Midnight Garden. It’s not a fairy tale, but I found that moving and fascinating when I was a kid, and I still do. I love that book, and I’ve been remaking it, ever since. Philippa Pearce should sue me. Sorry, but I can’t think of any fairy tales. I’m too disturbed by what Peter said. How does he think Goldilocks ends? Torn asunder by three bears.
CAPALDI: I think that is how it ends, actually.
MOFFAT: I’d love to hear your bedtime stories. “And then, Snow White imploded.”
Which movies they quote from the most:
MOFFAT: The Princess Bride. “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” It doesn’t come up as appropriate that often. I love that film. It’s my favorite film.
CAPALDI: I quote a lot from a film that I had a very tiny part in, which is not why I quote from it. I was very lucky to have a tiny part in the film Dangerous Liaisons, in which John Malkovich plays the evil Vicomte Valmont. He has a great line where he says, “I have no illusions. I lost them on my travels.” You can see I’m a very cheerful guy. We’ll finish that off with a fairy tale with lots of blood and gore. I keep quoting from Midnight Run, at the moment. “Only in America!”