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Doctor Who takes place under your bed

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2011-04-21 Time Out London p24.jpg


BBC super-scriptwriter Steven Moffat talks about monsters, Matt Smith and being at the helm of two TV mega-hits

"The sky is black with work,' sighs Steven Moffat as he sits down near the bar of a west London members' club. And, with new episodes of 'Sherlock' to write and the current series of 'Doctor Who' to finish (this one is split in two - 'you get two premieres and two finales'), it's no surprise that he looks exhausted. He's also possibly still a little hungover, a day after winning the Outstanding Contribution to Television award from the Royal Television Society for a remarkable career that has taken in kids' TV with 'Press Gang', sitcom through 'Coupling' and Hollywood via The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn'. But it's the enthusiasm of a man living out his twin childhood obsessions that drives him on, while the twinkle of mischief 'I know something you don't' - surfaces repeatedly. Behind the worry lines, grey hairs and apologetic BlackBerry-checking, is a man having the time of his life.

Is 'Doctor Who' still the job of your dreams?

'Oh, it's fantastic: a brilliant job. The best I'll ever have, I'm sure. But savage to work on, for everybody. When I was taking over, Russell [T Davies] was working on two shows at once and I thought: I'm buggered if I'm doing that, a lazy man like me. Then "Sherlock" came up and became so big so quickly... I haven't had a day off in two years. And while I write, I have a superstition about never writing anything out of sequence, so if I think of a great line, I have to memorise it until I can use it in the script. So there's a lot in there!'

What can we expect for the new series?

'The Silence will be revealed, or more of them will be. We'll find out an awful lot about River Song, and a good man will die. We're not kidding!'

What's the perfect 'Doctor Who' monster in your opinion?

'Something domestic that can get into your house. Other sci-fi shows take place in outer space, "Doctor Who" takes place under your bed. Even something as exotic as a Dalek has a sink plunger, and that's really important - it locks into the world around you. It might be outlandish, but there's an emotional core that's crucial. And it's good if it's a good playground game - like the Weeping Angels. We've stolen an existing childhood game as our intellectual property!'

Have Matt and Karen taken the characters where you'd imagined they'd go?

'They're both so brilliant and idiosyncratic that I couldn't have anticipated it. Karen makes such a comedy virtue of the fact that Amy isn't actually that nice. Who says she has to be nice, just because she's the companion? And Matt comes into every scene from a strange angle. You never quite know what he's going to do. Which line will he race past, which will he hit? By a country mile, he's the most physically entertaining Doctor there's ever been, the way he flails around that set, this loose jangle of limbs... You totally buy that he's from somewhere else.'

Have you written with those idiosyncrasies in mind?

'I don't even really have to think about them, I just know. In the beginning I was writing a generic Doctor, which at that time would have been quite a David [Tennant]-y Doctor, so I said to Matt, find your way gently, because the new man may not be fully formed straight away. Each week he becomes more like himself. "Doctor Who" isn't a competition, it's a relay race.'

Do you approach writers with whom you want to work, or do they pitch you?

'Well, half the civilised world would fancy having ago, so we don't have any trouble attracting people. There are very few British writers who know how to write this kind of show. It's like movie writing at tremendous speed. But I'd love to get Russell back to do one.'

Does 'Sherlock' feel like an escape after the pressure of 'Doctor Who'?

'No! I love doing it! But we're still a very small team and if we get another good series then that may well become an industry too. It starts shooting in May, and I'm looking forward to it.'

What's next for 'Sherlock'?

'Loads of the original stories have hardly ever been done. Like Holmes and Watson first meeting, or John Watson getting

married. Now, that would be really interesting to explore, because Holmes and Watson have to adore each other...'

How concerned are you about the cuts that the BBC faces?

'If we're careless and lazy, we'll lose [the BBC]. We need to be less lackadaisical, because it embodies. the soul of the nation - the BBC is what we should be: barmy and good-hearted. It bothers me that the BBC goes into a welter of self-loathing whenever it gets criticised, but it's just holding it to a higher standard. It would rather improve itself than defend itself. And the people who would replace it we already know and we despise.'

After these two massive shows, what ambitions do you have left?

'I'm not sure I have any. How can I do anything bigger? I've never written a book or a play. But I haven't thought much beyond it. Most people quite enjoy working hard, but the stress and pressure - all the problems you haven't solved - that's what ages you.'

'Doctor Who', 6pm Sat Apr 23, BBC1.

Caption: Elementary stuff On the set of Sherlock' with co-writer Mark Gatiss

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