Attention Whovians! After its mid-season break, Doctor Who returns to the schedules of both BBC America and Canada’s SPACE Channel on Saturday, March 30th @ 8:00 p.m. EST/PST with eight brand-new episodes. In the season 7.5 premiere, The Bells of Saint John, the Doctor (Matt Smith) and his new companion, the feisty and enigmatic Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), battle an adversary that is brand-new to the Who universe, the Spoonheads. This episode also guest stars Celia Imrie as Miss Kizlet.
Earlier this week, the show’s lead writer/executive producer Steven Moffat spoke with me along with some other journalists about what fans can look forward to in these upcoming adventures. The following is an edited version of our Q & A. Enjoy!
Could you talk a bit about what Jenna-Louise Coleman brings to the series and to the relationship with the Doctor as well as Matt Smith?
Steven Moffat: Well, in a way Doctor Who is almost more the story of the companion. It’s his or her take on the Doctor. It's that person’s adventure, which they go on it with the Doctor, and in that story, the companion changes more than the Doctor ever does.
As far as what Jenna, in particular, brings. Well, her character of Clara is tough, she’s fast, she has a tremendous wit and this sort of unimpressed quality with regard to the Doctor that makes him “dance” a bit harder, I suppose. Clara is always a little bit out of his reach, but she’s also secretly devoted to the Doctor, as he is to her. That’s all very much driven by Jenna’s own style, which is fast and snappy.
Is this Clara different than the other two Clara's we have already met?
SM: You’ll have to wait to see how things play out, but you will notice in Saturday's episode (The Bells of Saint John) that there are significant resemblances. Just as there were significant resemblances between Clara and Oswin there are, again, significant resemblances that are consistencies. However, this time around they might be pointed out in a slightly more obvious way.
In “The Bells of Saint John” are you trying to tell us that we're too tied to technology with the Spoonheads?
SM: No, I'm just trying to tell a really good adventure involving the Doctor. What this show often does is grab hold of whatever is omnipresent in your life and turn it into a monster.
What can you tell us about the Doctor’s new nemesis, the Spoonheads?
SM: Well, I'm not going to tell you much because you'll learn all about them on Saturday, but suffice to say Wi-Fi covers every civilized country now. So if something were to get into the Wi-Fi, it would pose a problem for us all and be a new way to invade us.
In this upcoming second half of season seven, do you have a favorite episode or scene that you can share with us?
SM: I would say that my favorite episode is next Saturday's episode. It's probably always true that the next one to air is the one I'm most focused on and most excited about. That said, I think they’re a number of highlights. The Bells of Saint John is a great episode. I think Cold Warwith The Ice Warriors is a terrific traditional episode. We’ve got some new Cybermen coming up, and we’ve got a great season finale as well.
I change my mind all the time about which my favorite is and, again, it's almost invariably the next one.
What do you think it is that makes the story of Doctor Who so universal that everybody can get in to it?
SM: Accessibility in a way. I mean, you can start watching Doctor Who at any point in its history. You don't have to catch up with the rest of it. It's a very simple myth of a man that can travel anywhere in time and space inside a box that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. That is as much format as we have. You can join it anytime, get hold of it and, you know, dare I say I just think it's one of the great pieces of television entertainment that's ever been.
That's why we latch onto it. It’s terrific, it's simple to understand what it's about, it's hugely entertaining and every so often it completely reinvents itself to feel at home in its new era, which is really is key ingredient. After all, we are on our eleventh leading man (Matt Smith), so the show always feels at home in the present day because it constantly adapts itself.
How did you manage to get Dame Diana Rigg (The Avengers, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) to guest-star on the show this year?
SM: It wasn't me, it was really Mark Gatiss who wrote that episode and who works on (the TV series) Sherlock with me. He was appearing in a play with Diana Rigg’s daughter, Rachael Stirling, at the same time he was writing a Doctor Who episode. So he said to Rachel, “Look, I think you and your mum should play the mother and daughter parts in this Doctor Who I'm writing,” and they were up for it. So it was all done through Mark and his little black book; he knows absolutely everybody.
What is it about Jenna-Louise Coleman that when you watch her work, you think, “Damn, I really made the right decision in hiring her.”
SM: Well, I mean, the most obvious answer to that is that she's a terribly good actress. I know that sounds like an incredibly dull thing to say, but it's the truth. You can be as beautiful and charming as you like, but if you're not terrific at acting, everything else will mean nothing on the screen. Again, Jenna is a terrific actress, and she also has great comic timing. She looks like she belongs somehow next to Matt Smith. They have enough in common and yet have enough sharp contract that when you stand the two of them stand together, it makes for an instant team.
Since you grew up loving Doctor Who like many of us did, what has it been like to go from behind the sofa to behind the curtain as it were?
SM: Because it sort of happened so long ago – I've been involved in this for quite a long time now, nearly ten years – I'm starting to forget. It's very exciting as well as massively demanding. I don't have any doubt that Doctor Who always had been and will always be that. And, you know, your fantasy stays intact and the idea of Doctor Who always remains thrilling. I don’t think you could function on the show unless that was true, but, you know, and it's a terrible thing to say in a way, I've been on the other side of the curtain for quite a while now and I'm starting to forget that this used to be a show that I wasn't involved in.
One day when I'm not involved in it, it will all come rushing back to me, but right now it feels as if I’ve always worked on it. Again, it retains its excitement along with its shine.
During the course of discovering the mystery behind Clara, is this Clara is ever going to remember her other incarnations? Will we get to see that?
SM: Well, I know the answer to that question, but I can’t give it away (he jokes). All will be made clear and you will uncover the mystery of Clara in the next eight episodes.
With the Weeping Angels, the Silence and now the Spoonheads, you've created some of the most recognized and iconic Doctor Who monsters, but in all the episodes you've written, which monsters were the most fun to write and why?
SM: I'm tempted to say the Weeping Angels because I'm looking at one right now in my back garden (he says with a laugh). The one I got the most kick out of might have been the Silence. I loved the gimmick of the Silence as far as you couldn't remember them. I just thought finding ways to employ that and to make that frightening were very exciting things.
So I hugely enjoyed writing the Silence. The Weeping Angels are, of course, by far were actually the most popular adversary I've invented, and I’m sure that will always be the case. They are, however, quite difficult to write for because they don't move and it's always really hard to figure out how you're going to do a chase scene.
How do the Spoonheads really compare in terms of scare factor with villains like the Silence and the Weeping Angels?
SM: Well, that's not for me to say, really. I never know which ones are going to be the big scariest and so on, but I would say that The Bells of Saint Johnis an action rollercoaster, where the Weeping Angel and the Silence stories were more consciously designed to be sort of scary adventures. So it isn't really up to me, but rather the viewers to say which one gives them nightmares. So I'll not prejudge it. Let's wait and see what the audience thinks.
I'm looking forward to the return of the Ice Warriors in the upcoming episodes, and I just wanted to find out what was your impetus for wanting to bring that particular villain back and also some of the challenges in re-imagining that old foe?
SM: The impetus really was Mark Gatiss. I wasn't that keen initially on bringing the Ice Warriors back. They've never been any special favorite of mine from the old series. I thought they were good, but I never quite got into them. However, Mark Gatiss kept nagging me about bringing them back, and then he came up with an idea in his episode, Cold War. I’m going to leave the details of that a surprise, but that really made The Ice Warriors come to life for me.
So it was at that point that I really got into it, but that was Mark's creativity rather than mine. As for the challenges, well, The Ice Warriors are far less familiar to the general audience than, say, the Daleks or the Cybermen. So that gave us a chance to tweak things a bit and create a really good super-duper version of the one that already existed. So it’s a design classic that has been “buffed up” a bit for HD (high-definition) TV as opposed to the originals that were created for the fuzzy old television sets.
As you look at these eight episodes coming up, what would you say that as a writer and a producer were your biggest challenges and surprises?
SM: Well, every episode is a challenge, and I suppose one of the biggest challenges is the monster. You’re always a heartbeat away from the monster looking ridiculous, you know? So they're always hard. Insofar as surprises, I'm not sure. I mean, Doctor Who is the most exhaustingly planned TV show on Earth. We have so little time to make one. We make them in sort of a couple of weeks really. So everything is planned down to the last detail and it's relatively rare for something to surprise you because you've tried to factor in every single thing that could go wrong.
That said, I was very pleasantly surprised how effectively, realistically and compellingly we were able to create a submarine for the episode Cold War. I think they did a stunning job on that and just really convinces you that you're onboard a sub. At every level I just thought that was a bit of a design triumph. It's one of those things that you always wonder – will it just look like some corridors - but no, the art department really sold that. (Production designer) Michael Pickwoad had a field day with that and it was brilliant.
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