At this time of year, traditionally, a lot of people will be speculating, at length, about the true meaning of Christmas. So let’s get that out of the way right now. It’s about presents.
Yep, presents. And presents (as the Doctor would say) are cool. Presents are how we say we love each other in ways that aren’t only deep and heartfelt, but fiscally measurable. It’s that once-a-year opportunity to spend time with your family and know exactly where you rank in their affections by raiding the bins for price tags.
It’s also about the Doctor Who Christmas special. And the Doctor Who Christmas special is about this conversation between me and producer Marcus Wilson.
Steven Moffat: “Marcus, there are leaves on those trees!”
Marcus Wilson: “That’s because it’s summer!”
SM: “No, it’s Christmas.”
MW: “In real life. We shoot the show in real life.”
SM: “Can’t we get rid of all the leaves?”
MW: “We’d need an ecological catastrophe.”
SM: “Why wasn’t this foreseen?”
MW: “We can remove them post-production.”
SM: “Oh, OK.”
MW: “And Steven? Last year you wrote a whole Christmas special about trees.”
SM: “That was probably quite difficult, eh?” MW “Now that you mention…”
But never mind last year! What presents do we have for you this time around?
Well, first of all we have Richard E Grant as this year’s villain, snarling into Matt Smith’s face. Oh, how has it taken us so long? Surely this man was born to make evil plans and conquer worlds?
Actually, Richard and Doctor Who have a history. Many years ago, I wrote a Doctor Who sketch for Comic Relief, and Richard made a brief appearance as the tenth Doctor. This was long before David Tennant, long before the show came back; I thought it was the only chance I’d get to write for the Doctor – funny how things work out.
Richard admitted at the time he knew nothing about the show. I remember him standing next to a Dalek bewildered at what it could possibly be (he’s caught up since). And after Comic Relief, he appeared (sort of ) in an animated adventure by my old pal Paul Cornell, as the ninth Doctor, long before Christopher Eccleston.
So finally, he’s on the show for real and, I think you’ll agree, it’s been worth the wait. We’ve got the brilliant Tom Ward as worried Captain Latimer, and returning from last year we have Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart and Dan Starkey, as Vastra, Jenny and Strax.
Since their first appearance in A Good Man Goes To War there have only been a few days where someone hasn’t suggested a spin-off featuring those three. Well, it’s not a spin-off, but here they are again: the Victorian reptile detective, her brave and beautiful maid and the world’s only Sontaran nurse. What could possibly go wrong?
What else? Well, only a brand-new Tardis. Same old police box, of course, but when you open those magic blue doors… well, I can say no more. Except that when you have a genius designer like Michael Pickwoad, and an opportunity like the Tardis, you’d be mad not to bring the two together. On Christmas Day the Doctor will usher you into a brand-new world – one, I suspect, that looks a lot like the inside of Michael Pickwoad’s head!
But the best of present of all? The Doctor has a new friend. Jenna-Louise Coleman steps aboard the Tardis as Clara, and she turns the Doctor’s world upside down in a whole new way.
Like Christmas, Doctor Who has certain, never-changing traditions. And like Christmas, those traditions are the best part. As a child long ago, and as writer now, my favourite part is the “It’s bigger on the inside” moment. How many times have we seen someone stumble into the Tardis, turn wide-eyed and say those immortal words? How many new ways are there to do it? Well, nearly 50 years on and I don’t think we’re in danger of running out!
Hope you enjoy the latest version. And I know you’re going to enjoy Jenna. Well, you’ve seen her already, of course, back in September. As Oswin, in Asylum of the Daleks, she not only died but had been turned into a Dalek. Dying on your Doctor Who debut, that ought to be a sure sign you won’t be returning. Unless you’re Alex Kingston as River Song, who died in David Tennant’s Library adventure in 2008. Or Dan Starkey as Strax, now I think about it.
But this time – in answer to all those many, many questions – I can confirm that Jenna is playing a completely different character. Oh, yes. Totally different person. Would I lie to you? Phew, eh? Bet you’re glad I cleared that up. So, for those of you who missed the prequel (report to YouTube immediately!), a little scene setting.
The last time we saw the Doctor, he was battling the Weeping Angels in New York. He won, of course, but at a terrible price – he was separated from the Ponds for ever. No more Girl Who Waited, no more Last Centurion. Here comes Christmas and the Doctor is alone again. It’s not exactly a first for him, but this time he’s admitting he’s had enough.
The Doctor has retired. He’s withdrawn from the world and hidden himself away in his battered old Tardis. No more friends, no more world-saving, no more heartbreak. What could it possibly take to bring him back into the world again? That’s a brilliant idea. And I can say that without a hint of arrogance, because it’s not mine.
The greatest writer ever to have have turned his genius to Doctor Who was, of course, the mighty Douglas Adams. And he pitched that story, The Doctor Retires, many, many years ago. Back in the late 1970s the production office said no, but I remember reading about it and thinking it sounded so great that, if I ever had the chance, that would be one hell of a story to tell.
Matt Smith’s Doctor, under all the zany, armwaving insanity, has always had a strange undertow of sadness: those ancient eyes staring out of that young face, ready to cry in a heartbeat. Surely this, finally, was the Doctor who might just slam the Tardis doors and refuse to come out again. Unless of course there’s someone out there, who might just be able to persuade him… See you on Christmas Day.
Jenna-Louise Coleman …on Clara
“She’s a mysterious but down-to-earth girl from the Victorian era, with similar traits to Oswin in that she’s feisty, resourceful and up for adventure. She’s not intimidated by the Doctor and finds him amazing and ridiculous in equal measures. She meets this guy and is incredibly interested in him and wants to know more: he has answers that she wants. She’s on the chase for him, on her own mission.”
…on joining Doctor Who
“Every day has been surprising. You walk into the studio every few weeks and whole new sets have been built. You open the Tardis doors and you’re suddenly in a different era. It’s very technical but also fun and adventurous, and it’s OK to run down a corridor shouting and being as silly and ridiculous as you like. It makes me feel like a big kid. It’s like magic.”
Matt Smith …on his future
“We’ve got Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary coming up in November 2013, and one assumes there’ll be another Christmas special after that, and I’d hope to be part of it. I take each year as it comes. All good things come to an end, but my mum is aghast at the thought of me ever not being the Doctor. The show is the star and will continue without me. I’m committed to it next year and will sit down with Steven Moffat and see where we go from there. I’ve no immediate plans to leave. I’m around for a whole year and that’s a long time.”
…on some (surprising) influences
“When I started as the Doctor, I watched loads of Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em, loads of Peter Sellers and loads of Blackadder – and somewhere betwixt the three lies my Doctor. I love how grumpy but brilliant Blackadder can be. Frank Spencer is slightly unaware of how ridiculous he is and I think the Doctor is too. Clouseau and Blackadder have massive egos and the Doctor has a massive ego. Frank Spencer is kinder and gentler.”
Jenna-Louise Coleman and Matt Smith interviews by Gareth McLean
The Doctor Who Christmas special will air on Christmas Day at 5:15pm on BBC1