Could Doctor Who ever be a woman? It’s a question of inter-galactic significance and one the controller of BBC1, Charlotte Moore, considers carefully. “Peter Capaldi is a fantastic Doctor, and he’s broken the mould. But I’d never put a bar on that,” she says intriguingly. “The great thing about Doctor Who is that anything is possible.”
There are more pressing questions for Moore to answer over the next few months as she and her channel – with its budget of £1.4bn – play a central role in deciding the future of the entire corporation. And Moore can’t afford to be as enigmatic. When she was made controller two years ago, director-general Tony Hall described it as a critical appointment: BBC1 is the corporation’s shop window, and Moore is running it.
Whenever issues of “distinctiveness”, “market impact” (the effect the BBC has on its commercial competitors) and even commitment to diversity come up for discussion – as they are doing now in the BBC Charter renewal debate –it’s BBC1 that’s used as the acid test of the corporation’s intentions. It’s also the channel that speaks to the widest cross section of the BBC’s most important constituency when it comes to dealing with governments and politicians: the licence-fee-paying public.
But when we meet in a tiny, smoked-glass box of a meeting room at Broadcasting House in London, Moore isn’t talking politics – she’s talking programmes. In fact, her answers to most of my questions tend to fill up with references to programmes, mainly from the long list of new commissions she’s about to announce at the autumn launch the day after our conversation. It’s a slate she’s excited by and proud of, not least because, given the time it takes to get new programmes (dramas especially) from script to screen, it will play a big part in how her tenure at the channel is remembered.
She reels off the names: Troy is a “multi-part epic, but at the same time it’s also intimate, because it’s the story of the collapse of a family, it’s unlike anything we’ve done before”; Dickensian – a 20-part costume-drama series from writer Tony Jordan; Andrew Davies’s adaptation of War and Peace (above); more Happy Valley; ten new episodes of Poldark – with possibly more still to come; the return of Luther, with Idris Elba; Mary Beard coming to BBC1 with a new series about Pompeii; Lucy Worsley is also arriving from her more usual home on BBC2 and BBC4; Professor Brian Cox; Alexander Armstrong; science and history into primetime; Peter Kay – Moore loved Car Share (“he’s an absolute genius”), so more from him; Bake Off is going great guns, as is Doctor Foster; a sitcom season; Paul O’Grady, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and a list of new talent, most of whom you won’t have heard of “Britain’s favourite TV channel” with “40 million people a week tuning in… I could go on.” And she does…