Mark Gatiss: “Doctor Who shines a beacon in dark times”

The Sherlock writer argues that culture can help us cope with terror

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The crowd at the Doctor Who Festival in London last Saturday was somewhat muted, for obvious reasons. Doctor Who is a scary show, but it pales in comparison to the news. Children and adults are now terrified of the same thing, and it doesn’t come from a distant planet – it’s all too close to home. RadioTimes.com asked writer Mark Gatiss what is the point of the show, when the real monsters are outside?

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“I would say surely the point of shows like Doctor Who is not to let the monsters in. I’m not a parent, but children pick up on things. They’re much more aware of news and stuff than I was at that age, it’s more pervasive on every platform. If they’re just on Twitter looking for pictures of cats, they’re going to find out what happened last night in Paris. 

“But the point of Doctor Who is what it’s always been. It’s a healthy scare. It’s not about traumatising children, it’s a fun thing, a safe environment. Fundamentally this show is incredibly optimistic, and in incredibly dark times it shines a beacon.

“Think of the Zygon story in the last two weeks. It’s a wonderful example of the old ‘inform, educate and entertain’. It’s a great big story with what [showrunner] Steven [Moffat] calls ‘red calamari’, body snatching and shape shifting, but contained within it is a fantastic metaphor for the refugee crisis and ISIS.

“And that’s what we should be doing. It’s lovely, and moving. I was thinking about this a lot this morning, coming here. And it’s like that great film Sullivan’s Travels, the Preston Sturges film, which I was watching again recently. It really reinforced my belief that there’s nothing wrong with creating great, fun things.”

[In the 1942 comedy, a director longs to make worthy drama, but eventually realises lighthearted entertainment can help society just as much]

“The world is in a terrible state. It’s always in a terrible state, but it’s in a particularly terrible state at the moment. If you let it all into your head, you would go crazy. You are actually benefitting everybody by trying to create something that will entertain them, distract them for a bit, take them out of themselves, and also to broaden their minds.

“It’s a way for people to cope. It’s lovely to see everybody here today, in such a mood of optimism, and that’s what the show has always done. They win if they terrorise us into stopping. They win if we cower.

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“We have to, as Churchill said, keep buggering on.”