Picture the scene: it's Saturday night, it's dark outside, and a Steven Moffat-penned episode of Doctor Who is about to start on BBC One. The chances are you're going to end up with plenty of fuel for your nightmares.


The former showrunner, who helmed Doctor Who from 2010 to 2017, has been terrifying us as far back as season 1 with The Empty Child and is the brain behind some of the series' scariest villains.

Speaking to RadioTimes.com to celebrate Doctor Who's 60th anniversary, the show's monster-maker broke down some of its most iconic creatures - and the one flaw they all share.

"It's something of the nursery somehow, there's something rather domestic about a Doctor Who monster," Moffat explains.

"They're not, if you look at the famously scary ones, tremendously convincing in the combat zone. The Weeping Angels, which are the my most successful ones, I mean, they can't move if someone sees them!

"What kind of invasion force is that?! They're kind of nuts but children are scared of statues - I remember being scared of statues and, in particular, shop dummies but Robert Holmes had already done that one.

"The Daleks, he's the greatest genius in the world, apparently, Davros. Is he? Is he? What do you think of that design?" he jokes. "I mean, seriously, I don't think that was a brilliant design. It's a brilliant design for a monster on TV, but as a machine, I've got notes Davros! I really do. It's silly, isn't it? What's that arm supposed to be?!

"How did the scientific elite of Skaro let that one pass when Davros - a week before he unveiled the Dalek gun, he must have unveiled the Dalek arm. Did they stand around in confusion or did they applaud and say 'Yeah, great idea. Let's not have fingers. Let's have a sink plunger.' Awesome, Davros, well done you. Storming genius.

Daleks in Doctor Who - The Power of the Doctor
Daleks in Doctor Who - The Power of the Doctor. James Pardon/BBC Studios

"So there's something fundamentally silly about a great Doctor Who monster and something of the nursery. Kids have a strange relationship with the Daleks because they're sort of frightened of them, but they're like their favourite toys. There's something loveable about a Dalek, and frightening.

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"So I think embracing the fairytale nursery absurdity that goes along with a certain kind of creepiness, a kind of harmless creepiness. We don't go in for a lot of gore in Doctor Who. People don't get their heads ripped off or anything nasty. It's all a bit children's ghost story - and quite right too."

So what about his first Doctor Who monster, the iconic Empty Child?

"The brief was a World War Two setting," he recalls. "Some kind of child monster, I think was the idea, hiding among the craters of the Blitz and, and to introduce Captain Jack [Harkness, played by John Barrowman] of course. But I remember thinking, the moment I introduce a monster, no one's gonna pay any attention to the setting.

"By introducing the clanking robot, you forget where it's put, that becomes irrelevant. So I thought we should really - and this is a good way of approaching Doctor Who - fashion the monster out of the iconography of the era.

"So I went and looked at all the pictures of the Blitz and, of course, the thing that really strikes you is all the ruddy gas masks. Gas masks are a Doctor Who monster, they've got blank eyes. That's kind of all you need really, blank eyes.

"So I wanted to make a monster out of the iconography of World War Two and the gas masks were the obvious one to go for. I think Russell wanted it to be a child monster, and for there to be children - which was true by the way - living in the Blitz, stealing from houses during air raids. That all happened. That was real."

Doctor Who
The titular Empty Child in Doctor Who. (BBC)

For Moffat, the Doctor Who fear factor also comes from the show being inherently different to other sci-fis.

"It takes place under your bed, and in the back of your cupboard. That's where it belongs. It doesn't take you to outer space. It brings outer space behind your sofa and frightens you with it. Even when Doctor Who is at its most epic, it always becomes a little bit domestic as well.

"It's living room scale menace, it's quite important to Doctor Who. I suppose that was originally a budgetary constraint that it had to be like that. The show no longer has quite the same budgetary restraints - it's hardly over-funded, but it doesn't have the same budgetary restraints - the style of show should evolve to cope with that.

"The slight homeliness of it all is a really good way of connecting with your audience. If you think the monsters are in outer space in metal corridors, well, that's not so frightening. But if you think the monsters are of the right size and type to creep into your living room, then that's frightening - frightening in a in a proper, kid friendly way, in a nice way.

"Kids love ghost stories, not in a disturbing, harrowing way - we leave that to Newsnight."

Doctor Who is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. Classic episodes are available on BritBox – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here.

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