If you’ve ever wondered how to write an episode of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat has imparted some wisdom – revealing that anyone who needs to be told the rules should not be in the writers’ room in the first place.
Talking in Doctor Who Magazine’s Special Edition: Writing Doctor Who, the former showrunner says that the rules were as simple as, “You’ve seen it – make one of those!”
And he goes on to say that any rules that do exist are made to be broken. “There’s stuff like ‘Get them out of the TARDIS as fast as you can’,” he explains. “Unless, of course, you’ve got a great scene in the TARDIS – in which case, stay there for a while! I mean, it’s a rule… until it isn’t.”
Moffat says one of the best pieces of advice he can give is to steer well clear of subtlety, claiming that the series should be exciting and there’s no need for any “boring bits.”
He adds that you don’t necessarily need to be an expert sci-fi writer to master a Doctor Who script, claiming that the ability to write emotion well is a more important attribute.
He mentions several writers including Rona Munro and Cath Tregenna, who had said they were concerned about their lack of sci-fi expertise before working on the show, but ended up delivering strong scripts.
“I mean, if you wrote an episode of Black Mirror, I think you’d have to be very good at sci-fi,” he says. “But if you can write action, adventure, humour, romance and emotion, you will do fine on Doctor Who.
“And if you need some old hack like me to invent some sci-fi names for the monsters, that’s fine. But even then, I don’t think you need that. That’s where ‘timey-wimey’ comes from. The Doctor doesn’t speak in sci-fi jargon – he invents his own idiot-sounding jargon.”
But the most important thing according to Moffat is the ability to be flexible – he recalls that the writing for the show involved drawing on a huge range of skills.
“I can’t think of a writing skill that you don’t use on Doctor Who,” he says. “There isn’t a resource you will not call on. You need to be good at plotting, character, action, humour… and good at stage directions! Dear God, that’s important…”