Steven Moffat says Doctor Who is the perfect escapism in troubled times: “It’s a world of certainties where kindness and tolerance always work out”

Exclusive: The former series showrunner has returned to the fold for tweetalongs and a new short story starring Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. But what inspired him to step back into the Whoniverse?

Steven Moffat and Jodie Whittaker (Getty, BBC)

On March 2nd, just over a month ago, Doctor Who fans around the world were still grappling with the revelations of series 12 finale The Timeless Children, preparing for a good long while without new Who content and an ordinary spring. Obviously, things worked out differently.

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Instead, over the last few weeks while people around the world have been trapped indoors hoping to slow the spread of coronavirus, Doctor Who fans have leapt into action. So far they’ve held all sorts of online community activities to keep spirits up, while behind the scenes Doctor Who production staff past and present have created new videos, prequels and short pieces of prose to give fans new nuggets to enjoy.

The latest? A short story by ex-showrunner Steven Moffat called The Terror of the Umpty Ums, which stars Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and follows similar works from his predecessor Russell T Davies, current Who boss Chris Chibnall and regular writer Pete McTighe. And according to Moffat himself, it was an easy request to say yes to.

“Chris got in touch with me and Russell and asked if we could generate some stuff,” the writer told RadioTimes.com. “And of course you have to in these circumstances.

“It was quite strange to be back doing Doctor Who, I have to say. It’s actually quite a long while since I did that. But it’s lovely. And if it’s making these dreadful days even moderately more bearable for a small number of people, I guess that’s worth it.”

Since the UK lockdown began Moffat has been involved with a number of fan community projects, temporarily joining Twitter to offer behind-the-scenes commentary on some of his biggest episodes and writing short new prequels and introductions (later filmed in isolation by actors) to tie into regular series watchalongs.

“Obviously it’s nice to see people try and generate some material for folk stuck at home,” he told us. “There’s precious little you can do with an irrelevant skillset like being a writer during a crisis. So the little you can do… it’d be churlish not to do it.

He added: “I always said I’d come back to Doctor Who if there was an emergency. What else would you call this?”

Excitingly for fans, Moffat’s latest contribution marks his first (and, by his own admission, probably only) time writing for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, having opted out of writing a piece that starred the incarnations played by Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi during his years in charge (2010-2017).

“I’m sure it’d be fine to have previous Doctors if people wanted that. It just felt right to me to write the current one. It’s quite a big decision to say ‘Oh it’s going to be Peter Capaldi, or Matt Smith, or Tom Baker.’ That doesn’t feel as current,” Moffat explained.

“And it was lovely to write Jodie’s Doctor – I found it quite easy. It’s a very vivid portrayal, Jodie and Chris have set down very clear lines about how she operates and how she talks.

“And of course, a lot of the Doctor is just the Doctor!” he noted. “It’s mostly the Doctor with a tiny bit of this Doctor. I’m kind of used to the Doctor, and I’m kind of used to writing different ones.”

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor - Doctor Who _ Season 12, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBC America

Still, that isn’t to say that Moffat avoided delving into familiar themes from his tenure in charge, quoting a line from Matt Smith’s Doctor in the story – “We’re all stories in the end” – and continuing to explore this idea in the text.

“Because of the particular circumstances I was kind of thinking about, why do stories matter at all? And maybe they don’t. Maybe stories don’t matter, I’m not clear on that at all,” he said.

“But I wrote a story about how stories can be important. And how the Doctor sits in the head of people who follow those adventures, particularly children.”

And in the current circumstances, he’s not surprised that this story – by which we mean the story of Doctor Who as a whole – has been a comfort to so many.

“Doctor Who’s quite a sort of positive show, and it’s very much connected with children and with your own childhood,” Moffat said.

“It’s a world of certainties where kindness and tolerance always work out. So if you’re going to cling to a story or fairy tale, something like Doctor Who’s is going to fit the bill.”

Matt Lucas, Peter Capaldi, Jo Whiley, Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin (Getty)
Matt Lucas, Peter Capaldi, Jo Whiley, Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin (Getty)

Though of course, we can take the idea of Doctor Who’s perfect status in these times a little too seriously…

“Well first of all, this is Doctor Who fans – obviously they’d like more Doctor Who,” Moffat laughed. “People who are not Doctor Who fans may be less keen.

“I imagine Star Trek fans are off doing Star Trek stuff, and…I don’t know, James Bond fans are doing James Bond stuff. But you know, Doctor Who is a nice story to think about at the moment,” he added.

“And I suppose the Doctor is a scientist, and we’re all supposed to be listening to the scientists. Quite right too.”

You can read Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who short story The Terror of the Umpty Ums here.

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