DOCTOR WHO: Steven Moffat Interview re The Genesis of Clara Oswald (2013)

"Doctor Who"
“Doctor Who”

Not everyone gets their life’s dream handed to them on a platter, yet Steven Moffat’s dreams have a remarkable way of coming true.  Both on screen and off screen.  Fulfilling his boyhood dream of creating fantastical adventures for The Doctor in DOCTOR WHO, Steven has shepherded in the Eleventh Doctor, phenomenally portrayed by Matt Smith, and welcomed two sets of companions, The Ponds and now the mysterious Clara “Oswin” Oswald.  Deemed “The Impossible Girl” for having died twice in The Doctor’s adventures so far, it is an elusive mystery woven by Steven Moffat throughout the remainder of Series 7 to uncover just who is Clara Oswald and why does she keep dying on The Doctor.  In a recent press conference call, executive producer Steven Moffat provided some candid answers and a few teasers about what lies ahead for The Doctor, Clara and some returning villainous faces.

"Doctor Who"
“Doctor Who”

What can you share about Jenna-Louise Coleman and what she brings to the DOCTOR WHO series and to the relationship with The Doctor and with Matt Smith?
STEVEN: In a way DOCTOR WHO is almost more in a way of the story of the companion. It’s her take on The Doctor, it’s her adventure and goes on with The Doctor if the story didn’t tell because, you know, the companion the other character changes more than The Doctor ever does. So what Jenna in particular brings she has a tremendous speed and wit and sort of an unimpressed quality that makes the Doctor dance a bit harder I suppose, he works a bit harder with Clara.  Clara is always just a little bit out of reach not in I mean, you know, obviously, you know, secretly devoted to him but a little bit harder to impress. She’s tough, she’s fast and she’s hard to impress exactly the way the Doctor generally speaking doesn’t like them but of course he’s absolutely devoted to Clara. That’s very much driven by Jenna’s particular style, which is it’s a very, very fast, snappy style. A very, very beautiful girl but there’s a real sense of toughness in that face of someone that, you know, who can be a real adversary if she wants to be.

Now is this Clara different than the other two Clara’s we have already met?
STEVEN:  Well, until we see the play out but you will notice on Saturday’s episode significant resemblances yes. Just as there were significant resemblances between Clara and Oswin there are significant resemblances again that are consistencies.  And this time they might be pointed out in a slightly more obvious way.

"Doctor Who"
“Doctor Who”

What is it about her that when you watch her work, you think, “Damn, I really made the right decision in hiring her”?
STEVEN:  Well, she’s terrific. I mean first I most obvious answer to that is she’s a terribly, terribly good actress. I know that sounds like a terrible dull thing to say but it’s the truth. You can be as beautiful and charming as you like if you’re not terrific at acting it will mean nothing on the screen but she’s a terrific actress.  In addition, she looks great, she has great comic timing. She looks like she belongs somehow next to Matt Smith when the two can stand together it looks like an instant team.  They have enough in common and yet have enough sharp contrast that it’s instant poster when you stand them together.

During the course of discovering the mystery behind Clara, will this Clara is ever going to remember her other incarnations? Will we get to see that?
STEVEN:  Well I would know the answer to that question and I certainly wouldn’t give it to you. And you will uncover the mystery of Clara in the next eight episodes all will be made clear and you’ll get your answer that way.

Clara is such a unique companion. What inspired you to create her? Were you looking at other companions going, “I like this part, I like this part” and put it all together or did someone inspire you to create that kind of character?
STEVEN:  You need someone who challenges The Doctor you need someone to throw The Doctor into a new light, into a new relief. Amy had done it in one particular way I think we just needed somebody who was slightly less willing.  I mean the thing about The Doctor, the Doctor is always the remote, inaccessible, mysterious one and the companion is always the fluffy, friendly one well Amy tested that theory from time to time.  Where at this time Clara is the slightly difficult to get to know one that is probably going to be slightly difficult to hug and because The Doctor is haunted by her and met her twice before he is slightly the needy one.  So I like throwing in that around, she’s the unsolvable mystery in the enigma and he’s the one chasing after her. It’s a reversal of the normal Doctor companion dynamic, which I’ve been rather enjoying.

"Doctor Who"
“Doctor Who”

One of the big conflicts of your era has been The Doctor needing to not be alone. People keep telling him that he shouldn’t be alone because he’s not himself when he’s not with a companion.  Why doesn’t he just always get a companion why does he resist that?
STEVEN:  Well if you were told the way to heal yourself and to make yourself a better person and function better was to permanently endanger another human being you might be hesitant too.  He is aware that he causes damage to those people or can cause damage to those people he travels with and he puts them in terrible danger. He’s also aware that a relationship or a friendship for him like it or not is postponed bereavement and it’s not even postponed that long.  You know that he will outlive them, they will die and he will be roughly the same age. So I think those two factors make him very, very hesitant about taking someone on board.  And also the fact that he’s a doctor, I mean can you imagine trying to tell The Doctor something, trying to put him right, trying to explain something to him and have him believe you.  He generally speaking does know better than you but he always thinks he does.

With the character of Clara, how did you decide that this was the companion that you wanted to use and what the dynamic was and what drew you to her character specifically?
STEVEN:  I think when you start with a character or who is going to be the companion you can’t think of the word companion, you can’t think that they know that they’re a supporting character in a TV show.  You have to think this is somebody (a) who would fly away in that TARDIS and (b) the Doctor would want to fly away in the TARDIS. The Doctor is quite picky he doesn’t like everybody he’s a difficult man to deal with so it’s not anybody that he actually formed a proper friendship with. I don’t know what sort of person would run through those blue doors. A lot of people would run the direction probably including me to be honest when I discovered how dangerous it was.  So you have to imagine somebody who’s ready to say yes to running away with a clearly insane man and ride a time machine and that is your starting point with that character.  What point in their life are they, what decisions have they made, what worked out and what hasn’t worked out for them that leads them to respond positively to a travel request from a lunatic in a bow tie.

"Doctor Who"
“Doctor Who”

One of the cool things about “The Bells of St. John” was the prologue on the Internet that had The Doctor encounter Clara as a small child. That reminds us of The Doctor’s first encounter with Amy. Was that a parallel that you sort of purposely wanted to draw for a long time fans of the series?
STEVEN: I liked the idea because he had such an odd introduction to Clara, having met her twice and lost her twice in such exotic surroundings, you know, in the Dalek and then the governess who was also a bar maid and all that.  I sort of thought wouldn’t it be nice if we just did something quite sweet and ordinary and something that specifically goes back to Amy, which I’ve done twice now. It sort of keys up the fact that that relationship, whether he likes it or not, is coming back.  And there are resemblances and I suppose I’m maybe too interested I’m sure some people would say in the fact that The Doctor’s lifespan and time traveling ways means really when he knows somebody he probably knows them over a huge amount of their life span and a tiny span of his.  And I’m always quite interested in exploring that. He can know them as a child, he could know them as an adult, he could know them as an old person. I’m absolutely fascinated by that, possibly too fascinated I’m sure I should stop repeating myself but I think that’s probably why.

Why do you think the companion is such an important element of storytelling in DOCTOR WHO?
STEVEN:  It’s the person to whom the story happens, you know, a hero is somebody who saves the day and is extraordinary and you stand back and admire and that’s The Doctor.  But for the storytelling the emotional connection has to happen to somebody. The Doctor himself has to happen to somebody. And so you very often in DOCTOR WHO the companion is sort of the main character, not the hero, not the one with all the cool lines, not with all the cool moments but is the hero.  The person whose story it is and how this experience changed them. We never see how The Doctor began his journey, we probably never will see how he ends it, we’ll probably never know why he embarked on it but we know all those companions who they were before they met The Doctor.  We know why they ran away with him and we know roughly where they ended up. Those stories are complete The Doctor is the enigma that enters their lives and changes them.  The story is always about the person who changes the most rather than necessarily about the person who effects those changes.

Are you aware of the Big Finish audio books and the fact that there’s a character that’s very similar to Clara in the form of Charley Pollard? I was wondering if you were aware of that and if there’s a reason for that similarity?
STEVEN:  Well I knew about Big Finish but I haven’t caught up with them in a lot of years and I have no idea. No none at all I’m afraid.

In “The Bells of Saint John” are you trying to tell us that we’re too tied to technology with the Spoonhead?
STEVEN:  No, I’m trying to make up a really, really good adventure about The Doctor really. What DOCTOR WHO often does is grab hold of whatever is omnipresent in your life and turn it into a monster.  And there’s no grand plan what you tie to technology. I love it all.

"Doctor Who"
“Doctor Who”

So you touched on it just a little bit there’s a new nemesis for the Doctor this season, the Spoonheads. What can you tell us about the Spoonheads?
STEVEN:  Well I’m not going to tell very much because you’ll learn all about them on Saturday but suffice to say wi-fi covers every civilized country now. So if something got into the wi-fi that would be a problem for us all, a new way to invade us beyond that the Spoonheads are for Saturday.

With the Weeping Angels, The Silence and Vashta Nerada and now the Spoonheads, you’ve created some of the most recognized iconic monsters on DOCTOR WHO but in all the episodes you’ve written, which monsters were the most fun to write and why?
STEVEN: The ones so much fun to write? I’m tempted to say Weeping Angels because I’m standing looking at one because it’s in my back garden. Probably the one I got the most kick out of might have been The Silence.  I loved the gimmick of The Silence — you couldn’t remember them. I just thought finding ways to employ that and finding ways to make that frightening and I think pretty involved than I’ve used so far.  I think was a very exciting thing. I hugely enjoyed writing The Silence. The Weeping Angels are, of course, by far and actually was the most popular adversary I’ve invented and I’m sure will always be the most popular ones I’ve invented.  But they are a bugger to write because they don’t move and it’s always really hard to work out how you’re going to do a chase scene this time.

How do the Spoonheads really compare in terms of scare factor with villains like The Silence and the Weeping Angels?
STEVEN: Well that’s not really for me to say. I don’t know. I never really know which ones are going to be the big scarers and so on but I would say that I suppose that “The Bells of Saint John” is an action roller-coaster.  Where the Weeping Angel stories and The Silence story were more consciously designed to be sort of scary adventures. So I think, you know, it isn’t really up to me it’s up to the kids to say which one gives them nightmares so I’ll not prejudge it.  I think they’re quite creepy. I think it’s a roller king adventure ride. I think it’s a cracker of an episode but let’s wait and see what the audience think.

I’m looking forward to the return of the Ice Warriors in the upcoming episodes and I just wanted to find out what maybe was your impetus for wanting to bring that particular villain back and what were perhaps also some of the challenges in reimagining that old foe would you say?
STEVEN:  The impetus really was Mark Gatiss. I wasn’t that keen initially on that of bringing the Ice Warriors back. They’ve never been any special favorite of mine in the old series.  I thought they were good but I never quite got into them. But Mark Gatiss kept nagging me about bringing them back and then he came up with an idea, which I’m going to leave that as a surprise in “Cold War,” which really made them come to life for me.  I think that could be brilliant. So at that point I really got into it but that was into Mark’s creativity rather than mine. The challenge, well there were a number of challenges I can’t talk about but one I will talk about they are far less familiar to the general audience than say the Dalek or the Cybermen or any of those things.  Where you feel you have to bring the changes a bit with the look of them because,  they’re very familiar. With the Ice Warrior, they wanted to create a really good super duper version of the one that’s already there.  So it’s a design classic buffed up a bit for HD rather than change or revise I would say and that was the challenge to make. The one that they designed for the fuzzy old televisions work for the other less forgiving HD cameras of the day so that would be the answer.

As you look at these eight episodes that we have coming up what would you say that as a writer and a producer were your biggest challenges and surprises?
STEVEN:  Well every episode is a challenge and I suppose one of the most challenging in one of the episodes is the monster. You’re always a heartbeat away from the monster looking ridiculous.  So they’re always hard. Surprises, I’m not sure. I mean DOCTOR WHO is the most exhaustingly planned show on earth. We have so little time to make one.  We make them in sort of a couple of weeks really, two weeks. So everything is planned to the last detail and it’s relatively rare for something to surprise you because you’ve tried to factor in every single thing that could go wrong. I was very pleasantly surprised, a very pleasant surprise was how effectively and realistically and compellingly I think we were able to create a submarine for the episode “Cold War.” I think they did a stunning job on that and just really, really convincing you that you’re on board a sub. At every level I just thought that was a bit of a design triumph. It’s one of those things that you always wonder – will it just look like some corridors – but no, the art department really sold that. Michael Pickwood had a field day with that and it was brilliant.

"Doctor Who"
“Doctor Who”

Can you talk about how Neil Cross came to be a part of this season and also what he’s brought to the show?
STEVEN:  Neil Cross is a writer and I knew of but I’ve never met. He’d done LUTHER and books and a terrific, terrific writer I’ve actually read a script he’d written a few years ago.  We’d never quite got it together. When Caroline Skinner came on to the show he’s an old friend, Neil Cross is an old friend of hers and she’s like I’m going to chase him and see if we can’t work out the scheduling. And he’s a huge DOCTOR WHO fan, and even though in both occasions this year he did not have the time to write an episode, he did not have the time. He leapt at the chance to shove everything out of the way, you know, to do that.  And sort of what I’m looking for all the time, this sounds terribly snobbish and awful but I’m looking for show runner level writers who’d give their right arm to write a DOCTOR WHO story that’s what I’d like.  And it’s surprising how often we get that, how often, how many of our writing staff if I can call them that. How many of our writing team are show runners themselves.  So it was a gift to us and Neil took to it like a duck to water so it was brilliant.

Does the 50th anniversary factor into how you planned the arc of the season?
STEVEN: Not seriously. I mean you’re always wanting to make it special and huge and big and I think you’re also and this is one of the things that I’m concerned about this year and I think you’ll see that I’m concerned about it because responded I think positively to this. Is that the show must be seen to be going forward it’s all about the next 50 years not about the last 50 years. If you start putting a full stop on it, if you start thinking it’s all about nostalgia then you’re finished it’s about moving forward. So The Doctor is moving forward as he always does and he wants to solve the mystery of Clara, he’s not thinking about all his previous incarnations and his previous adventures he’s thinking about the future. And that for me is important.  The show must never feel old it must always feel brand new and a 50th anniversary can play against that.

How much pressure do you feel to deliver on this 50th anniversary and is there any way that this can possibly live up to the hype and excitement for this show, for this anniversary?
STEVEN:  I don’t know but I’m going to stick to talking about Saturday and this series. We’ll deliver a good show but more of that later. I want to concentrate on what we’re going to do on Saturday, which is a whole eight episodes before we even have to worry about that but we’ll deliver I’m pretty confident.

"Doctor Who"
“Doctor Who”

Obviously any anniversary is going to make one look back at the beginnings of whatever it is you’re celebrating and one of the big components early on in DOCTOR WHO were the purely historical adventures where there was no extraterrestrial monster or villain.  The bad guy was someone that actually used to exist. Do you think a purely historical adventure would be possible in the new series?
STEVEN:  I don’t think it’s impossible, but I’m going to put my cards on the table and I didn’t think those historical adventures were very good. I didn’t like them. I thought they were dull.  And so far as I remember them as a kid I couldn’t wait for them to be over so we could get back to proper sci-fi. Just to be honest they weren’t my favorites.  That doesn’t mean that we won’t come up with a story that is historical but I think they were discarded for a reason and even before they were discarded they were always reduced to only four-part stories. They were regarded as the lesser element of the show. I think if you’ve got this glittering man and his extraordinary space time machine just having him visit the past isn’t enough I don’t think it is. There has to be something as extraordinary as he is otherwise it’s like Sherlock Holmes investigating crimes. It’s just not enough for our hero.

In this upcoming season do you have a favorite episode of scene that you can share with us?
STEVEN:  Well, you know, I would say that my favorite episode is next Saturday’s episode and that’s probably always true. It’s probably always true that the next one on is the one I’m most focused on and I’m most excited about.  I think they’re a number of highlights. I think “The Bells of Saint John” is a great episode. I think “Cold War” is a terrific traditional episode. The Ice Warriors. I think we’ve got a great finale. We’ve got some new Cybermen. But you know I change my mind all the time about which my favorite is and it’s almost invariably the next one.

Now that Americans now have finally embraced DOCTOR WHO the way that the British always have and I guess that’s programming and stuff like that but there has to be something about the story that we’re hooking on to that may be and maybe the rest of the world is too. What do you think it is that makes the story so universal now that everybody can get in to it?
STEVEN:  Accessibility in a way, I mean, you know, you can start watching DOCTOR WHO at any point in its history. You don’t have to catch up with the rest of it. It’s a very simple myth. It’s a man that can travel anywhere in time and space in a box bigger on the inside. That’s as much format as we have. You can join it anytime, absolutely get a hold of it and, you know, dare I say I just think it’s one of the great pieces of television entertainment that’s ever been.  That’s why we latch onto it, it’s terrific, it’s simple to understand what it’s about and it’s hugely entertaining and every so often it completely reinvents itself to feel at home in its new era, which is really is key ingredient. It always feels at home in the present day because it always adapts itself. We are after all our eleventh leading man.

"Doctor Who"
“Doctor Who”

It looks like you’ve got some great guest-stars, getting Dame Diana Rigg to be on this year. How did you manage that?
STEVEN:  It wasn’t me. It was really Mark Gatiss, who wrote that episode and who works on SHERLOCK with me, was appearing in a play with Diana Rigg’s daughter Rachael Stirling. And he was writing a DOCTOR WHO episode at the time and he said to Rachael, “Look, I think you and your mom should play the mother and daughter parts in this DOCTOR WHO I’m writing,” and they were up for it. So it was all done through Mark. Mark and his little black book he knows absolutely everybody.

You are tasked with writing stories about some of the most iconic characters in television and literature. Do you find it easier or more difficult or the same to write about established iconic characters like SHERLOCK and DOCTOR WHO, or is it easier to write about characters that you’ve originated?
STEVEN:  Well in both cases, in both SHERLOCK and DOCTOR WHO there are also characters that we originated, so actually it’s been both all the time. I don’t think it’s a lot different it’s a slightly dull answer. Because even after you’re created a character of your own that you’ve evolved after a very short while that’s an existing artifact and you have to write for them. So it’s not a lot different. I think you have to treat the characters you create as real in a way so they have to start calling the shots. And you have to handle characters like Sherlock Holmes and The Doctor, the ones that were given to you from before, you have to treat those characters — I’ll get into trouble for saying this — as if they’re your own, otherwise you’re not writing them properly.  I keep saying the writers and directors that have come on to DOCTOR WHO and SHERLOCK, treat it like you own. It’s not an heirloom.  You have to be authorial even though you know in your heart it’s not really yours.  You behave as though it is. So really the slightly dull answer is: there isn’t a lot of difference. I don’t feel a huge amount of difference.

What’s it like to go from behind the sofa to behind the curtain as it were? It’s got to be a lot of fun.
STEVEN:  It sort of happened so long ago that I’ve been involved in this for quite a long time, nearly ten years that I’m starting to forget. It’s very very exciting, I mean it’s massively demanding.  I don’t have any doubt that DOCTOR WHO had always been and will always be that. I mean your fanzy remains intact. You stay excited by DOCTOR WHO and the idea of DOCTOR WHO always remains thrilling.  I think you couldn’t function on the show unless that was true but it’s a terrible thing to say in a way but I’ve been on the other side of the curtain for quite a while now and I’m starting to forget that this used to be a show that I wasn’t involved in. One day when I’m not involved in it again it will all come rushing back, but right now it feels as though I have always worked on it. It retains its excitement.  It retains its shine. That’s the main thing to say about that I think.

To meet the new Clara “Oswin” Oswald and see what important and entertaining way she fits into the DOCTOR WHO universe, be sure to tune in for the return of DOCTOR WHO with all new episodes starting Saturday, March 30th at 8:00 p.m. on BBC America. The question will no longer be “Doctor Who?” but who is “The Impossible Girl”?

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