Doctor Who: Steven Moffat Offers Some Advice to Future Writers

Considering filming on the COVID-shortened eight-episode Series 13 of the BBC's Doctor Who is already underway, the advice that former showrunner and writer Steven Moffat had to offer anyone looking to write for the long-running BBC sci-fi series might be a little too late. But with Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole gone and rumors buzzing that Mandip Gill's Yaz, Jodie Whittaker's Doctor, and showrunner Chris Chibnall exiting after the upcoming series, it makes for some sage advice for future writers. Speaking with Doctor Who Magazine's Special Edition: Writing Doctor Who, Moffat offered some key things for writers to keep in mind- here are some of the highlights.

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor - Doctor Who Special 2020: Revolution Of The Daleks - Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBCA
Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBCA

Rules Are Meant to Be Targets: "There's stuff like 'Get them out of the TARDIS as fast as you can'," Moffat explained. "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." Translation? There are no sacred cows not worth eyeing up with creative knives- and that if a writer is looking to excite then they can avoid falling into any "boring bits."

You Don't Have to Be An Expert Sci-Fi Writer: Citing Rona Munro and Cath Tregenna as examples, Moffat emphasized that being an experience sci-fo writer isn't a must to write for the show- that being able to write emotion and feeling matters more. "I mean, if you wrote an episode of 'Black Mirror,' I think you'd have to be very good at sci-fi," Moffat explains. "But if you can write action, adventure, humor, romance, and emotion, you will do fine on 'Doctor Who'." And that includes coming up with names for alien races, planets, etc. "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."

Writing for "Doctor Who" Requires All of Your Skills: Emphasizing the need for writers to be flexible, Moffat lets writers know that their full skill set will be tested. "I can't think of a writing skill that you don't use on 'Doctor Who,'" Moffat said. "There isn't a resource you will not call on. You need to be good at plotting, character, action, humor… and good at stage directions! Dear God, that's important…"

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Image: BBC

As we mentioned earlier, Chibnall and the team are already hard at work on Series 13 production, revealing earlier this year, "We're filming as we speak. We've got lots of new characters, new monsters, some old ones coming back. We're only a few weeks in. It's very different, but we obviously have to work in a very different way, under COVID protocols. So, it's not without its challenges, but every series of 'Doctor Who' has had its challenges. At the moment, everybody's smiling." Now for the question that we're sure he's going to hear a lot over the next several months: so when will viewers be able to see it? Surprisingly, it sounds like Chibnall does know- it's just that there are some "higher powers" out there who would prefer he stay quiet for now. "Yeah, I've got an idea," Chibnall answered with a laugh. "But Charlotte Moore (BBC Chief Content Officer) would send 'the boys' round if I told you any hints. As soon as finish it, I promise we'll put it on telly straight away."

And even though their "Revolution" may be over (for now), is there any possibility of seeing the Daleks make a Series 13 return? Chibnall wouldn't say one way or another- but he did confirm that some familiar faces of the monster persuasion will be making their returns. "Yes, more monsters are coming back. There are ones who've appeared over the past 15 years that are deserving of another visit in the next series. In fact, they're probably formulating their plans as we speak…"

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About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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