Interview: Steven Moffat – No Sheets for Companions
In a recent interview with Steven Moffat, I had the opportunity to discuss The Doctor’s companions with him. He shared his opinions on whether or not we always need to have a dramatic departure for his friends, and whether or not we couldn’t see a more polite and happy departure where his friend says “Thanks for the fun, I’m off to buy new sheets now”. His response was rather emphatic:
“Yes that would be the least talked about moment in television history wouldn’t it? I mean really if you did a scene ‘I’m going to buy some sheets now,’ no one is ever going to write a fan letter about that one. So no, we’re not going to do that”.
He also called foul on the popular thought about The Doctor’s companions always ending up worse for the wear. “I mean, that’s not true about all the Doctor’s companions. It’s maybe what the Doctor thinks in his darker moments and when he’s dying in “Let’s Kill Hitler.” He worries that he might’ve done them terrible harm. But Rose is off in a parallel universe. She’ll be with her – with a human version of the Doctor. She’s fine. Martha learns to stand up for herself and got over her crush on the Doctor and she soars off. Yes Donna has a more miserable thing. But she doesn’t know she’s miserable. She ends up actually quite happy and married to a good bloke. Rory and Amy are perfectly happy in New York. They’re dead, but, you know, everyone from that year is dead so that’s all right. They lived to a ripe old age and had a lovely time.
“The Doctor – so he’s not – they all don’t leave under terrible circumstances at all. I think the tragedy when Amy and Rory went was the Doctor lost them not – and that in the end they, you know, of course that, you know, Amy would choose Rory over the Doctor in a heartbeat. And he actually had some trouble quite dealing with that. But the fact is, no he doesn’t ruin their lives. He can induce a certain amount of trauma, it must be said. But no they’re not all destroyed by any means. And no, every time, every time the Doctor loses a regular character from this show it will happen in a moment that makes people talk. Because the episode that you described no one would talk about that. That wouldn’t be thrilling.
“If a friendship is severed for good or for bad reasons, that’s a big moment in your life. And if you walk away from a great friend but then you’re not crying a little then you’ve not been reading the memos frankly. You’ve not been paying attention. So, no, Doctor Who will not take the un-dramatic path because we’d like to stay on television and popular.”
So far in the new series, all the Companions have been from modern day Britain. That wasn’t always the case in the old series. You’ve got Leela. You’ve got Dodo. You’ve got folks from different places, different times. Still human looking so you save money on the makeup. But how likely or how perhaps harder or different to write is it to write for a companion that isn’t just from modern day Earth?
“Well if we found that difficult,” he replied, “then we’d have tremendous difficulty writing the main character wouldn’t we? It’s not a question of whether it is difficult to do or not. It’s a question of whether it’s the right thing to do or not. Now in fact, the old series doesn’t do a hell of a lot of it. If you looked at the vast majority of the companions come from contemporary era. Even the ones who don’t come from contemporary era are pretty much normalized ones like with Jamie and Victoria. Then it’s hardly any time at all before Victoria is wearing short skirts. No Victorian would actually do that. You know, so the problem is – and I don’t say it’s an unsolvable problem, but the majority solution will always be a contemporary companion. But the problem is you need an anchoring point for the audience. You need someone who represents their world and their point of view. And the simplest, purest and best answer to that is somebody from their world.
“Now somebody who’s watched Doctor Who for an unseasonably long time like I have, like possibly you have, I don’t know, might get bored of that and say ‘I wish it was, you know, a two headed alien from the planet Prang’. The new audience don’t think that. They want an anchoring point on that mysterious alien the Doctor. Doesn’t mean we’ll always do it this way. But the reality is it’s always going to be somebody from contemporary era or somebody who ends up being very like somebody from contemporary era.
“I think it was great – the one that broke the mold really I would argue was Leela. We actually went for somebody who was quite different. I would sort of say that Jamie and Victoria ended up – when I was a kid watching I wasn’t particularly aware that they were historical characters. And I do remember watching them. And Romana just came across as, you know, in the end like a very, very clever young woman. She wasn’t that different from Liz Shaw. It’s going to be – it’s going to be the relatable half of the partnership. Keep in mind Doctor Who has to not just appeal to sci-fi fans, it has to appeal to a huge mainstream audience who dwarf the sci-fi audience. You sort of need that way in for them. Having said that, you know, who knows maybe there’ll be a robot dog next. I don’t know.”
One thing that has changed about the companions in the new series is we’ve seen much more about their family lives. Time was they’d be whisked away and dropped off with nary a word about who they left behind, save for the odd joke about a maiden aunt of perhaps a pot on the stove. Clara doesn’t even travel with The Doctor full time. Is that the “New Normal” as Peter Pachal from Mashable asked, or will we see a more traditional companion relationship in the future?
“Well, I mean there’s never going to be a ‘new normal’. Everybody who comes aboard the TARDIS will have a different story and do it a different way. You know, it’s not a dictate of any kind it’s just – Clara’s personality did not suit the idea of simply abandoning everything else she does and running off with the Doctor. I mean you wouldn’t believe it if I wrote that scene. Yes I’ll just go move into the TARDIS with you and I’ll keep in the spare room and you tell me where to go and you drive. That’s just – Clara’s never going to do that in a million years, just wouldn’t.
“But Amy the night before her wedding, all anxious about whether she’s getting married too young. She can run away from awhile. But once she gets married of course she’ll do that. I think you’ve got to look at the Doctor as somebody who’s got a fantastic car that likes to take you for a spin now and then. That doesn’t mean you move in. Now Rose was in a very different place, wasn’t she? She lived in a council estate. She didn’t like her job. She had a vexed relationship with her mother. She had a, you know, she had a boyfriend she wasn’t sure of. She ran away because that was right for her character. It’s purely whether or not you want to run away. And whether or not you might need the idea that you might be number two in this particular relationship.
“Clara is never going to – from the first moment you meet her she’s never going to be somebody who thinks that they live in the spare room while his nibs drives the TARDIS. That’s just not what she’s like.
“Doesn’t mean that the next one won’t be like that. Who knows?”