Head writer Steven Moffat has been determining the course of Doctor Who since 2010, when show-runner Russell Davies handed over the keys to the TARDIS and Matt Smith took over from David Tennant as the dark and madcap traveler in time and space.
Moffat has written five Christmas episodes for the Doctor, four for Smith and the latest, Last Christmas, for Peter Capaldi, the current inhabitant of the role. The new episode, which includes Santa Claus and is set at the North Pole, airs at 9 p.m. Thursday on BBC America.
Last known companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) is again aboard. Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) plays Santa. As is traditional, there is snow. We spoke with Moffat about the episode.
Do you approach writing the Christmas specials with any special excitement?
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I always approach Doctor Who with excitement. Otherwise, I wouldn’t still be doing it. I suppose there are extra challenges; what are we going to do to make it Christmas-y — all that stuff. But in the end, the audience just wants to sit down and actually watch Doctor Who. They don’t want you just to turn it into a Christmas spectacular. And you have to keep in mind that some people are being forced to watch it that don’t normally watch it, ’cause it’s a big family event.
And you know what’s like about 6 o’clock on Christmas Day — you can hardly keep your eyes open, you’ve been stuffing your face, you’ve been drinking champagne since 10 in the morning. It’s the most highly sugared day of the year, so maybe it’s not the time for the most intricately plotted piece of Doctor Who you’ve ever done. It’s time to make it quite accessible and appropriate to the day. And it’s got to have a big heart, and it’s got to be a bit sentimental. But then Doctor Who always has those things.
How did you decide to use Santa Claus?
It just came up as a fun idea. In Britain, Doctor Who and Santa Claus are the two big heroes at Christmas, so for them to share an adventure, just the visual of Father Christmas entering the TARDIS, is kind of cool.
Was it different writing a Christmas episode for Peter Capaldi?
On paper, the Doctor never changes that much — it’s the different performance. Matt Smith’s Doctor was mostly cheery with a grumpy man underneath, and Capaldi’s is more like a grumpy man with a cheery man underneath; but, oddly, the experience of writing a Doctor doesn’t change that radically. He’s the same man; he’s just got a different face and a slightly different mood.
So you’re writing the same character.
Very much so. It’s a different version. He’s changed a lot, but you don’t want to think that Matt Smith’s Doctor just died; you want to think that he’s reborn as somebody else. And you know, you’ve been reborn too: You’re not the same as you were when you were a teenager or a toddler. ... We all change.
Does canonicity matter to you?
Well, yes, provided you’re prepared to embrace that some of these adventures happen twice and there are massive contradictions. But why shouldn’t there be? ... Sometimes he was human, sometimes he was a Time Lord. Who cares? You’re allowed. Everything is equally fictional; it’s a kind of nonsense to say otherwise.
Los Angeles Times