DOCTOR Who supremo Steven Moffat:
“There are more beginnings and more endings this series than you’re perhaps ready for.”
“Assuming an intelligent audience is a good idea. Clearly going by our ratings it’s a successful idea. They are clever. They will get it.”
“I think you’ve got to be challenging and difficult and on the edge all the time.”
Lead writer, executive producer and showrunner Steven after last night’s exclusive big screen preview of Let’s Kill Hitler.
Or in other words, Doctor Who series six, episode eight to be broadcast by BBC1 on Saturday August 27 after the mid-series break.
With Mr M revealing: “My younger son said, ‘Won’t Hitler be offended?’”
The British Film Institute in London was the venue for the event.
We also saw a showreel of what is to come in the further remaining five episodes of this 2011 series, ahead of a yet to be filmed Christmas special.
Followed by an on stage Q&A session with Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) and Mr Moffat – all chaired by Matthew Sweet.
Matt Smith had hoped to be there – with a car on standby – but filming on location for his new BBC 1948 Olympic rowing drama Bert and Dickie meant he was unable to attend.
You can read my full verbatim transcript of the Q&A below – edited to remove any spoilers.
But first, here are a few thoughts on Let’s Kill Hitler, again without any major spoilers.
“IT was one of those moments when you open the script and just go, ‘Thank you!’”
Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams) summing up one of the standout scenes in Let’s Kill Hitler.
An explosion of television that you just have to stand back and applaud.
It begins with birdsong and a straw coloured Mini speeding in a field of wheat.
And ends with an explanation of rule number one…then a screen being switched off.
In between are a number of revelations as the Tardis crash lands in 1938 Berlin, on the eve of war.
Bringing the Doctor face-to-face with Adolf Hitler.
We already know that Amy and Rory’s daughter Melody grows up to be River Song (Alex Kingston).
That the Time Lord has promised to search and find missing Melody.
And that the future Doctor has been killed by the shores of Lake Silencio in Utah.
There is, in truth, hardly anything I can report about Let’s Kill Hitler without spoiling the episode.
Writer Steven Moffat packs a huge amount into this hugely entertaining return, including some genuine surprises.
With Matt Smith also at the top of his game as the Doctor faces his darkest moment.
The BFI audience loved the episode. But then, as staunch Doctor Who fans, you’d expect them to.
Most of my media colleagues also appeared to agree it was a very impressive start to the second half of the series.
Although one has posted a review online today that criticises the episode for what it is not, rather than for what it is.
I’ve never taken much notice of critics either way, whether they work for The New York Times or The Leadworth Chronicle.
I just know what I like as an ordinary viewer.
Albeit also being a journalist who writes about TV.
So I recommend you book your sofa for a week on Saturday and make your own mind up.
Here’s my transcript of last night’s Q&A – edited to remove any potential spoilers:
Q: When you construct a narrative like this, how is it done?
Steven Moffat: “I just keep it in my head. It’s not that complicated if you know how it ends. I appreciate I am the only one who does – you haven’t seen the ending yet. You still know nothing.”
Q: When you sat down to write the episodes that introduced River Song, did you know what fate had in store for her?
Steven Moffat: “No. At that point I was just thinking it was kind of a one-off character and she could have been involved in some way or another, who knows, with the 58th Doctor. But Alex (Kingston) was so good that it just seemed such a fun thing to bring her back. By the time I was thinking of Amy Pond – I thought that was pretty bloody obvious, actually – I was thinking, ‘Yes, the reveal could probably be she was the daughter.’ Obviously I needed other get outs – Karen might have left. But from a fairly early point, yeah.
“The great thing about writing the River Song story is, it looks much cleverer than it is in a way because it’s backwards. From her point of view, of course, it isn’t. But you are telling that story, you are revealing it stage by stage backwards. So like all magic tricks it looks cleverer than it is.”
Q: To what extent are you (Karen and Arthur) always in on the secret of River Song?
Karen Gillan: “We did not know for a long time who she was. Not until we got to the readthrough of episode seven. And then we didn’t even find out at the readthrough, we found out in the corridor afterwards – it was a dummy ending, right?”
Arthur Darvill: “We’re constantly speculating and coming up with things that weren’t as good as what Steven had written.”
Q: Is it not confusing as an acting experience?
Karen Gillan: “We know what we need to know.”
Steven Moffat: “I didn’t tell Matt either. Only Alex knew. But then within the story only Alex knows. And, to be honest, it’s just an awful lot more fun. Especially as Alex took it so seriously that every time she walked up to me on set she’d clutch her hand to her bosom as if she was just a little bit excited talking to me, to cover her radio mic. And I’d stand there watching the three of them standing on the Tardis set going, ‘We’re the leads!’
“There is a kind of serious side to it. If you tell people what’s coming up in a script, their ability to respond to that script is absolutely diminished. They only have one shot at doing it – they should read the script as the audience will experience, so they can reproduce that feeling. If you tell them everything in advance then you rob that from them.”
Arthur Darvill: “There’s nothing more exciting than turning up to work and seeing new scripts.”
Q: You don’t really get this sort of plot structure elsewhere?
Steven Moffat: “Well you get it in movies sometimes. I think assuming an intelligent audience is a good idea. Clearly going by our ratings it’s a successful idea. I can’t see the flaw in the plan. I can’t see what’s wrong about assuming intelligence about the audience and what’s bad news about being rewarded for assuming that? They are clever. They will get it. My nine-year-old got all of this ages ago, I think ‘The Day Of The Moon’. Because for a kid it’s so obvious. Because they’re just thinking, ‘Mysterious woman, mysterious girl, mysterious pregnancy. Dah!’ And wander off.”
Q: Doctor Who has touched upon areas that it might not have touched upon in the past?
Steven Moffat: “Well, yes. But then what’s the point of telling a story where you’re just telling the same stories again? I suppose the paternity question was, again, dead obvious to children. Of course it’s Rory’s. But it’s only adults sitting there in their weird and paranoid way who ever thought the Doctor would even have been able to find how to do that.” (Laughter)
Karen Gillan: “The interesting thing is that kids don’t over-think it. Whereas adults, we tend to. They try and read a bit too much into it.”
Q: What do you make of the way that all these plots are interpreted and analysed?
Steven Moffat: “Well it’s nice but we’re not that aware of it. Unless you go online, which I don’t do anymore. I’m sure there’s lots of analysis and general anger. (Laughter) Basically towards me. So I’ve ducked it. I used to go online when Russell (T Davies) was running it to see what they said about him. So I thought, ‘When it’s my turn, I’m just not going on.’ I’m ‘clean and sober’ for two-and-half-years.”
Q: What about Hitler? Won’t some kids not know who he was?
Steven Moffat: “I’m not sure because my two boys absolutely knew who he was. It’s quite an iconic name, to be honest, in this very, very evil and ghastly way. So I don’t think so. But it’ll be interesting. They might. I don’t know. My kids knew it. My younger son said, ‘Won’t Hitler be offended?’”
Q: There are precedents for Hitler being treated in almost a comic way?
Steven Moffat: “Yes. In Indiana Jones there’s a brilliant gag where Indiana Jones accidentally gets Hitler’s autograph. I think if you really want to p*** off Hitler, now that he’s dead, don’t make him into an icon of evil. Take the mickey out of him. Make him a joke…can you imagine how cross Adolf would be if he saw that? He’d be absolutely livid.”
Arthur Darvill: “Rory’s an action hero. That’s why I was employed.” (Laughter)
Q: Where are we going to travel?
Karen Gillan: “Without giving too much away, episode 10 is quite an interesting one and Amy and Rory’s relationship is explored in great depth. Episode 11, we have a scary thing called The Minotaur.”
Arthur Darvill: “It’s set in a creepy hotel.”
Karen Gillan: “It’s kind of like The Shining or something.”
Arthur Darvill: “David Walliams looking like a mole.”
Karen Gillan: “A very submissive mole…”
Steven Moffat: “We’ve skipped past Tower Block…” (I may have misheard as this doesn’t appear to the title of the relevant episode)
Arthur Darvill: “Danny Mays is in that. He’s brilliant.”
Q: Where do these characters go? What happens?
Arthur Darvill: “Obviously they’re affected very much by what’s just happened. Their relationship is becoming more and more entwined…”
Karen Gillan: “I don’t know what to say without giving things away. This is hard.”
Steven Moffat: “They’re all basically going to Lake Silencia. We are going back to the lake…that’s where the Doctor is going…”
Q: The glimpse of “something” in the rest of series showreel?
Steven Moffat: “It’s almost like I lie sometimes. (Laughter) I lie repeatedly and continually. I find it by far the easiest way to communicate. (More laughter) It gives you more control if you just make stuff up…imagine if dramatists had to tell the truth, it would be terrible. Of course I lie. We’re trying to keep surprises, we’re trying to trick people in a nice way.
“By the way, just to emphasise again, I’m going to say to any members of the Press here, I loved you all so much last time for not giving away our big secrets. Could you do it again for us? Don’t tell them…it spoils the whole thing.” (Audience applause)
Questions were then thrown open to the audience (Again edited to remove spoilers):
Q: Steven, you don’t seem to have any problems with the darker issues that children and adults might face. I’m thinking particularly…last series you had Van Gogh and you looked at mental illness. And Hitler is not a light subject. Do you ever worry about the reaction you’re going to get from the Press and the audience in general about that?
Steven Moffat: “Do I ever worry? Apart from all the time about everything. The main thing is get a reaction, really. The day a television show isn’t getting a reaction, it really is on the slide. You’ve got to get a reaction. You’ve got to be provocative and stimulating. Richard Curtis’s wonderful Vincent and The Doctor got a hugely positive response. It was a challenging subject, it was a difficult subject, one that Richard very much wanted to write about. The first time he pitched it to me, he said, ‘I want to do manic depression and Vincent Van Gogh.’ And I was saying, ‘Richard, you do know this is six o’clock on a Saturday?’ But it was handled beautifully and gave it so much more depth than that and sincerity, because there was something passionate about it. It was bigger and better as a result. I think you’ve got to be challenging and difficult and on the edge all the time.”
- The original questioner responded: “As someone with bipolar disorder, which is manic depression, thank you for portraying it so well.”
Steven Moffat: “Well, it’s thanks to Richard, really. I’ll pass that on.”
Q: Can you tell me who the guest star is for the Christmas special?
Steven Moffat: “It would be very easy for me to keep that secret…I can’t…I genuinely can’t.”
Q: A gentle hint?
Steven Moffat: “Well if you’ve got a little hint, that would be very useful.” (Laughter) I genuinely can’t.”
Q: Any dream contenders?
Steven Moffat: “Yes.” (Laughter and applause)
Q: Karen – Matt Smith gets to dress up a lot…will we get to see you in any more outrageous outfits this series?
Karen Gillan: “In episode 10 I wear this kind of really weird outfit that is constructed of different things. It’s pretty unique. I can’t really say anything about it.”
Arthur Darvill: “I think it’s going to catch on.”
Karen Gillan: “Do you? There’s a bit of a football in it or something, which is a bit weird.”
Arthur Darvill: “It’s very beautiful.”
Q: Any prospect of Steven following Russell T Davies in writing something like The Writer’s Tale re the writing process?
Steven Moffat: “No. The trouble is, you’d have the same book by a slightly more reticent and grumpy man…to be honest, I think that is an outstanding book about writing. I think it’s brilliant. I recommend it to anyone. I don’t know that I have anything to add. That is the life I’m leading. It’s as hellish as depicted there. It doesn’t change at all. No – it would just be the same book with a shorter man. It would look like a budget cut.” (Laughter)
Q: Questions for Arthur – you mentioned about the relationship between Amy and Rory being explored in a later episode. Perhaps you could sum up for us the way you see the relationship between the two characters. And do you find there are lots of people who are deadly jealous and envious of the fact you spend so much of your working life in the company of Karen Gillan?
Arthur Darvill: “She’s lovely…we talked about what their relationship was…what’s their relationship like now?”
Karen Gillan: “Well, they’re parents. So that changes things. What I love about it is that we’re getting to see the full picture…”
Q: Is there more of the “Dark Doctor” to come?
Steven Moffat: “Yes you will see dark sides to him. But I’m not going to tell you what they are. He has got a dark side to him but there’s an awful lot of the Doctor that isn’t dark. There’s an awful lot of him that’s really rather lovely. I think he worries more about his dark side than he actually has one. He’s a kind of dark side that wears a bow tie and really takes to a fez. I think there’s a limit to how really evil you can be if you’re being that much of a buffoon. He’s lovely. I think his dark side is more that he is more accidentally powerful and influential than he ever intended to be. He’s just larking around in that Tardis and suddenly he discovers he’s a myth everywhere. And that’s really alarming when all you thought you were doing was playing truant. But he’s fundamentally a very nice man.”
Q: Is he essentially a comic character?
Steven Moffat: “He goes up and down. I think probably overall he comes over as slightly comic because, in a way, he seems to go on unscathed. And that is the fundamental comic thing – you just pop up again next week and do it all again. But I think one of the glories of Doctor Who is that it is a very funny show. And in Matt, we’ve got an extremely funny Doctor. When we were first talking about the new Doctor Who with Matt, one of the things we were very concerned about was to make sure he was funny. It’s very hard to resist funny. It’s really, really hard to resist somebody who makes you laugh.”
Q: And does he make you laugh when he’s not reading your words?
“What Matt? No, never. He’s only funny or interesting when he’s reading my words..no, no. Matt is a joy, I have to say. He really is genuinely nice…he’s absolutely entertaining. And there are elements of his Doctor that are him – the fact that the Doctor does think he’s the coolest thing out there…” (Laughter) It’s a combination. He’s not exactly like the Doctor. A lot of his charm…the one thing about Matt is, at times he does seem to be the most ridiculously grown-up 28-year-old. He talks to you like a dad sometimes. So that element comes in. And just his sweetness. There’s a tremendous charm and likeability. And again, he’s a very, very nice man.”
Q: Do you think Amy and Rory would consider at some stage having another child?
Karen Gillan: “Yeah, I reckon they would have another kid.”
Arthur Darvill: “They would?” (Laughter) I suppose as this one was so bizarre for them…”
Q: Could there be a shock regeneration in time for Christmas?
Steven Moffat (joking): “There could. Or there might not be. (Laughter) I would trust nothing, including what I’m saying right now. I think I can confirm that doubt and uncertainty is absolutely everywhere. Where is Matt today, eh? Rowing? Not even convincing, that’s what I’d say. Matt Smith? Rowing? Two oars? I think the ambulance is on standby. Let’s see. What can I tell you? If you want to know what’s going to happen in Doctor Who, watch Doctor Who.”
Q: The myth of the Doctor? How far can you push that?
Steven Moffat: “Well, again, I’m afraid the answer is sort of wait and see. But in terms of how it works within the show, it’s an inevitable consequence of the show running for a while. When Doctor Who begins with William Hartnell, he’s not this great big mighty hero. But it does get to be impossible to write his 15th defeat of the Daleks without feeling as though the Daleks should be getting a little bit twitchy when the box turns up. So I think given that the audience are in on the secret, that he’s just a lunatic who’s capering around trying to have lunch somewhere nice, and all these people think that he’s this massive, mighty foe, I think that’s a fun thing to play with. Because we know he isn’t. We know he hasn’t even got a plan. He can’t even drive the box. We know that’s not true. So I think that makes it a fun thing to play with. It’s a dangerous card for the Doctor to play because the more he makes his enemies fear him, the more powerful they will become in response to what is, in fact, an unarmed man who can’t drive.”
Q: Karen – can you shed any more light on why there is no action figure of Rory yet?
Karen: “There’s no Rory action figure yet?”
Steven Moffat: “A very good question. I don’t know…maybe nobody wants him. (Laughter) I will make it a personal mission to have an action figure made.” (Applause)
Q: Could we please have a spin-off about inter-species crime-fighting couple Madame Vastra and Jenny? (As seen in A Good Man Goes To War)
Steven Moffat: “Vastra and Jenny? That’s tipping the scales…” (Laughter) “I did, in a moment of insanity, pitch it to Ben Stephenson (BBC Drama boss) and he just said, ‘yes’. And then I had a moment of communion with my diary, which appears to have no free time in it at all. So that would be quite tricky. But I loved those, so who knows what may happen in the future?”
Q: Was there any resistance from the BBC about the title Let’s Kill Hitler?
Steven Moffat: “No, I don’t think so. I think if it said, ‘Let’s be nice to Hitler,’ or, ‘He wasn’t so bad that Hitler,’ that might have…Let’s Kill Hitler is fine. It’s a noble ambition, if a little on the late side.”
Q: That dummy ending at the readthrough?
Steven Moffat: “It was a whole lot of nonsense, I remember. It wasn’t that brilliant but it didn’t really have to be. It was all about what the name was on the side of the cot. And I pretended we were going to reveal the Doctor’s real name…that was it. It was written at four in the morning or something.”
Q: Are you going to keep killing Rory? And are we going to get an explanation?
Steven Moffat: “Is there a reason why Rory keeps dying? Well, if something is popular…(Laughter) We’ve only properly killed him once. It will pay off. But is there a particular reason behind it? Well the truth is, he died in two consecutive stories – my fault. So that maybe did seem a little excessive and drew attention to the fact. Of course Doctor Who companions are always ending up in near death situations. We killed Karen a few times, the Doctor a few times…there isn’t any special plan. But having noticed it, it will be sort of paid off.”
Q: So many big moments in openers like this. Do you find it hard to sustain that across the whole series?
Steven Moffat: “I think at the beginning and end of stories you do tell stories in a slightly different register. But you don’t want to tell stories in that register all the time…you don’t always want to be reading the first chapter or the last chapter in the book, you want different things. But you also want to make every single story an absolute event. And I think we do. There are more beginnings and more endings this series than you’re perhaps ready for. So don’t assume that you can doze off for the next four weeks ahead of the finale. There’s loads to come.”
Q: The Doctor’s new coat?
Steven Moffat: “Well, the Doctor went into the Tardis and realised he was starting to whiff a bit. Matt fancied a different coat. It’s not a great story, is it? I turned up one day and he was wearing it, I think.”
Q: You’re telling big, dramatic stories with huge moments. Some of the moments we get really excited about are the moments that reference old Who. Just a little small reference here, another reference there. Are there any plans to have something like that in the subsequent episodes?
Steven Moffat: “There are references, yes. Because I like doing those things too. Because I know absolutely everything – my repressed upbringing – about Doctor Who, I do slip references in all the time. So, yes, you’ll be happily picking up stray lines of dialogue here and there. It’s what we do instead of fun, isn’t it?”
Q: The stories are so cinematic and it looked amazing on this huge screen, can we do this every week?
Steven Moffat: “It’s a great idea. Talk to the BFI.”
Q: The USA is a huge place. Did you have a favourite moment out there that you really enjoyed. And did you ever get lost on location?
Karen Gillan: “I don’t think I got lost. But my favourite moment is running through the desert being chased by a helicopter. I can say that I’ve done that. That’s so cool. It was a serious thing though. Can you imagine, a helicopter coming behind you? And I was thinking, ‘If he overestimates it or underestimates it or whatever, he’s going to kill me.’ So I was running for my life. But I liked that.”