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Friday, June 24, 2022

Doctor Who and Sherlock writer Steven Moffat speaks at Oxford Union

Estelle Atkinson and Rosa Chalfen report.

The Oxford Union welcomed Steven Moffat for the second time since his first visit in 2016. The Doctor Who and Sherlock writer has won an Emmy award, five BAFTA Awards, and four Hugo Awards. His work in television earned him an appointment to the Order of the British Empire for his services to drama. 

Moffat spoke briefly on his current work, which happens to feature two previous doctors. Moffat just wrapped on his show Inside Man featuring David Tennant, and is currently working with Peter Capaldi on a new thriller series called The Devil’s Hour. “I do aftercare,” he joked about working again with the previous Doctor Whos. 

He also discussed the effect of the pandemic on the television and film industry, commenting that “you only really understand something when you look back on it. [The pandemic] is tragic, it’s frightening, and it’s boring.”

He continued: “you’re just stuck in your damned house; there’s nothing to write about. I thought for years that I could write if people stopped interrupting me, and then that happened, and I couldn’t write.”

He also joked that, on expressing this frustration to Sherlock co writer Mark Gatiss, who also plays Mycroft in the hit TV series, Gatiss told Moffat “I do think there’s a difference between sabbatical and a global emergency.” 

Moffat claims he gains creative inspiration from “outside, overhearing a conversation, seeing something through a window,” and struggled to write without this kind of stimulation. However, his thoughts on the future of the industry are bright: ‘‘There’s more television than there has ever been in the past. I used to make Doctor Who stories on an 8mm camera. You have better equipment on your Iphone than we had once a week in the Glasgow University TV studio,” referring to his student days at the University of Glasgow, where he studied English. 

On how his personal life influences his writing, Moffat said ‘‘I don’t think you have a choice as a writer. Sometimes you don’t notice for years- you are writing about what you think. You’re not trying to write for anyone else because you don’t know what anyone else wants. But sometimes that’s pretty tough to bring back to the weeping angels!’ He has previously said that his sitcom Joking Apart was inspired directly by the breakup of his first marriage.

However, Moffat is possibly most famous for writing the beloved BBC series Doctor Who between 2005-2008, and then producing the show between 2009-2017. He commented on the personal sacrifices the job entails: “You screw up every holiday, every dinner, every outing with your kids for how many years you do that job.” 

Discussing the return of previous writer Russel T Davies to Doctor Who, Moffat expressed the sentiment that “there is only a small group of people capable of doing it, and an even smaller band of people who are willing to do it.’” He called Davies the “single best writer in television drama,” markedly enthusiastic for his return.

His time as showrunner also overlapped with writing Sherlock, which he said “drove me a bit mad. [But] I survived, they paid me quite a lot of money, it’s not terrible!” Both shows had enormous and vocal fan bases, with Sherlock in particular garnering up to 10 million viewers per episode, but Moffat was reluctant to listen too much to fans’ opinions: “In the storm of it, it’s really difficult to dissociate from it. 99% of the audience never express their opinion in public, and you’re taking the worst sample of people to listen to. If you’re a fan of something, you never tell the truth. Fans lie.” 

He also refused to be drawn into speculation on who will play the next doctor: “Just surprise me – I want to sit in the audience.”

Image: The Oxford Union

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