Steven Moffat

From Tardis Wiki, the free Doctor Who reference
Steven Moffat Talk

Steven Moffat OBE[1] (born 18 November 1961[2]) was head writer and executive producer on Doctor Who, from series 5 in 2010 to series 10 in 2016/17. He also served as executive producer for Class. The War, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors are, primarily, his creations. Prior to this, he wrote a number of television stories during Russell T Davies' first tenure as executive producer. He remains Doctor Who's most award-winning writer.

Prior to Doctor Who

Moffat came to Doctor Who after a successful career of writing for situation comedies that began in the 1990s. He was a major creative force on Press Gang (also his first television programme) and Coupling. His love for Doctor Who sometimes crept into his scripts for these programmes. In Coupling, for instance, the character of Steve explains the use of sofas as protection against Daleks. The character of Oliver, introduced in the fourth season of Coupling, worked at a comic book and sci-fi/fantasy specialty shop, which allowed for Doctor Who references. In one episode, for example, Oliver has a pretend conversation with his girlfriend, using a life-sized Dalek replica as the stand-in for his ex. In another episode, Oliver arrives at a dinner party wearing what he thinks is a nice, formal jumper, forgetting that the jumper says "Bring Back Doctor Who" on the back.

Classic Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks noted Moffat's fandom in a commentary for Horror of Fang Rock, recorded in 2004 (before Moffat's work on the revived series).

Opinions of the original series

Mid-90s, early 2000s

Prior to his first script for Doctor Who, Steven Moffat was a fan who sometimes publicly opined on his love-hate relationship with the program. In the mid-1990s, he was wont to extol the virtues of Peter Davison's acting abilities, saying that the reason "he's played more above-the-title lead roles on the telly than the rest of the Doctors put together" is "because — get this! — he's the best actor." Furthermore, he has called Snakedance and Kinda, "the two best Who stories ever."[3] During a discussion after at least one round of drinks with Andy Lane, Paul Cornell and David Bishop, he claimed that although "as a television format, Doctor Who equals anything", he couldn't hold up the program as an exemplar of great television to "anybody I work with in television." He went on to call the original program "slow", "embarrassing", and "limited by the relatively meagre talent of the people who were working on it." He spoke particularly harshly of 1960s Doctor Who, stating:

If you look at other stuff from the Sixties they weren't crap — it was just Doctor Who. The first episode of Doctor Who betrays the lie that it's just the Sixties, because the first episode is really good — the rest of it's shit.Steven Moffat

Moreover, he expressed some disdain for the Virgin New Adventures, which were, at the time of the discussion, the dominant form of Doctor Who fiction. "There's 24 of them a year. That's too bloody many! I've never wanted 24 new Doctor Who adventures a year in my life. Six was a perfectly good number." However, he did call "brilliant" the notion that the NAs "sometimes successfully" took a television program "aimed at 11-year olds" and reinterpreted it for adults, involving "a completely radical revision of the Seventh Doctor that never appeared on television."[4]

However, by 2004 when he gave an interview to Doctor Who Magazine, his opinion appeared to have shifted. Commenting on the show's prevalence in his childhood, he recalled The Tomb of the Cybermen and remarked how irresponsible it was for a show to deliberately set out to frighten children. (DWM 350) Moffat's statement on his own position as a fan was the one that most contradicted his earlier disparagement:

I don't think I've tried to deny being a fan. I've gone through the 'it was all crap' phase, but I've come through the other end now.Steven Moffat [DWM 350 [src]]

After writing for the show

In 2013, Moffat considered the first episode of Doctor Who, "An Unearthly Child", to "still [be] an extraordinary piece of television by any standard" and "absolutely amazing". He considered William Hartnell's portrayal of the First Doctor to be "brilliant" but found it was Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor who "[laid] down the central rules" of being the Doctor. He noted that Jon Pertwee's "showmanship" was largely in the Third Doctor's costume, and that he played the Doctor far more seriously than even Christopher Eccleston. [5]

In 2014, during the celebration of Tom Baker's 80th birthday, he found that the Fourth Doctor, or "the one with the scarf", had "quite a few of his [stories] that [were] very special". He thought that Douglas Adams' script for City of Death was "very very funny" and "beautifully plotted".[6]

Also in 2014, he found The Ark in Space "sort of sums all of Doctor Who up" with a "quite, quite brilliant movie-sized script" which was a "superlative piece of writing" and a "really, really well-told story", in spite of containing a monster which was "a bit shoddy" and the production being "a little bit overlit".[6]

In a 2016 interview, he also praised the scriptwriting and criticised the production quality of the Graham Williams era, referring to the scripts of those years as "meticulously scripted and tightly constructed". He specifically singled out the "hugely well-put-together" and "genuinely superb" script for Nightmare of Eden, a serial he had rewatched the previous night, which he found had ended up being "very poorly made" television. (DWM 500)

In 2013, he continued to love Peter Davison's performance as the Fifth Doctor. He thought that Davison went in the opposite direction to Tom Baker and that this made him "real and passionate and heartfelt". He felt that in serials like The Caves of Androzani, it wasn't so much that the Fifth Doctor was more vulnerable or less effective, to which Moffat claimed he wasn't, but that he "[made] you feel the journey in a way that Tom Baker didn't".[5]

By this point, Moffat concluded that the effects team of the BBC London version of the show were "brilliant people"; they usually had the know-how and experience to make effects shots as good as the opening scene of The Trial of a Time Lord, but they didn't really have the time or the money to realise them. Moffat "quite like[d]" the idea of the Valeyard being a dark version of the Doctor, but claimed he wasn't completely sure if he understood it.[5]

Around this time, Moffat considered some of the last stories of the original run of the show, including the "terrific script" and "very, very well-directed [story]" of Remembrance of the Daleks to be "superb", and that they "show[ed] a re-galvanised production team just really trying to deliver proper blockbusters". He also noted how the spaceship landing in this story was done "superbly" by the special effects team without using CGI.[7] By 2015, Moffat wrote that, contrary to "conventional wisdom" about the Sylvester McCoy years, season 26 was "terrific Doctor Who, on absolutely top form", one of Moffat's favourite seasons of the show, and "possibly" the only season in the classic series where he liked every single episode. He also mentions enjoying producer John Nathan-Turner's work "very much" and praised him as a "great producer". (DWM 488)

He believed that "stylistically, tonally, everything", that when you follow the final episode of Survival in 1989 with Rose in 2005, Doctor Who was "really the same show" and it "came back exactly as it left".[5]

Work on Doctor Who


Moffat's first piece of professional Doctor Who fiction was a 1996 short story for Virgin Books called Continuity Errors. Errors is one of the few non-televised Doctor Who stories Moffat has written and established a pattern of Moffat only writing short stories in prose.

Soon after Errors, he wrote the first piece of televised Doctor Who after the 1996 TV movie — the 1999 Comic Relief story The Curse of Fatal Death. When the BBC Wales version of the program started in 2005 he began writing a string of BAFTA- and Hugo- award-winning storylines, which included The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (Moffat's first episodes), The Girl in the Fireplace, and Blink. Steven also wrote Time Crash, the first multi-Doctor story of the new series, as well as Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. His only prose contributions during this period were three more short stories, each for a version of the old Doctor Who annual concept.

As of 2018, he has the distinction of writing for the most Doctors on-screen than any other writer for the show, with a total of (at least) 8. As well as contributing episodes to the main tenures of the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth and War Doctors, Moffat also penned Time Crash for the Fifth Doctor and The Night of the Doctor for the Eighth Doctor. Moffat wrote for the First Doctor's appearance at the end of his tenure in The Doctor Falls and Twice Upon a Time.

Furthermore, due to a cameo appearance in The Day of the Doctor, he has also written for the Curator, who is definitively revealed in other media to be a future incarnation of the Doctor, though this is left intentionally ambiguous in Moffat's story.

Due to worldwide outbreak of the disease known as Coronavirus in the year 2020, Emily Cook from Doctor Who Magazine proposed an idea to fans of a simulcast watch-along of the story The Day of the Doctor worldwide on 21 March 2020 as a way to pass the time in self-isolation, adding that if this "Who at Home" concept gained enough popularity, she would arrange more in the following weeks. This watch-along would reignite #SaveTheDay.[8] For this special occasion, Moffat returned to the writing stool to create a brand new "introduction" to the story, entitled Strax Saves the Day.[9]

Head writer

On 20 May 2008, Steven Moffat was announced as the executive producer and head writer of Doctor Who starting with the fifth season in 2010, taking over from Russell T Davies, who revived the show in 2005. He joked in a BBC press release:

My entire career has been a secret plan to get this job. I applied before but I got knocked back 'cos the BBC wanted someone else. Also I was seven. Anyway, I'm glad the BBC has finally seen the light, and it's a huge honour to be following Russell into the best - and the toughest - job in television. I say toughest 'cos Russell's at my window right now, pointing and laughing.Steven Moffat on the Doctor Who official website, May 2008[10]

Although Steven Moffat cast twenty-six-year old Matt Smith in the role, Moffat had previously been quoted as preferring older actors in the role of the Doctor. "Although I loved Peter Davison and Paul McGann, probably the best two actors in the role, I don't think young, dashing Doctors are right at all. He should be forty-plus and weird-looking — the kind of wacky grandfather kids know on sight to be secretly one of them."

Major themes

Provided ID could not be validated.

Steven Moffat's work on Doctor Who has exhibited four major themes, including romance and sexuality (especially concerning the Doctor), the power behind the Doctor's real name and the consequences of time travel and its resulting paradoxes.

The most pervasive theme found within his work has been communication, both from the perspective of glitches in communication mediums, as well as metatextual narratives. The first of these perspectives has created his most iconic monsters, such as the Weeping Angel, which feature a breakdown in sight as well as our ability to represent them, and the Silent, which feature a breakdown in memory. The second can be found throughout his whole tenure, for example, in the Smith years, there was a constant consideration of the Doctor's relationship to children, and if the Doctor was best thought of as a fairy tale or an imaginary friend, an idea presaged in Silence in the Library, and echoed at the very end of Twice Upon a Time.

Other recurring elements in his stories include children's fears (whether they be bombs dropping in World War II, monsters under the bed, statues coming to life, and the most common childhood fear: the dark) and the Doctor being a very lonely soul. Another common characteristic is that "Everyone lives": of his first four stories, two of them featured no deaths at all, while the other two featured only deaths by natural causes. Another characteristic is having antagonists who are not necessarily evil, merely doing what they are made to do. Three times Moffat has used time travel to very quickly build an emotional relationship between someone and the Doctor when they encounter him fleetingly and see him again many years later: Madame de Pompadour in The Girl in the Fireplace, Amy Pond in The Eleventh Hour, and Liz Ten in The Beast Below. The reverse happens between the Doctor and River Song in Silence in the Library.

Moffat tended to use metafictional references as serious or semi-serious themes. He converted the "Doctor Who?" running joke into "The First Question", part of a universe-threatening story arc. (TV: The Wedding of River Song) He also liked to plant his themes early and let them be revealed slowly, sometimes years later. Although he first raised the theme of "Doctor Who? It's more than just a question" in 2006 (TV: The Girl in the Fireplace) and only revealed its importance in 2011. (TV: The Wedding of River Song)

In like manner, the question of the identity of River Song and her relationship to the Doctor was raised in 2008 (TV: Silence in the Library) was only answered in 2011. (TV: A Good Man Goes to War, The Wedding of River Song)

Moffat also has had the Doctor and River Song warning each other "Spoilers!" to avoid future-altering (and suspense-destroying) foreknowledge. (TV: Silence in the Library et al.)

Diversity also has been a major theme of his era. His era is notable for introducing the first televised lesbian companion, Bill Potts, as well as casting the first female Master, and introducing the concept of gender-fluidity among Time Lords.

TARDIS telephone

Moffat has used the TARDIS as a telephone box several times to surprise even the Doctor. In The Empty Child and The Bells of Saint John, the Child and Clara Oswald made outside phone of the TARDIS ring. At the end of The Beast Below, the Doctor enters the TARDIS as the console phone is ringing. In The Wedding of River Song, the Doctor uses the phone to call the Brigadier up for an adventure.


Moffat-designed monsters have been very basic-looking, but intricately designed. The Empty Child look like people wearing gas masks, but are actually mutants modelled after a dead child and created by subatomic robots. The Clockwork Droids look like people in French dress, but are actually clockwork repair droids using time-windows to repair their ship with human parts. The Weeping Angels look like statues, but are actually ancient, quantum-locked, time-trapping assassins that feed off of time energy. The Vashta Nerada look like shadows, but are actually carnivorous swarms that inhabited trees that were manufactured into books. Prisoner Zero looks like a man with a dog, but is actually a shape-shifting worm hiding in Amy Pond's house via a Time Crack. The Smilers look like dummies, but are actually androids involved in a killer government conspiracy. Perhaps Moffat's most notable monsters are the Silence, an ancient species that have the ability to make people forget that they had ever existed. Moffat's monsters have also been highly regarded by fans as the scariest monsters, though Paul Cornell's Family of Blood and Russell T Davies' "Midnight entity" have been also regarded. [says who?]

Awards and recognition

Steven Moffat with Benedict Cumberbatch and Matt Smith.

Throughout his involvement with the revived series, Moffat has been something of a Hugo Awards "juggernaut". The episodes he wrote for each of the first four seasons; The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances; The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead were all nominated in the 'Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form' category. He has also received multiple nominations during his years as executive producer. Both The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang and A Christmas Carol were nominated in 2011, and A Good Man Goes to War in 2012. Three of his episodes were nominated in 2013: Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels Take Manhattan and The Snowmen.

Moffat set a record by winning the Hugo three years consecutively (2006, 2007, 2008), with his episodes defeating episodes of Battlestar Galactica, and a Star Trek fan film, as well as others from Doctor Who and Torchwood. The winning streak came to an end when Moffat's Library two-parter was defeated by the Internet production, Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog, although only by approximately 100 votes.[11] Despite this however, Moffat won the award once again for the series 5 finale in 2011.

As an individual writer, Moffat has twice been nominated for the "Best Script" Nebula award (Girl in the Fireplace and Blink) and his work on Blink resulted in "Best Writer" and "Best Screenwriter" awards at the 2008 Television BAFTA and BAFTA Cymru awards respectively. As part of the collective writers of Series 3, he was also awarded the Writers' Guild of Great Britain award for "Best Soap/Series (TV)".

Moffat's work on Doctor Who has also been recognised by those writing for other well known franchises. The preface to the Star Trek novel Watching the Clock features a quote from Blink credited to Moffat.

He wrote the Hartswood Films drama series Jekyll, a modern version of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which aired on BBC One in June and July 2007. In an interview with The Age, James Nesbitt, who played the lead roles of Dr Tom Jackman and Mr Hyde, called Moffat "an eccentric, shy fellow", while commending his writing as "inventive and dark and funny".

In October 2007 it was reported that Moffat would be scripting a trilogy of The Adventures of Tintin films for director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson, starring the boy reporter Tintin. According to The Times newspaper, Moffat had to be "love bombed" by Spielberg into accepting the offer to write the films, with the director promising to shield him from studio interference with his writing. He had intended to complete work on the whole trilogy before resuming work on Doctor Who, but the intervening Writers Guild of America strike meant he could submit a finished script for the first film only. In July 2008, Moffat was quoted by the Daily Mail as saying:

I could not work on the second Tintin film and work on Doctor Who. So I chose Doctor Who.Steven Moffat, July 2008

The first film, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was released in 2011.

Moffat continued to write for Hartswood Films even after his appointment as show-runner for Doctor Who. During their journeys from London to Cardiff for Doctor Who, Moffat and Mark Gatiss conceived a contemporary update of Sherlock Holmes, called Sherlock. Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as Holmes, with Martin Freeman as Dr Watson. Four series of three 90-minute episodes, plus a special, written by Moffat, Gatiss and Steve Thompson, aired in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. He won a Royal Television Society Judges Award in 2010 for his work on Doctor Who and Sherlock.[12]

Personal life

Moffat married his frequent production partner, Sue Vertue, who produced The Curse of Fatal Death and Sherlock. They have two children. While Moffat and Vertue's sons had become adults by the 2020s, at the start of Moffat's production era on Doctor Who they would have been in the target audience age range of Doctor Who. His children have been seen on Doctor Who Confidential making backstage visits to the set of The Girl in the Fireplace. Moffat has disclosed in Doctor Who Magazine [which?] that he often shares details about newly-arrived scripts with his kids. He is also the son-in-law of the legendary British television studio boss, Beryl Vertue, who is most significant to Doctor Who fans as the agent who originally negotiated Terry Nation's rights to the Daleks.

Selected credits

Televised scripted drama

As writer

As executive producer


Target Novelisations

Short Stories

Virgin Decalogs

Doctor Who annual

Doctor Who Storybook

Big Finish Bernice Summerfield Series

Doctor Who Magazine

Doctor Who: Lockdown


Television pastiches

As actor

Video games


He won the award for writing The Day of the Doctor for "The First 50 Years" poll in DWM 474.

External links