Is the New Doctor Who About to go Boom?

With the new Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa, well established, the latest season of the BBC’s venerable sci-fi show kicked off with two controversial episodes, Space Babies and The Devil’s Chord. But what is lined up for the rest of the series?

Former Showrunner Steven Moffat makes an explosive return to the new series of Doctor Who with Boom, the third episode in Ncuti Gatwa and Millie Gibson’s first full season.

We caught up with him to find out a little more about it…

What made you want to return to the Whoniverse after all this time away?

I was curious and surprised to see that Russell was going back, so I ended up chatting to him. He was sending me stuff about what he was doing, just in a friendly way. He kept saying ‘Do you want to do one?’, and I kept trying to think ‘what have I not done?’. I’ve done everything I could possibly think of on Doctor Who. But it occurred to me that Doctor Who doesn’t often do suspense or tension – it does adventure, love stories and comedy all the time. It does just about everything, but not a lot of suspense. The Doctor kills suspense because he’s funny and in control, which quickly ends any suspense.

I had this idea of the landmine – which of course is a short sequence in Genesis of the Daleks that I happened to love when I was a kid. I thought ‘what if you did it for a whole episode?’ The Doctor on a knife’s edge, one wrong move and it’s all over. It would take so much away from him – he can’t run about, he can’t bamboozle people and he literally can’t move. I thought ‘that’s something that I haven’t done’.

 How did it feel being back and writing for Doctor Who again?

It was quite a long time ago, around two and a half years. I just started tentatively writing and got about twelve to fifteen pages in, and realised I had got it completely wrong. I started the story in the wrong place, on the wrong foot, so to speak. So I threw that away and started again. I don’t think I had even told the production office that I had started writing, so when I sent it to just Russell he was quite surprised – he didn’t know I had been working on it. Mainly, it felt pretty good and pretty familiar to be back on the TARDIS. It doesn’t seem that long ago since I was writing for Capaldi.

 Did you find it quite easy to be writing for the show again, or was it a challenge to get back into it?  

It’s always hard to do Doctor Who, I think your every power of invention is stretched to the limit on Doctor Who. Every time he steps out of that TARDIS it’s a new world, different place and set of characters, there is different jeopardy. It’s got to be funny and you’ve got a lot of exposition, it has to be thrilling, and you have to wrap it all up in 45 minutes – it’s the full workout every time. You can’t just say ‘What do we normally do?’, because there is no normal.

Ruby Sunday and The Doctor look out on a battlefield from the doors of the Tardis
(Image: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios)

What was your reaction when Russell asked you to write a new story and how did that come about?

The night before Russell announced he was coming back he sent me an email – he did not phone me even though he keeps saying he did! The email said ‘I am going back to Doctor Who’, and I had just been out for a dinner with my wife and wasn’t entirely sure the email was real, so I didn’t respond until the next day. He asked me about a few things in terms of Doctor Who, but also if I had any interest in writing one. I was a bit equivocal I think, but I was interested in what the plan was and why he was doing it a second time around – because Russell is not the sort of guy who does anything twice, he’s a guy who moves on.

We were punting ideas to each other, until I had one about ‘what if he steps on a landmine and cannot move for the entire episode, and everything he normally does is stripped from him’. The moment I sent that one, Russell was incredibly keen, he replied within one minute saying ‘that’s it, that’s the one, do that!’.

What is the idea behind ‘Boom’ and is this an idea you’ve had for a while?

It’s a new idea. It is something I loved in the Genesis Of The Daleks when I was a kid, when he stands on the landmine. So doing that in a more substantial way was a new thought for me. I always prefer to have a new idea (even if it’s someone else’s.)

During your time away from the show, do you ever think of new adventures for the Doctor?

I’m always trying to think of new stories, but not in a burning way like ‘I must run to my computer and write it now’, not at all. Part of a writer’s job is just day dreaming, and because Doctor Who has been such a big part of my life, sometimes I just day dream about Doctor Who stories. And it’s fine that I never write them, I don’t mind that they are just something to entertain me on a tube ride. Or sometimes I think ‘does it have to be a Doctor Who story, couldn’t it be something else? There’s only so much of Doctor Who you can write – though I seem to be trying to test that theory!

Millie Gibson as Ruby Sunday. She stands, looking fearful, trying to calm something down.
(Image: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios)

We know this is going to be a very tense episode, can you tell us a little bit more about it and what viewers can expect?

Tension, emotion and the Doctor afraid. Putting the Doctor in absolute jeopardy and making him afraid, you get to see that side of him. The Doctor is not in control of the situation and he cannot do anything – he can’t help people, he can’t shove his way to the front and flourish his screwdriver and make something go away. He can do nothing as he can’t move.

How was it writing for Ncuti’s Doctor?

Well I’ve written for a fair few now, but the Doctor is the Doctor. That’s really quite central. We make a lot of fuss about different Doctors in interviews but the reality is, if the kids don’t believe that’s the same Doctor that they are used to watching then your show is over. It’s really important they see it’s the same character looking out of fresh eyes. Male eyes, female eyes – whoever the Doctor is this time.

I had seen Ncuti’s audition and read a few of his scripts so I knew what we were aiming for. But once the crisis hits, the Doctor is the Doctor, the ancient general rises to the surface and he’s commanding, terrifying and compassionate in the long term, but not always in the short term. You have to remember he loves action, which is slightly disconcerting about the Doctor – he actually enjoys being on the crashing ship trying to mend it with a piece of string. So writing Ncuti was just putting the voice in your head and write the Doctor in that voice.

Are you excited to be a viewer and watch the rest of the season?

I have been doing that for a few years now, throughout Chris’ run with Jodie I was just a viewer. I have read the scripts for the first five episodes of this season, so I am not a proper, unspoiled viewer until the last three. I always enjoy watching Doctor Who and I’m very happy just watching, I certainly don’t like being given spoilers I like just to enjoy it. And in terms of writing the occasional episode, it’s quite nice to remind yourself of what just watching the show is like – if you knew everything about it you would just get further and further away from the audience experience of the show.

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