Steven Moffat At Hay On Wye Literature Festival: 2014 Discussion with Alan Yentob

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Photo credit Wales Online

On the 26th of May I was present at Steven Moffat’s chat to Alan Yentob at Hay On Wye about his career.

Before I get started with the conversation, for those who haven’t been to one, I’d like to give a short summing up of what at literature festival is like. The big ones are mainly sprawling great events with thousands of tents crammed together over what could be a football pitch. Hundreds of people jostle about the place talking about all sorts of things from high art to the latest Bond film. The Moffat event took place in a large tent that could easily have hosted a production of Macbeth. The majority of the audience were crammed at the back almost as though they feared that being too close to Moffat might result in their extermination by a Dalek. Then, to the tune of some fine music the event began.

AY: Alright so the thing I’d say about Steven is that he is passionate about two things, storytelling and television. In other words someone who thinks I love television, I believe in it, everything is possible. At the very beginning of your career, your father was a teacher, and your debut came, I don’t know what age you were, when you wrote a show for television for a show called Press Gang.

SM: Yes, I was trying to be a playwright and write plays.

AY: How old were you?

SM: I was 25 or 26. That was sort of my vague ambition. Through this weird series of events, which was my father’s school (breaks off) Do you remember a show called Highway?

AY: I do yes.

SM: Does anyone remember a show called Highway apart from me and you?  It was Harry Secombe [Noted Welsh Comedian and member of The Goons along with Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan] singing to various children about God, I think. My Dad’s school would be featured on that show and my Dad ever the opportunist said “I’ve got a great idea for a children’s series” about a junior newspaper.   Which he didn’t really, what he was doing was educating kids about a children’s newspaper but he just thought what the hell, give it a punt. Two or three years later Bill Ward, the producer of Highway came to my father and said “I’d like to buy that idea for no money and would you let me develop it.” He said yes, and thanks god for my dad, he said as long as you let my son write a sample script for it.

AY: You know what that’s called. Nepotism.

SM: Have you seen Sherlock? So Sandra (Bill Ward’s girlfriend) said we will do that, I will read the script but there is absolutely no chance that we will use it. She said, I’ll give it a proper reading and tell him what is wrong with it. So I wrote it but as it turned out she was pretty keen on it as were Central (Producers of Highway and Press Gang) so I found myself quite suddenly at a television station.

AY: It went on and on didn’t it? It was a series about a school newspaper.

SM: Well a junior newspaper, yeah they were attached to the local newspaper rather than the school.

AY: It ran for five or six series didn’t it?

SM: Five years.

AY: Five years, I mean that’s a quite a significant run. Then what happened next with your career? You got married for two years.

SM: Yes and that didn’t work out and I got divorced.

AY: We’ll come back to that.

SM: Ah well it was a weird one after just spending five years working I didn’t know what to do, I’d just sit in my house and wait for someone to phone. Someone phoned me up and got me to write an episode of a show called Stay Lucky and I just said yes because they phoned me up that was all. I was just at their by the phone and they said “Can you write this now?” “Fine, I’ll do that in a year say.” I’d never do that. I was married before Press Gang and owing to the fact that I spent all my time working and being obnoxious and terrible, she left me. She left me because she thought I valued television more than her so I wrote a sitcom about it, which rather proved her point.

AY: I remember it was called Joking Apart. Robert Bathurst played the lead and his deceiving wife was played by Fiona Gillies. While you were doing this, the quote I have, I don’t normally read Wikipedia because it is usually untrue but I thought I’d read this. I don’t know how to say this to such a large crowd; he said “I shagged my way around TV Studios like a mechanical digger”.

SM: I mean ladies, that is some technique that you are all missing out on.

AY: I mean Steven got his revenge, on the person, who had an affair with his wife by making references to him, in fact basing a whole episode around this whole period.

SM: In Press Gang I called somebody after him and injured him a bit.

AY: A typewriter, wasn’t it?

SM: Yeah that’s right, I dropped a typewriter on his foot in fiction but he stole my wife in fact, so he sort of won.

AY: So Joking Apart, you did in a sense, take things from your own life and stick them in your work that is something quite a lot of writers do, is that something you found an enjoyable exercise up to a point? In fact you did it later with Coupling. I mean where do you get these ideas for drama, why did you decide to write a comedy about your own circumstances up to a point?

SM: Well it is the easiest kind of research and if it what is preoccupying you at the time I suppose it can be helpful and if you are making bitter, black miserable jokes then it is probably about what has just happened to you. I think whatever is happening to you, even if your writing something mad like Doctor Who that will come out in the script somehow, someway it will be in their always. It was just what was important to me. To trouble with doing that is that if you write a pilot in a kind of great blackhearted fury about a terrible woman, then you realise you’ve actually written about a very nice woman who married a dickhead. They then commissioned two series and you’re over it by then and you have to go back to it, they say writing is like therapy but then you get better and they ask you to go back.

AY: So this material that you steal from your life. The next step, is a series, a drama called Coupling which was an incredibly successful comedy series that was about a group of friends, in fact quite similar to Friends, not similar but the British version of Friends and here is an interesting sidestep again. Steven is part of a dynasty an amazing dynasty, which I have great admiration for. He met this girl called Sue and he married her and in the meantime he also married his mother in law who is –

SM: That wouldn’t even be legal.

AY: and she is a producer called Beryl Vertue and this woman Beryl Vertue is a marvel she is one of the pioneers of British television involved with Spike Milligan, Till Death Us Do Part, Steptoe and Son she was involved with all of these first as an agent and then as a producer and she managed to do what Steven never managed to do which was to sell these shows to American television. They became absolute hits.

SM: No, no she didn’t just do that, she invented the idea. She changed the format, the world hadn’t encounter this were you remade a show in another country. It hadn’t been done or thought about before Beryl did it with Steptoe and Son to Sandford and Son and Till Death Us Do Part to All In The Family.

AY: Which were absolutely huge hits on American television in a huge way. I made a program about the transfer of these ideas to American television which one of them was The Office and another was Coupling. Of course Beryl was involved. Let’s hear about this experience. It’s interesting that Steven, Coupling had been on here, this very successful series had been on British television and then he pitched it to American television and somehow it didn’t work out. Why was that do you think?

SM: Well I didn’t pitch it at all. My heart wasn’t truly in the idea because I was still working on the British one the idea that there will be another one felt to me strange. So it wasn’t me, it was actually Beryl saying we could make some money out of this if we sell the format. I don’t think it was a very bright decision on their part. It ran for a successful three weeks. They took it and thought “oh it had six people in it” and tried to make it like Friends but it wasn’t terribly like that it was a BBC 2 show that they were trying to make like that.  Even had they done it really well I don’t think it would have been a success. Not the words I used at the time. They didn’t do it very well it was a bit of a mess to be honest and people hated it. People who saw it hated it, people who saw the America version and then saw the original hated it. For a brief time the byword for it was “bad American comedy”. Always uncomfortable. I remember I was personally billed four times in the titles for Coupling.

AY: Of course one of the things that happens in American television is you essentially leave it to them to get on with it.

SM: But we did. We did two pilots for it. The first one which were quiet involved with and which was okay but wasn’t very good. They made a second pilot and got rid of us and to be absolutely honest I don’t think that’s a stupid thing to do. You can’t make a TV shows twice once you’ve done it, you’ve done it and you don’t want to go back and make it again. I wasn’t upset or aggrieved at all when they said they were going to do that. They ran with it and to be fair on them, though nobody will believe me when I say it, they wrote some terrific scripts. They wrote some really, really funny scripts. Really good characters and I thought some of them were excellent. I saw the first part of episode three and on that first cut I had that huge pang of resentment when I realise it was really good. They managed to figure out a message I never got right. I hated America for all of a month. But then the network execs came in and gave their notes and I saw another cut and it was an absolute disaster. And they absolutely trashed it on its second cut. Because it required a detailed setup and to get to the funny bits they had cut all the setup so you just had the punchline and you could hear a studio audience laughing but at home they would have thought “What happened?”

AY: When they cut things out and you really don’t know what they have cut out. And that is interesting because the shows all of you know, many of you know Coupling of course, but the shows we all know of Steven’s are Doctor Who and Sherlock which are big hits. They are the big British hits other than Downton [Abbey] on the other side of the Atlantic. They are quintessentially British; they come from either British literature in the case of Sherlock or from British television. I’d like to know about your love affair with Doctor Who. You have this passion for the show. I gather that you applied to be the showrunner at the age of seven. I don’t know if that is true or not.

SM: It is a quote from me and it’s a lie. From a boy to a teenager and then a lonely adult I have been a big fan of Doctor Who. I loved it, loved it. I genuinely have no regrets about anything. I think it is an astonishing show. I remember it going off the air and waiting and waiting for it to come back. At this time I was actually working in television. In fact I was just doing Press Gang and I thought, because for about four and half seconds I was a big name in children’s television,  right this is it, I’m going to apply to write for Doctor Who. And they axed it more or less that day. 26 years and I miss it by this much of an afternoon. Russell T Davies was doing exactly the same thing and we both applied for Sylvester McCoy’s last series.

AY: It is fascinating actually that this is a show, Michael Grade stopped it at that point, people came back to do it. It was the passion and enthusiasm and sense of understanding that you and Russell had that helped bring it back. Originally Russell T David came to exec show but he also did this with Steven as his accomplice in the first instance.

SM: Junior accomplice.

AY: His, “junior accomplice, writing the scripts. It is interesting that when you take a great classic that people love and you change it, how do you make it your own but honour its origins?

SM: Well this is what Russell got so right, he didn’t change it at all except so far as it had to fit into modern television. Doctor Who throughout its original 26 years, particularly at its height, was very good at adapting itself to be part of the modern world. It was unsentimental about disposing of our main characters and bringing on new ones. All Russell did was take a look at it say “What they want it Saturday night television, that’s right, they want a family audience that is absolutely right.” He knew the thing to do. He’s probably the best television writer we have anywhere, he also has a profound knowledge of television as you know he watches television all the time, he seems to watch several channels at once while texting you about it. So he knew exactly how to fit Doctor Who into the modern television landscape. The mysterious Doctor, who doesn’t wear silly clothes, sensible clothes for one year only, a girl who feels like she belongs in the world of Holyoakes and Eastenders. So he actually fitted it in perfectly. Billie Piper became the darling of the nation, I mean we always forget now that for the first two years of Doctor Who it was all about Billie. Whenever they wanted a photograph of Doctor Who they wanted a photograph of Billie.

AY: How long did Chris Eccleston do it for?

SM: One year.

AY: That decision to then go for David, how did that happen? Tell us about the process of finding the right man and about how to get him.

SM: I wasn’t part of that, I didn’t know until twenty minutes before everyone else in the country found out. From what I can recall, they had just worked with David on Casanova [2004 miniseries starring Tennant based on Casanova’s autobiography which Davies adapted for screen]and it was a quirky choice to cast him because believe it or not when they were casting David Tennant for Casanova they said “damn you should have cast someone sexier”. It’s true, that’s what they said.

AY: I know, I mean now you have got Benedict Cumberbatch.

SM: It was the same thing; they said “You should have gone for the sexy Sherlock”.

AY: I know what they mean, I mean I love him but they must have been gobsmacked at it.

SM: Anyway, with David, I think when I watched Casanova I thought well this is fantastic, great drama but he is playing Doctor Who. He’s bloody auditioning for it! In some ways he’s exactly The Doctor. So when they were coming up with the new one they said “Why bother looking their he is”. I mean another great thing with David is that he is a massive Doctor Who fan; he really wanted to be a part of it. I would have loved to have seen his face when they, Russell and Julie, took him out and said “Would you like to play The Doctor?” I would have loved to have seen his reaction.

AY: Obviously Russell takes the lead in all this but you have also picked it up and taken it and make the characters try and connect with the world we live in now, one of the things about the essence of Doctor Who is there is fear, excitement, the monsters. Is the future one of the things you worry about?

SM: Well it changes every year, it changes a little every year, it changed very much from the first year to the second from Chris to David. Chris’s Doctor was dressed like a BBC One lead man with short hair and the sensible jacket and one year in, hair jell ridiculous coat the big difference being Doctor Who was no longer excusing itself from being Doctor Who. It was allowed as it has been every year since, to be a bit more Doctor Who. People expect it to be the most out there, maddest, most bonkers sc- fi show on TV. With the biggest emotions and the biggest drama and it is melodrama and the biggest explosion, people sort of expect that we have to keep hyping it up. There are tons of sc – fi shows out there and you just have to be the boss one. Once again The Doctor is the children’s best friend; people have begun to forget it was ever off the air. I told my son, who is twelve, that Doctor Who was not on the air for sixteen years and he said “No it wasn’t” and I said “Yes it was!” and he said “No it wasn’t” and he just walked off. I mean I wept for sixteen years! So it is different and harder to compare season one to the later seasons. The big difference is that it is sort of ore flippant and sc – fi.

AY: Terry Nation is the man who created the Daleks and it was actually Beryl who was the agent who represented Terry Nations, his mother in law that is a kind of interesting connection to Doctor Who that you have. Tell me about this issue of the special effects that you have, that as you go along you have to invent what the next monster will be, these catalogue of characters what are they going to look like, what they are going to feel like in this science fiction universe. Where do you get those kinds of ideas?

SM: Well who can really say?

AY: You are the writer.

SM: I think the difference between Doctor Who and other sc- fi shows is that it doesn’t take place in space at all. It takes place under your bed and the back of your wall cupboard. While it can be epic and huge there is always something domestic about it. The way The Doctor himself talks isn’t really sciency wyencey he is quite down to earth. You’re travelling around the real world. You think “what can we make out of the ordinary domestic paraphernalia that will be frightening. You don’t have to go into outer space to be scared; you can be scared in your own bedroom at night. That is the mission statement of Doctor Who: as much wet mattresses as possible.

AY: That is the brilliant notion of Doctor Who it is down to Earth which you can’t say about most science fiction. The images of Doctor Who are ones that could appear in a house.

SM: There is a sink plunger sticking out of a Dalek. Sometimes we sit down and say “Should we get rid of that, because it is something you stick down a lav? Should we give it another gun?” and then you think “No we can’t!” “But what does it do?” Nobody knows! We don’t know. Why doesn’t it have two guns? No, have a sink plunger! Why? We try to make ordinary things frightening. Statues are frightening, dummies are frightening. One of the dominant things in Doctor Who is the juxtaposition is very sc – finess and a very ordinary set. A spaceship inside a phone box. A space man who looks like a bloke, slightly eccentric but not very, you have a spaceship, Yetis in the underground.

AY: So The Empty Child, where did that come from?

SM: It’s not real. Russell asked me to do a World War Two thing and he wanted this creepy child in it and said “Set it during the Blitz” so I had to go and do research. I thought “I’ve learned everything about Doctor Who and now I’ve got to go and learn new stuff now”. I thought if I import space monster and robots, as much as I love such things, into World War Two, World War Two will fade into the background, it won’t matter you won’t be looking at the detail of World War Two if you have got a big clanking robot or a purple lizard or something, you’ll be looking at the purple lizard of course you will. So I thought, I have to somehow use the iconography of World War Two to make it sinister and as I was flicking through some children’s picture books that I have chosen to research from I saw a picture of a gas masked boy. I thought “I think that is frightening, I’ll have that.” So that is where it came from. Every has seen a gas mask and that is so Doctor Who, this human face these blank eyes, hasn’t got a proper mouth. You can mass produce them quite cheaply.

AY: You’re always bearing in mind the budget at the BBC.

SM: Or lack thereof.

AY: When you took over responsibility of Doctor Who, when Russell went off to America, and did Torchwood and other things, was that a big day for you?

SM: The big day was the offer of the job because thought it may sound strange I wasn’t particularly standing in line waiting, I really, really loved working with Russell and Julie on those years of Doctor Who I adored it. Once a year I would arrive in Doctor Who and see my friends and they would be all pleased to see me and I would write a story and people would like it and I would wave to the crowd and go off. I adored it. I always got to be part of Doctor Who and feel I was quite an important part of Doctor Who but I also got to watch it as a viewer because I was always “Don’t tell, I want to watch them on Saturday.” So it is really nice, you’re watching your favourite show and occasionally they are giving you a go at it. I liked that. When Russell said he was leaving the first thing I said was, “If I agree to do more episodes per year will you agree to stay on?” and he said “No”. Nah, he said “That would help” but he had just had enough. So he offered me the job and I wasn’t ready to say yes, surprisingly. I mean it was the job I had always wanted but Russell was so amazing at it and I had seen the workload and I know what it’s like and I could have just carried on writing a story a year and wave and brush them off and that would be it. It took me months to say yes. I remember when this happened and I had decided whether to say yes I was on the phone to my Dad and I told him I had been offered Doctor Who and he said “well you’re going to say yes”. I said “I don’t know if I am”. He said “I’m going to send you a photograph” and he sent me a photograph of me reading Doctor Who and The Daleks at the age of ten or something like that. I thought, “He’s right I have to do this show”. I can’t not do this job, If someone has to do it, it might as well be me.

AY: The other thing of course, this job entails a lot, this is your responsibility this is a show that is very challenging, lots of special effects.

SM: It is a big deal I mean I tend to be the one who gets pulled out and says all that but I never have done this alone, neither did Russell there are brilliant people Beth Willis, Piers and now Brian Minchin, lots of brilliant people. It takes an awful lot of people. Every hour of the day, every day of the week on Doctor Who, it is the most demanding television program on TV anywhere; you need that science fiction element. We have on standing set which we try and get out of as quickly as possible and two regular actors and that’s it. Everything else we make it brand new, new cast every week, new set. It could be set on Earth and you think “Oh that’s a simple one” but by the standards of any other TV show it isn’t, you have to build a whole office, you have to build a whole flat. We did an episode called The Lodger [By Gareth Roberts and done for Series 5] which I rather liked and thought this will be a cheap on, it’s set on Earth. It wasn’t cheap at all we had to build a whole flat for these characters to live in. So it is always, the amount of new stuff you have to invent for every single new episode is exhausting and it is always what brings the audience back. They know they are going to get an awful lot of new stuff and this new stuff will not be available when you watch the next one. So yes it is the key.

AY: The other thing, which is a really interesting thing that you are involved with, is the casting I mean, let’s not exaggerate it but it is a very important moment making this decision everyone you have done has been a huge success. To follow David Tennant and then to follow Matt is a big thing. When you get to Matt and I met Matt at the time, it was a huge thing for a young actor who had done very little and suddenly the eyes of the world were on him. There were huge expectations of him as he was following in the footsteps of somebody who had done a great job.

SM: I think that was the toughest one in some ways because Chris announced the news or rather the news was leaked after the first episode of the new series went out so everybody knew his bags were packed already. There wasn’t quite the bonding experience and he did it for thirteen episodes and at the end of that David took it one and did it for several years. He was a completely unfamiliar face at that point, imagine, a time when David Tennant’s face was unfamiliar, he owned that role in a spectacular way and gave in a whole new cheeky, sexy performance. He became a national treasure and he didn’t do it instantly he did it over time and so the idea that Doctor Who could go on at all in the absence of David and Russell was a huge question mark. I didn’t realise until that they [The BBC] didn’t think Doctor Who would succeed at all. I think there were plans to consider just ending it I think. I think it was Russell who said “You’re not allowed to do away with it”. He was quite frank. Again, I don’t know the real details of that. That seemed to be the case. So having offered me the job and then worked very hard and almost successfully, almost successful to persuade David to stay on, I remember having drawn up all sorts of plans about what to done once he gave up and I sent him a very temperate email to the casting and said “Look, there all 27!” Nobody at 27 can play this part; David was a bit young for it. Frankly it should be someone over forty now.

AY: All of the earlier Doctors were older men with the exception of Peter Davison, they were all older men.

SM: Mh and there is a reason for that. He seems to be the embodiment of the senior man. He needs to behave like the student but look like the senior consultant, that’s what he had to have I think. I was cross with these interview magicians, quite cross really I said “We are seeing too many young actor, he’s got to flirt with Alex Kingston he mustn’t look like he’s got caught in her teeth”. Do you know what, I was mostly right, mostly right. They came in and they were good but you just thought “No, that’s not The Doctor.” But Matt Smith comes in, and this is what happens when you get casting right, they tell you what the part is. The moment Matt started saying that dialogue and his strange mannerisms and, sorry Matt, but his extraordinary face. He was like a hot young guy but he also sort of looked like a barmy uncle he talks to you like it as well, he still talks to me in a fatherly way. He’s the complete mix, we got a crazed old boffin definitely about a hundred and a hot young bloke! Also and insanely good actor I do remember saying, that moment that he left and I said to Andy Price, “I really like him, what age is he?” And he said “Twenty Six”. “At least he’s not 27!”

AY: What had he done, he’d done almost nothing?

SM: He had, he’d got his first job after he left drama school and from then on he’d been in television, he’s been in film, he’d won an award at the theatre. In the industry everyone was saying “Matt Smith is going to be a star”. They were saying “This boy is going places”. Had we had auditioned The Doctor a year later he would have been off somewhere else. So it would have happened for him anyway, it’s not like we picked him out of thin air and made him special, he was special and he brought the special quality to Doctor Who.  I mean what I did in casting him was easy, brilliance is easy to spot you say “Oh that’s bloody brilliant”.

AY: Well let’s jump to the next one, because that is another one, that’s a leap away. I mean everyone knows Peter as an actor but he’s also a director a writer. But this is another generation altogether. Back to a different generation, it’s a bold step.

SM: Well it’s sort of bold but on the other hand can you imagine if we had cast another handsome yet quirky young man, with entertaining hair? Well that would have been it, people would have said “That’s it, that’s what Doctor Who is.” We would have found somebody and people would have liked him and it would have been great but it would have made the show somehow more ordinary. It’s like you start to work out how the joke is working and you figure out what is going on behind the scenes and it is never as magic again. We’ve got a part that can be played by anyone. From a twenty year old to a seventy year old, which John Hurt did, you’ve got to use that flexibility. The other thing is Peter Capaldi just kept popping into my head. He did, I knew he was a Doctor Who fan, he’s a real proper fan and he would always come up to me at various industry events and insist on talking to me about Doctor Who while I was trying to talk about The Thick Of It. I knew he was into it and a part of me thought “What if nobody just asks? What if nobody just asks him if he’ll do it?” And the funny thing is I’d asked Mark Gattis “Who would you cast as The Doctor?” and he wacked off a brilliant list and at the top of it was Peter Capaldi so it was like everyone was handing him to me and I mentioned it to Brian and he said “Yes that could be brilliant, it would be very different. “ So I auditioned him in complete secrecy, I got him round to my house and he auditioned in there as The Doctor. He was the only person being auditioned and he carried it off and he was brilliant and of course he was brilliant he’s Peter Capaldi, he’s always brilliant.  I said of course were going to cast him though what are the BBC going to think are they “Yes, but we need someone younger with sexier hair” and we sent it off and they said yes. It was at the same time as me saying about the show itself that it needs changing. I mean it is the hardest thing when you realise your clever new idea is your very old idea. We hadn’t made much of a change to Doctor Who since it came back in 2005 and I just felt “It needs to be a bit more different now”. It needs to be surprising again, we’ve got the hang of it, and we need to change it the rhythm has to alter. It has, it’s quite a different show now. I think it is rather wonderful like that and frankly it is a crime that I don’t get to write the reviews.

AY: I have to say that I think Sherlock is one of the best things I’ve seen in the last ten years, it is absolutely fantastic.

SM: You do have to say that because you’re interviewing me.

AY: I wonder where this came from and the fact you’re taking very well-known characters on, like with Who, but this time you are making quite significant changes to the way they may be seen. You’re bringing them right into the modern world and you are doing this in collaboration with Mark Gattis. It is interesting the partnership of you and Russell T and you and Mark, not with one voice but you’re aim is to bounce off each other in different ways and to have the same sensibility. Who was the first person to say “Let’s do Sherlock”?

SM: It worked like this, Mark and I often go to Doctor Who read-through’s together on the train to Cardiff and principle, because Mark is so well known people start listening to our conservations, on the train because we talk about Doctor Who and people want to know about Doctor Who. However one of our conversations got live blogged on a train so obviously we couldn’t talk about Doctor Who because Mark and me, we live and breathe Doctor Who. So we switched to out other obsession which is Sherlock Holmes, we are huge fanboys of Sherlock Holmes and other time, and this is over months and years, we admitted that our favourite Sherlock Holmes films were the updated Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films. While they are heretical they seem to capture more of the joy and silliness of the stories than some of the other adaptations. So we sat there and thought “Someone is gonna do that, someone is gonna do that and we’ll be cross because it wasn’t us.” And you’d think at the next point we would have an epiphany and have an idea but no. We just got off the train and said “That’s a shame”. After some years I mentioned it to Sue and I remember sitting outside and saying “Me and Mark have got this great idea but someone else is going to do it”. And she said “What is it?” and I told her and she said “Why don’t you do it?” “Ahhhh! We’re big successes in television; we can do things like that!” So we went and pitched it and we had this huge, elaborate pitch worked out, I said were determined  for it to be the longest pitch of all time. They just said yes when we said updated Sherlock Holmes and we went “What! No, you’re going to listen to all of it!” And so they did and so we went and made a pilot.

AY: So this idea of bringing it, obviously you had these two iconic characters you can see their dissimilarities and they are clever and funny and dark and wise and it engages not just with the world of Doctor Who in the present but also the future it to the technology and the ideas. How do you work together, you and Mark do you sit down and sort of dig it up

SM: Well it’s very much like that train journey, we’re mad enthusiasts, we just sit down and have a chat about it and sometimes those chats happen and we are talking about something else. We decide on the shape of the series and what’s going to happen and what will be a cool thing to happen there and there and at a certain point one of us will curve towards a particular story but we always do it so it doesn’t matter which one of us does it. We have on a few occasions now just sat together and written for a while now but quite often we’ll just stop and rush off and watch something. I remember writing the last scene of The Reichenbach Fall, where Mortiarty and Sherlock are in confrontation on the set, we just got a laptop on set and just sat writing chortling over this laptop.

AY: I should just say, Steven arrived from London and I thought we would sit down and chat and he was sitting there, laptop in front of him writing a script and he said “I’m sorry about this I’ve got to get this finished”. Are you always like that?

SM: Yeah, there is an awful lot to be done and Doctor Who particularly, you think I’d know be now, is a monster. It’s huge! It’s none stop. Every morning I go to check my emails and I go “No, what’s it going to be… OH MY GOD!” Somewhere along the lines I remember I’ve got to write the next one as well so I just leave the writing to every single gap and it’s just none stop.

AY: What I just love about it is the language, it’s just got that originality and sensibility of language, when Sherlock speaks, when Benedict speaks you can hear his brain ticking you can see what is going on. It got huge fans all over the world.

SM: It was just a huge success over night and you don’t often see that happen when someone goes from nowhere to being a huge international movie star. It can be quite annoying too when you’re trying to schedule the damn show.

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