Christmas time is upon us, and the holiday wouldn’t be complete without a visit from everyone’s favorite Time Lord from Gallifrey. When last we saw The Doctor and Clara, things between them were extremely tumultuous after the tragic season finale. But just when the show seemed at its darkest, a post-credits sequence treated fans to the first ever meeting of The Doctor and Santa Claus, played by Nick Frost of Edgar Wright’s “Cornetto Trilogy” fame.
So where will the insanity of this year’s holiday extravaganza take us this time? I was once again given the privilege of speaking with the show’s current mastermind Steven Moffat during a recent conference call with journalists, where he gave us some hints at what’s to come in this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special, Last Christmas. Below are some of the highlights , but beware of mild spoilers!
I think because Doctor Who isn’t like other sci-fi shows, because it’s kind of more magical than that. It’s about a sort of magic man in a magic box all like dressed up in sci-fi language.
But sort of aesthetically it feels like it belongs to something closer to Narnia at times. Not all the way to Narnia but, you know, it’s closer to that tradition. It’s a big-hearted, optimistic show that does of course have monsters that want to commit genocide on the entire universe. But apart from that, it’s a big-hearted and optimistic show.
And it features at its core this improbable man with a time machine who does feel like the science fiction equivalent of Santa Claus. So I think it just suits. It belongs there. He’s also – certainly in Britain, I don’t know how it works in America – a show that’s beloved by families. Families watch it together and Christmas is about families if it is about anything.
And it’s not a show that children tolerate for their parents or parents tolerate for their children. It’s a show that the entire family utterly engages in. So it feels properly, utterly right for Christmas Day.
When did you decide to finally have the Doctor meet Santa Claus in a special?
I think I always had a vague wish that Doctor Who would meet Santa Claus when I was a kid. But I never thought about it more than that. And the next time I thought about it, because the classic series never had a Christmas – well, one had a Christmas episode and that was purely by accident because it happened to fall on Christmas Day.
The first time I thought about it as a Christmas Special was when Julie Gardner told me that they were going to do David Tennant’s first episode as a Christmas Special on Christmas Day. That was the first time I ever thought about it. I thought it sounded wonderful. Then, I think Doctor Who would improve any day, so…
Santa seems to be able to manipulate time and space. Would he make a good Time Lord?
Watch on Christmas Day and find out.
It’s not massively different from just writing an episode of Doctor Who. The thing about Doctor Who and the way we approach it, and it sort of has paid off is – I’m always saying to every writer and often myself when I’m the writer – every episode of Doctor Who has to be an event. It has to be an event. It has to be the thing the paper is talking about that day.
So when you come to do the “Christmas Special,” which has to be an event episode obviously, I kind of think we’re fighting fit for that. We’re used to that. The additional things that are different about Christmas, though they’re not massively different, is that we have to remember that a lot of people will be forced into watching it that don’t normally watch Doctor Who. Probably, you know, your parents getting dragged in, grannies getting dragged in. You have to have a sort of quite basic version of Doctor Who.
But when I say that, I know I’m lying, because actually that happens with every episode of Doctor Who. And people certainly in Britain know Doctor Who incredibly well. So it doesn’t need a lot of introduction even to people who don’t watch it that often.
The other challenges – I do think a Christmas Special should be Christmas-y. I think there’s no point in trying to pretend an ordinary episode would pass muster on Christmas Day. It wouldn’t.
You know, it’s a highly sugared day. People are exhausted by six o’clock on a Saturday. They’ve had food, they’ve been drinking champagne since 10 o’clock in the morning, and they’ve probably eaten an amount of chocolate that would kill a horse. They’re not in the same place. So you have to sort of cut through an even louder living room than normal with your story. And I can admit all these things are just exaggerations of Doctor Who. Doctor Who is always like that.
I don’t know how clear it is to an American audience, and sometimes in the way they react to it I wonder if it’s very unclear to them, that Doctor Who is an early evening Saturday show in Britain. It’s surrounded by shiny floor shows. It’s shown in houses full of children all yelling and talking at once, and mum and dad doing the cooking and maybe a Hoover. It has to be a loud clarion call of a show to survive all that.
I know you guys watch it later in the evening and I sometimes think it must feel a bit loud for nine o’clock. But it seems to be going very well so I shouldn’t complain.
Why did it take so long to finally have Santa be a plot point in a Christmas Special for Doctor Who?
Well, the simple dull answer is that it took me this long to think of it. And so, no big deal. I think it’s oh so true that now that this is Doctor Who’s tenth year at the heart of the Christmas schedule, he’s now earned the right to go toe to toe with Santa, you know? It feels about right.
Great casting for the Santa role in Nick Frost. His name screams Christmas and Santa.
Yes, Nicholas Frost is a name Santa would choose, isn’t it? If he was going for a nom de plume. And it fits much better than Kris Kringle – Nicholas Frost.
How did getting Dan Starkey, who normally plays Strax, to play an elf in the episode come about?
Well, we thought it would be nice for him not to have to wear so much rubber. And I’m talking about his professional rubber, not his personal life. He’s a very, very good, very, very funny actor. And we’ve always thought, you know, we should give him a live action role – I mean he’s always live action – we should allow his own face on-screen just once in Doctor Who because he’s been such a trooper for our show. And he’s spent so many hours in that makeup chair being turned into an angry potato that it’s nice to let him out of it.
And when I started to write Christmas and was writing quite grumpy elves I thought oh, you know, he’s got the comedic gift and he’s got the height, frankly, to play this part so let’s get him in. You know, he’s a very, very funny actor. And it’s just nice. He’s been in three consecutive Christmas Specials so that’s a record I think for a non-regular.
How much time will have elapsed from the end of last season to the Christmas episode?
As always with Doctor Who the gap of time sort of reflects the amount of time it’s been off the air. So it’s a matter of months.
The Doctor didn’t believe Robin Hood existed, so what is his view on Santa Claus?
Well, I think you have to wait for the show to find that out quite honestly. He has a different relationship with Santa Claus, let’s be clear. In a line cut from the Robin Hood episode which I rather regret now, the Doctor, while dismissing the existence of Robin Hood absolutely asserts that Santa is real.
So we know the Doctor has a sort of conviction about Santa. He’s mentioned him several times. So it’s a different thing. His conflict with Robin Hood was more externalizing his post-Trenzalore angst about whether he really counts as a hero or not. And let’s be honest, the Doctor doesn’t really like it, does he, when a dashing handsome young man turns up. And the girl at his side is a bit more impressed with the new hero than the old one. He didn’t like it when Captain Jack turned up. He didn’t like it when Robin Hood turned up. What middle-aged man wants that kind of competition?
In the last episode we saw that Clara and the Doctor part ways on bad terms. Will there be explanation of the status of their relationship in Last Christmas?
Yes, we carry on with that story. We’re not ignoring it. So as it ended they parted forever having lied to each other. And that is where we find them again. But we don’t just ignore it because it’s Christmas. It very much engages with that story line, yes. At first you think we’re ignoring it…
Speaking of the season finale, did you intend to put that little moment of bright levity in introducing Santa at the end of the episode to show viewers that everything wouldn’t stay so bleak?
Well I think it’s just Doctor Who’s storytelling at its most primal. If you do something incredibly dark, where another show would just have another episode of sad music and rain, you just spin it right around and do something outrageous. That’s the show biz of Doctor Who somehow. And in a way, when Santa walks onto the TARDIS it’s kind of – I like that sort of moment because it feels like, did you forget you were watching Doctor Who? You know, it’s not really Chekov. We are having fun here.
So don’t worry, Santa will sort everything. That makes it Doctor Who again. Up until that point, just as you’re bottoming out and thinking this is as dark as it gets then all your childhood dreams come true and Father Christmas enters the TARDIS.
Was there any great Doctor Who toy or gift that you received during your childhood for Christmas that you can recall?
Yes, I can recall getting a full-sized Dalek. But it’s quite easy for me to recall because that happened last year. So a Dalek in the corner of my office. My wife got me a Dalek for last Christmas. Never got a Dalek when I was a kid, but I’ve got one as an adult.
From my childhood? There wasn’t so much merchandise back in the day. You know, I would’ve longed for a sonic screwdriver. But they never sold them. I don’t recall. I don’t think I ever got a big Doctor Who thing when I was a kid.
No, no, no. No, it never works like that. Andy Pryor drew up a list of potential Santas and Nick Frost’s name sort of leapt out at us a bit because he looks like Santa. And he’s really cool. And kids love him. And he is the sort of funky sort of Santa that Doctor Who would have. He’s the right Santa from Doctor Who land I would think.
Does he have better eyebrows than Peter Capaldi as Santa?
Nobody has better eyebrows than Peter Capaldi.
On a side note: Peter Capaldi shares the same face as the previous character in “The Fires of Pompeii.” Might we ever learn why those two characters have the same face?
Possibly. He’s already referenced it in Deep Breath, he notices he’s seen that face before and theorizes on why he might’ve chosen the face or where he got the face from. We were never going to do a big number on this. It’s never going to be a big deal. It would be a throwaway line that people who are inclined to worry about those things would catch.
But, you know, the absolute reality is Peter Capaldi’s Doctor looks like the other character he played in Doctor Who because they’re both the same actor. You know, I don’t feel obliged to explain why Doctor Watson looks like Bilbo Baggins. You know, it would be sort of a staffing problem. There aren’t enough actors to cast a new actor for every part.
Do you know what I mean? It will be mentioned in parting is the most you’ll get from that. But it’s a fun idea. So we might do something with it. But, you know, it’s small beer, small beer.
Last Christmas will be your fifth Christmas Special. Which was your favorite to write?
Difficult one to say really, isn’t it? I’ve got to say this one. Otherwise I’m not promoting the show very well.
Which is my favorite one to write? Which one was my favorite one to write? Well, I have different memories of them. I mean, I have very fond memories of trying to write A Christmas Carol in LA because I got stuck out in LA because of that volcano thing. And we’d just been doing the tour of Matt Smith’s Doctor and so I was stuck in sweltering LA with all the air conditioning turned on, playing Christmas music trying to get myself in the mood. So that was quite fun.
But then I wrote the last third of this Christmas special on the World Tour with Peter and Jenna. So my principal memory of that, which is now fond but which at the time I slightly resented, was I’d be watching them all having a high old-time in bars and pubs and cafes, and I’d be sitting by myself at a table in the corner trying to write Doctor Who.
And I was thinking, my job isn’t very glamorous is it? But overall, in as far as writing being enjoyable I think being able to write dialogue between the Doctor and Santa Claus is as good as it gets.
Doctor Who: Last Christmas premieres December 25, 9:00pm ET on BBC AMERICA