Steven Moffat on the Doctor’s Hypocrisy and Building Tension in DOCTOR WHO’s “Boom”


The new era of Doctor Who is welcoming new fans with open arms as they jump into the TARDIS with the Fifteenth Doctor and Ruby Sunday. The long-running series somehow feels fresh again, infusing the early stories of the first season with humor, heart and cheeky musical numbers. But Doctor WhoThe latest episode of 'Boom' turns the series on its head with an extremely tense story that tackles death, faith and the dangers of traveling through space and time. What happens when the Doctor is trapped in a land mine and has to spend the entire episode in one place? “Boom” marks the triumphant return of the former Doctor Who showrunner and writer Steven Moffat, who returns to the series after seven years. We sat down with this Whoniverse creative legend to talk about the themes of the episode, why he's back now, and raising the stakes for the Doctor.

split image of Steven Moffat exiting the TARDIS and the Fifteenth Doctor in the latest episode of Doctor Who, Boom
BBC/Bad Wolf Studios/Disney+

Nerdist: Where did the inspiration or idea for “Boom” come from?

Steven Moffat: First episode of “Genesis of the Daleks” in which the Doctor steps on a landmine and is trapped in it for two minutes. I've always liked that bit, even as a kid. And I just thought I wanted the idea of ​​an episode based on the tension that grips the Doctor and makes him unable to do all his normal things. So we have the Doctor at knife point. Doctor Who It's rarely suspenseful, mostly action or adventure or romance or comedy or musicals these days, but the one thing it doesn't touch much on is suspense…the Doctor in a landmine for a whole episode was all mine childhood dreams come true.

This episode absolutely gives us sustained tension in a way that we don't often get on the show. As you were writing and formulating the script, what changes did you have to make to really keep that tension and those emotions high throughout it?

Moffat: Guess what? There was a big change. I had about 15 pages when I was writing it, and then I threw it away because it didn't work! I needed to get him to the land mine faster and the tension needed to kick in sooner, and I was just fooling myself into talking to them. So it was a big shift for me… And [knew I’d have] to set him up and make sure that not only did I put him on a landmine, but moment by moment, he has to have the worst day you can have on a landmine… if his day gets worse and worse, that control your mood, that's what I was looking for.

Indeed. You know, we're pretty early in the era of the 15th Doctor, and “Boom” gave us, for the first time, a different side of him. We got to see him in a much more serious and really vulnerable light. I'm very curious about what kind of conversations you had with Ncuti and/or Russell about conveying the emotional weight of this episode.

Moffat: It was quite early in Ncuti's shooting of the Doctor, so it was quite early for him… I remember having a long chat with Russell at the beginning about how far do we push it? I mean, how deep in despair, how raw does the emotion have to be? And I wanted the Doctor to stay, because he's a new doctor, superbly in control. And I liked that we didn't, we pushed it a little further. We make him a little more helpless. So I think we've got between the two of us, in the right place, the Doctor facing utter defeat and then being saved by a medium who initiates but doesn't understand what he's done.

So it's a tough judgement, and it's always tough if you're a new doctor. I mean, if this was the third season with Ncuti, you would know what [his Doctor] it was like You would know all these things and you could do something a little different with it, and you always do. But this audience is still getting to know him. And what they know here is that, actually, if push comes to shove, you can still see that Peter Capaldi's Doctor is still there. William Hartnell is still there. Tom Baker is still in there, the shining monolith he becomes. He's been dancing and being funny and everything has been great, and suddenly he's this towering monolith that can scare people with those eyes. You need to see this side of him. Heroes must be dangerous. They are only dangerous in a good direction.

Doctor Who episode Boom Ruby Sunday and the Fifteenth Doctor come face to face on a battlefield
BBC/Bad Wolf Studios/Disney+

Absolutely. There were so many great themes that played out in this episode. Two things that really resonated with me were faith and how it was approached, as well as reframing how we view death. Why did you want to lean on these themes specifically and what was it like trying to intersperse them with the usual rhythms of a Doctor Who episode?

Moffat: It's not me doing a big meditation on faith. I don't have one, but the Doctor is interesting in terms of faith. Because he always, like he did in “The Time of Angels” with Father Octavian, he pretty much despises it, except that he has faith in so many things. He has faith that there is order in the universe, that truth and beauty are the same thing, that everything will make sense in the end. He has faith in these things. So when he despises faith, he is a complete hypocrite.

Similarly, when he despises soldiers for their profession, he conveniently forgets that he is the greatest warrior in the universe. As I keep saying, all hate is self-hatred. So it is interesting in this matter. He comes to love Monday, of course, and he really respects her faith. I worry when people ask [why faith is a part of the episode], who think I'm underestimating it. I'm not disparaging at all.

I don't think the Doctor is right about everything, I don't think he is. I think he's crazy. And he has a slight fantasy about himself. He's always like, “I'm just wandering around and exploring,” and you mean, “No, look at the closest fight, stand in the middle and decide who's going to win. That's who you are. You're not just looking at fairy lights.” So I think it's interesting to place him in that world. It also allows Ruby to see that he is crazy and that he is a terrifying man. And this is what you need to know about the Doctor if you want to be his best friend.

This is such an important part of when a new companion arrives, isn't it? They need to see all these sides of the Doctor because you're drawn as a human to the wonder and magic of it all, and you get to travel and go to all these exotic places. But there are real stakes in this and there is a real chance that people will get hurt or worse. And so this episode was really his wake-up call, “This is a dangerous business I'm in.”

Moffat: That's okay. That's exactly what it is. We did a good scene in “Thin Ice” with Bill Potts when he asked us [the Doctor], “Have you ever killed anyone?” And you have to answer this question. You need moments like this. You realize, “Whoa, this guy is something else. He's not just cuddly.” He's warm and charming, but oh my god, he's dangerous.

Ncuti Gatwa as the Fifteenth Doctor stands on a landmine with a pipe in hand
BBC/Bad Wolf Studios/Disney+

OK, yes. You know, another thing I liked about this episode was how it approaches “evil”. Sometimes in Doctor Who, you have these really scary bad guys, like the Weeping Angels and the Daleks, but you don't have that here. How do you think moving away from this classic “dolan” changes the dynamics of everything that's going on?

Moffat: It's a good demonstration of how it really works. I mean, you got the Doctor Who stories, of which I have written many, where there is unrelenting evil like the Daleks, the Weeping Angels and many others. And then you have other stories like “The Hollow Boy,” where he discovers, no, he's not what he thinks he is… I like stories like that because the Doctor can solve the mystery and he can say, “If you just look at it from from another angle, it's not that scary.” And it's horrible that you don't have to reveal it in advance. It's your own hardware. I like that kind of story.

It definitely challenges the Doctor in a specific way. I think a lot of fans are excited for your comeback Doctor Who. Why did you decide to do it after so many years?

Moffat: I do not know. It doesn't make any sense. I've done it again! Was [returning showrunner] Russell [T Davies] back, and I was a little puzzled. I ended up talking to him recklessly and said, “Why are you doing this? Why are you coming back? You always said you'd never come back.” And so we ended up chatting on the phone and by email, and I just asked him, “What are your plans?” And he said, “Would you ever write one?” And I was like, “No, I think I've done it all.”

I didn't mean everything I'm capable of. I thought, “Well, actually, suspense, I haven't.” And suddenly I think, “Actually, I could write this.” And Russell was so instantly, so enthusiastic about the idea. I mean, instantly. I sent him the email and I think he replied like 30 seconds later. He said, “Yes, write that.” So I thought, “Well, what does it matter? I'll make one more.”

We're so glad you did. “Boom” will definitely excite the fandom because it is an excellent episode.

Moffat: I'm glad to hear that! I'm delighted. I am really very happy.


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