Dear Steven Moffat: Doctor Who Live


Dear Steven,

Allegra, from the Karl Paltz Clinic in Graubünden where I’m undergoing treatment to rid me of the fanboy tendencies that have, for too long, acted as my chains. My Doctor, though I’m really supposed to use the term therapist because of the former’s sci-fi connotations, thinks that abstinence based treatment (plus drugs) will soon purge my system of fanatical tendencies. One day, she says, I’ll wake up and want to read a novel about 18th century Irish peasants coping with high infant mortality. I look forward to that day.

Strictly speaking I’m not allowed to write to you. Such a letter, I’m informed, could be construed as a relapse. However last night something unusual happened and I felt compelled to share it with you. I was recuperating in my room, a worm of drool connecting my lower lip with the floor following a particularly aggressive electroshock session, when the orderly ushered me into the common room on doc- therapist’s orders and sat me down in front of the TV. We get the BBC here and I was told that my carers had recorded something to expedite my recovery. That programme was Doctor Who Live.

Initially I was excited. Doctor Who? Live? A live episode perhaps? Had it all gone horribly wrong – fluffed lines, a man making himself sick on camera – something like that? Was it so awful that I’d never want to watch another episode? Was that their game? Watching it felt counterintuitive regardless. I’d come so far. Why, the other day I’d refused to watch The Hobbit, despite being told Sylvester McCoy was in it. I thought I making real progress.

It didn’t take me long to understand why I’d been forced to sit through it. If someone cut a hole in the crotch of my jeans, forced me to walk around with my balls hanging out; balls that had been tattooed to look like Garfield’s eyes, then I don’t think I could have been more embarrassed than I was sitting through this show. It was the oddest thirty minutes of BBC output since The EastEnders Christmas Party, moments of which – Shane Richie and Jill Halfpenny singing Fairytale of New York for instance – still give me debilitating panic attacks.

I understand that the people who make television have no real understanding of how those that watch it think, but it still surprises me that shows like this go out. Programmes like Doctor Who Live are never forgotten. Not because they’re good you understand; it’s that they’re oddities – freak transmissions – conceptually deformed. It’s elephant man television and they’ll be some who’ll argue that it was kinder to kill it at birth than let all concerned humiliate themselves in a global telecast.

Perhaps the BBC thought that Whovians were such an excitable bunch, so drunk with anticipation, that they’d lap up Zoe Ball’s impish enthusiasm – her cringe worthy chants of “brilliant” and “genius”, her non-interviews with chair fill like Lisa Tarbuck (unquizzed about the child sex abuse allegations levelled at her famous father – something that might have added some much needed tension), and her obnoxious propensity to tell the audience what they were feeling, rather than hosting a show that cleverly induced those emotions. If there was unbearable tension, as she claimed, it emanated from the gap between conception and delivery. Zoe made the nation feel like characters from The Office, agog at David Brent’s latest act of social retardation.

One had to feel sorry for Peter Davison. When he took the role in 1981 he couldn’t have imagined that decades later he’d be on live TV with Tarbuck the younger and the autistic kid from Outnumbered, trying to look comfortable as both stubbornly refused to name him as their favourite Doctor. “It’s extraordinary,” he noted, referring to the fucking weird show in which he found himself. Ball, whose face had been worked on by Jack Napier’s surgeon, tried to save the day by patronisingly confirming that Davison was her favourite but it would have been more honest to complete the humiliation, wheel on a pregnant cow and ask the 5th to shove his arm up it.

Another curio, in a night of curios, was Ball’s dogged insistence on teasing the gender of the new Doctor. This despite a pre-recorded interview with Matt Smith at the top of the show in which he confirmed his successor was male. Ball tried to outfox the nation by pretending that Smith’s use of “he” was plain assumption on his part; that a bevaginated Time Lord might still emerge to surprise viewers. This might have worked had Smith not been explicit in mentioning that he knew his successor personally and that said actor had approached him following the transmission of his debut and complimented his performance. We were left with the curious impression that Ball was questioning Smith’s ability to tell the difference between a man and a woman. Perhaps some viewers took Zoe at her word and started to google androgynous thesps; the rest simply scratched their heads.

So after thirty minutes of nothing, in which anyone who was available when the producers came knocking around Broadcasting House, including Bruno Tonioli and Jo Wiley, gave their thoughts on the new Doctor, he was finally, thankfully revealed. Ball opted for understatement, announcing him as “a hero for a whole new generation” – which oddly implied that the existing one would no longer be watching, passing said duties either down to their children or up to their parents.

Cometh the half hour, cometh Peter Capaldi: a great actor whose first awful contractual obligation was to show up on this live shithouse and answer Zoe Ball’s stupid questions for five tortured minutes. He did it with good humour and grace, parrying an oddball tribute from Smith who wouldn’t look directly at the camera nor mention him by name, such was the ganglinoid’s discomfort at being replaced by an actor who’d bring a bit of much needed heft to the role.

I’m pleased with your choice, Steven. You’ve opted to mature the part and cast an actor whose range allows for unpredictability: a bit of an edge. How Capaldi will play it is anyone’s guess at this point but I’d like to see a more serious, thoughtful TARDIS occupant with a drier sense of humour and by the look of it, so do you. Some, that is to say young kids and dunces, may already be squawking that he’s too old, ignoring that William Hartnell was the same age, that John Pertwee was 50, Sylvester McCoy 44, but I trust you’ve already decided to quietly ignore them. The post 2005 cohort of fans haven’t quite got used to the idea that The Doctor can, and perhaps should, be an older man; a sort of mad Uncle, whose wisdom and lack of sexual interest in his companions one can believe in. It’s time they did.

It pains me that my treatment forbids me to watch the new series, or that it was necessary to smuggle this letter out of Graubünden in a fellow patient’s rectum (apologies if they presented it thus at your front door), but the future’s looking a little more positive. Not for me you understand, but for the show. I’m also somewhat relieved that I managed to get through this entire letter without lapsing into Malcolm Tucker references.

Fuckety-bye for now,


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Dear Ed Whitfield,

    Thank you for your kind letter on Doctor Who Live. I’m disappointed to see you didn’t like Doctor Who Live; I am a big fan of Zoe Ball and I therefore fully support the BBC’s decision to use her for any spinoff entertainment show based on Doctor Who.

    As for the show’s guests, what exactly do you expect us to do: force them at gunpoint to say Peter Davison is their favourite Doctor?

    In actual fact, I did have a gun but I thought it could be put to better use on the computer displaying your blog instead.

    Once again, I must thank you for your kind letter.

    Don’t worry about the crack I placed on your bedroom wall.


    Steven Moffat

    • Dear Steven,

      I think turning your gun on your computer is a very good idea.



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