Here’s an infamous Steven Moffat interview from 1995, in which he pretty much slates the vast majority of the original series. Nevertheless, it’s clear that he’s a fan. He does come across as a little… harsh… in this interview, and it should be noted that he’s recently commented on the interview, noting that “I’m vile. Full of myself. Pompous, and dismissing all the writers of the old show as lazy hacks. Dear God, I blush, I cringe, I creep. I walked out of the interview high on my own genius, and wrote Chalk, one of the most loathed and derided sitcoms in the history of the form. The thing about life is, you can always rely on it to administer a good slap when required”…
Q: How many of the New Adventures have you read?
A: I’ve read quite a few, but not so many of them anymore. There’s 24 of them a year. That’s too bloody many. I’ve never wanted 24 new Doctor Who adventures a year. Six was a perfectly good number.
Q: But Doctor Who was on 40 weeks of the year in the Hartnell era.
A: Yes, but did you see the pace of those shows? They were incredibly show. Hideous. I dearly love Doctor Who, but I don’t think my love of it translated into it’s being a tremendously good series. It was a bit crap at times, wasn’t it?
Q: You’ve pointed out in the past that there’s a certain camp value to it sometimes.
A: If you judge it on what they were trying to do, which is create a low budget, light-hearted children’s adventure serial for teatime, it’s bloody amazingly good. If you judge it as a high class drama series, it’s falling a bit short. But that’s not what it was trying to be.
Q: I think Doctor Who in the 60’s was simply of its time.
A: Even for the 60’s, it was slow. If you look at the first episode of Doctor Who, that betrays the lie that it’s just the 60’s, because that first episode’s really good. The rest of it’s shit.
Q: They had months of lead-up time to it. After that, it was weekly.
A: That’s fair enough, but the rest is still bad.
Q: The fans tend to try to compare it to I, Claudius. There’s a certain macho quality to some fans that makes them say it’s up there with Shakespeare.
A: I, Claudius had a brilliant script and a cast of brilliant actors. These are two things we can’t say, in all forgiveness, about some periods of Doctor Who. Much as I love it…
Q: You’re willing to recognise its limitations?
A: Yes. I still think most of the Peter Davison era stands up.
Q: I hated the Davison era.
A: How could you? When I look back at Doctor Who now, I laugh at it fondly. As a television professional, I think ‘How did these guys get a paycheque every week?’. Nothing from the black and white days, with the exception of the pilot episode, should have got out of the building. They should have been clubbing those guys to death. You’ve got an old guy in the lead who can’t remember his lines. You’ve got Patrick Troughton, who was a good actor, but his companions – how did they get their Equity card? They’re unimaginably bad. Once you get to the colour stuff, some of it’s watchable, but it’s laughable. Mostly now, looking back, I’m startled by it. Given that it’s a teatime show, a children’s show, I think most of the Peter Davison stuff is well-constructed, the directors are consistent.
Q: They’re consistently crap.
A: Peter Davison is a better actor than all the other ones. That’s the simple reason why it works better. There’s no complicated reason why Peter Davison carried on working and all the others disappeared into a retirement home. I recently watched a very good Doctor Who story, one I couldn’t really fault. It was Snakedance. Sure, it was cheap, but it was beautifully acted, well-written. There was a scene where Peter Davison has to explain what’s going on. The Doctor always has to. Now, some old actor like Tom Baker would come to a shuddering halt in the middle of the set and stare at the camera, because he can’t bear the idea that someone else is in the show. But Peter Davison is such a good actor, he manages to panic on the screen for a good two minutes, which has you sitting on the edge of your seat because you’re thinking ‘God, this must be really bad’. He’s got the most awful lines to say, but he’s doing it brilliantly. My memory of Doctor Who is based on bad television that I enjoyed at the time.
It could get me really burnt saying this, but Doctor Who is aimed at eleven year olds. Don’t you think it’s fair to say that Doctor Who was a great idea that happened to the wrong people? I think the actual structure, the actual format is as good as anything that’s ever been done. The character of the Doctor, the TARDIS, all that stuff is so good, it can actually stand not being done terribly well. There was some very good stuff spread over the twenty-five years, but that wasn’t enough.
Q: We were having a dinner party when the documentary Resistance is Futile was first shown. Everyone loved it, but as soon as the 60’s episode The Time Meddler came on, people turned away within thirty seconds. Remembrance of the Daleks, when it was first on, we thought it was fast-paced. Now it looks slow and staid.
A: None of this is true. We’ve had an absolute perception of pacing for a very long time. Some of Shakespeare is pretty pacy.
Q: Shakespeare has people standing around on stage spouting for ten minutes at a time.
A: Okay, I agree. Shakespeare is not as good as Doctor Who.
Q: When it comes to Shakespeare, the perception of pace changes with the times.
A: Doctor Who wasn’t limited by the times or the style that were prevalent then. It was limited by the relatively meagre talent of the people who were working on it.
Q: And yet the people who were working on it turned over on a regular basis. Are you saying they were all mediocre?
A: Mostly they were middle of the range hacks who were not going to go on to do much else. Over 26 years, the hitrate is not high enough. There are people who have worked on Doctor Who and gone on to great things, like Douglas Adams. I just think most people thought this was going to be the big moment of their lives, which is a shame. As a television format, Doctor Who equals anything. Unless I chose my episodes very carefully, I couldn’t sit anyone I work with in television down in front of Doctor Who and say ‘Watch this’.
Q: What episode would you show them? I’d go for good old reliable Robert Holmes, a man who knew what drama was. The Talons of Weng Chiang part 1, a very good hack.
A: How could a good hack think that the BBC could make a giant rat? If he’d come to my house, when I was fourteen, and said ‘Can BBC Special Effects do a giant rat?’, I’d have said no. I’d rather see them do something limited than something crap. What I resented was going to school two days later, and my friends knew I watched this show, and they’d say ‘Did you see the giant rat?’, and I’d have to say I thought there was dramatic integrity elsewhere.