If you’ve been watching the BBC at all over the last few weeks, you’ll almost certainly have noticed the trailers for Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ 21st Century update of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock, which premiered on BBC 1 last night.
We were recently given the chance to talk to Moffat, Gatiss and the series’ star, Benedict Cumberbatch. The Gatiss and Cumberbatch interviews go into details about the first episode, so we’re holding off on publishing them until after broadcast, but Moffat’s interview was relatively spoiler free and he was happy to talk Sherlock, Who and the future of British television.
Hey U Guys: So obviously you and Mark [Gatiss] have been developing Sherlock for quite some time. Mark said for about five years.
Steven Moffat: Yes, but slicing that into blocks of action, for a long time we were just talking on the train about it, and saying ‘we should’, and never getting anywhere. It wasn’t until we actually brought it up with Sue Vertue, my wife that the wheels started turning. I remember exactly when that was: it was the weekend that Blink* went out**. So it’s not that long, but from that point, when she’s saying ‘OK, I’m going to commission scripts from you two, and you’re going to write them’ to having three completed ninety minute movies, that’s hyper-speed in television terms. In any terms actually.
HUG: So how long did it take to come up with initially the idea fully, and then each script?
SM: The thing is: I don’t remember any details like that. It takes as long as it takes. You start early, you finish late. You never have enough time, but somehow you get there. I know that shortly after that meeting, whatever that weekend was, Mark and I sat in a room and discussed what it is that we would do. It was like: ‘How do they talk? Do they call each other Holmes and Watson or do they call each other Sherlock and John? What are we keeping and not keeping?’ and that was all that.
HUG: One thing that strikes me is that you had Jekyll as well, and that was an updated Victorian classic, and this is an updated Victorian classic. Even Doctor Who to some extent is you taking an existing character that is very much loved, and putting your own spin on it. Can we expect this to happen in the future? Perhaps Dorian Gray?
SM: No. I mean, it sounds like an obsession but it really isn’t. I know aboutJekyll and Sherlock, and me thinking it’s really weird I’ve done those two things in a row, but it really wasn’t. I suppose it’s just that a good story once is a good story twice, is a good story ten times. There’s that element, and maybe one day I’ll see something else and think: ‘Oh we should do that again’, but I think that when I’m done on these, I’ll be getting a bit itchy to do something of my own again.
HUG: What might that be?
SM: I have no idea at this moment. I don’t have a spare second.
HUG: You’re running Doctor Who as well currently, so it’s literally bouncing between projects, project to project I presume?
SM: Well it is, yes, and I can expect it to be that way for as long as I’m doing those jobs. I mean, if you’ve read The Writer’s Tale***, it’s like that, except I’m not going to bother writing the Writer’s Tale. It’s crippling and all consuming, but great. So I have no idea what I’ll do next, I’m not even thinking about it. My job is to make sure that Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes are as good as they can be.
HUG: So Sherlock looks like it’s going to go to a regular series?
SM: It’s not my call. I’d love it to, if it’s successful, yes it will. There’s a great good will towards it. If it doesn’t, then probably not. You can’t really argue with that kind of judgement, we faced it all the time on Doctor Who: it’s got to retain it’s ratings. Which it did, by the way, despite entirely fallacious, completely made up news stories. Bastards. I was tearing into them saying: ‘You can’t just make our ratings’.
HUG: People were saying it wasn’t doing as well as thought?
SM: Well there was a whole news story, which was remarkable in ratings in that since it’s come back, it’s barely changed.
HUG: If anything I thought it would have gone up.
SM: If you were allowed to include iPlayer, then it has. You’re not allowed to include iPlayer.
HUG: Well it’s not just that. You seem to be forcing the writers to justify things that were in previous series simply allowed on the grounds that Doctor Who is aimed at children.
SM: We try to make our scripts hold water. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night thinking ‘Oh hang on, how did that happen? Damn! Forgot that bit of explanation. Damn.’
HUG: On the subject of Who actually, I’m sure it’s been mentioned about four hundred times today: a slight similarity between the characters of Sherlock and Doctor Who to some degree. Did you find yourself, when writing the script for Sherlock, including traits or ideas that you perhaps exorcised from Doctor Who episodes on the grounds that they were too dark for the audience?
SM: Well you know I was utterly strict with myself. I could never include or exclude anything, because of the accident of history that means that the same guy is involved in running both is wrong. There are commonalities between the Doctor and Sherlock and they have to be allowed to breathe.
HUG: I didn’t mean that in so much that there are things in Doctor Who, ideas, that you touch upon. Like the Doctor being very dark and nasty, which you have to presumably reign in to some degree, because of the nature of the show.
SM: Well it’s the nature of the Doctor’s own character. The one I keep saying is that I always think of the Doctor in a poetic way of being like an angel who aspires to be human. He’s a morally perfect and wonderful creature but he actually rushes towards human frailty. He’s emotional, he’s quixotic, heroic, he falls in love a lot. He’s mad. Whereas Sherlock is the exact opposite. He’s a human being that aspires to be a God. He’s running away from the very things that the Doctor thinks are the most precious, the most powerful.
HUG: Where do you see the future of British TV and where do you see your place in it?
SM: I don’t know. Hopefully carrying on doing great television shows and not failing too often, that would be nice. At the moment, my sky is full. I can’t really see past these two mighty shows. I think that British television is fantastic, and when I go on an awards committee and see all the stuff that’s coming out, which is how I catch up, I think ‘Bloody hell how do you choose amongst this?’. I don’t know, I suppose one day again, I’d like to do comedy, but I like writing adventure, so I obviously fit Doctor Who rather well.
Sherlock is broadcast on BBC One at 9pm on Sunday 25th July.
Interview transcribed by Ted Leighton.
*Acclaimed Doctor Who Episode starring the lovely Carey Mulligan.
**Broadcast date 09 June 2007 if anyone’s interested.
***A collection of e-mails between Moffat’s Doctor Who predecessor, Russell T Davies and Doctor Who Magazine journalist Benjamin Cook