By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com December 2, 2011 at 10:47AM
One of the most surprising news stories of the year came a few weeks back, when it was announced that BBC Worldwide were teaming up with David Yates, director of the last four 'Harry Potter' films, to bring classic science-fiction character "Doctor Who" to the big-screen, in a version starting from scratch, and existing outside the continuity of the TV series, with a new actor in the lead role. More surprised than anyone? Steven Moffat, the head writer and executive producer of the current incarnation of the show.
The writer, who's just made his big-screen debut, sharing credit with Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish on "The Adventures of Tintin," was seemingly less than impressed by the announcement at the time, tweeting shortly after the news "Announcing my personal moonshot, starting from scratch. No money, no plna, no help from NASA. But I know where the moon is; I've seen it," and adding, when challenged by a fan that Yates would do a good job, "At going to the moon? I'd like to see him try." But since then, word has been quiet, both from Moffat and from Yates.
Until early this morning, that is, when the showrunner again took to Twitter to say, firstly, "To clarify: any Doctor Who movie would be made by the BBC team, star the current TV doctor and certainly NOT be a Hollywood reboot," before adding "Movie thing: David Yates, great director, was speaking off the cuff on a red carpet. You've seen the rubbish I talk when I'm cornered." This seems to shoot down the earlier report altogether, a firm denial that the project, should it come to pass, would start from scratch in the way that the original trade piece intimated.
But there's clearly more going on behind the scenes here, and we're not quite sure what the truth is. British magazine Private Eye (via Bleeding Cool) wrote last week that the news breaking "was the ﬁrst showrunner Steven Moffat had heard that negotiations had reached such a stage. A sticking point in Moffat’s negotiations over his hiring as Who supremo back in 2008 had been his concern about a mooted movie overshadowing his work on the TV series. So failing to give him any advance warning — not least because Yates spoke of the need for 'quite a radical transformation' which would 'start from scratch' — was, at the least, tactless. But then since very senior people at the BBC openly describe Motfat as 'a problem,' this may have been the idea.”
Moffat is also the co-creator and executive producer of another massive BBC hit "Sherlock," but the double duties have caused schedling woes, with delays on "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who" scripts reportedly meaning that the latter show won't be back on the air until next autumn -- presumably what led Private Eye's sources to call Moffat 'a problem.' Presumably, he's kicked up something of a fuss behind the scenes, and been given assurances by the BBC who are keen not to upset a key creative talent, but something doesn't quite ring true. Variety's original report certainly doesn't read as a panicked statement from Yates on a red-carpet.
With the director unlikely to make the film before 2014 or 2015, and Moffat seemingly creating more and more rifts at the BBC, it's possible that the showrunner may have moved on from the job by the time the film comes to pass. Alternatively, Moffat, aided by the substantial fan outcry after the initial announcement, may have managed to convince Yates & company to incorporate their big-screen idea into current continuity letting Matt Smith, or whoever next takes on the TV role, star in a movie.
Either way, Moffat, one of the all-time great writers on the show, who has led it to new, ambitious creative highs in the last few years, doesn't seem to have been treated well when it comes to the project, and we don't blame him for kicking up a fuss, even if we maintain that a film franchise could happily co-exist next to the TV series. Things are still pretty murky on the whole project, and short of a quick TARDIS trip to 2015, it doesn't seem like it'll become any clearer any time soon.