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Steven Moffat: The "Marvelization" of Doctor Who is a good thing

“Isn’t Marvel just like Doctor Who?”

Steven Moffat attending the Meet The Filmmakers: Sherlock event at the Apple Store, Regent Street, L...

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Doctor Who is one of the oldest sci-fi institutions around. Since 1963, the British series has offered thrilling adventures across space and time. But in 2022, the biggest sci-fi franchise in the world is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and its success is undeniable — so much so that it seems everyone wants to emulate it.

In a March 21 article, The Guardian reported that Hugh Grant was “in talks” to replace Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor with returning showrunner Russell T. Davies giving the series a “Marvel-style makeover.” While the man himself debunked the casting news, the rumored Marvelization of the Whoniverse remains.

Inverse spoke with Steven Moffat over Zoom last week to discuss his upcoming show, The Time Traveler’s Wife (stay tuned for the rest of our chat), and we couldn’t resist asking the former Doctor Who showrunner about these latest rumors. Moffat’s response is not what you’d expect.

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Turns out, Moffat may be the reason the Hugh Grant rumor started in the first place. Many years ago, he wrote a charity benefit sketch called The Curse of Fatal Death, a hilarious skit that saw the Doctor regenerating into Jim Broadbent, Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Joanna Lumley, and yes, Hugh Grant.

“He was a great Doctor, but I think it’s someone in a newspaper office [who is] bored, in all honesty,” Moffat tells Inverse.

Hugh Grant (very briefly) played the Doctor in the 1999 special The Curse of Fatal Death.

That said, the “Marvel-style makeover” speculation has not been as easily debunked. But according to Moffat, Doctor Who isn’t becoming more like the hit comic book franchise — Marvel is just evolving into Doctor Who.

“Isn’t Marvel just like Doctor Who?” Moffat says. “Doctor Who’s been doing that for a very, very long time. Certainly, since Russell brought it back, but arguably a lot before that, it’s been very human-driven.”

Though it began as purely a superhero franchise, Marvel has become a lot more complicated in recent years. Loki introduced viewers to the concept of a multiverse, and Spider-Man: No Way Home took it to new heights when it brought back Andrew Garfield’s and Tobey Maguire’s portrayals of Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Seems unprecedented, right? Well, Doctor Who did the same thing 50 years ago in 1972 with “The Three Doctors,” a special that brought the first three iterations of the Time Lord together to work in collaboration.

“They’ve totally raised the bar.”

With this in mind, it’s no wonder Moffat admires what Marvel is doing.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a [Marvel] devotee, but I like the movies very much,” he says. “I think they’ve raised the bar as to what can be done in movies like that. Other action blockbusters should watch out ’cause they’re so witty.”

Moffat, who created the British sitcom Coupling, is an expert in combining adventure and comedy, so this is high praise. But it’s not just the jokes that impress Moffat.

“They’re very bold with what they think an audience can follow along, and they get away with it,” he says. “I’m always getting told my stuff is far too complicated. But have you seen this stuff? It’s really complicated.”

Spider-Man: No Way Home’s team-up was very reminiscent of a Doctor Who special. Marvel Studios

He points out No Way Home as a highlight of the MCU. “When the three Spider-Men were in it, I thought that was immensely clever, very bold in the storytelling — and so funny! What great actors. They’ve totally raised the bar,” he says.

Moffat acknowledges the criticism surrounding Marvel movies — director Martin Scorcese said the films are akin to amusement park rides, and Francis Ford Coppola went as far as to use the word “despicable.” But for Moffat, the movies and their success speak for themselves.

“I know lots of wise beard-strokers sit around saying, ‘Of course, movies are all superhero films.’ Yeah, but they’re good superhero films,” he says. “They’re really good! People go and see them, not because they’re superhero films, but because they’re good!”

The world of Marvel is bending toward Doctor Who, so a “Marvel-style makeover” wouldn’t be the huge revolution fans may be afraid of.

“I don’t know what ‘more Marvel’ means,” Moffat says. “I would hope [it] means more money. And I think that would be good, more Marvel in that sense, but I’m not sure how much more Marvel it could get, and I’m not sure they’ve got it the right way around.”

To Moffat, Doctor Who isn’t due for a Marvel-style reboot; the MCU is just in the midst of Doctor Who-style makeover. And it’s just what it needed.

Stay tuned for more from our interview with Steven Moffat about Doctor Who, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and more.