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John Hurt in 'The Day of the Doctor' (Photo: BBC)

Before we start, to all Whovians everywhere, Happy Doctor Who’s 52nd Anniversary Day! Doesn’t time fly, even if you don’t have a TARDIS?

And on the topic of Whovian anniversaries, there’s a fascinating interview with Steven Moffat over on the Radio Times site today, in which he explains in some detail exactly how he came to write the story for “The Day of the Doctor,” in which he introduced the character of the War Doctor, as played by John Hurt.

It seems that there were production issues that could have left him creating a script around just Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) alone, as Matt Smith and David Tennant were not yet under contract to appear. And even his grand idea of Clara and the Doctor whizzing back through the Doctor’s time line to undo the harm done by the Great Intelligence didn’t have a significant ending until quite late on in the planning stages.

Steven explained: “I wrote ‘The Name of the Doctor,’ which built up to a punchline of the Doctor walking into his own timeline to rescue Clara. No idea what he’d find there. I just knew that whatever he found there would launch the 50th.

“The first version was David, Matt and Chris [Eccleston] together. With whatever involvement we could contrive for the other Doctors, but – being brutal – it had to be Doctors that still looked like their Doctors… I think Peter [Davison], Colin [Baker] and Sylvester [McCoy] were better deployed in The Five-ish Doctors than they could ever be elsewhere.”

However, this version was compromised by Christopher Eccleston’s reluctance to pick up the sonic again: “I knew that Chris was almost certainly going to say no. I met him a couple of times and he was absolutely lovely. He met with me because he didn’t want to say no through his agent or a phone call or email. He wanted to do it personally… His reasons are his business and he’s a very private man. But it’s reasonable to say he really cares about Doctor Who. He’s well versed in what’s happened since he left, and happily chatted away about Amy Pond by name.”

So, no Ninth Doctor, and also possibly no Tenth or even Eleventh either: “At that point neither David nor Matt were under contract either. I had Jenna. And I did come up with a plotline that was just Jenna. It was a nightmare.”

Having secured the services of David and Matt, and started to kick ideas around again, Steven had a brainwave, one that tied the rebooted show to its classic incarnation. He rushed to tell producer Marcus Wilson: “What if there was an incarnation of the Doctor none of us knew about? And, coincidentally, he was played by the most famous actor in the world? Specifically someone who might have been cast as the Doctor during the long hiatus. For instance, John Hurt…”

And thankfully, getting John Hurt on board was one of the more painless aspects of the production: “And how good was he! One moment as the Doctor and he nails it. He totally gets it. And he was lovely about being in it.

“I wasn’t there on his last day, but he gave a little speech and said something like: ‘I don’t want anyone to think I took this lightly or thought I was slumming it. This really meant something to me, to be the Doctor.’ He was quite insistent, saying to me and to others: ‘So I am properly Doctor Who now. I am a Doctor Who. I can say it?’”

Read the full interview (including the reason Steven has a particular affection for the Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy) at Radio Times.

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By Fraser McAlpine