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How Steven Moffat’s Love of ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ Shaped ‘Doctor Who’

Alex Kingston and Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who (2005)

Former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat has a new project coming out, and it is the second adaptation of the Audrey Niffenegger novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, this time as a series on HBO. It was previously adapted in 2009 and tells the story of Henry, a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel randomly, and Clare, his artist wife, who has to cope with him constantly leaving suddenly and without warning.

This story has been inspiring Moffat, as he admitted that the novel was an inspiration for the creation of his character River Song, who appeared in the modern-era Doctor Who series four episode “Silence in the Library,” as a woman who has mysterious knowledge of the Doctor and a connection that he isn’t aware of.

Eventually it is discovered that River is the Doctor’s wife and a time traveler, but she and the Doctor are destined to meet out of order, not fully knowing everything about each other and having to keep journals in order to make sure they don’t mess with the timeline.

In 2011, Moffat was asked, “How much of the other genre, time-travel, fiction have you read?” and brought up The Time Traveler’s Wife.

“Oh, I quite purposefully used it. Actually, particularly in ‘Girl in the Fireplace,'” Moffat said. “I think ‘Girl in the Fireplace’ is the one where I’m really doing Time Traveler’s Wife because it’s about longing and loss and all of that. I said to Russell Townshend, ‘We should do a Doctor Who version of that, because that’s a perfect fit for us.’ Structurally it ended up being different though.”

“Girl in the Fireplace” is another episode from series two, where these space aliens want the brain of Madame de Pompadour (Sophia Myles) and the Doctor ends up meeting her throughout her life, and they share a kiss.

With River Song, it takes the concept, but gives both River and the Doctor access to time travel, equals in the love and loss of these two characters being out of time with each other. Alex Kingston, who played River Song, made direct comparisons to the work. “The characters keep missing each other. She’s like the Time Traveler’s Wife,” Kingston told told EW. “In this particular season, and certainly in the first two episodes, what you see is her knowing that she’s on the brink of the moment where the Doctor doesn’t know any more who she is. And I think that’s just tragic, really.”

Despite the issues I have with Moffat’s work, I have always enjoyed the fact that one of the inspirations for him was a romance, and I think he has proven that he gets the concept. The new series has Rose Leslie as Clare Abshire and Theo James as Henry DeTamble, and arrives on HBO in the spring of 2022.

(via Gizmodo, image: BBC)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.