Doctor Who: The Moffat Legacy

AS STEVEN MOFFAT’S tenure as head writer of the hit BBC programme Doctor Who is coming to an end I’ve decided to look back at his time controlling the show. It has so far been four series’ of conflicting facts: the worst episodes so far and the absolute best, ratings dipping and new-found international acclaim, amazing new sets and effects and still reminders of just how restrictive BBC budgets are, looking forward and fondly looking back. Is it time for him to go? I’d say undoubtedly. Will he be missed? As controversial a figure as he is, I would say definitely so.

Before taking the reins on ‘Who, Moffat was mainly known for writing the sex mad Sit-Com Coupling (the most early 2000s thing you could ever watch, I mean just look at that font!), Jekyll and… well… Doctor Who. During his predecessor’s successful revival of the series, Moffat wrote some of the most well regarded scripts in its run including the old-school terror and zombie tension of the ‘Empty Child’, and the devious twist on grandma’s footsteps in ‘Blink’. Understandably the announcement that he was to take over was greeted with much speculation and excitement, excitement that was completely warranted.

Series five of Doctor Who is possibly one of the best crafted bits of British television science fiction ever made. It had rules to follow due to continuity, time slots and intended audience, but it is tonally, visually and narratively new. Matt Smith did not have the easiest job in the world, taking over from one of the most beloved actors on British television in David Tennant, but he pulled it off, paying homage to the past but making the character his own. With companions Amy (Karen Gillen) and later Rory (Arthur Darvill) in tow, the dynamic between the three of them was genuinely interesting and the show started to feel like it had a family at its centre, be it two young people and their wacky grandpa (Aww geez, Rick) one minute, and two struggling parents and their over excitable son the next. From the first episode onwards it had a real sense of freshness. It also did something that the show hadn’t done before in introducing unsolved mysteries that would roll onto future series.

Alex Kingston, Matt Smith & Karen Gillen in Doctor Who (Credit: BBC)

Series six is somewhat uneven, wavering from the near majestic storytelling of the opening two parter, to unfocused romps such as that one with pirates. Remember. Pirates. It had Lily Cole. No? Exactly. The format of the show had been changed as well; two halves of the series airing at different halves of the year. This experiment didn’t particularly work, but was a bold move to avoid the show becoming stale.

The central mysteries of this series were the meaning behind the brilliantly-realised ‘Silence’ and a long promised explanation of who the Doctor’s wife, River Song, is. Do we find out? Partially. I’m not opposed to long running story arcs, or continuity heavy stories by any means, but I’m reminded of what noted comic writer and thief Stan Lee once said: ‘Every comic is someone’s first’. By extension, every episode of Doctor Who is someone’s first. Viewers just hopping on for the ride were lost, and this was before the Netflix ‘binge-watch’ boom.

Matt Smith & Matt Smith in Doctor Who (Credit: BBC)

The first half of series seven felt like a continuation of the decline of series seven. While never bad television, the show attempted to present the audience with a blockbuster a week. That’s fine if you’re episode isn’t 45 minutes long, and there feels like there can be no breathing space and constant, rushed action. The second half of this series is where I feel things started to look up again. There was a new central mystery of new companion, Clara, which was more interesting than the character, Clara.

Moffat’s trouble with women characters had not been put to bed just yet. That being said, this brought the best series finale Moffat had written. Moffat’s finales tend to overpromise in their first half, and become a different story all together in their second. For example series five’s The Pandorica Opens brings every alien that has ever had a grudge with the Doctor to the same place, and The Big Bang focuses on a story set in a museum. It’s a very good story set in a museum, but what about that giant coalition of monsters?

The Name of the Doctor, however, gives us a haunting rummage around the Doctor’s eventual tomb and the Doctor’s life being saved by his companion, leading into the hugely anticipated 50th anniversary celebration, with the revelation that John Hurt was a Doctor we’d never even seen before. The Day of the Doctor was an exploration of the show’s past, present and future all at once. It was a huge event in British Television, as well as British Cinema, with packed theatres across the UK showing the 3D special. Remember 3D television? Hahaha the fools.

Series eight was a slow, steady ascension for the show. With Matt Smith leaving in a somewhat over-stuffed but fitting Christmas special, the new Doctor, played unsettlingly, bombastically and at times menacingly by Peter Capaldi was not as self-assured as the other Doctors to begin with. The character had to settle into his new skin, as the audience did with the new Doctor. The episodes tended to be good, with only few standing out. That being said, Moffat’s greatest achievement in this series was his reinvention of The Master, in Michelle Gomez’s Missy, the deliciously evil, Poppins-esque, psychopath with huge fan acclaim.

Peter Capaldi, Michelle Gomez & a Cyberman in Doctor Who (Credit: BBC)

Series nine was my favourite since the fifth, with an incredibly bold and ambitious opening two parter, and I’d say Moffat’s one good Dalek outing. The tyrannical metal tiny baby Hitlers had been somewhat over exposed and felt a little commonplace and un-threatening, until The Doctor, Clara, and by popular demand, Missy, were brought into their home planet, and to their dying creator (also with his best mate, Mr. Allthesnakes, our esteemed editor’s favourite character).

The show continued to take risks, not all successful, but all necessary, from Mark Gatiss’s underwhelming found footage horror, to Moffat’s near-perfect single-hander, which an amazing bit of logic to its ending. Clara bowed out, but by the end she’d stopped being a wide eyed manic pixie dream girl and had become more… well manic. The universe had robbed her so much she didn’t particularly care if she lived or died. She was given an emotional goodbye. It’s almost as if you could see Moffat learn as he went. It’s almost as if all writers learn as they go. Fuck sake.

And that leaves us here, just before series ten starts. What will it bring? In all likelihood something that learned from the mistakes of the past, something not afraid to make the mistakes of the future, well thought out liberal sentiment, and shoehorned screeching appeasement. In all likelihood, many will love it, and some will hate it (some because they didn’t like the stories, writing or direction, some because the companion’s gay and ‘it’s more loony lefty liberal bias from the BBC, which stands for Blatant Betrothal to Corbyn. Anyway, pour me another Green King IPA and let’s go fox hunting.’). Either way, it looks to be something that another tent pole of the BBC was; something completely different.

James O’Donoghue is also a stand-up Comedian. You can find clips of him & some weirdo called Rodney Pump here.

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