Doctor Who under Steven Moffat

Martin tries - and frequently fails - to contain his Moffat-fever during a half-time look at series 4 of Doctor Who...

What will the Moffat era bring to the time-lord?

Well, here we are at half-time in series 4 of new Who, and it doesn’t seem an inappropriate moment to reflect on new developments to the background muzak of the Eurovision entries which are giving the time-lord a fortnight’s break.

My issues with series 4 were all greatly alleviated this week by the absolutely fantastic news that Steven Moffat is taking over at the helm in 2010. It’s hard to overcome my instinctive and quite rabid fanboy enthusiasm. It’s hard to stop jumping up and down shouting ‘yes, yes, yeeeeeeessss!!!’. But this is the mere euphoria after years of anticipation…

It’s no wonder Moffat isn’t starting work on the time-lord immediately, as his current writing commitments are considerable, including the three-script Tintin deal with Spielberg, his new Adam & Eve sitcom…and who knows the fate of Jekyll? With his personal writing workload on Who increased (from series 5) from two to four episodes a season, we can’t necessarily expect every Moffat-penned episode of Doctor Who to match Blink; nor have we even seen the much anticipated ‘library’ two-parter yet…though it does look promising, doesn’t it!! Watch out for the shadows!

Stop. Breathe…

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It’s also not certain to what extent Moffat will be given his head as the new Who supremo; although the ending of The Empty Child showed a light, RTD-style touch (Davies apparently leaves Moffat’s Doctor Who scripts inviolate) and Time Crash may also have gone a little too far in that regard, will the appointment of a sci-fi/horror purist like Moffat alarm a BBC hitherto reassured by the very populist touch of Russell T. Davies…?

Like most Who fans, I am immensely grateful to RTD for reviving the show, but personally am annoyed to see clear evidence of his broad-net-approach infiltrating all non-Moffat scripts. I even wonder if someone who loves the darkness as much as Steven Moffat doesn’t put in ‘Davies-isms’ just to forestall any possible interference with his Who output.

What then, will Moffat keep of the Russell T. Davies legacy, and what will he be keen to jettison?

Stories like The Empty Child, Blink and The Girl In The Fireplace bespeak a man who fondly remembers not only the horror-based strands of Doctor Who that flickered and ebbed through the Pertwee and Baker era (such as Pyramids Of Mars and The Brain Of Morbius), but also the dark strain of occult horror that permeated 1970s UK television in general, appearing in the better entries of series like Sapphire And Steel, Thriller, Tales Of The Unexpected, and also in children’s TV such as Raven, Children Of The Stones and Sky.

All this is far darker fare than easily issues from the imagination and inclination of RTD, but luckily Moffat can sell his darkness – his ‘shadows’, if you like – leavened with the comic stylings of an excellent humorist. Since a lot of the jokes in series 4 have been very weak, an adroit and restrained hand at the show’s funny bone will be welcome indeed.

Moffat seems to hate supposed ‘middle-class sensibility’ less than Davies, who has apparently vetoed all ‘h’’s from the script and – generally speaking – consigned more ‘clipped’ English accents to villains and fools. I didn’t buy this lazy conceit when Hollywood was touting it all through the nineties, and I don’t buy it now. There are fools and heroes in all classes of life, and making a supposedly ‘working-class’ accent some kind of mark of credibility is a cheap and lazy shorthand as empty as the notion of the ‘noble savage’.

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So I am hoping that Moffat will paint the characters, story-arcs and scripts of series 5 with a broader and less predictable palette. Blink’s rather delicate Sally Sparrow was a refreshing change from the fusillade of EastEnders refugees which Davies launched at Doctor Who, including Rose Tyler and her mum, Mickey and Donna Noble (whose lacerating ire can still saw planks in twain unaided).

I am hoping too that Moffat will hunt out new and unusual writing talent for the show, and not just from the vast body of those who have already contributed to the Whoverse in audio drama, novels and online media. Doctor Who has played out Russell T. Davies’s once-fresh vision; it needs to temper canonical continuity with the shock of the new, because the ongoing strand of self-referential irony continues to undermine the credibility of the show. Worse than that, it is rarely funny anymore.

Since the show is about a man who travels time and space in a blue police box, it doesn’t need any further impediments to verisimilitude. What it needs is commitment – there are plenty of other things to laugh about than how ridiculous the whole thing is. If you are one of those valued Who viewers that have been attracted to Doctor Who by its soap-ey elements, but actually think that the show itself is ridiculous, I utterly respect your view – there’s a great deal of evidence to support the contention that Doctor Who is absurd.

Now fuck off back to your reality shows.

For 45 minutes on a Saturday, I want to journey through time and space with the Doctor, and to be thrilled, scared and amused. I want Daleks, Cybermen, (better) Sontarans and the odd revived villain from old Who – but not at the expense of new villains, monsters and innovations. I could care less if there are celebrity guests, so long as they can act their part and serve a good story. I want stories where commentary on current affairs is not used as a prop to support weak scripts. I want to meet that bloke from The Stage who said that The Unicorn And The Wasp was the best Who episode since 1963, and see if the lobotomy scar is still visible.

I want Moffat, during his tenure as executive producer, to receive scripts as trite as The Sontaran Stratagem and Partners In Crime and ink up his ‘must try harder’ stamp before sending them back with a contemptuous dent…

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No matter how frequently series 4 has disappointed me, as soon as I see the Superman-style legend ‘David Tennant’ swoop out of the time-tunnel in the opening credits of Doctor Who, the hairs on the back of my neck rise up, and I am ready to believe again. I think Steven Moffat can replace every soap-loving viewer he loses in season 5 with a sci-fi or horror fan who had given up on the show.

Not that I’m building up expectations or anything like that…


Simon’s a bit keener on RTD.

Martin writes his (mostly) sci-fi column every Friday at Den Of Geek. Check out the complete list of his columns.


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