I’ve read quite a lot of reports from the press launch of Doctor Who’s tenth series earlier in the week. I’ve read about the massive spoiler that’s coming up at the end of the first episode, The Pilot (one that everyone managed to keep themselves, until The Sun decided to spoil it for everybody in exchange for a few clicks). I’ve read about the wish to downplay the fact that one of the characters in the show is attracted to people of her own gender. I’ve seen fair chunks of clickbait that then repeat these stories over and over.
Thing is, I was at the launch too, though, and there’s something that Steven Moffat also said, that I don’t think has been talked about enough.
Because it occurs to me that – as much as it’ll ever be – this upcoming series of Doctor Who is a free hit, or as close as a show this size can ever get to it. That’s heavily simplifying things of course, and I accept that. But what I mean is that the BBC’s eyes – along with the merchandising arm, and a lot of the speculation – are elsewhere. We know that after this series, Doctor Who will change again. That a new showrunner will be in place, and that a new Doctor will be taking charge of the TARDIS.
In short, the pressure – while hardly off – is perhaps different on Steven Moffat this time around. I can’t imagine the BBC is being hands off, but I do bet that the drama department – and the various bits of the BBC that make hard cash from Doctor Who – has its eyes on the series beyond this one. Furthermore, there’s nothing longer term that Moffat has to be set up save for a regeneration (well, y’know, a small thing). That this can be a twelve-episode run, out of the spotlight of rampant speculation about the future of the show.
Back to that press launch, one of the quietest for the show I’ve been to. In particular, I want to zero in on something Steven Moffat said in his Q&A after the premiere screening of The Pilot. He was asked how he wanted to approach this run of the show. In the past, he’s talked about two-parters, standalone movie-style episodes, series splits. The approach this time, though? “Entirely from the point of view of the story begins again”, he said. “That’s what’s exciting about Doctor Who. You get a new character, the story of Bill, she meets the Doctor, you’ve got all those lovely beats”.
Moffat made a point of saying it was driven by story, the direction he’s taken with the new run. For any writer, story is at the heart of things, clearly, and whatever you think of his work on the show, Moffat is no different (thus, I’m not suggesting he’s not cared about story before, should that be how this is coming across).
However, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend lots of Doctor Who press launches in the past, and heard lots of talk promoting the show from him over the years. For instance, about the aim to deliver a blockbuster movie-style episode a week. About big revelations coming. About how Doctor Who was changing as television, and television viewing habits, also evolved.
But here was a slightly different tone. Here was Moffat talking about story being at the heart, and explicitly making a point of that. It was proverbial music to my non-proverbial ears.
Appreciating I tend to like Doctor Who episodes more than, er, some part of the internet, I really found myself buoyed by that. The proof will be in the episodes themselves, of course, but I’ve had a quiet confidence about series ten for a while, noting that it seems – by Doctor Who standards at least – to be flying under a few peoples’ radars.
And whilst it’d be remiss to say of any show with the size of following Doctor Who has earned and enjoyed that it has nothing to lose, this upcoming run is as close as it can get to that.
The signs in the first episode, The Pilot, are that Moffat is putting together plot and story ingredients early, and that’s he’s enjoyed refocusing the show again slightly with the introduction of Pearl Mackie’s Bill. The Pilot, and the twelve episodes beyond it, will bring to an end Steven Moffat’s dream job, and Peter Capaldi’s tenure as the Doctor. I’ll have a quiet bet with you that they’ve got something really quite special up their sleeve for us. Here’s hoping for a thumping good story to send them on their way.