Arguably the biggest challenge facing Steven Moffat as he sets about starting work on the fifth series of revived Doctor Who, set to be broadcast in 2010, isn’t the casting of the Doctor. Nor it is implementing a brand new story arc, even though Russell T Davies concluded many of his own storylines with Journey’s End.
Instead, he’s got to address the one thing that RTD didn’t manage to satisfactorily conquer – the introduction of genuinely interesting, regular villains.
The need was shown to some degree by the two-parter that’s just been broadcast, and the preview of this year’s Christmas special that accompanied it. Because when Doctor Who really needs to pull a ratings winner, or really wants to give the Doctor a major threat to face off against, it’s the Daleks or the Cybermen that are called into action. Sometimes both.
After all, in the four series of Doctor Who that Russell T Davies has overseen, three have ended with a fight against one of the Doctor’s two deadliest foes. The series that didn’t, the third, instead brought back The Master for what proved to be a damp squib of a season finale.
But this currently leaves Moffat with even fewer options than Davies for big villains to revive. With Davros, the Daleks, The Master, the Sontarans, Autons and Cybermen out already, the show’s long heritage doesn’t have a box office villain of that might remaining to pull out from the archives. Sure, there are some great foes that could and should be happily re-explored, from the Ice Warriors and the Rastan Robot, through to even the Silurians and – if you were feeling brave – the Rani. But none of these have the proven attraction and track record as the aforementioned A list of foes.
The suspected option is, therefore, that Moffat will recycle one of the above in some way, simply because he has little choice. The cover of the Radio Times, after all, demands something to help sell its early summer issues. But the show really needs some fresh monster blood, and it needs it soon, else it’s going to take something really special to break the show out of its Dalek-Cybermen-Dalek cycle. And with each appearance of either of those, there’s only so far you can push the level of threat, and find new things to say, before you get to the inevitable ‘everybody sort of lives’ ending.
Russell T Davies and his team, to their credit, did try, and it was Moffat who consistently came up with the creepiest villains. Most, however, could only be used once. The boy in the gas mask and the fearsome angels you couldn’t imagine working as effectively again, while the clockwork monsters weren’t the highlight of The Girl In The Fireplace. And while the shadows from Silence In The Library we’d love to meet again, there’s not an awful lot more you can say about a shadow than was already revealed in the two-parter. Plus, they’d make crappy action figures, which wouldn’t be lost within the corridors of the BBC.
Of the non-Moffat creations, the Slitheen we’ve already met a couple of times and have no urge to do so again. The Ood? Not bad, and perhaps the strongest candidates, but again, you wonder if there’s only so much more you could do with them. They do have an interesting mish-mash of personalities that does at least offer some scope, though.
From the other created villains, the one that positively demands further exploration is the mysterious, unresolved creature that appeared in Midnight. The irony there, however, is that it was the mystery of the monster that made it interesting. Surely if you start giving it a name and a backstory, the menace is going to dilute? And again, there’s merchandising that inevitably needs to be considered.
The Family Of Blood, too, could perhaps be sought out again, even though their story was wrapped up quite tightly. There’s a backstory worth looking at there, though, even if they’re unlikely to be the kind of cavalier monster that a big season finale would demand. And what about River Song or Jenny? One of those could prove to be a villain, potentially?
Then there’s the Adipose? No thanks. Pig people? Nope. The Hath? Possibly. Cat people? No. The Judoon? We liked ‘em, but as they go to the highest bidder, they’re not villains right now in the conventional sense. The Editor? No. And soon enough, you come to the end of the list.
Season five, our guess, is likely to feature at least two out of three of Daleks, Cyberman and The Master, and short of bringing back the kind of Renegade vs Imperial Dalek war of old, it’s going to be a ripe old challenge to dig out much new to say about any of them. Unless we can have a full episode of the Daleks in Germany, of course.
But then this is Steven Moffat’s chance to leave a real mark on Doctor Who, long after he’s moved onto his next job. For his hit-rate of scary monsters is good, and if he does stumble upon on the next Daleks, then not only will he earn himself eternal thanks from BBC Worldwide, but he might just improve and broaden the show for many years to come thereafter.
Heck, we might even get to a final episode where, half way through, you still have little idea what’s going to happen next…
Check out the new and ever growing Doctor Who page at DoG, where we are marshalling all the Who content at the site, including interviews, DVD and episode reviews, lists, opinions and articles on our favourite time traveller.