My sister posted a link to my Facebook wall yesterday from the Radio Times which announced Steven Moffat’s exit as Doctor Who showrunner in 2017 and the appointment of Chris Chibnall to take his position. Supposedly to avoid clashes with other big tv events of 2016 such as the Rio Olympics and the Euro football championships, the only Doctor Who we shall have this year is a Christmas Special. Moffat’s last series in charge will be in Spring 2017 and Chibnall will take over as showrunner in 2018.
The term showrunner is most often associated with American television production. As the definition of an executive producer began to vary from involvement to financial help to honorary titles, the term showrunner was introduced to single out the person (producer) in charge of the programme’s creativity and management. Generally, showrunners are executive producers, head writers and script editors. The term has only really been used in Britain since the Millennium. I think it is interesting that the head writer/producer of Doctor Who has been termed showrunner from the very beginning of New Who (2005) as it suggests the BBC may have had some inkling about its marketability especially to an American audience to use a primarily American model of management for primetime television.
I remember being very pleased when Moffat was selected as the successor to Russell T Davies as showrunner from Series 5 onwards. Davies’ episodes whilst being family friendly were very formulaic, basic and predictable. You knew which characters would die in ensemble cast episodes. The companions and many other female guest stars with the exception of Donna predictably fell in love with David Tennant’s Doctor. In Davies’ era, Moffat’s episodes were the best – chilling, exciting and full of mystery. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead and in particular Blink are some of my favourites from Davies’ era of New Who.
Moffat’s series narrative arcs were more complex, subtle and intriguing than Davies’. Whilst the resolutions were not always executed well in the finales and sometimes a bit too complex than required, the ideas and creativity behind them were great. I may have not liked Matt Smith’s tenure as Doctor due to his interpretation of the Doctor and really disliking (this is putting it mildly) Amy Pond but the overall arc of series 5 culminating with the Pandorica was pretty clever. I have defended Moffat when some fans have moaned about Doctor Who and putting the blame solely on him because of his position as showrunner. I feel the showrunner position allows fans to use him as scapegoat – he is blamed for stories written and poor narrative decisions made by weaker writers. My issues with Capaldi’s series have been more to do with the directing than the writing.
I think, having academically studied Doctor Who and its spin off series, I have distanced myself as a viewer from being too invested in Doctor Who and am more aware that I view it differently to how I did when New Who was launched when I was eleven/twelve. Age, knowledge and experience definitely changes how you view media. I think that some fans (and I am saying this as a generalisation) blame Moffat for not meeting their expectation, their personal interpretations of narratives and characters whilst forgetting it is a mass audience programme aimed at families and that their perspective on the series will not be the same as when they began watching.
That said, there are some decisions that have been made by Moffat that I have struggled to defend such as the overuse of River Song which ruined her character for me (though the 2015 Christmas Special kind of redeemed River a little for me) and the introduction of Missy. Moffat has turned Davies’ companion/guest female star’s romantic interests with the Doctor more sexual which is mostly unnecessary. There have been episodes that I have hated such as The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, The Time of the Doctor and Dark Water/Death in Heaven written by Moffat. However, he has also written brilliant episodes such as Capaldi’s one parter Heaven Sent amongst others. Moffat still has a Christmas special and a whole series to write before he leaves so it will be interesting to see what ideas he has and how he writes for the new companion(s?) before handing over the reigns.
Chibnall, like Moffat, has written episodes of Doctor Who ahead of his role as showrunner. However, I am less excited about his appointment as his episodes have not had much of an impact on me and this worries me as how Chibnall will oversee the science-fiction/fantasy series. I can categorise Chibnall’s contributions to Doctor Who into two sections: the forgettable and the unforgettable for the wrong reasons. I can barely remember ’42’ a Martha episode and the Silurian two parter The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. I don’t think these episodes were bad from what I remember of them but that is the problem, I cannot fully remember them and this does not bode well for a head writer. Those that I categorise as unforgettable for the wrong reasons are The Power of Three (the black cubes) and Dinosaurs on a SpaceShip (…) which were simply poor episodes in my opinion. I am hoping my memory and judgement is slightly clouded because of my dislike of Amy Pond and Matt Smith’s Doctor most of the time and that he will be better when he has complete control of the series. Chibnall has co-written the wonderful series of hit crime drama Broadchurch with Louise Fox. Both series of Broadchurch have been gripping and I have really enjoyed watching them so I hope Chibnall’s writing will be at that standard rather than what he has produced for Doctor Who before.