Doctor Who Head Writer and Executive Producer Steven Moffat is to step down and be replaced by Chris Chibnall after Series 10, it has been announced. BBC 1 Controller Charlotte Moore revealed the news, praising Moffat as “an absolute genius” who had “brought fans all over the world such joy”. She also described the incumbent Chibnall as “a wonderfully talented writer”. Chibnall will have to wait until 2018 to make his debut though, with only a Christmas Special airing this year before Moffat’s swan song in 2017. Moore took this scheduling decision based on the wealth of sporting events slated for 2016, and also to allow Chibnall to finish his run on his popular ITV series Broadchurch.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about this announcement. I, like many “Whovians” have found Moffat’s more “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” approach to be frustrating at times. Series 5, Moffat’s debut, was one of the show’s best: a science fiction fairy-tale, with an astonishingly confident performance from the young Matt Smith and some of the best Doctor/Companion chemistry since the show’s revival. Moffat’s work from then on has been more mixed however, failing to re-bottle the lightening of Series 5. In the pursuit of recapturing this magic, Moffat’s attempts to recreate its carefully plotted arc resulted largely in creating increasingly complicated mysteries in the form of the Silence and the Impossible Girl and leaving too many hanging threads, so that once answers were eventually given, they were either unsatisfactory or you’d forgotten what the question was in the first place. Moffat undeniably helped the show to really crack America for the first time, Doctor Who making San Diego Comic Con appearances and rubbing shoulder with big American cable players and tent pole studio blockbusters. Whilst this “Americanisation” brought new popularity and increased production values, it also brought with it erratic scheduling and American style season breaks which, whilst understandable in a US season that stretches 22 episodes long, makes far less sense for a British show of only 13 episodes.
All this being said, I’m actually sad to see him go. Series 8 was a definite improvement over the disjointed Series 7, which had not been helped by the decision to broadcast it over two years. But in Series 9, Moffat had truly returned to form, through the winning combination of Peter Capaldi’s tour de force performance, a better series structure and a flurry of new writers, particularly female writers like and Sarah Dollard, something Doctor Who had been severely lacking before. Moffat was even able to transform Jenna Coleman’s long unpopular Clara Oswald from a just a concept of a companion to a fully realised character. Having seen this promising upward trajectory, I find myself surprisingly disheartened that his wibbly wobbly era is coming to an end.
However, as promising as Moffat’s now penultimate series may have been, I fear that the prospective scheduling decisions could kill some of this momentum. Will anyone really still care about Doctor Who? Of course they will, the show is a British cultural institution, hence it has endured for 50 years and counting. But will Moffat’s new good faith be sustained if fans have to wait over a year for the next full series? Will there be the same bookies interest in betting on who the next companion will be if there is a yearlong wait for the reveal? They say that absence make the heart grow fonder, but it can also make it forgetful.
I also have to question the appointment of Chris Chibnall as Moffat’s successor. It’s fair to say that his episodes are considered to be fairly inconsistent in quality by the fanbase, and his track record when it comes to non-Who material is equally patchy. Whilst Broadchurch was a monster hit for ITV, its second series was not met with the same kind of universal acclaim. One has to wonder if there may have been better choices than Chibnall. Toby Whitehouse, for example, generally enjoys a better overall fan reception to his work on Doctor Who, and has good experience as a Science Fiction showrunner, his BBC3 series Being Human having a much longer lifespan than Chibnall’s own Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood did. Or even Gareth Edwards, who has written a wealth of material for Doctor Who across a wide range of media, from television episodes to comic strips and novelisations. Whilst they may lack the same Who experience, newer righter such as Dollard or Jamie Matheson have certainly shown promise. Indeed, part of my issue with the selection of Chibnall is that he lacks a distinctive voice. Love him or hate him, it cannot be denied that Steven Moffat’s episodes are unmistakably his, same goes for ex-showrunner Russell T Davies, Moffat’s Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss and fan favourite Neil Gaiman (I can dream).
Many fans will undoubtedly be pleased to see the back of the ambitious yet controversial Moffat. Whilst Doctor Who has built its longevity out of its ability to adapt itself to change, I must confess I shall not be amongst those fans. I certainly do recognise his flaws though, and remain optimistic for the show’s future in the hands of Chris Chibnall who, whilst a questionable choice, evidently has the backing both of the BBC and his precursor.
Image credit (header & in text): BBC (David Venni)