GeekPlanetOnline's resident Doctor Who Correspondent Martin Thompson takes a deeper look at the adventures of a mad man in a box, along with his friends, foes and fandom. With over fifty years of rubber monsters, changing faces, dented police boxes, exterminations and pointed goatees to look at, he has more than a few things to say on the subject...
Some pretty big news hit the world of Doctor Who recently as Steven Moffat announced that he’s stepping down from the role of showrunner after the tenth series (rumours that a thin man in a dressing gown whispered “Don’t you think he looks tired?” in Gary Russell’s ear have proved unfounded so far) and passing the torch, or chalice (poisoned or otherwise), to former Torchwood head Chris Chibnall. With rumours of on screen changes too, this looks to be the show’s biggest shake up since 2010.
Accompanying this announcement also came the news that there will be no new series in 2016 to give everyone a break. There will still be the now traditional Christmas special, but it's a shame that they couldn’t rustle up another one or two to keep us going through the year, as they did back in 2009.
For a show like Doctor Who it’s important to have a change of personnel both behind and in front of the camera every few years to stop the show getting stale, although there are few that have shaken it up as much as Moffat, which I hope will be part of his legacy along with more time travel-based plots. His first series very much took the Russell T Davies blueprint and ran with it, alongside a dark fairytale vibe. The second was more arc-based while the third was the ‘movie poster' series, which consisted of individual episodes with only the departure of the Ponds and the Impossible Girl arc linking them. Peter Capaldi’s first series once again harked back to the Davies formula, while his second mainly focused on two-part stories. Maybe the final one will be a long, continuous story as they did in the early years of the show. Personally, I feel that Moffat should have left a couple of years ago either with Matt Smith or after Capaldi’s first season. He has been one of the most creative writers to work on Doctor Who and I hope that he still contributes a script every now and again. Although his later work felt like he was reusing the same tropes I feel that, given a one shot, he still has the ability to blow us all away. Indeed, speaking in SFX about Listen he told of his joy at getting to write something that wasn’t event television like the finales, premières and Christmas specials.
I think Chris Chibnall would be wise to keep in mind another quote from Steven Moffat. In his Doctor Who Magazine column he said that he always advises that people on the show, “Treat it like you own it…we are not tending to a mausoleum, we are making a real, living, breathing TV show – one that must change and surprise, and break every rule it can find.” The weight of the show’s 52 year history and vast fanbase could lay heavily for some, so Mr Chibnall should be congratulated for taking it on in the first place. I was surprised when he was announced, as I expected Mark Gatiss to take on the role, as one of the longest standing regular writers of the modern series. However perhaps he’s too busy or just pleased enough to contribute the odd single episode and play in the sandbox rather than rule the whole playground. Chris Chibnall is at least a fan of the show, as a clip of him on 1986 viewer feedback show Open Air keeps popping up to remind us. Most fans however will recall his name as the showrunner behind Torchwood’s first two series and in particular the panned Cyberwoman episode. Since escaping from The Hub, he’s written a few scripts for Doctor Who itself starting with 42 for the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones back in the third series. After that, he brought back the Silurians in The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood two parter, put Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and gave us the invasion of the cubes in The Power of Three. All have their strengths and weaknesses, but they are solid episodes with Dinosaurs being one of my favourites of the Matt Smith era due to its sheer sense of fun.
Away from the TARDIS, he’s written for Life on Mars and has been the showrunner on Law and Order: UK, Born and Bred, Camelot and was the creator of hit ITV crime drama Broadchurch which starred David Tennant and Olivia Coleman (with many other Who alumni in supporting roles). The show was even successful enough to warrant a US remake, Gracepoint, also starring Tennant, and filming will begin on a third and possibly final series this summer, so he has more than enough experience being the head honcho. Hopefully Chibnall will bring the show down to earth a bit more (not literally though, that’s a discussion for another time) after the big, bright excesses of Russell T Davies and the head scratchers of Steven Moffat. How about we get back to basics and just watch the Doctor travelling the universe without the weight of it on his shoulders and a mysterious companion by his side? Although I fell in love with the show through the modern series, part of me wishes we could return to the earlier years when the struggle for the universe would be confined to a small village in the country. I doubt that Chibnall will be the one to do something completely different with the show though and I expect he’ll stick pretty much to the Davies blueprint, but it will definitely be interesting to see which direction we'll be heading in from here on out. As long as we have decent writers like Mark Gatiss, Jamie Mathieson and Toby Whithouse still working on it, plus the odd infusion of new blood, we should be fine.
Another question is that of the leading man. The rumours have it that with Peter Capaldi approaching the now traditional three series mark, he is about to depart the role, although nothing has been confirmed at the time of writing. It would be a shame if he does go as I had hoped that, being an older actor and having already had a glittering film and TV career and created at least one iconic character, he would have been more likely to stick with The Doctor. It would make sense though for the new showrunner to start his tenure with a new Doctor and perhaps a fresh new companion as well. As far as we know (at time of writing) the new companion hasn’t been cast yet. If they’re aiming for a complete fresh start, we could have a one series only companion or they could bring back a former traveller for a year. The audience is also used to seeing the Doctor on his own now, so perhaps Moffat’s final series twist could be to have a different companion in each episode. Bring back Donna, Ashildr, Brian Pond or Wilf or go back further and feature Ian Chesterton or Jamie McCrimmon for a last hurrah. How about a companion from the past, the future or an alien (who would no doubt look humanoid except for a couple of prosthetics)? This could be a great exploration of the series central relationship.
Although ratings have been down on the recent series, the appointment of a new showrunner at least shows faith by the BBC that Doctor Who is still a cherished institution, plus any kind of change usually entices more viewers. When we had a clean sweep of Doctor, companion and showrunner back in 2010, The Eleventh Hour had over 10 million viewers and its best ratings since Rose. As ever, we will have to wait and see, but change is always one of the most exciting parts of life with the Doctor.