TV You might have heard the news today and oh boy it’s good. We (meaning us Doctor Who fans) knew Russell T Davies wouldn’t be around in perpetuity and although Steven Moffat taking his place as show runner and head writer was a possibility, no one was confirming anything and there was always the chance that a bean counter or someone with only a passing interest in the franchise could take over (I even feared it might be Chris Chibnell, the Fred Freiberger of this franchise until he sodded off to run Law & Order: London). That’s exactly the kind of thing that has hurt the show in the past but now we have someone who’s genuinely one of us, someone who even posts regularly to the main Doctor Who discussion board, and more importantly can write (with Bafta and Hugo awards to prove it).

There’s not one thing that Moffat’s written that I haven’t loved. Both of his main sitcoms Joking Apart and Coupling took great pleasure in subverting the format showing that even if you’re studio bound it’s no reason not to deconstruct your storytelling style and editing. In the UK at least I don’t think there’s been anything more innovative than the episode of Coupling in which the same chat up conversation was played from two different language perspectives and funny both ways around. Joking Apart managed to be tragic fantastic mixing elements of farce with a genuinely touching portrayal of a break up. But Jekyll’s recently proved he has the drama chops too but again he turned would could have been a run of the mill, murder of the week premise into something far crazier and intriguing.

His writing of Doctor Who for television also pre-dates Davies in that he scripted the Comic Relief spoof, The Curse of the Fatal Death in the late nineties. For some that was the final nail in the coffin of the franchise, at least on television but for me it was a genuinely affectionate love letter to the series that included plenty of references only us fans would get and in Hugh Grant the best Doctor we never had (and in Richard E Grant the worst Doctor we ended up with during another false dawn). But even if that didn't prove even then that he would be a worthy man to carry the torch, he also managed to name one of the characters in Coupling, Steven Taylor after an early companion from 60s during the Hartnell era.

Every episode he's written for Doctor Who has won or been nominated for the prestigious Nebula award, for a Bafta Craft or Welsh Bafta Award. That's no mean feat, and neither is the fact that Blink has been adjudged the best episode of the last series, even though it's the one that hardly features the main character who's main contribution was via a tv screen, the actor reading his part from an autocue. All of his episodes have been special, from the uplifting ending to the The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances in which the Doctor, still experiencing guilt from the destruction of his guilt finally managed to save the day ("Just this once, Rose, everybody lives!") or The Girl In The Fireplace in which he convincingly showed the Doctor falling in love with a courtesan over forty-five minutes. And all have been properly scary turning gas masks, the tick of a clock and statues into points of fear for children and adults everywhere.

None of which should draw away from what Russell’s achieved with the show. Naysayers with fandom always forget that the series wouldn’t be back and as successful as it is without his interest in it. The oft told story is that the BBC were desperate to have him working for them and when asked what would make him move to the corporation, he said ‘Doctor Who’ and that got the ball rolling. The series might have returned without him, but there can’t have been many others who would be brave enough to see how you could do it as both a re-imagining and a continuation of what’s gone before rather than a simple remake, who would notice that the best fantasy dramas often have a rich pre-existing mythological background. He's also been clever enough to know that you don't mess about with Moffat's scripts and the new showrunner's words are the only ones which Russell doesn't do a final polish on.

It might have seemed left of field for some that the writer of Queer as Folk and The Second Coming would want to try his hand at this, but on reflection he was the perfect man for the job. Without him it's doubtful that we would have had such a solid base in the first season’s lead as Chris Eccleston and the multi-tonal David Tennant following on both showing that the timelord is best portrayed in three dimensions and not the reputed one note character of the past. He somehow also noticed that it is possible to write the series with an eye to both the child and adult audiences, for the most part not alienating either demographics, and also mostly treating them as an intelligent species able to cope with quite complex storytelling imported from film.

He’s been criticised mostly for his writing and although even I can’t deny that just sometimes he lets the excessive parts of his imagination get the better of him, his love for the character and the franchise is always apparent and that he always has their best interests at heart. There’s genuine glee from Russell during some of those dvd and podcast commentaries at the ideas he’s had and the thoughts of the reaction from both the hardcore fanbase and the casuals. Last year’s return of The Master (in the episode Utopia) which managed to draw together seemingly disparate elements from throughout the series, was an amazing piece of structuring which even if you had already had the re-emergence spoiled by a tabloid was still gripping for it's sheer audacity.

So I do hope that Davies stays on-board the Tardis to pen at least one episode a year under Moffat in much the same way that Terrance Dicks kept his toe in when Robert Holmes followed him his job as script editor in the 70s. For my money, his best episodes have been the near stand alones, such as Boomtown which featured a battle between the Doctor and an alien at a dinner table and Tooth & Claw which had Queen Victoria fighting a werewolf. Both of those were apparently written in a hurry but perhaps without the mechanics of a whole season to worry about he’d be happy just to have to keep an eye on successive drafts of the one story rather than trying to deliver two or three interconnected episodes in time for the close of seasons. There’s more Doctor Who as well as other things in that imagination of his and I for one can’t wait to see if and what he writes next.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:19 pm


    I've been reading your blog for a while - via your sterling work at BTS (and I've posted a few comments on your posts there mainly about law and knitting it seems), but I think this is the first time I've commented here rather than there.

    A most enjoyable post and I'm very glad someone's said this. RTD is a brilliant writer - The Second Coming stands favourably alongside any modern drama produced in recent years, and even his weaker DW scripts bear rewatching for those nuances of character or throwaways that indicate that there's class underpinning them. And to appeal to the differing sectors of the audience as he has is quite an achievement (I remember Bonnie Greer's bemusement on this idea of "Family drama") - my 3 and 4 year old love his stuff; the 7 year old next door loves it; my brother-in-law (early teens); and my wife and I (early 30s). We each get something different out of his scripts (moreso than anyone writing for the show, excepting MOffat). That's a skill that fandom greatly underappreciates.

    I hope he continues to be involved in the show, and I'd love to see what he does with someone else's shopping list: here's to the return of the Krotons ;-)

    Best wishes