Saturday, 23 January 2016

Steven Moffat Is Quitting Doctor Who

Not all that many hours ago, the BBC announced that 54-year-old Scottish television writer and executive producer Steven Moffat will be leaving his job as showrunner of Doctor Who. Moffat has helmed the series since 2010, when he took over from Russell T Davies in time to run the show's fifth season and introduce Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. Over the past decade, he has contributed a number of award-winning scripts to the programme, invented a number of creations that have already entered proud positions in the show's bursting-at-the-seams mythology, and cast three very different (but all successful) incarnations of the Doctor - Smith, John Hurt, and current Time Lord Peter Capaldi. He's not been an idle man, either, given he has also, since 2010, helmed the BBC's explosively popular modern-day update of Sherlock, making him arguably the single most profitable creative figure for the BBC to date (no really, he was running *both* their biggest global success stories in terms of drama).
So what's next? Peter Capaldi remains the Time Lord for the time being, starring in the 2016 Christmas special from Moffat's pen (unfortunately, there won't be any other episodes this year). Both will be back for Season 10 - Moffat's sixth season and Capaldi's third - which will debut in early 2017, roughly a year from now. It is though that either the 2016 Christmas special or the first episode of the 2017 series will see the debut of a new companion for Capaldi's Doctor, to replace Jenna Coleman after her departure at the end of 2015. By the end of the 12-episode run which constitutes Season 10, Moffat will have run his timey-wimey course and shall hand over the keys to the crown to a new man: Chris Chibnall.

Chibnall is no stranger to phenomenally successful television nor to Doctor Who. He has written award-winning scripts for Life on Mars, Law & Order: UK, United, The Great Train Robbery, and Camelot, and he created and showran the ratings juggernaut Broadchurch, one of the most successful dramas of the last few years. He is a long-term Doctor Who fan - memorably appearing on an interview segment as a young man in 1986 to criticise the show's current direction - and has already written five episodes of the modern series (42, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Power of Three), plus a couple of short webisodes (Pond Life and PS). He was responsible for creating the character of Brian Williams (Rory's father), and for overseeing the modern-day update of the Silurians. From 2006-8 he was the lead writer on the adult Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood, contributing a number of scripts and developing works with upcoming writers. 

Chibnall's first season in the new job will air in spring 2018 - around two years away. It feels a long time now, but these things take months to get ready. Whether or not the new companion joining in 2016 - or, even more crucially, Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor - will stick around for the beginning of "the Chibnall era" remains to be seen. 

As to my personal feelings on the matter - while Chibnall may not be my favourite TV writer in all the land, he does seem like the obvious and best-qualified candidate from where the BBC is looking. He knows how to make audiences care about his characters, he knows how to write a hit, and he knows how to turn in scripts quickly. I have no doubt that he will oversee a successful period of the show, especially with the potential of a new actor cast as the Doctor, and a roster of particularly talented in-house writers, such as Peter Harness, Jamie Mathieson and Sarah Dollard, all of whom have joined the show in 2014-15. Chibnall's work is likely to be more grounded in the real world than Moffat's, with a certain human warmth and likeability to his "everyman" characters.

But I would also like to take a moment to applaud Mr Moffat, who has in my view been responsible for many years of truly excellent television. He is a writer who is in many ways ahead of the curve - denounced by many for plots too complex to understand, he writes with one eye on the Netflix and DVD boxset generation. His scripts are carefully juggled lattices of interweaving themes and ideas, designed specifically to be watched and rewatched. He's been responsible for some truly magical Doctor Who. Here's to Mr Moffat.

As someone wise once said, it's the end. But the moment has been prepared for.

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