Chris Jordan gives his thoughts on the news of Steven Moffat's departure, and on his tenure as showrunner.
Earlier this evening, BBC announced that after series ten, Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat will be stepping down from the show, and will be replaced by Broadchurch creator and occasional Doctor Who screenwriter Chris Chibnall. Moffat has held the creative reins of the beloved sci-fi show since series five, meaning that his tenure will amount to a full six seasons, plus the epic 50th anniversary specials which were almost a mini-season in themselves. He was the creative force behind the entire 11th Doctor era, and across the entire decade of the new series he has given us some of its most beloved episodes, starting with series one's iconic The Empty Child. He also just gave us one of new Doctor Who's best series ever in 2015. As always, there will be great anticipation and nervousness to see what the show will be like without him, and with someone else in artistic control. But honestly... the time is right for a change. It's time for Moffat to step down, and he's smart to do so.
Moffat has done a lot of great stuff for Doctor Who, there's no doubt about that. But let's be honest... he's also a pretty uneven showrunner. While he's given us plenty of great scripts, his season-long story arcs are a mixed bag, and some of his seasons have been much stronger than others. Series five and nine were absolutely brilliant, and series seven was very good. I loved series eight, and thought it was nearly as great as five and nine, but there's no denying that it is a massively polarizing season, and Dark Water/Death In Heaven will probably go down in history as the most divisive thing that the new series has ever done. And series six was a pretty messy: needlessly convoluted, and occasionally self-indulgent. It got too timey-wimey for its own good, and ultimately felt like Moffat was trying too hard to out-clever himself, and tripped over his own plot twists. He has the odd distinction of having given us arguably new Doctor Who's best season (five) and arguably its weakest (six), if you give series one some slack for its serious growing pains. If that's not a perfect portrait of unevenness, I'm not sure what it.
And then there's the matter of his characters: he's created some truly great ones, but at other times it seems like he forgets how to come up with proper characterization, and leaves characters more or less as general archetypes until their actors fill them in with personality and detail. Amy was a great character from the start, as was River. Rory and Clara, on the other hand, were basically just vaguely-defined sketches for half a season each, until with some major actor input the show's writing team finally figured out who these people should be. Both Rory and Clara turned into excellent characters, with Rory in particular growing into a surprisingly strong and emotionally resonant lead in his own right, but it took a while to get there.
I am absolutely not trying to bash Moffat, although I know in certain slices of Doctor Who fandom it is rather trendy to do so (though honestly, it's always been trendy to bash the current showrunner and say that the old one was better, at least since the Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes team stepped down in the 1970s). He has done a lot of great work for the show, and has given us seasons, story arcs, and characters which are among my favorites. But his work has always been a bit uneven, and while he has presided over a generally great era, that greatness stopped feeling really secure or guaranteed after the missteps of series six. I either loved or at least really liked just about all of series seven through nine, but I always had a vague feeling of “this is going great – I really hope that Moffat doesn't stumble again and mess it up.” I don't think he ever has, although plenty of fans would say that that's exactly what happened with Dark Water/Death In Heaven. But at the very least we've had a few close calls.
Which brings us to series nine. Series nine was absolutely brilliant. It was just one flawed episode away from being an absolutely perfect season: a string of fantastic episodes adding up to form a compelling and emotionally powerful thematic arc about the ramifications of the Doctor and Clara's freewheeling through time and space. It was the best season that Moffat has done since his first as showrunner, and it contained some of the best writing he has ever done for the show. After a few stumbles, he's back at the top of his game, and the show is absolutely at the top of its game. Which is what makes this the perfect time for him to leave. It would be a huge mistake for him to overstay his welcome, and stick around until he has another shaky season; he shouldn't leave because he is no longer wanted. Instead, he should leave while his era is at its finest; go out on top, after two or three (depending on what you thought of series eight) very strong seasons. This is assuming, of course, that series ten is as great as series nine, but after that fantastic season I have every confidence. Hopefully this will allow Moffat to end his reign on Doctor Who as a showrunner who ran into a few rough spots, but ultimately was great, and did more than enough really good things for the show to outweigh the occasional flaws.
Where will Doctor Who go from here? It will be fascinating to see, as always. Chris Chibnall will make an interesting showrunner, even if he does not seem like an obvious choice. Broadchurch is of course a critically-acclaimed show (at least its first season), but he's only written a handful of Doctor Who episodes, and they've been a mixed bag. Interestingly, he wrote more episodes for Torchwood than Doctor Who, and most of those episodes were quite good. Even if he hasn't proven himself as one of the greatest Doctor Who writers, though, the excellent first season of Broadchurch shows that he knows what he's doing as a showrunner. I would have preferred Toby Whithouse, who has written some of the Moffat era's best episodes, but I think the show should be safe in Chibnall's hands. Plus, we know we still have some cool things ahead of us in series ten – specifically, at least one episode (probably a two-parter) directed by Peter Jackson. We can safely assume that Jackson's episode will be Moffat's farewell, and knowing Jackson it should be an appropriately epic sendoff. I do have one other hope, though... I really hope that Peter Capaldi does not leave with Moffat, and sticks around for a fourth season. He's such a great Doctor that three seasons with him just does not seem like enough, and I'd love it if he stayed to bridge the gap. Whatever happens, though, it is clear that we have an exciting time ahead of us on Doctor Who. If series nine left any doubt that series ten will be one to look forward to, this news means that it absolutely will be essential viewing.
- Christopher S. Jordan