Amidst the storm of the century hyperbole of the first big snow on the East Coast, another hyperbole storm kicked off on social media with the news that Steven Moffat has announced he’s stepping away from the position of Doctor Who showrunner to be replaced by Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall. A lot of the reactions have been expressed in the most negative way possible with regards to Moffat’s tenure on the show, and I don’t want to join in with that chorus.
Does Moffat deserve his share of criticism over his Doctor Who decisions? Yeah, he does. But the reality of the situation is his almost six years on Doctor Who as showrunner produced far more good Who than it did bad. If you also count his time on the show before his taking the reins, you’ve arguably got some of the best Doctor Who moments in new Who having Moffat’s name attached to them.
In the first season of mostly okay to good episodes of new Who, the two episodes that made more fans stand up and take notice than just about anything else that season, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, were Moffat’s contributions to the season. Moffat’s sense of storytelling when it came to Who seemed to have been the right mix of scares, mystery, adventure, drama, and fun.
His later contributions, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, Silence in the Library, and Forest of the Dead, kept this recipe while upping the dose of the mystery aspect a bit. A lot of fans loved the mystery elements of these stories, but his love of mysteries would eventually wear on fans. Still, largely forgotten in the popular pastime of slagging all things Moffat online is the fact that these stories and several interviews around them had more than a few Who fans throwing Moffat’s name around as the man who had to become the showrunner and “save the show” from RTD’s running it.
Familiarity breeds contempt. There’s a reason this saying has stuck around so long.
Moffat’s first full episode of Who as the showrunner was the fifth season’s The Eleventh Hour. There were aspects of that episode that were a bit weird. There were bits of that episode that were maybe a wee too whimsical and quirky. But there was also a sense, when the episode was taken as a whole, of this run of the show feeling like it was going to be epic and fun. For a good while there, that’s what the best of the Moffat era always was- epic and/or fun.
Moffat as showrunner and Smith as the Doctor were probably the two main elements responsible for the huge heights of popularity the show has seen. There was a good reason for that. We got some great shows, we got some good story arc concepts, and we got a lot of good non regular companions and supporting characters out of the Moffat era. One of the ones that spring to mind immediately to every fan when talking about characters born under the Moffat era is River Song. This is a hugely popular character that launched 1,000 (and then some) cosplays, but River is hardly alone.
We saw the creation and continued use of the trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. We got Dorium Maldovar, a character that probably shouldn’t have had the popularity it’s had. We’ve more recently gotten Kate and Osgood, and there have been a number others in between. We’ve had characters that were essentially one off appearances such as Vincent van Gogh which have become as memorable to fans for their appearances as some of the classic monsters.
Moffat’s writing, when absolutely on point, could even make fans love characters that would normally be throwaways. For two or three years after A Good Man Goes to War I was seeing more than just a few cosplays of the Thin/Fat Gay Married Anglican Marines, and even more fans were raving about the characters than cosplaying them.
And we got monsters. We got some great monsters. We got some wonderful reimaginings of older, classic monsters, and we got some new Who creatures like the Silence and Weeping Angels. We also got iconic images in Who fandom like the crack in the wall.
For all of his faults, Moffat may also have been the perfect showrunner to be in place for the 50thAnniversary of Doctor Who. One of the things that often led to his worst moments also led to his best moments on the show- he was a diehard fan. We got a 50th Anniversary celebration, from The Day of the Doctor to The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot to The Night of the Doctor and its nod to McGann’s Big Finish continuity, and I don’t know that anyone who wasn’t a diehard fan would have spearheaded some of that in the manner he did.
His vision for where he wanted the Doctor to go has also given us the casting of Peter Capaldi in the role. After a shaky start- more due to the stories than his performances in them –he’s settled into the role quite nicely. Indeed, he’s become my favorite Doctor of the new series and one of my top all time Doctors. Maybe we would have gotten him or someone like him, but the trend in discussions by many others tends to run towards younger Doctors or the stronger push for a female Doctor.
Has his time as showrunner been perfect? Hell no. He tended to equal his highest highs with the low points he created. Fortunately he had more highpoints. But, yeah, Moffat had a tendency to fall in love with the idea of the twisting, turning, ever winding long arcs that sometimes never really felt like they were resolved and occasionally came back for one too many not quite resolutions. Indeed, his greatest weakness was his occasionally needing a better controlling hand over him. He often had more ideas than he could practically use and needed someone to rein him in.
And, yeah, as I pointed out in the First Annual Little Seven Awards, his growing obsession with making the companion more important to the show than the Doctor became distractingly annoying. It also smacked of bad fanfic taking the place of professional work by the end of Clara’s run. It was even the thing that drove some people away from the show for a while.
But, again, he gave us way more highpoints during his time on Doctor Who than he gave us low points. For all the Moffat hate of the last few years, for all of the “The Witch is Dead!” posts in the first few hours after the announcement of his departure; when people talk ten or twenty years from now about the best things they remember about the first ten years of new Who, they will be citing more than just a few moments that happened under Moffat’s watch if not things he actively had a direct hand in creating and writing.
It’s been a blast under Moffat’s time as showrunner. I haven’t loved it all, I actually hated a few things, but my family and I have loved a lot of it. As such, I can’t join in the Moffat hate going on right now. If anything, I’d prefer to thank him for one hell of a fun ride.
Jerry Chandler is a serious horror geek with a lifelong love of trying to find books and movies that can scare the spit out of him. When not watching and reading horror, he can sometimes be found helping to make horror with his filmmaking family in NC, Adrenalin Productions. He loves Halloween slightly more than Christmas, and almost as much as Dragon Con. When not writing here, he can be found at his other homes on the web by looking at his own blog, his Twitter, and his Facebook.