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All Change for Doctor Who!

I can’t recall a time when the changeover of executive producer/showrunner on a top-rated UK TV drama made the news in such a way as the announcement that Russell T Davies is to leave Doctor Who, handing over to writer Steven Moffatt for the 2010 series. It’s frankly unheard of, but this is a sign of just how much impact Doctor Who has had on the landscape of British Television in the last few years.

Is that overstating the case? Perhaps - maybe as a bona fide, signed up, card carrying fanboy, I pay much more attention to the fortunes of Doctor Who, but it doesn’t take away the fact that the news of Davies’s departure next year and Moffatt’s taking over made one of the teatime news bulletins on Radio 2 yesterday. I thought it was a bit mad back in the day when Billie Piper’s casting as Rose made the news, but four years on, I don’t think anything about this show surprises me any more.

So what we know is that Davies will be overseeing the specials that are in the works for 2009, while Moffatt will be Doctor Who’s new executive producer and head writer for the full series of 13 episodes on the slate for 2010. What we don’t know is how Steven Moffatt’s Doctor Who will differ to Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who, and most importantly for my 6-year-old nephew, is whether or not David Tennant will still be playing the Doctor by the time we get there.

Will Steven Moffatt’s Doctor Who differ all that much from Russell T Davies’s Doctor Who? By virtue it has to - they have two distinct voices that serve up very different stories. However, the online forums seem to be greeting this news with rapturous glee on the basis that we’re going to be getting Blink and The Empty Child every single week. And that’s where the fans have to step back and think about this… Would you really want those kind of stories week after week? I personally thought that last week’s frothy Agatha Christie-laced tale, The Unicorn and the Wasp, was perhaps the finest episode of Doctor Who since its relaunch, but I wouldn’t want to watch it again in a different package next time.

Doctor Who’s greatest quality is its ability to be all things to all people. One week it’s historical romance, the next a futuristic techno thriller, the next a terror-fuelled monster fest. The flexibility of the format is such a cliché, and that’s what makes it so true.

But more than that, Doctor Who’s longevity during the classic years (as they have, Star Trek-stylee, become known now) was the ability, much like its main character, to transform in tone and style over the years. The Quatermass flavourings of the Pertwee Earth invasion era are as different to the pioneering adventure spirit of the early black and white Hartnell stories, which are worlds away from the hard (and somewhat dry) sci-fi of the Davison era. They may as well be different series, and that’s what made it work and keep audiences coming back.

Doctor Who stalled in the 1980s because somebody forgot to reinvent the core style of the programme until it was too late. And this is what pleases me about this change over of the man at the top. I’m sad to see Davies going - his work on Doctor Who has been a Herculean feat, toiling to have this creaky, shabby sci-fi show of yore taken seriously as a vibrant, ground-breaking example of what great British TV should be. And entertaining several million people into the bargain with a clever, witty and inventive creative vision. That will never be forgotten.

But with a character as enduring as a Time Lord, change is inevitable. Davies, as a die-hard fan himself, understands that as much as the fangirl stitching an Adipose from an illegal knitting pattern. And that’s why his decision to leave will be respected as much as his taking on bringing the show back was applauded.

And as for Doctor Who under Steven Moffatt, I don’t need to know what it’s going to be like. It might be a little bit darker, a little bit scarier. Or then again, it might not, but it really doesn’t matter. I can’t think of a better person to be guiding Doctor Who into a new decade and taking us all on another trip of a lifetime!

9 Comments

Call me a saddo if you will, but when I read the news RTD was leaving, I, um, cried :S And the reason is Dr Who has become such a part of my life - day to day conversations with mates and even strangers will no doubt reference the show in some way. And I just love the stories, and what RTD did with it.

I never really enjoyed the tone, feel or 'scary' aspects of Moffatt's stories. The empty child/doctor dances had individual moments I enjoyed, but the 'are you my mummy' never perturbed me in the slightest. I also did not feel the fear of Blink either. It just totally passed me by. These are supposedly the strengths of Moffat's writing, and his eps just don't connect with me. Whereas I think the RTD ep 'Rose' , and the entire vision of the 1st season, are some of the finest episodes committed to television EVER. Particularly 'Rose', it had to have everything, as the first one, and it did. I can watch it again and again, with pleasure.

Even when different writers take on an ep, RTD guides them all the way, and sometimes influences crucial twists in the plot or aspects of the stories and various monsters. RTD is brilliant at being on the ball and in touch with popular culture, whereas Steven Moffatt seems much more reflective.

I understand Steven Moffatt is loved by the industry, and has won all these awards, and that the majority of the fandom love him. I know this. But all I can say is that I hope he sees what RTD did and takes some of that spirit with him, and additionally keeps on the services of some brilliant writers like Paul Cornell ('Father's Day') and Stephen Greenhorn ('Unicorn and the Wasp').

I just don't want to lose a show that I love to a different tone or theme which I do not enjoy.

EDIT:

Apologies, I attributed Unicorn and the Wasp to Stephen Greenhorn which is incorrect. He actually wrote The Doctor's Daughter, which I hugely enjoyed, whereas Gareth Roberts wrote Unicorn. I would indeed hope both are asked back to contribute.

Gosh! only three comments here..Anyway I agree with Mark that change is very important for the series - as long as it is for the better of course! As someone who has watched every episode I can say that the recent stories are superb and long may they continue.

It is with some sadness that I greeted the news of RTD's departure from a series that he undoubtedly fed a great deal of new energy into, and brought with that personal involvement a new life to a franchise that had already misfired with the big bucks US / UK Paul McGann pilot and the miserable Eastenders / Children in need tie-ins. Under RTD the Doctor was not only a guilty pleasure again for adults, but a bone fide Saturday night must-see event for children. I applaud RTD's sterling work, and wish SM all the best for the future of all things 'Who'.

Sincerely,

Scripteaser

RTD has done a great job but I can understand that he wants to move on while on a high. Hopefully, he can be prevailed upon to provide the odd script in the future.

You're so right Mark about needing change. Series that refuse to change become like "Heartbeat" or "Midsommer Murders" churning out the same story every time. Especially for a series like Doctor Who, you need that new injection of ideas from time to time to keep it fresh.
Like you say, that's where it went wrong in the 80's; they tried changing everything but never the bloke at the top.

I've loved Steven Moffat's Who episodes, so I'm glad he's been confirmed as new leader. All my Rainbows were quoting "Are you my Mummy ?" three years ago; "Girl in the Fireplace" showed he doesn't just write spooky stuff ; "Blink" is the most scary TV I've seen since I was a kid and yet managed it without any violence. I'm looking forward to next week's (curse Eurovision !) supposedly even scarier "Shadows"

u ramss

RTD is a brill writer ,and i love everything hid does ,simple as that.
but i think the change will be good ,i mean end of the day its rtd choice to leave nobody has asked im to, he is going on his will,so there for we don't really have a choice in the matter, but in s,m i truelly belive we have a great replacement , the thing that will ruin it for me is the main man him self leavind d,t the doc him self , he is brill and is the best doctor ever imo,
i would also like to have A LITTLE MOAN AT NO SERIES FOR 2009 i know they is a 4 part special or something but they should have them as well as a series and finally eurovision how very dare you take of the 'who for that crap, i mean come on,anyway cant wait for rest of the shows ,ROSE is back oh my god

"Doctor Who stalled in the 1980s because somebody forgot to reinvent the core style of the programme until it was too late."

You couldn't be more wrong. The core style of the program is something that you don't change and Davies hasn't either. If you don't know the reason why Doctor Who stalled I don't think my telling you will convince you but it was because the idiots at the top didn't like it...ever. Grade and Powell had no regard for the show at that time or even if it had been Hinchcliffe/Baker they just didn't care for it and cut the legs out from beneath it.

To call the Davison era hard sci-fi is just another foolish over-exaggeration as anything I've heard. In fact talking about flexibility of format at it's best is exactly what those years were about. The Pertwee years, Baker/Hinchcliffe and nowadays really have a much more rigid format than the 80's had. If you think that the show is flexible now (which it is compared to other shows) compare that to Seasons 18 and 19 for example. Now that is flexibilty!

"his work on Doctor Who has been a Herculean feat, toiling to have this creaky, shabby sci-fi show of yore taken seriously as a vibrant, ground-breaking example of what great British TV should be."

I think it was a terribly easy job really. Doctor is that good and brilliant a concept and idea that it easily transforms into a new production method that quite frankly had been talked about and discussed for years. It doesn't take a genius to make Doctor Who as we've seen. It's simply about committment. If you think so little of the show than I don't think you're as big a fan as you claim. From modern eyes it's looks creaky but then so does just about everything. I'm sure the new series will as well one day so nothing new there.

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