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!