Doctor Who: Moff v RTD – When Steven Moffat made History (New Who special)

Moffat Davies New Doctor Who

A special glimpse at Doctor Who for Doctor Who New Series Day! FOUR stories where Steven Moffat became the show’s most important figure.

IT’S 26TH MARCH, 11 YEARS SINCE ROSE FIRST SCREENED ON BBC ONE AND SO DESIGNATED NEW WHO DAY ON JOKERSIDE. We loves an anniversary and so does the Doctor but following last year’s look at how the New Series measures up to the Classic Series, what to look at this time?

Well, as usual with the good Doctor, these are interesting times. Off the back of Series Nine, quite plausibly the best series for many a year although hamstrung by a weak pay off, things could have been rosy for the confirmed tenth series. But things are seldom such plain sailing. The New Series, having contributed over 40% of the show’s stories in just the past 11 years, was seemingly going nowhere. And then came the show entering what Jokerside considers to be its third worst ever hiatus.  2016 will see a measly single episode of the show, recalling the dark emptiness of years like, well, 2014. Still, it’s another indication of the odd difficulty that a series obsessed with change has with production changes as Moffat makes way for Chris Chibnall in 2018.

But, with a year up his sleeve, the last year has proved a momentous one for Steven Moffat. Already holding the record for writing for the most incarnations of the Doctor onscreen since he advented the twelfth incarnation, he’s now Who’s most prolific writer and most senior figure of all time. So for this anniversary, Jokerside’s taking a look at… WHEN MOFF TOOK OVER!

Classic track back

Hulke and Whitaker have sole dibs on the legend off writing for each of the first three Doctors

During the classic era, the legendary Robert Holmes lead the writing field having contributed 16 stories across five Doctors, starting with the Second Doctor adventure The Krotons in 1969. It was his record of writing cross-generationally onscreen that Moffat broke in 2013 with the casting of Peter Capaldi and the sly minisode Night of the Doctor which gave Paul McGann’s Eight Doctor a fine belated send off.

Dalek JokertoonDuring those classic years, only Terry Nation (with 10), David Whitaker (eight) and Malcolm Hulke (seven) came close to Holmes. Those three were part of the old guard, with Nation masterminding mostly Dalek Stories all the way up to 1979’s less than imperious Destiny of the Daleks. In the meantime he had introduced the first arcs of sorts (The Keys of Marinus and The Dalek Masterplan crossed serials like never before), took the Daleks to Hollywood and founded Blake’s Seven and other classic shows. David Whitaker was Who’s original script editor, setting up the template amid the show’s wonderful early democracy and overseeing the introduction of those Daleks when he pushed Nation’s script to screen. Hulke and Whitaker have sole dibs on the legend off writing for each of the first three Doctors, even though Whitaker had suspicions that the show would never be renewed in 1964. While Nation wrote for the Fourth Doctor, he missed out on Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor while he took the Pepper pots to America. Intriguingly, it was Whitaker who stepped into the Skaro breach to pen two adventures for Troughton’s first year under script editors Gerry Davis and Peter Bryant that are justifiably filed under definite, if lost, classics.

New acceleration

When the New Series roared back under the excellent stewardship of Russell T Davies, it was no strain for the new model lead writer to surpass those classic benchmarks. Stripped back to 13 x 45 minute episodes a year, the American styled showrunner role wasn’t barred from commissioning themselves to write stories like the old model script editor had been, but would instead take point in plotting the seasons, arcs and key episodes. The lost stats would go to episodes, with a primary focus on sewing up stories in a single run of 45 minutes, some records were left to the Classic years.

By the time of his departure in 2009, Davies had penned 25 episodes to Holmes 16, although the eminent Classic writer’s 64 episode contributions are almost double Davies’. And that’s not comparing the various rewrites Holmes nor indeed Davies carried out on stories that fell under their production tenures as script editor and lead writer respectively. Speculation suggests that rewrites and advanced script editing were more common under Davies than Moffat’s era despite the co-written episode that popped up throughout the enhanced Missy arc of 2014’s Series Eight and into Series Nine – recalling the collaborative approach that Davies took to 2009’s year of Specials.

Head to Head

Steven Moffat’s time in charge will stand gigantic in Who’s immense history

With Series Nine taking the number of years under Moffat’s control to five, he clearly surpassed Davies Four Series and Specials. With one series to wrap thing sup, splitting his tenure almost neatly between three series of two Doctors, there’s no doubt that Steven Moffat’s time in charge will stand gigantic in Who’s immense history. It’s possible, but surely unlikely to be beaten for a very long time.

To measure how considerable his presence has been, look at him in the context of the show’s 52 and half year history.

Of the whole show’s 52 and a bit years of 826 episodes, 263 stories and 35 seasons/series, Moffat has overseen 7%, 22% and 15% respectively. So far. And to rub it in, he’s introduced two memorable Time Lords who will both sit highly in story rankings while quite plausibly introducing the show’s greatest count of new monsters (and reintroducing two second tier classics in the Silurians and Ice Warriors).

So when did Moffat succeeded RTD as the show’s most significant figure?  

Sound of Drumroll…

The rules have been kept very simple in this tussle of the Time Lord Herding Titans. Only series and full length specials count towards episodes or stories. No specials like Time Crash, minisodes or extra scenes. And definitely not Moffat’s Curse of Fatal Death from 1999.

The Master in Scream of the Shalka and UtopiaThere is a bit of leaway when it comes to three-parters and two-parters and whether they constitute stories, especially in the recent concept blurring of Series Nine. For the purposes of this: Utopia, The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords absolutely form one three part story; Heaven Sent and Hell Bent are two parts of the same story. Face the Raven isn’t invited to that, despite the links. The Girl who Died and the Woman who Lived are most certainly separate episodes.  And most importantly off all, to qualify, this will include any episode where there is a writing credit. That can be, and is constantly, shared. But re-writes, substantial or partial are impossible to quantify so are left to myth.

So… Sound of Drumroll… Once the numbers are in and the stories deduced… Perhaps more importantly, can those episodes tell us something?

When Steven Moffat surpassed Russell T Davies

As a show runner…

In terms of stories told under their stewardship, Moffat Succeeded Davies on his 47th:  Mummy on the Orient Express (Series Eight)

What a heritage to acknowledge when crossing this landmark…

Quite probably the highlight of Series Eight, and not penned by Moffat, even in a series with many co-credits. The first of Jamie Mathieson’s two impressive entries in a rather morbid season. Helped by fusing together classic period setting with a high concept science fiction conceit. Yes, the overall trap remains mysterious a season and a half on, and it was a poor and contradictory follow-up to that throwaway line at the end of the show’s fifth series. But real-time countdown conceit, the menace and the character design of the monster itself, the wonderfully named The Foretold, made for a contemporary classic.

Perhaps most impressively, it was a story that really got to grips with the Twelfth Doctor’s personality and season-long crisis of faith. Amid the softening of the Doctor’s approach to the military and usual alien dispassion for the doomed, the resolution is quite feasibly only allowed to develop due to this Doctor’s approach to it; it’s hard to see how that would have unravelled in the same way under any of his previous three modern incarnations.

And what a heritage to acknowledge when crossing this landmark. The Mummy is a clear homage to the great and powerful influence of gothic horror and Egyptology that his illustrious forbear Robert Holmes used to great effect in the absolute classic Pyramids of Mars.

In terms of episodes recorded under their stewardship, Moffat Succeeded Davies with his 61st – Before the Flood (Series 9)

Toby Whithouse seized the moment by simultaneously presenting classic and subversive Who

Doctor Who Series 9 Under the Lake and Before the FloodUp to the current series, a good deal stronger overall than the eighth or seventh, even if the near reliance on two-parters helped it rush by. Continuing the trend of starting with high concept blockbusters, the reverse of Davies’ gradual build and sweeps approach, Toby Whithouse’s entry in the second story slot made it clear that this was a series to watch. Fittingly for the year, it turned out to be a story of two contrasting halves. The atmospheric and enigmatic first half wasted no time rushing into a staple of the show, a base under siege story. But much of its strength, aside from great casting and production design came from the nuanced and occasionally mundane. There was the long overdue deaf character in a prominent role, the UNIT reference and the near-ish future time period along with the rather unimportant and inconsequential setting of a lake.

Come the second half and a superb cliff-hanger that could only ever be cheated, Whithouse seized the moment by simultaneously presenting classic and subversive Who. Clara and the Doctor were separated, the companion taking point in the story that continued from the week before while the Doctor confronted paradox, and indeed a monster, in a way the show hadn’t tried before. The ending is a moot point, a difficult paradox that is far worse in its resolution than the fourth-wall breaking that kicks the episode off. After all, the Doctor had done that many times before.

But it’s a timely reference for that episode landmark because of its inspired if not entirely successful mash-up. A staple of the Classic Series, the base under siege, mixed with one of Moffat’s main intentions over the past six years, time travel and paradox. This is a show about a time traveller, as he was once keen to point out.

As a writer…

In terms of stories written by each, Moffat Succeeded Davies with his 26th: The Magician’s Apprentice (and The Witch’s Familiar) (Series Nine)

Heavy nods to the big three, including him, but the best was yet to come.

Doctor Who Series 9 The Magician's ApprenticeRussell T Davies ended his triumphant tenure with the New Year special that took the Tenth Doctor from us. As bold and emotive as that passing was, it certainly didn’t make one of Davies’ best episodes. Moffat had the distinct disadvantage of having delivered all-time classic stories to the show when he took over running the show. That’s something Davies never had the chance to do and Chibnall certainly hasn’t. It’s easy to say in hindsight that this is more a curse than a blessing, although there was never the expectation that Moffat could turn that quality out every week when he was steering the whole ship. But whatever the overall verdict, there’s no doubt that Moffat hasn’t lost his bottle.

That’s evident in the opener of Series Nine that confronts the show’s history straight on. In the opening minutes he takes us to the Maldovarium that had played a key role in his own River Song arc, the Shadow Proclamation which had been introduced by Davies and even a return to the planet Karn, debuted in the mostly Robert Holmes penned The Brain of Morbius. Those were heavy nods to the big three, including him, but the best was yet to come.

Thinly veiled by the anachronistic battlefield of the opening, Moffat only went and presented a sequel to, and flipside of one of the show’s most famous and lauded stories: Terry Nation’s Genesis of the Daleks. Most of that reference would fall in the talky second half, The Witch’s Familiar, but all together it made for a fine and more successful fulfilment of what Asylum of the Daleks had promised at the start of Series Seven.

It was so successful it was the first two-parter of the New Series to fulfil one of Davies’ wishes. Sewn together and presented as a feature on the following weekend. The series subsequent swerve to near watershed would stop that idea in its tracks. As did surely, the rather disappointing tumble in ratings that unfairly met the last series. If the rather talky but hugely satisfying opening showed anything, it’s that Who should not hide under its Skaro bushel. If a series is going to open with Davros, bloody well say it.

In terms of episodes written by each, Moffat Succeeded Davies with his 32nd: The Zygon Inversion (Series Nine)

Who’s most political episodes since Davies blew up Downing Street

Invasion of the Zygons Doctor WhoWhen it comes to the episode that takes Moffat over the edge, it happens to form another two-parter in this series of many. But this time, it’s the second 45 minutes. And in a nice nod to the collaborative approach that’s found him working with a number of writers it’s co-authored with Peter Harness. Harness has since related how Moffat had ‘lured’ him into a chair storage cupboard at the launch of Series Eight to propose the idea. And it’s a great idea.

There are many Moffat tropes in Inversion, even in the wall-breaking episode pun/concept. There’s the companion reversal, but also being very fair, a number of plot confusions that could just as easily come to define the Moffat era.

Alongside Osgood, a fan favourite character who with Missy signifies Moffat’s increased response female characters after criticism in his earlier series (the Doctor is now surrounded by strong females), it’s the end speech that sticks in the fan memories the most. Probably the show’s greatest didactic rhetoric since the Pandorica Opens speech, it doesn’t provide quite the reasoned resolution to the story that many suggest. However, it’s undeniable that both the Invasion and the Inversion of the Zygons are Who’s most political episodes since Davies blew up Downing Street and replaced the Prime Minister in the New Series’ early years. There’s a mirror duplicate, there’s UNIT getting a little more hands on again, but also a fine vehicle for compelling aliens the Zygons.

Created by the superb and recently deceased writer Robert Banks Stewart Who’s most prominent shapeshifters only earned one appearance in the Classic Series. That was one of UNIT’s final stories as the Fourth Doctor grew into, in that adventure anyway, his kilt, Terror of the Zygons is a bone fide classic, although never propelled the distinctive rogues to the second tier of monstrous villainy akin to some of the other races Moffat has brought back from the original run. That said, they were perfectly used in what’s probably Moffat’s finest hour, the fiftieth anniversary special Day of the Doctor. And once again, providing a sequel to a classic is no mean way to break a record.

Four interesting tales that set historic landmarks for Steven Moffat. And looking at them, it’s almost as though there was some kind of plan…

For further anniversary reading, why not look to 2015 when Jokerside celebrated 10 years of New Who by seeing how that compares to the first decade of the Classic Series. Gloves off…

MORE FURTHER READING: For a closer look at the last 11 years of Doctor Who’s glorious return the New Series Whovember awaits.

And for hours spent in the company of Doctor Who Series Nine do take a look at Jokeriside’s special collection of long reads accompanying every story.

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