The first of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine, starting with a trip to a mysterious planet in The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar.
HOW WILL HISTORY RECORD THE MOFFAT ERA? THAT’S NOT A QUESTION FOR NOW OF COURSE, AND ONE UNLIKELY TO BE ANSWERED FOR A LONG TIME. WHEN THE SONIC GLASSES HAVE GATHERED DUST, WHEN THE TWELFTH DOCTOR’S MYSTERIOUS, HAWKISH, STRANGELY FAMILIAR FACE IS LONG GONE. Steven Moffat has written for more Doctors than anyone else, and you can’t even say with any confidence that he’s on his final one as showrunner… Having crossed confidentially onto his second Doctor and nearing the end of his second major companion, it’s not clear Who will go down as Moffat’s ‘definitive’ Doctor. And that joyfully creative mess sets out a simple stall…
Thanks for all the fish
Douglas Adams was surely Graham Williams’ ideal ally…
Moffat’s remarked on his regard for one time script editor Douglas Adams, not just for his small but extraordinary body of personal work (who doesn’t?), but for the legendary writer’s rather more divisive tenure on Doctor Who. In the mid-1970s, Adams had made a living out from writing comedy for radio, even forming a writing partnership with Monty Python’s Graham Chapman and being only one of two people outside the troupe to gain a writing credit on a sketch for the Flying Circus. Not fully on board with the likes of deadlines and delivery, it’s still surprising that he took the script editing seat for Season 17 in 1979 alongside producer Graham Williams. It didn’t help that the laws of the universe ensured that his little radio series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was commissioned for broadcast at the same time. Still, for the producer unlucky to follow Philip Hinchcliffe, tasked with fencing the show off from the heavy criticism that met his predecessor while retaining the viewing figures, Adams was surely an ideal ally.
The result is one of Who’s real mixed bags. Sadly, having already contributed a mind-bogglingly budget-straining script to the show the year before, Adams generally takes the credit for the highs of that time, while the lows are rather unfairly brushed under Graham Williams’ production seat. Adam’s The Pirate Planet from Season 16 is seen as a doughty attempt push ambition onto a screen that can barely contain it, The City of Death (co-written by a strained Williams and Adams from David Fisher’s idea under the David Agnew pseudonym) is a beautiful mess of sharp scripting, superb casting, foreign location and hard science fiction that managed to claim the classic show’s highest ratings. Shada had the foresight to never complete its production and shot swiftly for mythical status.
The rest of season 17 retains a fair few detractors, although there remains a few ardent fans for that loose and difficult time before the strident science of script editor Christopher H. Bidmead swept in, while Tom Baker took an arbitrary approach to whether the material bored him of filled him with sizzling physical comedy. If you like your Who served as comedy this is the place to find it.
To paraphrase 10cc, it’s just a phase Who’s going through.