Doctor Who – Passing the Baton

Chris Chibnall

This year will see Doctor Who producer and head writer Steven Moffat’s final season before passing the baton on to Chris Chibnall. The show has been through a number of producers, script editors, and ‘show runners’ since it began, and every time they change hands, the show itself changes, too.

But with series 10 coming after a year long break, how will Steven Moffat approach this transition? Will we see a series that is quintessentially Moffat, or will there be more of a blend of styles with Chibnall, to make the move more seamless?

Did the break come at the right time? Should the break have been between Moffat and Chibnall to allow for a ‘relaunch’? Will there be a sharp contrast from Moffat to Chibnall, and will that turn people away, or bring people in? Coming so quickly after a return for the show, is it wise to have it ‘come back, but different’ again only a few months later?

The Moffat ‘Stamp’

During his tenure as showrunner, Steven Moffat has not shied away from giving the show a shake up from time to time. Each new series has, more or less, had a different theme, a different tone, and a different focus.

When he first took over from Russell T Davies in 2010, his first series kept a lot of elements from the Davies era. The story was generally from the companion’s point of view, there were monsters of the week, a couple of two-parters, and a big finale that had been teased throughout. Tonally, there was a lot in common between Moffat’s first series and a lot of the Davies series, but it was different enough to make a mark.

At the time, I remember being disappointed with Moffat’s first finale – The Big Bang – feeling it to be something of a let down. It was very different from the finales of previous series, focussed more on an idea. There was a smaller set of locations, less visual scope, and more of a conceptual resolution than a physical or plot driven one. Many were left scratching their heads.

But with each successive series, Moffat tried something new. Some with more success, some with less. The Doctor fakes his death, leading to a series long mystery to be unraveled (alongside another mystery of Amy’s pregnancy). Then there was a series where every episode was a mini ‘movie’ concept, complete with posters and everything. Then we had the big, dramatic, 50th Anniversary, which loomed over everything else.

The Twelfth Doctor

Peter Capaldi’s time has been much more reserved and ‘play it safe’ compared to some of Moffat’s other conceptual attempts. The format started to calm and focus more on a single character issue, rather than wider conceptual ones. The 12th Doctor’s first series asked the question ‘Am I a good man?’, and the second asked if Clara was a good person, and broadly if they were good for each other.

Capaldi’s final series will have two companions, one of whom is non-human – another shake up of the format. This will offer yet more opportunities to delve into the moral nature of the Doctor from fresh perspectives. Bill, a new pair of eyes, will have a less obscured view of the Doctor, not having already gone through countless adventures. Nardole, an alien, will no doubt have his own perspective (filtered through Matt Lucas’ comic relief).

Tying in

Since the show has been on a break for the past year, one has to wonder just what sort of series we will be getting this time with regards to the transition. When Russell T Davies handed over to Steven Moffat, there was a year without a full series, but three specials. This gave the show some breathing space, and allowed the gradual move from one production team to another.

This time, we’re getting a full series just before the shift. Will that make the move more jarring for audiences, or will Moffat attempt to line the tone and look of his final series with Chibnall’s first? As I said, Moffat has never shied away from changing things up and doing something different, so would this be a difference he could implement now?

This would all depend on if Moffat and Chibnall have had extensive conversations about how the latter will run the show. Which may not be beyond the realms of possibility, after all. But even if they had, Chibnall could always change his mind, could always hit production issues, and any number of roadblocks.

The question remains, then, will the shift of showrunners be a big jolt to the viewers, and will this hurt the show, or help the show?

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Joel Cornah
Joel Cornah is an author, journalist, and blogger. He is the author of a number of novels and novellas including; The Sea-Stone Sword, The Spire of Frozen Fire and The Silent Helm, with the upcoming novel The Sky Slayer, expected some time in 2016. He is an editor for The Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network, head of the Doctor Who department, and member of the Tolkien Society. He is a frequent blogger for the Pack of Aces blog, focussing on issues of Asexuality in media, specialising in sci-fi and fantasy.