22 January 2016

Steven Moffat’s long goodbye & Chris Chibnall’s even longer hello

You’ve got to love the cheeky spin the BBC put on today’s story that Steven Moffatt is leaving Doctor Who but not for another year and we won’t see his last series till 2017 so in fact he’ll still be around for another 18 months and it will be something like two years before we get to see anything of his replacement Chris Chibnall’s work. Even funnier is the idea that by delaying transmission it makes it ` a big event`. I know the Doctor Who bit of the Internet will explode on hearing this news particularly the identity of the new man in the hot seat. After all people thought it would be Toby Whithouse or Mark Gattis. I also think it may make some sense; that this is good news.  For one thing it does confirm the series longer term future is safe with some rumours having previously suggested that it might end when Moffatt leaves. Regardless of what is on screen there is no doubt that the series has fallen from its previous prominence perhaps because it’s 11 years old now (the new series that is) and its lasted longer than all its contemporaries from 2005. As for Chibbers well let me tell you a story about him…

Chirpy we used to call him when we were all members of the Merseyside Doctor Who local group. I’m not sure why we called him that because he wasn’t very chirpy at all but he did edit our newsletter for while. More signifcantly he also appeared in that infamous tv show Open Air where the BBC foolishly invited fans on to say what was wonderful about the show at a time when the show was not wonderful. Chirpy went on, as everyone now knows thanks to You Tube, with his tie askew and said something that’s haunted him ever since about a story with a beginning, middle and end. Aha! we shouted when he started writing Doctor Who stories let’s see if he follows this rule. Incidentally I was supposed to go on it but made some excuse because I knew that YouTube would be invented and I didn’t want to be remembered for one foolhardy youthful comment.
It’s fair enough to say that his contributions to the series to date have not been especially well regarded by fans. Partly this is because he was heavily involved in the awkward first series (I’m trying to be generous here you can see) of Torchwood. On the series itself he’s written `42` which I liked because of it’s urgency taking place in real time as the title suggests. `The Hungry Earth/ Cold Blood` combo was, I felt, harmed by one fundamental mis-step. Instead of focussing on some Silurians stuck on the surface, it took us down into the Silurian city which is where matters became rather strained. `Dinosaurs on a Spaceship` was as frivolous as the name suggests and you do need episodes like this to balance the sombre stuff. And there was `The Power of Three` which was quite good. The common theme here is that Chibbers has yet to pen a humdinger all time classic whereas Moffat had before he stepped up to the plate. Chibnall’s stories have been serviceable, sometimes strong but never stunning. Unlike either Moffatt or Russell t Davies he appears not to possess a big blueprint of what Doctor Who should be like. He seems unlikely to deliver a Time War or an Impossible Girl.
This is a Good Thing! Imagine how fresh it would be after two very agenda heavy show runners for someone to turn up with nothing more- or less- than an idea to fill each season with wonderful contrasting stories penned by a range of writers. Budget notwithstanding there is little that Doctor Who cannot do but lately it has focussed endlessly on the central characters of the Doctor and companion to the general exclusion of everything else. Somewhere along the line the Doctor has changed from being the super enigmatic traveller who scoots off after saving the day to some legendary all knowing superman. His companions are no longer ordinary people but possessed of some enigmatic life or history or a plot that sees them become able to reboot the Universe or something. Really? That’s not drama, that’s stuff for comic books.
If I still knew Chirpy then I’d tell him what we need and what would really help the series reconnect with the wider public is just great stories. No big arc plot (this is not America nor a soap opera),no more big secrets to be mined from the past which is a seam fast running out of bounty.
BTW look at the stuff CC’s done outside of Doctor Who- that first series of Broadchurch was one of the best drams in the past 10 years, his take on Camelot deserved a second series I think and United was a big win. He’s worked on Life on Mars and Law and Order UK. He’s written plays. His cv is actually more diverse in subject matter than either RTD or Moffat so let’s hope he can bring that muse to work in the Tardis.
PS I’ll write an episode for you if you ever read this Chris!
PPS You only have to move one letter to turn Broadchurch into Boradchurch!!

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