Steven Moffat first came to my attention making some very astute observations on the DVD commentary of Earthshock.
Later I laughed my way through his well-observed comedy series Coupling … not just once, I bought the box set!
His reimagining of the Robert Louis Stevenson story in Jeckyll demonstrated his original writing style, as did his wonderful update of Sherlock for the 21st century.
His early contributions to Dr Who were brilliant. I jumped in The Empty Child when the hand came through the letter box, and the ending where “for once everybody lives” was fantastic. His superb creations in the clockwork robots & weeping angels were as creepy as they were scary. In Silence in the Library he managed to make shadows frightening … and we had the added bonus of being introduced to the intriguing & entertaining River Song.
So when I heard he was taking over from Russell T. Davies as executive producer, I felt the show was in safe hands.
A Better Writer Than Executive Producer?
Steven Moffat’s debut season in charge got off to a great start with The Eleventh Hour, even if it did introduce my least favourite rendering of the theme tune, opening titles and TARDIS set. Sadly, the rest of season 5 did not live up to brilliance & intensity of the season opener.
In Victory of the Daleks so much effort was put into shoe-horning in the awful “Palitoy” Daleks – presumably in a merchandising bid – that the author forgot to include an interesting plot. These “regenerated” Daleks were quickly phased out again as the production team presumably realised that they had slipped up.
In a mediocre 2-parter the much anticipated return of the Silurians quickly turned to disappointment for anyone who remembered the originals, although Vastra has been well used since.
The impression I was left with at the end of this season was that Steven Moffat should perhaps have been kept on as a lead writer under the guidance of an experienced executive producer.
Did It Get Better?
The very strong first half of season 6 that built up to the wonderful revelation about River Song was spoilt by the really poor Let’s Kill Hitler episode, with titular character seemingly only included to support the weak gag about having put Hitler in the cupboard. The revelation that their daughter had shared their childhood quite incomprehensibly seemed to cause Amy & Rory to completely forget about rescuing their baby.
Season 7 was similarly patchy ranging from the gripping Asylum of the Daleks & Nightmare in Silver through to the pretty tedious Bells of Saint John.
Did a Change of Actor Help?
Sadly not. I’m a big fan of Peter Capaldi’s and think that he could make a great Doctor, given some decent material. We got glimpses of this during season 8 but few of the episodes were memorable. A lot of screen time was wasted trying to work out the relationship between the Doctor, Clara and Danny Pink, rather than getting on with telling a good story.
That said, Deep Breath was a great introduction to the new actor and Mummy on the Orient Express will long be looked back on as a classic.
Moments of Brilliance
In the same way that not everything in Russell T. Davies’s era was good, it is also true that not everything during Steven Moffat’s tenure was bad.
But so far there has not been a single series under Steven Moffat that has been consistently good. The acid test for me is how many episodes might I want to watch again. Most of Davies’s work I’d happily rewatch whereas the number of must-see Moffat-era episodes barely makes it into double figures. In fact I’ve mentioned most of them already.
The Day of the Doctor and the mini-episode The Night of the Doctor will count among them, though. And the bridging the gap between the old and new series with John Hurt’s “War Doctor” – as well as slipping in a couple of extra regenerations – was sheer genius.
Will season 9 finally deliver? Time will tell … but I have to admit the trailer looks good.
An Opportunity For Fresh Blood?
The Evening Standard reports that Dr Who may be taking a break in 2016, as Steven Moffat is busy working on other projects. But should the show really revolve around one man?
History shows us that a change of production team can benefit the programme just as much as a change of lead actor. Philip Hinchcliffe’s debut as producer alongside Tom Baker gave us arguably some of the best episodes of classic Dr Who. Likewise, after a couple of fairly pretty lacklustre seasons John Nathan-Turner’s arrival made Tom Baker’s final season as gripping and memorable as his first.
Rather than leaving fans without any new Dr Who stories next year, perhaps this is an opportunity for Steven Moffat to hand over the mantle of executive to someone new who may reinvigorate the show with fresh ideas, energy and focus.