Russell T. Davies vs Steven Moffat – one of the most common debates in the Doctor Who fandom, particularly the NuWho sect of the community. Whether or not this necessarily needs to be debated is a question for another day – the question we are debating here today is, who was the true saviour of Doctor Who?
Russell T. Davies deserves a lot of credit for the revival of Doctor Who. Whether you like his era or not, it is totally undeniable that without Russell T. Davies, there probably wouldn’t have been a Doctor Who revival, and there certainly wouldn’t have been a revival as soon as 2005. Davies was essential in rebooting the franchise, NuWho was his vision, and he carried the show for 4 (and a bit) successful series’ that received critical acclaim, were universally accepted by fans of Classic Who and elevated the show from an archaic relic to one of the most treasured franchises of the BBC – and indeed of science fiction in general. When Doctor Who came back, it came back big, and Russell was the man who made that happen.
But he wasn’t the best writer. At least in my opinion. And to clarify – Russell T. Davies was, and is, a fantastic writer – he wrote some of the best episodes in all of NuWho: The Parting of the Ways, The Christmas Invasion, Utopia, Midnight, Turn Left, The Waters of Mars – and these are just the ones that I personally find exceptional. Many other fan favourites were written by Davies, including New Earth, Tooth and Claw, Partners in Crime and The Next Doctor. Undeniably, Russell T. Davies is a fantastic writer and Docotr Who would be lesser without him. But when I say that Russell T. Davies wasn’t the best writer, I mean that literally – the best writer in his era was Steven Moffat, as the vast majority of the truly fantastic episodes in Russell’s era were written by Moffat.
If you don’t believe me, just look at the writing credits Steven Moffat has in Russell’s era, and decide for yourself which writer has the better set of episodes. Moffat wrote 6 and a half episodes of Doctor Who during Russell T. Davies’ era – The Empty Child, The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, Silence in the Library, Forest of the Dead and, finally, Time Crash – the 2007 Children in Need minisode about the Tenth Doctor meeting the Fifth Doctor. Of these episodes, there is not one that is not considered a classic, and it is hard to argue that Moffat’s spooky selection of Magnum Opuses is better as a group of episodes than even the best of what Russell penned during his time as showrunner. So does that settle it then? Is Moffat objectively better than Davies?
Well, in 2010, when it was announced the Moffat was taking over from Davies as showrunner, fans certainly seemed to think so. The lackluster reception to the end of The End of Time showcased to many the shortcomings of Russell T. Davies’ writing style – a pandering to soppy NuWho fans who were pining over David Tennant and little regard for Classic fans, or, indeed, fans who just wanted to watch science fiction about adventure and wonder rather than 25 minutes of David Tennant staring at characters who hadn’t been in the show for nearly 2 years and making people cry. For many, Moffat taking over was a dream come true, since he had written some truly award-winning episodes and had shown his dedication to the Classic series with Time Crash.
And now, at the conclusion of Moffat’s era, his reception can be described as… mixed. In truth, Moffat can not be called a ‘bad’ showrunner, as he has kept the show afloat in an era where TV shows as a medium are dying rapidly, and regardless of what anyone says, Doctor Who is still popular now and will continue to be so for many years to come. Moffat hasn’t ‘killed the show’, far from it, and his era has seen some of the best episodes of Doctor Who to ever air, such as Heaven Sent, World Enough and Time, The God Complex, Amy’s Choice, Oxygen, The Doctor’s Wife, The Eleventh Hour, The Day of the Doctor, and Cold War (yes, I like Cold War, what of it?) but of these, only a few are actually written by Moffat himself – Heaven Sent, World Enough and Time, The Eleventh Hour and The Day of the Doctor, to be precise. And Moffat has written some of the worst episodes in his era – Let’s Kill Hitler, The Angels Take Manhattan, The Name of the Doctor, Hell Bent – and the less said about Asylum of the Daleks, the better.
So the question remains – who is the better writer? The true answer is, its impossible to tell – because Russell T. Davies wasn’t around for Moffat’s era, and so we didn’t get to see what he could do without the burden of ‘being the showrunner’. If the stresses of the job of showrunner turned the writer of The Girl in the Fireplace into the writer of Asylum of the Daleks, then it could well be that if Russell wrote a standalone episode of Doctor Who on the side, it could be the next City of Death. But, Moffat still wrote Heaven Sent nearly 6 years into his time as showrunner. So maybe the truth is that the two of them are just writers, each with their individual talents and shortcomings, and comparing them to one another is as futile a task as comparing Doctors, since they both contributed in their own way to a show we all love, and for every Love and Monsters we got a Turn Left, and for every The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe we got a Blink.
But don’t get me started on John Nathan-Turner.