Doctor Who – Summing up the Moffat Era, or ‘The Tale of Two Moffats’

What is the scariest thing ever imaginable to a Doctor Who fan? A Dalek? A Weeping Angel? The possibility of a second 15-year-long hiatus? Perhaps any or all of these could be considered, but the undoubted victor is the thought that, if one Moffat wasn’t enough, there might actually be two Moffats, and when one of the Moffat’s tenure as showrunner comes to an end, the second Moffat moves in to take his place. Those who reacted to that statement with the appropriate cold dread need not worry, however, as this process has already occurred, we just didn’t realise it at the time…

As Summer 2018 begins to show itself, it really does seem as though a new era is dawning for Doctor Who fans, who recently witnessed the departure of one of the longest running (and most controversial) showrunners in the history of the series. Steven Moffat, the man who at the time of his announcement as showrunner seemed to be the perfect choice to take on the responsibility, has now proven after 8 years at the helm of one of the most well-known and beloved franchises in history that regardless of raw talent, budget, direction or sociopolitical context, the ultimate key to maintaining a reputation is consistency. Most of the British public first heard of Steven Moffat following his string of fantastic episodes throughout the Russell T. Davies era, namely The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink and Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead, and it was because of the consistent quality, scare-factor and thought-provoking premises of his episodes that Steven Moffat earned the reputation for one of the greatest writers that the show had seen, and perhaps even of all time. But what happened during his tenure as showrunner that seems to have split a fanbase, that already had lasting divides, into the camps of ‘pro-Moffat’ and ‘anti-Moffat’?

The answer is, of course, not exactly clear. From a basic perspective, the tone of Moffat’s era differed drastically from that of Russell’s, in that whilst Russell focused on grand epic battles, emotional drama and the impact of the Time War on the Doctor, Moffat shifted the focus dramatically onto a much smaller-scale side to the Doctor’s life – the domestic life that he elects to pursue with Amy, Rory and River Song, whilst also changing the way the show itself presented the Doctor – rather than having the idea of the Doctor as a wanderer who amassed power through influence that Russel went with, Moffat instead constructed the idea of the ‘fairy-tale’ Doctor, a mad magician who saves the day in the most whimsical way possible. This encapsulates the earliest divide in the NuWho fanbase, as many fans who were used to Russell’s incarnation of the show lost interest as Matt Smith’s era reached its sixth or seventh series because the show simply wasn’t the same anymore. From a modern point of view, this split is easily spun to signify the ‘death of Doctor Who’ – naysayers at the time predicted that the show would never reach its fiftieth anniversary – but as most Doctor Who fans know by now, Russell’s era was just an era. It was a popular era, no doubts there, but as with all the best eras of Doctor Who, it had to end eventually. Unfortunately, many fans who were dissatisfied with Moffat and had only watched NuWho up until this point decided that Doctor Who would never be the same again, and so jumped ship.

However, this only explains how the ‘anti-Moffat’ camp first came to be, and there is certainly a lot more to the school of Moffat criticism than just preferring Russell’s era. It must also be pointed out that, amongst a sea of Moffat critics in the early 2010s, there were a vocal minority who believed that the show was better off without Russell and that although Moffat hadn’t exactly delivered a batch of 13 episodes that could all rival something like The Girl in the Fireplace in quality, Series 5 was still a very strong series. Even today, Series 5 is highly regarded as one of the best outings of NuWho, which is made all the more interesting when one factors in the idea that Series 5 is one of the few NuWho series that does not rely on any pre-existing marketable material – aside from one episode with the Daleks and a cameo of some old monsters in the finale, Series 5’s series arc revolved around something entirely original, something that Russell had never even attempted. In a similar manner to the change in focus, Moffat also seemed to change how the show treated its recurring elements – rather than relying on the Daleks for finale-filler like Russell did, Moffat instead put faith in his own ideas. Things like River Song and The Silence became much more prominent in the early years of Moffat’s era whereas races like the Daleks and the Cybermen barely got a look in. This would seemingly mark the next step in evolution for ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ Moffat factions – the idea that the show needs to rely on the Daleks and Cybermen is ultimately self destructive, and yet fanboys like myself simply cannot bear to see a series of Doctor Who without them, and thanks to a series of lacklustre cameos and the abysmal Asylum of the Daleks many Dalek fans opinion of Moffat turned sour.

Of course, there are many more reasons why the fanbase split on Moffat, and even more explanations as to why his writing quality appeared to decline between Series 6 and 7 – blame is often put on the attention dedicated to Sherlock, the poor characterisation of new companion Clara Oswald as well as a general lack of direction in the Silence/River Song story arc. But following the success of the 50th Anniversary Special and the regeneration of Matt Smith into Peter Capaldi in 2013, hindsight tells us that the old Moffat must have given up and walked out, with the fresh second Moffat ready and waiting to take over the show and make it his own, because when Doctor Who came back in 2014 it was totally different from anything NuWho had seen before, and the changes wouldn’t stop there. Capaldi’s first series was still very much a Moffat creation – it contains his narrative mannerisms, his method of misdirection when it comes to revealing crucial plot points, and his… ‘unique’ way of writing dialogue between men and women. But the focus of the show shifted again, and for many it seemed to be shifting back to the same things that Russell had focused on. Whilst Matt Smith’s era practically ignored the Daleks, Capaldi faced them in his second episode that drew heavy inspiration from the first Dalek episode of Russell’s era. Cybermen appeared in the finale of Series 8, this time as a worldwide and present threat rather than as a babysitter to James Corden’s baby or as a fairground attraction as they had been in Matt Smith’s era. And not only that, but Capaldi’s era saw the return of two essential classic series villains who had featured in Russell’s era – the Master, this time in the form of Missy, and Davros. Capaldi’s era still had lingering elements of the ‘fairytale’ interpretation of the Doctor from Matt Smith’s era, but the universe it presented dropped any pretence of the whimsical feel of Moffat’s tenure that we had seen so far and instead seemed to ‘reboot’ the modern Doctor Who universe, bringing it more in line with what Russell constructed throughout his tenure and allowing fans who disliked Matt Smith or his era to make a ‘clean break’ and pick the show back up.

Ultimately, this is where the notion of the ‘two Moffats’ comes from – on the one hand you have Matt Smith Moffat, whose era is seemingly self-contained, has little impact from either the classic series or Russell’s NuWho, aside from a handful of obvious examples, such as the cameo appearance of an Ood and the Russell era control room in The Doctor’s Wife, a mention of the battle to save reality from Journey’s End in Victory of the Daleks and the appearance of an Ice Warrior in Cold War, to name a few. Generally, however, Matt Smith’s era relied on its own internal logic, its own original villains and its own original characters to get by, almost like a show within a show. On the other hand, Peter Capaldi Moffat came along after Smith’s era was done and decided that Doctor Who needed to wake up and resume many of the ongoing plot threads that had been on hold during the Smith era – namely, the Doctor’s relationship with the Daleks and Davros, the Doctor/Master friendship/rivalry, the impact of the return of Rassilon and the fate of Gallifrey. Capaldi’s era also sees many reappearances from races or characters in the show’s history that serve as more than just cameos – the Mondasian Cybermen and John Simm’s Master in the Series 10 finale being the most significant. But what can be gleaned from all of this? It is hard to compare the two Moffats, since both have caused their fair share of controversy within the show’s fanbase, and ultimately the decision comes down to personal preference between Matt Smith’s era and Peter Capaldi’s. But next time the inevitable debate over ‘who is better: Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat’ pops up, remember that the actual debate should be ‘who is better: Steven Moffat (2010-2013) or Steven Moffat (2014-2017)’

And that concludes the terrifying tale of the Two Moffats. I hope you enjoyed, if you did be sure to leave a like and you can follow us either here or on Facebook for more content like this. Be sure to check out the ‘Read More’ section below, and thanks for reading!

 

 

Author: Cameron Walker

Writer, Painter, Dalek collector, Walker, General Idealist but Political Realist, Fan of Doctor Who, Star Wars, Halo, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and Ghost in the Shell, among other things. All Doctor Who discussion particularly welcome, but be warned, I am a huge nerd.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s