Are Steven Moffat’s latest comments in Doctor Who Magazine further proof of a recurring trend in his era as Nu-Who showrunner?
In Issue 484 of DWM Steven Moffat says of the Doctor, “He’s left some of the burden of being a superhero of the universe behind. So I’m pushing him – I’m writing quite funny this year – I’m pushing him the other way.” The other way? A deliberate change in direction? Haven’t we been here before?
Series 5 of Doctor Who introduced Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Steven Moffat as the new showrunner. The new run of episodes roughly followed the trend set by the previous four series. Series 5 opened with an audience-grabbing romp, then a trip into space, followed by a celebrity historical. Fans enjoyed a couple of mid-season two parters and another for the finale. Some may have appreciated this reassuringly recognisable pattern, but others felt that the show’s format was becoming somewhat repetitive and formulaic.
Steven Moffat was clearly one of their number and he decided to stir things up in Series 6. He flew cast and crew stateside, to film “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”, and surprised fandom by opening Series 6 with a two parter, a first in Nu-Who history.
Moffat’s predecessor, Russell T Davies, had always used fairly subtle story arcs, but the new showrunner would do things differently. With the heaviest story arc ever seen in Nu-Who, Series 6 had viewers reeling with the double whammy of Amy’s peculiar pregnancy and the Doctor being shot dead in its very first episode.
Moffat decided to split Series 6 with one half of the episodes airing in the spring and the other in the autumn of 2011. He explained, “The split series is hugely exciting because viewers will be treated to two premieres, two finales and more event episodes!”
Moffat tinkered with the format again in Series 7 and scrapped two parters, explaining “What’s the point in them? The viewing figures always go down. The AI goes down, even if the second episode is the better one. The press coverage goes down. The trailers are a bit boring…”
There was another split season, with September 2012 being the only month that year with new episodes broadcast. Was Moffat deliberately starving viewers of Doctor Who, making them hungry for new episodes in the impending anniversary year?
Series 7A, unlike the previous series, contained a barely noticeable story arc, Amy and Rory’s rocky relationship. This was intentional, as Moffat had previously explained, “Series 6 is the most arc-intensive we’ve ever been and we’re throwing the lever the other way next year”. (“The other way”? Mmm, sounds familiar!) It turned out, however, that when 7B aired in Spring 2013 there actually was a more significant arc, involving a certain “Impossible Girl”.
Series 8 saw a complete, uninterrupted run of episodes, all of which aired at the end of 2014. Though comprising only twelve episodes instead of the usual thirteen, Steven Moffat was actually implementing another innovation. He effectively joined the first two episodes together and transformed the season opener into a cinema-length feature film.
The showrunner deliberately made Capaldi’s Doctor grumpy, rude and unlikeable, in complete contrast to Matt Smith’s loveable “puppy dog-tor”. He reinstated the two parter with the “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven” series finale.
In conclusion, when Steven Moffat says he is pushing the Doctor “the other way” in Series 9, he is being totally consistent with his own precedents. Like a yo-yo, he sends the show off in one direction, then reels it back in again. Full season – split season – full season. No arc – arc – no arc. Nice Doctor – nasty Doctor – nice Doctor. Two parters – no two parters – two parters. Who and fro, to coin a phrase.
Clearly Steven Moffat tries to rock the boat as much as he can. He has even admitted it himself, “The trouble with a series as it gets older is that it can feel like a tradition, and tradition is the enemy of suspense, and it’s the enemy of comedy. It’s the enemy of everything, really. So you have to shake it up!”
He most certainly has – daring to change the Master’s gender and even cybernise the Brig! What else has Moffat up his sleeve for Series 9? A mini-hiatus, a different episode length, two episodes per week? With the Great Moff in charge, anything is possible. Maybe we should compare Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who to a roller coaster ride. He excites us with sudden changes of direction, but never allows Doctor Who to go off the rails.