Over the course of Doctor Who’s ten post-rebooting years, Steven Moffat has become synonymous with the best and worst of what one of BBC’s most beloved shows has to offer. He is noteworthy for creating complex, multi-layered plotlines, but guilty of needlessly convoluted storytelling. He helped pen some of the most terrifying villains the Doctor has ever faced, and then he overused them to the point of comic relief (the Sontarans and Weeping Angels spring to mind). It’s very easy to see why his work with Doctor Who is so polarizing, but there’s no denying he made quite an impact on the show overall in his time as the head writer.
It was far less surprising that news of Moffat’s departure from the show, once the next series concludes at the end of 2017, was met with a fairly even blend of cheers and mourning across the Internet. To reiterate what many news sources have already said: Moffat will be handing over the TARDIS keys to Chris Chibnall, the head writer of Broadchurch.
This feels like a mixed blessing. First and foremost, Doctor Who has grown so big and complex at this point, with so many writers having contributed, that it’s important to remember to give Chibnall a chance. When David Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith, the negativity towards the series was surprising. Many fans (or so-called fans) were outraged at Tennant’s departure from a show that features a main character with no fixed actor playing the title role for terribly long in the reboot. (Smith, for the record, was an excellent Doctor.) Russell T. Davies passed the TARDIS keys to Steven Moffat, and despite what many may say Moffat handled the show well and true to its nature.
Broadchurch is a very sound indication that Chibnall can handle writing a major series with complexity and deep characters.
Broadchurch is a very sound indication that Chibnall can handle writing a major series with complexity and deep characters. There’s no denying that. He’s also a fan of the series, so there should be minimal—if any—concerns he won’t stay true to its roots. The best scenario? Chibnall steers Doctor Who back to its roots. If the show is to continue with episodes ending on cliffhangers, it would be nice if they felt like the splits served a purpose instead of generating cliffhangers that may or may not compel viewers to tune in next time. Will Clara’s successor be a more relatable character, allowing for viewers to feel like the Doctor could pick anyone to travel with him? Or will they end up being another all-important, universe-saving demi-god of sorts?
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Hoping for Doctor Who to be fantastic and enormous without a touch of the convolution and grand scaling that Moffat was guilty of creating is a bit demanding. Realistically, a show like this doesn’t last without taking risks, occasionally falling on its face, and then marching proudly on while acknowledging its missteps. It’s a safe bet that even if Chibnall doesn’t start off with the best material—and it feels safe to say Doctor Who is in good hands with his writing—that things will likely improve as he adapts and adjusts to criticism. There’s also the added benefit of Peter Capaldi’s raw talent to carry the show until the former Broadchurch head writer really hits his stride.
While fans wait, the most important thing to remember is this: once the show returns with its new writer, take time to reflect on what makes the show special. Grab a sonic screwdriver, shout a preferred catchphrase, and Keep Calm and Travel with the Doctor no matter what dangerous locales the writing (and timetraveling) may take things.
By Phil Gorski