Doctor Who originally premiered on the evening of November 23rd, 1963 – famously delayed in its slot by 80 seconds, due to coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which had shaken the world the previous day. Since then, there have been 36 seasons of the show – with a lengthy hiatus occurring between 1989 and 2005. Even during this break, however, a Doctor Who TV movie was made in 1996.
The series has seen many showrunners come and go over its impressive half century, and the latest to reach his departure point – Steven Moffat – was at the San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend fielding questions about Doctor Who. Speaking to Deadline, he shared his theories about precisely what it is that makes the series such an enduring success.
“I like to say that one of the reasons Doctor Who is very popular is it’s very good. Even if you can’t stand science fiction and you want something more serious, there’s that here too, but if you like this kind of show, you’re going to like Doctor Who. It’s incredibly well done. It’s made with real passion and commitment and I hate to sound like I’m boasting, but have you seen the list of people who write Doctor Who?
“You know, the number of showrunners who have their own shows who turn up to do individual episodes of Doctor Who is astonishing. No other show’s got a writing team like it. This isn’t an everyday event. I stop to think when whatever distant day Doctor Who goes off for a while, people might look back on this and think, how the hell did that happen to an hourly evening family adventure series? How did that come about? How did all that happen? I do think it’s an extremely good show.”
This is no exaggeration on Moffat’s part here – the writing team behind the Doctor Who in just the past 11 seasons is remarkable to say the least. Aside from episodes by Moffat, Russell T. Davies (his predecessor) and Chris Chibnall (his successor and creator of Broadchurch), the show has attracted the scripting talents of Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), author Neil Gaiman, Neil Cross (Luther, Mama), Richard Curtis (Love Actually), Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly), Catherine Tregenna (Torchwood), Frank Cottrell Boyce (The Railway Man), Bob Baker (Wallace And Gromit), Matthew Graham (Life On Mars), and Helen Raynor (Mr Selfridge).
But, apart from the production talent that goes into the show, and the passion and commitment of those crafting each episode, it’s surely the central premise of the thing that lends itself to longevity. Being focused on a mysterious Time Lord – who once escaped from the planet Gallifrey in a stolen TARDIS, and who has a long-standing fascination with planet Earth and its residents – means that the lead, titular character periodically regenerates, making the literal reinvention of the show a core feature.
Such a reinvention is upon us once again, too, as Steven Moffatt bows out along with his latest Doctor, Peter Capaldi. The world now awaits the arrival of the newest incarnation – Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor – during the Doctor Who Christmas Special, which airs on December 25th.