This time, it is the showrunner’s turn to regenerate. Steven Moffat – head writer and executive producer of Doctor Who – is confirmed to be leaving the show, and will be replaced by Chris Chibnall, who previously wrote 6 episodes for the drama, and created the phenomenally successful series, Broadchurch. The length of a Doctor Who season is typically 12 episodes, and Moffat is currently deep into the development of season 10 scripts. He will make his departure at the end of that season.
Very much the flagship, signature show of the BBC, Doctor Who has become something of a national institution since it was first broadcast back in 1963. The compelling tale of a 900 year-old time-travelling alien, who zips through the universe, history and the future in a police box that is far bigger on the inside than one would expect, was quickly embraced for its wobbly sets and imaginative drama.
It ran for an unprecedented 26 seasons before being cancelled in 1989. Various attempts to revive Doctor Who stalled, until Russell T. Davies arrived on the scene in 2005 with a brand new Doctor, in the shape of Christopher Eccleston. Having successfully rebooted the T.A.R.D.I.S, and re-ignited passion for the show, Eccleston left after one season, to be replaced by David Tennant – who remained in the role until 2010. Actor Tennant, and showrunner Davies exited the show together, and Davies was replaced at the helm by Steven Moffat.
For many fans, it is the Tennant-Davies era of the rebooted Doctor Who that most clearly demonstrates the importance of a true partnership between Doctor and showrunner. Those seasons delivered some of the most beloved episodes of the show, and cast and crew imbued each one with real passion. Moffat, arguably, became something of a divisive figure – overseeing the introduction of Matt Smith’s Doctor, and later, his regeneration into the current Time Lord, Peter Capaldi. Neither of these Doctors have been accompanied by the sense of that close partnership, though. In addition, Moffat’s storylines have often been received as considerably more convoluted and needlessly complex than those of his predecessor.
Now, Steven Moffat finds himself heading for the exit, and is looking toward his handover to Chris Chibnall.
“Feels odd to be talking about leaving when I’m just starting work on the scripts for season 10, but the fact is my timey-wimey is running out. While Chris is doing his last run of Broadchurch, I’ll be finishing up on the best job in the universe and keeping the T.A.R.D.I.S warm for him. It took a lot of gin and tonic to talk him into this, but I am beyond delighted that one of the true stars of British television drama will be taking the Time Lord even further into the future. At the start of season 11, Chris Chibnall will become the new showrunner of Doctor Who. And I will be thrown in a skip.”
In his defence, Steven Moffat has overseen some quantum leaps in the narrative of the Doctor, and in that sense, leaves some big shoes to fill – something of which Chris Chibnall is acutely aware.
“Doctor Who is the ultimate BBC program: bold, unique, vastly entertaining and adored all around the world. So it’s a privilege and a joy to be the next curator of this funny, scary and emotional family drama. I’ve loved Doctor Who since I was four years old, and I’m relishing the thought of working with the exceptional team at BBC Wales to create new characters, creatures and worlds for the Doctor to explore. Steven’s achieved the impossible by continually expanding Doctor Who’s creative ambition, while growing its global popularity. He’s been a dazzling and daring showrunner, and hearing his plans and stories for 2017, it’s clear he’ll be going out with a bang. Just to make my life difficult.”
While there is, as yet, no clear indication of what Steven Moffat will now be focusing his writing skills on, he will be executive producing the Doctor Who spinoff, Class, and he is also the creator of the highly popular Sherlock – which recently unveiled another cliffhanger in its New Year special. As for Doctor Who, a change of showrunner has historically had seismic ramifications for the series itself. Will some of those inevitable changes include the hiring of more women writers and directors, for example? Watch this space for further developments.