Three BIG pieces of big Doctor Who news have come out of the BBC in the past 24 hours. First, showrunner Steven Moffat will be stepping down after finishing Season 10. Second, we also won’t be seeing that season for quite a while: the only new Doctor Who to be broadcast in 2016 will be the Christmas Special with Season 10 to follow in Spring of 2017. Finally, Broadchurch creator and showrunner Chris Chibnall will take over for Moffat in 2018.
What does this mean for Doctor Who? Plenty, I am sure! Love him or hate him, Moffat’s contributions to the series are significant and impossible to ignore. With written contributions going back as far as Season 1, he’s written for all of the modern Doctors. As producer, he’s cast two of them: Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. He’s made the show plenty of new fans, and (unfortunately) made many fans into critics of how he runs the series. Read more about this and Chris Chibnall below.
Steven Moffat is stepping down. This is very likely a good thing. Though some might say that because they have come to dislike how he runs the show, I say it just because it is time. Five years is a long time to run Doctor Who. In the 50-odd year history of the program, only one executive producer in charge of the show, John Nathan-Turner, exceeded that kind of tenure. He screwed up the show so badly in the mid-1980s during the Colin Baker years that it was cancelled — though he did redeem himself to some extent during the Sylvester McCoy years (especially the last two) before the axe finally fell. In five years, production approaches once bright and new start to fade. Good ideas are harder to come by. With the amount of writing that showrunners contribute to the modern show, the pen has to start to run dry. It’s time for Moffat to quit.
About the search for his replacement and the agreement that Chris Chibnall would be the one, Moffat had this to say:
“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 TARDIS 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.”
Did Moffat really quit? Did he and BBC management mutually decide it was time to go? Was he forced out? I’m sure that the answers to those questions will eventually come out. Moffat made a few noises in the last year or so that this day was coming, maybe sooner rather than later. He wrote River Song’s swan song in the 2015 Christmas Special because he wasn’t sure if he’d have another proper chance. He’d also mentioned that the effort to locate his replacement was difficult, possibly suggesting that the start of Chibnall’s tenure has as much to do with his schedule as getting him to take on the work.
As with Steven Moffat, the BBC has turned to another contributing writer as the next Doctor Who showrunner. Chris Chibnall has written several episodes: “42” during Season 3, “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood” (that re-introduced the Silurians) in Season 5, “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship” and “The Power of Three” in Season 7. He also wrote seven episodes of the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood during its first two seasons. Through all that time, Chibnall became a a multi-award winning writer and executive producer. He most recently achieved success with the triple BAFTA winning hit ITV series Broadchurch. His other credits include BAFTA nominated The Great Train Robbery, United, Law & Order: UK, and the original UK version of Life on Mars.
Chibnall had this to say about taking over Doctor Who:
“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.”
Finally, the BBC announced that we won’t be seeing much Doctor Who in 2016. There will be a Christmas Special overseen by Moffat this year, but the regular season will be pushed off six months until the Spring of 2017. Part of me wants to see this as a cynical move by the BBC to figure out how to better promote the show. I was a Steven Moffat (or Peter Capaldi) fan problem right now, despite some reasonably strong material during Season 9. Is this interval part of strategy for absence to make the heart grow fonder and raise the ratings of Season 10? Is it due to other scheduling concerns? Is it to search for new cast (is Peter Capaldi leaving after Season 10 is in the can)? Who knows? Who knows?