Steven Moffat has had a long association with Doctor Who, stretching as far back as July 1996, when he wrote a short story for the Virgin novel line; today, of course, his primary association with Doctor Who is as showrunner, a role he’s occupied since 2010. The tenth series, the first episode of which will be broadcast this evening, is going to be Moffat’s last as head writer – so now seems like a good time to take a look back across the past seven years, and celebrate some of his greatest triumphs.
In 2010, Steven Moffat was faced with an essentially impossible task – to keep Doctor Who running after David Tennant left. True, by this stage in the revived series we’d already seen the lead actor change once before, but this was a very different scenario; not only was David Tennant leaving, who had cemented himself as the Doctor in the minds of the nation, but so was much of the behind the scenes crew, including both Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner who had spearheaded the revival in 2005. Indeed, Moffat revealed that convincing the BBC to continue Doctor Who past 2009 was not as simple as one might have expected.
That served only to make The Eleventh Hour all the more impressive – at a point when Doctor Who really had to prove itself, Moffat stepped up to the plate with real panache. Arguably, this is one of Moffat’s best episodes; perhaps not in terms of its quality, but rather in terms of what it achieved. With this, Moffat demonstrated that Doctor Who really could keep on going, no matter what.
“Something old, something new. Something borrowed, something blue.”
It’s a very clever line, of course; the sort of thing that you can believe Moffat was sitting on for years, just dying for an opportunity to use it. And here he uses it with perfect aplomb, tying his debut series into a neat little bow with a moment that will have everyone wishing they’d thought of it first – in many ways, perhaps the definition of a perfect reveal.
Series 5 was one of Moffat’s best years on Doctor Who; while it’d be absurd to credit that achievement solely to this line, I think it’s fair to say that it encapsulates everything that’s so wonderful about this series. It’s smart and inventive, it positions Doctor Who as a timeless fairytale, and it’s delivered so brilliantly by Karen Gillan and Matt Smith. Excellent stuff all round, really.
“Gallifrey falls no more”
Doctor Who’s fiftieth anniversary is hailed by many as the best episode of the program ever – indeed, it won the most recent Doctor Who Magazine story poll. It was another high pressure task for Moffat, but I think it’s fair to say that he managed admirably, turning in a story that brought together three Doctors, as well as classic foes in the Zygons and the Daleks.
Equally, though, in the run up to the 50th anniversary a lot of people had been… disappointed, we shall say, at the relative lack of representation for the show’s initial 27 year run. Or, more accurately, the perceived lack of representation – because no one knew that this moment was coming. A fun yet touching scene, bringing together Tom Baker and Matt Smith, and opening up a new direction for subsequent years on Doctor Who. It’s a fantastic moment, and one of the best in what will likely prove to be Moffat’s most fondly remembered episode.
“Personally, I think that’s a hell of a bird!”
Peter Capaldi’s first two seasons are full of fantastic moments, but it’s difficult not to consider this one of the best. Heaven Sent is a wonderful story – the ultimate Steven Moffat puzzle box, where the Doctor is forced to confront his own grief. It’s exceptionally well told, with some wonderful moments; Heaven Sent works as an excellent character study, giving us some fantastic insights into the Doctor. (A rather clever moment is where the Doctor starts begging Clara to let him lose, for once, because he knows about all the pain he’s facing. That’s a fascinating aspect that really enhances the overall story, and, in fact, adds to the ways in which the episode establishes just how keenly intelligent the Doctor is – he cracks the puzzle box before we do.)
Of course, it’s this story about the bird that sharpens its beak on a mountain of pure diamond that everyone remembers – an allegory not just for coping with grief, but also for being the Doctor Who showrunner! You can tell that Steven Moffat had a difficult time over his tenure on Doctor Who,, but I’ll always be grateful that he was able to write scenes as beautiful as this.
For a while, Moffat thought that The Husbands of River Song would be his final episode, and wrote it as something of a swansong – finally wrapping up the River Song storyline he’d put into action back in 2008. But with it came a clever twist; here we saw what River was like when she wasn’t with the Doctor, because she didn’t recognise him as Peter Capaldi.
Eventually, though, River realised the truth – and that moment is one of my favourite scenes with River Song. She’s a character who has, at times, been quite divisive, but in this moment she’s nothing short of fantastic; it’s a very poignant scene, with the weight of years behind it. In what could have been Moffat’s final episode, this scene is a touching reminder of how lucky we are to have one more year with him in charge.
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