The Case ... For? ... Against? ... Steven Moffat ... I Don't Know But He's Leaving
It’s been a weekend since the Oodsphere that is the Doctor Who fandom was shaken by the news: the Lord President Moffat himself would not be regenerating as the showrunner after the tenth season of the revived British Sci-Fi series. While the news was pretty much a long time coming, Moffat himself had stated that this year’s Christmas Special might have been his last. For a fandom that is sort of known for never shutting up, we were all pretty speechless. I’m a verbose writer who hosts a Doctor Who podcast and does convention panels about the Time Lord, and the most I could muster for a few hours was “Holy S#!%.”
I think my first real feeling about the news beyond that was a sense of relief. Not even relief that Moffat would soon be gone, but relief that someday, apparently not until maybe not 2018 when new Lord President Chris Chibnall actually shows up to the party, I will be able to have a conversation about Doctor Who, or post literally anything related to the show on social media, and not have someone immediately need to chime in with some face of “Moffat sucks.”
The relationship between Whovians and Moffat is fascinating for me, and maybe an exact replica of this relationship exists within other fandoms as well, but I just don’t follow them as closely. But I think the Moffat Situation is sort of unique in that he didn’t create the show he’s been the steward of for the last half-decade, nor is he even the architect of its return. In leadership terms, he’s like the John Adams of the Whoniverse.
Another aspect of Moffat that I think makes his case interesting is that he exists at an exact fulcrum point in the history of the internet and the rise of social media. While Russell T. Davies was wrapping up his run in 2008 and 2009 with a series of specials, the engines of Tumblr were just getting fired up, not reaching their peak until right around when Moffat opened up with the Eleventh Hour. This was also the point when the British and American timelines merged, and fans on this side of the Atlantic were suddenly getting the show on the same day it would air in its home. Netflix’s streaming allowed for binge-watching of the RTD years, adding even more to the rise in new fans of the show. Fans who, it seems, all had keyboards.
The relationship the fandoms of Who and Sherlock have with Moffat is practically our relationship with the internet in human form. He is simultaneously responsible for some of the best, most wonderful moments and some of the most aggravating of this thing that we love so very much. Almost every move he makes, everything he says and does, is instantly polarized. He is worshipped and reviled, often by diametrically opposed forces and for the exact opposite reasons.
When the announcement came that Moffat was stepping down, a comment on a Facebook post about it stated “Maybe it’ll stop being so politically correct.” Further down a comment on the same post commented “Maybe we can finally get a Doctor who isn’t a straight white man.” And that’s the magic or curse of Moffat in a nutshell. He occupies space as both the most progressive, and most privileged regressive thing that has ever happened to Doctor Who. When the finale of series 8 confirmed that Michelle Gomez’s Missy was in fact a female regeneration of recurring Time Lord adversary the Master, it was deemed both a pandering to the liberal whiny fans, and a cheap way of trying to dismiss the argument for having a female Doctor. It was also awesome and Michelle Gomez killed it as Missy, but I guess that’s not as important?
Outside of the social justice/PC aspects of the show, the same dichotomy still exists with him. He’s lionized for scribing some of the most undeniably iconic moments in the show’s history, and demonized for also leaving some of the most frustrating plot holes. He wrote “Blink!” … Oh, he wrote the Impossible Girl storyline … he gave us the “Day of the Doctor”… oh, but he did “Time of the Doctor” as well. He never met a heart he didn’t break, or a plot he couldn’t as well. His strengths are his weaknesses, his willingness to push the boundaries of the show, both by diving right into some of the more prickly elements of the canon, like the Doctor’s number of regenerations or his potential half-human genetics, will both inspire awe and invoke ideas of him as the mad man with the box, egotistically trying to craft the 50+ year show to his image.
Despite the confusing headlines around his departure, we’ll get one more season with Moffat, to air in spring 2017. It’s already decided and not something I can control, but I can’t help wondering if that’s a mistake. While series 7 was pretty universally despised and series 8 was loved by some (like me) and hated by others (like you, I imagine), series 9 seems to have been pretty well received, with an ending arc that included “Heaven Sent,” arguably one of the most intriguing episodes in the history of the show, and one that if nothing else forever ruined the ability to define just how old the Doctor is.
Then came the Christmas special, “The Husbands of River Song.” As stated before, Moffat commented once in an interview that he considered this to be possibly his last episode of the show, his “End of Time.” This special ended with a very bittersweet bookend to River’s story, but it feels like it would’ve made as fitting a bookend to Moffat’s tenure as well. While he’d already crafted some memorable arcs during RTD’s era, the introduction of River in “Silence in the Library” is his first real fingerprint on the show, prep work that Russell allowed him to do with full awareness that he would soon have the keys to the TARDIS. With “Husbands” we come to the end of the “Moffat loop” that he created and his departure now would have been a fitting end to his legacy, love him or hate him.
But that won’t be the case. With series 10 looming far off the in the future, we find ourselves feeling unsure of what to expect next year. Will he unleash every last bit of plot he never got to, going out in a blaze of glory, or will he quietly till the soil allowing for Chibnall to plant his own narrative seeds for his tenure in the box? And maybe that’s exactly the point of Moffat. He’s not one to rest comfortably on the perfect loop he’s created, instead he’s going to push it for one more go and devil may care how it turns out. And maybe that’s his true Doctor Who legacy. Geronimo.
Riley Silverman is a comedian and writer and might possibly be just a little into style and fashion and Doctor Who. You can follow her on Twitter.