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The Moffat Co-writing Conundrum

Guest contributor Dan Steadman examines the updated Series 8 writing line-up.

capaldi-moffat-2013

As we’ve recently found out, Steven Moffat has had input on a total of seven out of twelve stories for Series 8: he’s written four individually and has done three collaborations with other writers. I personally feel that this is a great move, as I love Moffat’s writing and believe that he has produced several of the best episodes ever – The Day of the Doctor and Blink were recently voted the first and second best stories of all time, respectively, by the readers of DWM. On the other hand, I know that some people will not view this in such a positive way. But that’s fine; we’re all entitled to our own opinions. The question is, why has Moffat actually apparently spent more time collaborating with these other writers, as opposed to having just a little bit of input (as he is the head writer) as he normally would? And will this make the series better or worse? Well, let’s take a look.

“A little credit wouldn’t irretrievably damage my ego.”

Oh, come on, what’s the use of a good quotation if you can’t change it? The first possibility is that Moffat hasn’t done much more than normal when it comes to collaborating, but just felt that he deserved a little credit. But, let’s face it, that’s pretty unlikely. If this were the case, surely his name would be on every episode? This means that this isn’t the case, and I must move swiftly on.

“My time is running out.”

And maybe for the Moff it was. Maybe Moffat wanted to write all seven episodes, but simply didn’t have the time. It’s a possibility. We know Moffat is a busy man – hey, he seems to be interviewed by one magazine or another every day! Okay, not every day. Every other day. And he writes Sherlock – a special of which is due to go into production in late 2014/early 2015. Maybe that’s taken up his time? Although, I suppose that too is pretty unlikely. But as a wise man once said, who knows? It’s a possibility that Moffat wanted to write all seven of the episodes so that he has more control over what happens in Capaldi’s first series (similar to RTD in Eccleston’s series). But, hang on, maybe that’s it! Kind of.

“Six episodes of absolute power. That’s what it takes to be really well-developed.”

A brilliant article recently asked whether Doctor Who history was repeating itself, and suggested that the development of Capaldi’s Doctor could be similar to what was supposed to happen for poor old Colin Baker. This, I believe, is really why Moffat has been collaborating with Phil Ford, Stephen Thompson and Gareth Roberts on their respective episodes.

If Capaldi’s Doctor is meant to be darker, more alien and “less user-friendly”, then the character development needs to be clear and handled well. The problem with Colin’s Doctor was the sudden change in personality that just became worse and worse. Five was gentle and kind, whilst Six was angry and erratic. However, this shouldn’t really have been a problem; it just required some clever thinking and co-operation between writers to make sure that Six was mellowed out over time. Instead, there was very little co-operation between the writers and therefore no significant character development, meaning that Six’s constant aggression became the norm and Colin Baker was soon out of the role.

Thankfully there is much more of an awareness of series arcs nowadays, which, in essence, is what the “am I a good man?” idea looks to be – a series arc, albeit only the first half of the series (or it could even be the whole series, I don’t know). In a recent post about Capaldi’s future we got treated to this:

“Capaldi did say he thinks it’ll take until around episode 6 or 7 of Series 8 until fans will really know who this new Doctor is, what he was like and where he was going…”

This really hits the nail on the head for me. I believe that the first, say, six episodes will have a clear subplot about whether this incarnation is a good man. Episode 1 is written by Moffat, episode 2 by Phil Ford and Moffat, episode 3 by Mark Gatiss only (I’ll come to that in a minute), episode 4 by Moffat, episode 5 by Stephen Thompson and Moffat, and episode 6 by Gareth Roberts and Moffat. See a theme there? Moffat has significant input on five out of the first six episodes, and the third is written by Gatiss, who we know is a close friend of Moffat’s and could be ‘trusted’ with handling the ‘good man’ arc after just a few pointers from Moffat. Maybe “trusted” isn’t the best word to use, but you know what I mean. Unless I’m babbling. I might be babbling. I probably am. I’ll move on.

Conclusion

To conclude, I believe that Moffat is co-writing three episodes to make sure that the “am I a good man?” arc in the first half of the series is clear and well-developed. I also believe that this is a brilliant move, which will ensure Capaldi’s incarnation is developed well; this is essential, otherwise the interesting move of giving us a darker, more alien Doctor could be another Colin Baker-esque disaster. Do I think it will make the series better? To be honest, I don’t think it’ll have much of an impact on the episodes, as I think it’ll be more of an engaging subplot. Do I think it’s a good idea? Absolutely – as Moffat himself said, things need shaking up a bit, and Capaldi’s Doctor is shaping up to be stellar, in my opinion. Do I think he’ll be a good man? I don’t know. But as long as he’s the Doctor, I don’t care. Thanks for reading, and please feel free to leave your own ideas in the comments.

Step back in time...

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70 comments
HarryMoore1
HarryMoore1

Well the 50th anniversary story was one of the worst written dr who stories ever ,i had to wait 50 years for that !  2 school boys could have come up with a better plot line. i had never seen the daleks used so poorly and wasted and so many bit actors no one had any interest in having such a large part in it. i never would of said this before but JNT did a better job at the 20th.



The Finn
The Finn

I think it's good he's collabing.

RichardYoung1
RichardYoung1

As one of the lucky ones to have already seen Deep Breath in the cinema (and relax, this comment is spoiler-free), it  has become pretty apparent to me why the Moffat co-writing credit has suddenly been applied this late in the game. And I'm sure you will all realise why too after the episode has aired. Assuming my theory is correct of course, but think, the ending of Closing Time.

Oodkind
Oodkind

I think it is good. RTD co-wrote episodes, even if he wasn't given credit. Moffat has done it for Sherlock. There's nothing egocentric or evil about it. He's simply making sure the run flows and develops each character. It also gives him a chance to improve what less-skilled writers write, to deliver the best product.

A second pair of eyes is always good. One person can have a brilliant idea, but when it's done it might not be very good because it's all coming out of one person's mind and they might leave out important bits. I actually think Moffat has trouble with this: his arcs make sense in his head, but he doesn't express them well because he forgets other people don't know the whole story. A co-writer is good because it gives a different take and leads to a more developed episode.

I can't imagine how hard it is for writers to write a Doctor they've never seen before. Moffat's guidance is needed to make The Doctor's development continuous. That's why Moffat wrote most of the episodes in the first half of Series 5. We see in Series 7, when Moffat didn't co-write episodes, Clara didn't develop well. One writer for all episodes keeps plot developments going.

It's best Moffat doesn't write every episode. He'd just be trying to hard to come up with ideas, and deliver mediocre products. Other writers are needed for creativity and diversity. But it's good that he has some say in the final product of all the episode.

microbat98
microbat98

I think it's a great move, as it also protects other writers from hateful comments. If it's co-wrote, he'll no doubt take the blame instead of the more prominent writer.

TheCapaldiMasterplan
TheCapaldiMasterplan

As I mentioned on the poll, it's interesting that the co-written episodes are the ones that feature Danny Pink and aren't solely written by Moffat.

JohnnyDisney
JohnnyDisney

What no one has mentioned yet - Moffat was credited as a co-writer like this in Sherlock season 3s The Sign of Three. I think he said he rewrote and helped out with a few parts of Stephen Thompson's original script and the best man's speech at John Watson's wedding was mostly written by him.

tardiselliot
tardiselliot

I like that Moffat is involved as I felt Clara suffered last year as the writers clearly had no idea what to do with her and just became a generic assistant

thebluetooth
thebluetooth

I completely agree - but maybe he's given Gatiss his own episode so that he can have input into Capaldi's Doctor ready for when I think he will take over from Moffat...

StephenAHayes
StephenAHayes

If I had my way Steven Moffat would write every episode. The man has a wonderful imagination and I would love to see how he takes this series. I hope he stays as head Writer for the long term.

Creepy_Ghoul
Creepy_Ghoul

I totally think this article could be 100% right.

OncomingStorm in a Browncoat with a stake
OncomingStorm in a Browncoat with a stake

Good article. I don't see why everyone's making a big deal out of it. If you've read The Writer's Tale, you'd know that RTD co-wrote almost all of the eps in his era, he just didn't take a co-writer's credit.

Exalos
Exalos

I think what happened is Moffat wrote the last 3-4 minutes of those episodes  If you remember he said the episodes will be mostly episodic and the main story will seep in the last minutes of the episodes. What i think is the main story is written by Steven so, he just wrote those last 3-4 minutes which technically makes him a co-writer. 

Oncoming_Badger
Oncoming_Badger

I don't think 'Am I a Good Man' is an arc at all, I think it'll just be a one episode thing. His personality is definitely a thing, there'll be focus on him being quite darker. But lets be honest he's not that different that we think he is a bad person now and it'll be hard to try and sell that to us. He won't be like he was at the end TWOM. I also hope Moffat leaves when Capaldi leaves. The transition from RTD to Moffat worked perfectly because everything was new, Moffat was allowed to make a new era. It's pretty slack to start a tone and era for Doctor Who and then pass it on to someone else instead of allowing them to reshape Doctor Who.



supermoff, agent of C.L.A.R.A.
supermoff, agent of C.L.A.R.A.

Series 8 is shaping up to be an incredible series, with a structure clearly keenly implemented by Moffat. 4 more days :)

MrRazza is wittily changing his name for each week
MrRazza is wittily changing his name for each week

I think the final suggestion is most likely. I don't see Clara's development has having been anywhere near as poor as others seem to, but think it was hindered somewhat by the "blockbuster" nature and assortment of writers. A little cohesion was missing, and it left Clara's character a bit stilted until the specials. With a new Doctor (who, I have to say again, I don't see being in the vein of Colin Baker - 6 was angry and erratic, yes, and known to be a jerk, but dark? - no) this needs to be avoided from happening again, and Moffat is probably just making sure the development is handled well. Of course, having his name on the writing credits could also ease concerns some fans may have of the new direction and Doctor, too.

Mr 11
Mr 11

Very interesting article! If this is the case then this makes me very happy as the DW writing team are getting their act together to make a well-structured and engrossing arc that will have much more presence and significance to the story unlike 'The Impossible Girl' arc last series. Also Steve Thompson's DW scripts haven't been great so with Moffat's input I'm sure it'll be better!

AaronMcGahon
AaronMcGahon

Well there are the possibilities that the original drafts of the scripts were by the other writers completely and were then re-drafted so much that quite a bit of the script actually was written by Steven Moffat. I am not surprised that this is the case with Phil Ford who hasn't written an episode of actual Doctor Who since The Waters Of Mars, which was also co-written by Russell T Davies. It would seem that that story was originally being penned entirely by Phil Ford but then was rewritten so many times by RTD that he deserved a writing credit. You just have to look at every other piece of Doctor Who writing my Ford, they're not that brilliant, I mean this is the man behind Dreamland (Yeah, I didn't want to awaken that War Doctor of a forgotten story but here we are). So when I heard that Phil Ford would be writing the second episode of series 8, I was worried, when I heard it was the 12th Doctor's first encounter with the Daleks, I was very worried. but then I saw that it was co-written by Steven Moffat, I felt totally safe again. Because, with the amount of effort that RTD put into saving the script of The Waters Of Mars, it ended up being an absolutely fantastic episode. So I have a feeling this is going to be of the same ilk. Now I'm speaking solely about that one writer I'm not too keen on here and I might be completely wrong, I just know that anything Phil Ford has written for Doctor Who in his own has been terrible. But as far as I know from following the production of the last series is that all of those scripts were supposed to be by those particular writers alone, now they are co-written, perhaps they needed saving, perhaps not. Though it could very well be that all the scripts handed to Steven Moffat were in the vein of Doctor Who up to now, maybe he just reshaped the format so that it suits the stye that the show is going in now.


SeanBennion
SeanBennion

Maybe like RTD he is co writing the last few stories as head writer before bowing out at Xmas???

Clara Laurinda
Clara Laurinda

A lively, thoughtful and witty discussion which doesn't take itself TOO seriously yet gives us serious food for thought. Thank you!

cosmictea
cosmictea

I really think it's good Moffat is co-writing these episodes. Hopefully it'll bring back the consistency in themes and tones that the first five series had.

SGMusic
SGMusic

I don't know if many people have read The Writer's Tale, but it poses something interesting when it comes to this. RTD always rewrote scripts from other writers, keeping the same structure and ideas but essentially redoing entire scenes of dialogue. However, he never claimed a co-write despite the amount of work he put in (seriously, the small excerpt from The Fires of Pompeii pre and post-rewrite included in the book shows this). Moffat's never really made it clear if he also does extensive rewrites, so it's interesting to see him claim a co-write, especially when he hasn't claimed anything in the second half apart from his own episodes.

NB: When is Phil Ford going to get an episode to himself?

DrWho879992
DrWho879992

Moffat knows what he is doing and is very much aware of the risks of a very different doctor after ten and eleven. He is probably the most intelligent producer to have worked on the show which is shown by the way he talks about the new series. He knows what he is doing and possibly Moffat cowritten stories aare what is needed to polish this series. Long may Moffat continue.

 Notsosmartguy Agent of C.L.A.R.A.
Notsosmartguy Agent of C.L.A.R.A.

Moffat obviously has a vision for this series co writing just helps it feel more polished and more true to whatever he's planning.

Clara Bosswald is the Chosen One.
Clara Bosswald is the Chosen One.

This isn't surprising. Look at Matt's first series: Eleventh Hour : Moffat. The Beast Below : Moffat. Victory of the Daleks : Mark Gatiss (again!) Time of the Angels : Moffat. Flesh and Stone : Moffat. You don't want your Doctor to be written wrong for his first episodes - they are the most important ones. I also remember Moffat saying "The Beast Below" was the script he was the least proud of. Maybe he realizes he doesn't have enough time/ideas to write both a great Doctor and a great story. In fact, I find this quite humble... Admitting that you can't do everything on your own.



BazHood
BazHood

I think it's simpler than that. I dont think "Am I a good man?" is an arc as such. It's a line from episode 2 but I think Moffat has probably helped shape the first batch of Capaldi stories to nail 12's personality absolutlely and definitively, except, as you point out, with Gatiss, who is likely privvy to much of the material the Moff is and is a LONG TIME fan and thus, needs no help in nailing Capaldi's 'darker' Doctor.

sontaran17
sontaran17

As I've stated elsewhere- I'm all for More Moffat - and with him co-writing so much of Series 8 It looks like the storytelling of the 12 episodes will be much more united in one tone and direction = Or It could be simply that he's written scenes in the episodes that connect to an overall arc? Who knows -  

HitchcockWhovian
HitchcockWhovian

It's certainly interesting - in The Writer's Tale, Russell T Davies revealed he'd always been tempted to claim co-writer credit, as he worked so extensively on the majority of other writers episodes. I think The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and Dalek we particularly rewritten by him, if I remember correctly. He eventually decided to claim it for the two 2009 specials; The Waters of Mars was also majorly rewritten by him, indeed a lot of the dark, bleak stuff was his. So it's intruiging to see Moffat do the same, as I'm sure he also has a very similar footprint on all of the epispodes, whether it's gone credited or not. 

TheCapaldiMasterplan
TheCapaldiMasterplan

@JohnnyDisney The Sign of Three was written by Moffat, Gatiss and Thompson due to the nature of the episode. Although Thompson gets main credit due to it being (mainly) his episode.

Scootersfood has 66 Seconds to live...
Scootersfood has 66 Seconds to live...

@tardiselliot I actually slightly disagree. They set her up with a sort of "control freak" personality, with few instances of its shown. She had more character than that but it they definitely focused more on the "Impossible GIrl" arc. 

The Whoniversal Man
The Whoniversal Man

@Exalos That sounds reasonable, but that leaves me confused as to why Moffat wasn't given co-writing credit for "Closing Time," or come to that, "The End of Time, Part Two." But perhaps  these three to four-minute addendum sections are going to be relatively more substantial.

microbat98
microbat98

I think one of the biggest issues with Six was his shouting and overacting, which is no doubt due to Baker's theatre history. But I believe it was the stories that were the biggest problem.

TheCapaldiMasterplan
TheCapaldiMasterplan

@AaronMcGahon As is clear from The Writer's Tale, RTD only made slight changes to Planet of the Dead and The Waters of Mars. Also, look at Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith, The Thirteenth Floor,  or The Nightmare Man.

Unibot
Unibot

@SGMusic Yeah, RTD rewrote several stories - Fires of Pompeii and Water of Mars are good examples of that. Planet of the Ood too (i.e., a guilty pleasure). I know Moffat has said he basicaly rewrote several stories - The Doctor's Wife and Vincent of The Doctor had been stuck in rewrites. 

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

@SephoraNeedSeries8 I always thought he was a bit harsh on himself concerning The Beast Below, my only criticism would be that the 'nasty side' of 11 that emerged was a bit too sudden, it was almost as if he felt he had to show that Matt's Doctor wasn't all fish fingers and custard, but didn't build up to it enough.

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

@BazHood I imagine that the Gatiss episode, being a 'historical' will be more self contained, without Coal Hill, Danny etc

Clara Bosswald is the Chosen One.
Clara Bosswald is the Chosen One.

@HitchcockWhovian I would be very, very surprise if this speech in The Satan pit wasn't written by Davies. This has his name all over it! And it's clearly the highlight of the episode - in fact, I think it's the moment when Tennant convinced me he was a fantastic Doctor! 



 "But that implies, in this big grand scheme of gods and devils, that she's just a victim. Well, I've seen a lot of this universe. I've seen fake gods and bad gods and demi-gods and would-be gods. I've had the whole pantheon. But if I believe in one thing... just one thing... I believe in her!"





Don't Blink
Don't Blink

@HitchcockWhovian RTD said something to the effect of, "I sometimes rewrite 30%, often 60%, occasionally up to 90% or nearing 100% of other writer's scripts". He just sat at the computer, alone, changing all of the scripts that the writers had sent him. One of his comments in "The Writer's Tale" was about "Human Nature" / "The Family of Blood". People were going on about how brilliant Paul Cornell is to him. He apparently was thinking, "If only you knew how much of those episodes I wrote!". He also frequently gave away his own ideas - such as the ATMOS evil satnav - for other writers to use, to get them out of their plot conundrums. He described this as "cannabilizing himself" as he started giving away ideas he was going to use in his own episodes. When it then came to the episodes HE had to write, he had to quickly think up brand new ideas, instead of the ones he had been considering for months.


EVERYBODY ought to read "The Writer's Tale". I'm re-reading it again right now. It's absolutely brilliant. This article would have been better if it'd referred to what RTD's role was in terms of rewriting. RTD should have probably claimed a co-writer credit on every single episode of series 1-4 and the specials. There are few writers he didn't rewrite - apparently Moffat was one of them, interestingly. Saying that, he still had influence over Moffat's episodes. His influence in series one becomes especially clear when you read "The Shooting Scripts", in which Steven Moffat says Julie kept telling him to explain the plot a bit more within the script, Russell kept telling him to add more deaths, etc etc etc. To me that's really funny, because if Moffat explained his plot a bit more often and had a few more deaths, a lot of people would be a lot more happy with his writing!

no_tweeter
no_tweeter

@HitchcockWhovian I wonder who was responsible for the ending of WoM, it was so out of place and shows the issue of two collaborating writers on a single script. One minute characters are begging to be saved, the next damning him for doing so.


microbat98
microbat98

If the writer isn't blamed, he'll/she'll want to come back to the show.

TottersLane
TottersLane

Indeed :( I would probably 'like' this comment but that might be misconstrued....


HitchcockWhovian
HitchcockWhovian

@no_tweeter @HitchcockWhovian Hmm. I've never interpreted it like that before. I think maybe the execution is a little clumsy, but I'll forgive that episode everything for the harrowing, bleak conclusion. I'd hazard to say it's one of the most powerful pieces of Doctor Who ever. Seeing our hero just walk away, uncomprimising, with the screams and deaths of all these people playing out in his ears - that German lady tearing up at the video of her children. I'm crying now. Big fan here. Always thought it was infinitely better than The End of Time

microbat98
microbat98

You don't seriously believe that this is only a problem for Doctor Who, right?

I don't think pessimistic is the right word, it's just disliking or hating an episode. And people here seem to become furious when someone dislikes a story, too, which they're allowed to. I disagree with attacking the writer, but here they make disliking an episode seem like a bad thing...

Unibot
Unibot

@SephoraNeedSeries8 @HitchcockWhovian @no_tweeter I think it was more... they knew they dying and had accepted they were dying - and then they were saved. They were in shock and in the Captain's case, denial. I thought it was great ending. It went places I didn't expect.