The Speculator’s Guide to… The Next Showrunner
Guest contributor Francis Milan takes a look at who could take over the reigns from Moffat.
As confirmed in an interview last month, Steven Moffat’s days left as showrunner are well and truly finite. He’s had a good, yet enormously divisive run, but despite claims of his tenure enduring for a thousand years, it seems we’re closer to the end than we are from the beginning. This begs the big question – who’ll be the next King (or Queen) of Who? For speculation purposes, I’ve shortlisted the likely (and some fairly unlikely) candidates, and considered their likely début, for all your speculating needs.
I will award each candidate a ‘Credibility’ rating – on a scale of one to ten – to evaluate how seriously we should take the proposition. (For example, whereas William Shakespeare would get a one, Moffat himself would achieve a ten.)
A bookies’ favourite (that is, if bookies were into that sort of thing) is the fantastic Toby Whithouse. A writing regular on Doctor Who, his scripts are well-known for their exploration of the Doctor’s conscience and inner turmoil, as well as incorporating brilliant antagonists, dialogue, and a warm sense of humour. Most of the episodes rank among the best ever, such as The God Complex and School Reunion. His showrunning capabilities are well-known; among his television works are popular BBC Three comedy drama Being Human and upcoming BBC One spy thriller The Game.
A regular on the Doctor Who scene for over 20 years, and the most prolific non-showrunner to write for the modern show, Mark Gatiss is most certainly one of the most suitable men for the job. His experience writing multiple novels and episodes of Doctor Who and its spectacular spin-off docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, as well as being one of the showrunners and masterminds behind Sherlock are more than enough reason to deem him worthy of the job. However, a common observation is his penchant for setting almost all his stories in the past, where his talents and passions are strongest. Hey, he could always pull a Season 7 and set the entire series in the 70s. Well, one can dream…
The brainbox behind recent television phenomenon Broadchurch, Chris Chibnall is no stranger to running a very popular and demanding show. Nor is he a stranger to Doctor Who and Torchwood, for that matter – his repertoire of diverse episodes includes The Hungry Earth and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and he also has experience in writing minisodes, with 5-day serial Pond Life and moving epilogue P.S. under his belt. Broadchurch shouldn’t be detrimental to the prospect of running Doctor Who, though; Moffat has proven with Sherlock that two major shows is, for some writers, a manageable workload! Despite this, most of his stories have been very divisive among the fandom, and many may be disappointed by his appointment.
Since making his Doctor Who début in 2007 with The Shakespeare Code, after a long line of 1990s tie-in novels, writer and funnyman Gareth Roberts was something of a constant on the show for the five years following. Though we haven’t seen any of his televised work since 2011’s Closing Time, we’ve been promised his triumphant return in Capaldi’s first series. His broad skillset includes his versatility in terms of both format and story, and his previous work as head writer on Series 1 of The Sarah Jane Adventures. As he enjoys great literary success with recent novels such as the popular Shada and the hotly-anticipated novelisation of City Of Death, it could be said that his talents are best used elsewhere – but he’s certainly fit for the job!
Though it would seem he is currently an ill-experienced candidate as far as the main show is concerned, Phil Ford’s sole script contribution came in the form of the undeniably spectacular The Waters of Mars five years ago; a co-write with Russell T Davies. On top of that, Moffat has invited him back to write Capaldi’s second adventure this year. Furthermore, looking in to the expanded universe of television sheds a little more light on why Ford would be such a popular choice – we can gather from his dominant stories in the likes of The Sarah Jane Adventures and Wizards Vs Aliens that he has a talent for producing a large quantity of high-standard scripts each year, which is a big part of the showrunner’s job.
New kid on the block, Neil Cross, penned last year’s Hide before being called back to write another: The Rings of Akhaten. Also last year, his massively popular crime drama Luther drew to an end. He’s shown great potential as a Who scriptwriter, and is passionate enough to tackle the challenge of showrunner; he stated in DWM last year that though he is concerned about the high pressure involved, the child inside him would meet the question with an enthusiastic “Yes!”. So, all he needs now is for Steven Moffat to offer him the job. But the question is, will he be asked…?
Neil Gaiman is often cited as a high-flyer when the topic of the next showrunner is unearthed. After all, why not; a popular novelist and all-round bright spark in the storytelling industry, his two Doctor Who masterpieces are the The Doctor’s Wife and the not-as-perfect-but-still-pretty-great Nightmare in Silver. His writing is heavily theme-based: we could almost certainly expect wilder fantasy elements in the show’s ethos, while still remaining faithful the show’s history – he’s a lifelong fan. Be that as it may, Gaiman has often spoken out about the prospect of becoming showrunner being far too draining. While he is happy to spend up to six months on draft after draft of a single story, he simply doesn’t have enough time to run the show. But that’s probably not the last we’ve heard from him!
From looking at his two Doctor Who outings, Tom MacRae is a popular writer of Doctor Who with the fans – Rise of the Cybermen and The Girl Who Waited are two very notable stories in the modern series. However, his showrunning experience is somewhat narrow – he has created and is still currently running sitcom Threesome for Comedy Central, but nothing anywhere near as demanding as Who. He would be a very odd choice considering his lack of experience on this show, but it’s very obvious that he can write a corker of a script.
Russell T Davies
The fanboy in me couldn’t resist including RTD as a likely candidate. Does it really need explaining why? He’s a crowd-pleaser, and adored among the majority of the fandom. However, the very essence of Doctor Who is change, and Russell’s re-appointment could be detrimental to the image of the show. (Nevertheless, he’d be my ideal choice, and that of many others!) Also, his reasons for stepping down as showrunner back in 2009 presumably still stand, and he is still experiencing success on CBBC’s Wizards Vs Aliens and is currently penning two upcoming dramas for Channel 4.
There’s one major option I haven’t covered – what if Doctor Who is primarily run by two, three or more writers/producers? The most likely prospect, if this were to happen, would be Moffat/Gatiss – a partnership already established on Sherlock, it would help ease Moffat’s current workload and potentially lengthen his time in the role. Seeing as there’s proof that the concept works in practice, the chance of a partnership forming at the top of the Who hierarchy isn’t all that slim. So, if a coalition were to happen, who would you have on the team?
Never mind who will take over – when might the changeover happen? There’s quite a range of possible exit points for Steven Moffat.
The End of Series 8
In the aforementioned interview, Moffat stated that he would leave when he “stopped enjoying” the job; a similar suggestion given by Matt Smith when asked about his departure – only a matter of months before the date was announced. Following this trend, this could mean Moffat’s already on his way out. But it’s unlikely.
Series 9, Episode 3
If maths serves me well, Russell T Davies departed his tenure as showrunner with a total of 60 episodes under his belt, while Moffat has, as of Christmas 2013, produced 44. If his competitive side gets the better of him, he may consider postponing his departure until he beats Davies’ tally. Assuming the 14-episode series format will remain in Capaldi’s run, Moffat will have reached a grand total of 61 episodes by Series 9, Episode 3, and he can depart with smug satisfaction…
Steven recently confirmed that Series 9 will happen, and that it will continue the same format as Series 8. Does this suggest that Moffat will still be around to produce it in its entirety? Probably.
Peter Capaldi’s Departure
Alas, the most logical prediction would be that Steven will leave with his Doctor in tow. This was the way Russell’s departure worked out, as he and David Tennant left the show at the same time, so it seems only sensible that the man who brought the Twelfth Doctor to life should see him through to his end. When the ‘end’ in question will be is a total mystery, however. But let’s not dwell on the end of the Twelfth Doctor – this party’s only just started!
So, will Mark Gatiss be taking over the reins at the dawn of the Thirteenth Doctor? Or can we expect a Gaiman/Roberts coalition taking control from Series 9, Episode 4? All we can be certain of is that time will tell. It always does…