RTD vs. Steven Moffat: A Tale of Two Writers

September 1st, 2014
Warning! This article and its comments may contain spoilers...

Every Whovian has favourites; a favourite Doctor, a favourite companion, even a favourite sonic screwdriver. After all, a show spanning 51 years with 12 different leading men is bound to create different eras and categorise viewers, just take the classic ‘Who’s your Doctor?’ debate for instance. But, perhaps more important than the Doctor or companion is the show runner – the writer who moulds and shapes the characters we love and oversees the many adventures of the Doctor. And they’re no longer merely a name at the start and end of each episode, but instead they are at the forefront of all things ‘Who’. With this in mind, it’s perhaps unsurprising that one of the most persistent and divisive debates amongst fans concerns Russell T. Davies (2005-2010) and Steven Moffat (2010-present) in a ‘Who wrote it better?’ argument.

Trying to compare Russell T. Davies (hereafter RTD) with Steven Moffat is like trying to compare a Dalek with a Cyberman; both are timeless in the history of Doctor Who, both fulfil their purpose excellently but, pit them against each other, and eventually one will come out victorious. I feel the comparison between both writers must be handled on two different levels; they must be judged both on their individual writing ability and on their ability to manage and oversee a series of Doctor Who successfully.

So, how do you decide who you prefer? We’ll look at the latter point first. Fulfilling the role of Head Writer is entirely different to writing the occasional story; it comes with the pressure of managing other writers, making a series of episodes fit together cohesively and, ultimately, deciding the direction that the show will take under your reign, to name but a few of the responsibilities. It’s whilst considering how well both writers fulfil this role that my favourite became evident to me, and I realised Doctor Who show runners don’t come any better than RTD. I’m completely in love with the show under both writers and it would have been a lot harder to choose between the two had it not been for series 7, which sadly had me temporarily wishing for RTD’s return. Of course this is all down to personal taste but for me, this series was lacking in good quality, enriched scripts and character development, which all resulted in a rather underwhelming entrance for new companion Clara Oswald. Moffat’s episodes were, as usual, outstanding but a series needs more than just a good opener and finale, it needs good substance running through it, something that series 5 and 6 had in abundance which makes it all the more puzzling as to why Moffat didn’t sustain this throughout this series.

Something that was always existent in the RTD era was a clear plot line that was relatively easy to follow. I don’t want Doctor Who to be ‘dumbed down’, of course I want it to maintain an element of mystery, but an approach that Moffat seems to have developed recently is leaving gaps in stories which creates an element of confusion. For example, we’re increasingly thrown into already established relationships and expected to imagine the history that the Doctor may share with these characters as opposed to actually learning about it, such as Queen Nefertiti and John Riddell (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) and Tasha Lem (The Time of the Doctor). As an audience, we feel unsure about what to make of them, which, for me, ultimately results in their insignificance. How can we as an audience invest in a character that we hardly know? I’m struggling to think of any characters in the RTD era that felt unfamiliar to me as that was something he was so unbelievably skilled at, making us invest in the simplest of characters because we felt as if we knew them, a philosophy that he appeared to have imposed on his ‘underwriters’. However, one thing that really worries me about Moffat’s leadership is his seemingly slipping standards regarding what constitutes a good script, judging by the stories he approved for filming (again, I’m talking specifically about series 7). Dinosaurs on a Spaceship seemed to rely solely on the exciting title and advanced CGI to impress viewers as the story was virtually non-existent, whereas Nightmare in Silver had scary Cybermen but failed to back them up, making use of cliché, stereotypical teenage lines such as ‘put me down I hate you’ (Angie) which was entirely ineffective and unrealistic.

I also feel the fundamental features of the Doctor’s character were slightly lost during this series which is something that should never happen. For instance, there’s the killing of Solomon in cold blood and the friendship between the Doctor and famous hunter John Riddell in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship which both seem completely out of character. That, paired with the Doctor’s unsympathetic response to the murder of Mr. Sweet and his disrespectful reaction to the victims of The Crimson Horror, creates an element of inconsistency in the character who has always shown such mercy, even to the worst of enemies. I find it hard to believe that the man who offered Davros mercy in Journey’s End would go against all his morals to get back at someone as relatively insignificant as Solomon. Of course, I’m all for the character of the Doctor developing and changing but the circumstances in which he went against his morals didn’t seem convincing enough. Although these episodes were not written by Moffat, the responsibility still lies with him. I might be wrong, but I wish Doctor Who was Steven Moffat’s sole priority and that he didn’t have commitments to another big BBC show so that he could perhaps dedicate a bit more time to re-drafting those poorer episodes.

On their individual writing ability, however, I would say the two are virtually inseparable. Both have the power to create alien worlds but do so with the element of humanity that Doctor Who is so famous for. In fact, Moffat may even have the edge here with his knack for creating terrifying monsters and complex plotlines that RTD simply doesn’t share (e.g. Melody Pond – WHO SAW THAT COMING?!). As writers, neither can be faulted; to name but a few, RTD’s triumphs include The Parting of the Ways, Doomsday, Midnight and the epic End of Time, whilst Steven’s credits include the infamous Blink, Asylum of the Daleks and the gas mask thriller The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Both Russell and Steven just ‘get it’- the effortless interweaving of sci-fi with the romanticism and domesticity of humanity is what sets our show apart from every other of its kind and they seem to capture this wholly and completely. For example, alongside the terrifying insanity of the Daleks in the Asylum runs the heart-breaking truth about Amy and Rory’s relationship and her inability to have the children that they both so desperately want. Similarly, RTD’s Love and Monsters sees the Abzorbaloff as merely a backdrop to the blossoming love story between Elton and Ursula. As writers, they can make any situation feel familiar with common themes and emotions, from creating timeless monsters such as the Weeping Angels and The Flood, to unforgettable characters such as Rose Tyler and ‘the Ponds’.

I know it may be hard to believe after reading this, but I do in fact love Steven Moffat as a writer and it’s a love that’s increasing with every new episode of series 8. The good thing about being a Whovian is having different opinions and expressing those opinions with the common goal of wanting Doctor Who to be the best it can be. My favourite show runner is Russell. T. Davies, yes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love the show under any other writer. Every Whovian has a favourite and there can be only one – RTD is mine, who is yours?

1 comment on this article
  1. JC
    September 15th, 2014 at 9.29am | #1

    I think the debate about RTD and Steven Moffat is a poisonous one, just because of how divisive it is. In fact, it is a poison that is seen in everything else in Doctor Who, whether it is Doctors, Companions or Writers.

    Everyone has their favourites, as you rightly said, and that often leads to conflicts.

    I’m a 10th Doctor fan, which is wrong to some people and results in claims that I haven’t moved on and various insults against the 10th Doctor to try and change my mind.

    I’m an RTD era fan, because of his work in bringing back the show and being so dedicated to Doctor Who that he created and helmed the Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood as well as Doctor Who all at the same time.

    Of course, being an RTD era fan sets you up to be attacked as well, because again, you apparently haven’t moved on and are stuck in the past. There are SOME (not all) Steven Moffat era fans who seem to be very insecure when the RTD era is mentioned and they immediately get quite stunningly defensive.

    At the end of the day, everyone has their own taste and opinions and despite all the bashing the RTD era and the 10th Doctor gets, I have yet to yield to pressure.

    Things aren’t as black and white as people make out. I don’t get on my knees and pray to RTD just because I really enjoyed his era of the show and I don’t pretend that every episode he did was amazing, because it wasn’t, but the reality is that I got a lot more from the RTD era than I have from the Steven Moffat era.

    That is perfectly open to change IF Moffat can write episodes that change that.

    The reality is, I probably don’t compare Doctor Who by Doctor, Companion or Writer, I think I compare each episode to what I personally want from Doctor Who and if it doesn’t match up, I give my opinion on here, as do other fans.

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