A few days ago, the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who ended in “The Time of the Doctor.”
Some people loved it. Some people hated it. And some people responded by calling for producer Steven Moffat’s head on a pike on Traitor’s Row.
I had no expectations for it, but that’s because I ceased expecting anything from Moffat two years ago. To me, “A Good Man Goes to War” and “Let’s Kill Hitler” showed that the man was flailing; if he didn’t know how to structure and resolve a mid-season finale, how could I trust him to structure anything longform in any way that made sense? When watched as “turn off your brain” entertainment (which is how I watched Star Trek: Voyager), it sufficed and the “whatthefuckery moments” blew right on by.
But for those who expecting Moffat to pay off everything since 2010, Christmas Day was a bitter present. They’re upset because they wanted a different story or because they feel that all the promises Moffat has made over the years came to ashes or some other reason. And some of those people are saying loudly on social media that they’re done with Moffat. And some of those people are saying loudly on social media that Moffat needs to be sacked.
I don’t know what the future holds, except that it does not hold Moffat’s termination. I’ve seen that Moffat intends to make Doctor Who “a bit raw at it and do it in a different direction” with Peter Capaldi as the next Doctor.
Personally, I hope that Capaldi, an established writer and director in his own right, forces Moffat to up his game. Maybe he won’t say, “Really, Steven, I gave up Musketeers for this shite? I’m not doing this until you make it right.” But certainly, the challenge for Moffat would be to not waste an in-demand actor of Capaldi’s stature on half-baked, slapdash runarounds.
Yesterday on Facebook, Lance Parkin, novelist and writer, posted some thoughts aimed at those who want Moffat’s head on a pike. Those thoughts are worth reading; if you can’t read them, Parkin’s point is that television is a cooperative endeavor, and its success or failure has more to do with things we never see behind the scenes and in corporate boardrooms than what we see on our televisions.
Let me add a few thoughts to that.
I’ve wanted to see Moffat sacked for about two years (since series 6, which I viewed as a debacle and his “difficult second album“) because, in my view, he’s ill-suited for his current role. He’s a good writer of Doctor Who, but not a terribly good producer — in my opinion.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have problems with Moffat as a writer. I’ve compared Moffat to Star Trek‘s Brannon Braga, because I find a certain Braga-esque quality to his work. His storytelling is as pretty as a soap bubble and just as substantial. He writes shallow stories that consist of setpieces in search of a plot. His narrative logic is poor, events happen because they just do and not because of any development, and he eschews the three-act structure. (Really, someone needs to give him Syd Fields’ books.) His character work is often poor as he doesn’t seem to able to grapple with the emotional fallout of his stories. (“A Good Man Goes to War” and “The Day of the Doctor” both suffer from this; they pose difficult emotional questions that need resolution that never comes.) He has a limited bag of ideas, and he keeps recycling them. Yet, when he succeeds in hitting his emotional marks, he hammers those marks effectively. He writes emotion, not plot, and when he does emotion, honest emotion, his writing works.
As a creative producer, Moffat appears to me to be a man out of his depth. His season and multi-season plot arcs have made his era feel smaller than it is. The individual episodes of his era may be good, but the seasons themselves turn out to be less than the sum of their parts. And as a production manager, his insistence on writing the keystone episodes has caused production problems when his scripts aren’t ready. For the good of the production, a manager needs to know how to delegate, and that’s the one thing that Moffat is either unable or unwilling to do.
In the opinion of the people who matter, however, Moffat is terribly good at his job. Fandom may not like the storytelling, the characterizations, the production delays and hiatuses, but the fen aren’t the people who matter. It’s the people Moffat reports to at the BBC who matter. It’s the people who sign his paycheck and allocate his budget who matter. If the BBC didn’t like what Moffat was doing and how he was approaching his job, he would have been shown the door at some point along the way. (Though, I suppose the existence of Sherlock may complicate that; the BBC may not want to lose that series, sporadic though it is, by alienating Moffat on Doctor Who.) It’s Moffat’s continued employment, now and into the future (apparently the next two series, from what I hear), that demonstrates that the BBC is satisfied with his output.
Fandom can whine and wail. And it has these last few days. But, in the end, that’s just a tempest in a teacup, a tempest that will have no effect at all upon the people who truly matter in this — the BBC.