Chris Chibnall to replace Steven Moffat as Doctor Who showrunner

Yesterday WordPress sent me a notification to let me know that it’s been 2 years since I’d signed up, and what better way to celebrate than write a bit about Doctor Who? It helps that this news just broke, but anyway. Doctor Who was almost my favourite show between 2006 and 2009 – it was in pretty heavy competition with the original Spicks and Specks. When Russel T. Davies was head writer, the show was wildly inconsistent, but there were occasionnal gems from Steven Moffat, who became one of my faovurite writers when he wrote my favourite episode of the show, “Blink.” When it was announed that Moffat would take over as showrunner, I was happy. He’s a great writer! During Moffat’s tenure however, I slowly dropped Doctor Who from my viewing schedule, as did many of my friends who loved the show under Davies’ guidance.

Steven Moffat has considered leaving the show for a while, and until he decided to stay on for a bit longer, he considered leaving after the 2015 Christmas Special, which ended the saga of River Song, who we first met in the Moffat-penned “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” two-parter. River was Moffat’s creation, and while she was always more of a puzzle than an actual character, it made sense for Moffat to end her story at a point of his own choosing. Thus it’s not really a surprise that Moffat has chosen to move on from Doctor Who. Like Russel T. Davies before him, he’s having a farewell tour, as he writes the 2016 Christmas Special (the only episode that will air this year), and a final season next year.

I’m quite optimistic about the choice of Chris Chibnall to replace Moffat as showrunner. Chibnall has written for both Doctor Who and Torchwood as well as the wonderful Life on Mars, and is the creator of Broadchurch. He’s not perfect – he wrote the filler episode “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, and Broadchurch should have stayed a miniseries – but I hope that this is a signal that Doctor Who will return to great character work. Broadchurch works best as a character and mood piece, and he also penned “The Power of Three,” a lovely story about Amy, Rory, The Doctor and Rory’s father Brian. It’s a good sign for the show, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it looks like in two years’ time.

Doctor Who, Season 9 Episode 2: “The Witch’s Familiar”

“The Witch’s Familiar” is a perfect example of why I haven’t enjoyed Doctor Who during Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner. I thought that what happened in the season premiere was bold storytelling which was undercut by having everything tied up in a neat little bow by the end of the two-parter. There were some interesting things going on, but in the end it was just about Missy and Clara competing for the Doctor’s affections because that’s all women are capable of, and also The Doctor knew what Davros’ plan was all along. And also we shouldn’t forget that compassion can be our strongest weapon, because they said that at least five times in the episode.

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(New) Doctor Who, Series 9 Episode 1: “The Magician’s Apprentice”

I stopped watching Doctor Who last year because I found it incredibly frustrating. In truth, the only reason that I even considered watching the new series was the presence of Maisie Williams. Then Mo Ryan and Ryan McGee gave it a good review on their podcast, and I decided I’d have to check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. I went from being a diehard Whovian to casual fan to hate-watcher in the space of Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner, and Mo and Ryan have articulated some of my problems with the show very well. Since they gave it a positive review, I decided to watch the series premiere, and I wasn’t disappointed. Sure, my expectations have been lowered, but at the end of the episode I decided that I had to watch it next week. It helps to start with a two-parter for the premiere. It wasn’t until I was washing the dishes after the episode that I realised I hadn’t seen Maisie Williams – if she was there, I missed her because I was playing Ocarina of Time.

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A television fan’s guide to Netflix Australia, Part Two: British television

Last weekend I published my (very long) guide of US television shows that people who just got Netflix Australia should check out. Today I’m going to go through British television, and at some point next week I’ll talk about the good Australian shows on there.

The Bletchley Circle (2012-present):
Genre: Period crime drama      Number of seasons: 2

I read a review of The Bletchley Circle in early 2012, and I wanted to watch it immediately. I ended up waiting 6 months before it aired on the BBC, but it was worth the wait. The Bletchley Circle is about four women who worked in Bletchley Park in WWII as codebreakers, and now that the war is over, they have returned to their previous jobs, or if they got married, to their role as homemakers. In the 1950s (I’m not quite sure of the year), a serial killer has started murdering women at train stations, and the women pick up on clues that the police don’t. As women, they have a different perspective (there weren’t any female detectives back then), and they have the intelligence to not only solve the crime, but figure out that the murderer/rapist is smart enough to set someone up to take the fall before moving onto another area. It’s thrilling and feminist and I love it. The second season brings a new case, as one of their colleagues from Bletchley Park has been arrested for murder and they try to prove that she’s innocent. There’s not a huge time commitment with this one, the seasons are short (the first season was three episodes, the second is four), and cases are multi-part stories that never go for so long that they outstay their welcome.

Broadchurch (2013-present):
Genre: Crime drama      Number of seasons: 1 of 2

I’ve written a few posts about how I didn’t like the second season of Broadchurch that much – I ended up watching six of eight episodes, and I didn’t really miss anything. The reason that the second season of Broadchurch was so disappointing is that the first season was fantastic, and would have worked perfectly as a miniseries. It’s well worth watching, as it explores the effect that the murder of a ten year old boy has on a small town as all their secrets are exposed. The mystery is important, but not the central focus of the show, which is the characters, who are all affected by Danny’s death in different ways.

Call the Midwife (2012-present):
Genre: Period drama      Number of seasons: 3 of 4

I confess that I have not watched as much of this show as I should have. When I was in Washington, D.C. in January last year, it was during the polar vortex, and my sister and I were staying with some of her friends. We spent most of the week when we weren’t visiting government buildings (which was awesome) staying huddled inside watching ice hockey and the first season of Call the Midwife. It’s about a group of midwives (lay women and nuns) working in London’s East End in the 1950s and 60s, as well as their patients. Some of the stories are devastating, others are incredibly touching. The best part of the show follows Chummie (comedian Miranda Hart) as she becomes more confident in her profession and becomes close with one of the policemen. It’s pretty adorable, quite funny, and the moment where she stands up to her mother at the end of the season is pretty great.

Doctor Who (new series, 2005-present):
Genre: Science fiction     Number of seasons: 7 of 8

I used to love this show, and I wrote about why I don’t love it any more a few months ago. My advice is to watch the first five seasons; I was initially excited for Steven Moffat taking over as head writer for the show after I saw “Blink,” still one of the best episodes the show has produced, but halfway through the sixth season I stopped caring. What I learned in retrospect about Russel T. Davies’ tenure as showrunner is that he cared about the show from a character perspective, and the companions were people with flaws, rather than just female human versions of The Doctor. While I found Davies’ Ten/Rose shipping kind of annoying, there was well done character work that made the emotional beats land.

Downton Abbey (2010-present):
Genre: Period drama/primetime soap       Number of seasons: 4 of 5

It’s worth watching the first two seasons of Downton Abbey, which is going to finish its run after its sixth season. The show is about rich people and how the aristocracy passes down its titles and land, but there’s a human element to it too, in the lives of the servants. I’ve stopped watching Downton except for Maggie Smith’s one-liners, but if you’re looking for something light and fun to watch (serious things do happen, but it’s still a fairly soapy show most of the time), this isn’t a bad choice.

The House of Cards trilogy (1990-1995):
Genre: Political thriller       Number of seasons: 3

One of the main reasons I don’t like Netflix’s adaptation of House of Cards is because I saw the original trilogy, based on the Michael Dobbs novels (the second and third novels and miniseries are called To Play the King and The Final Cut). The British version of this show is (in my opinion) superior to the Netflix series in its dry wit and catchphrases. The device of breaking the fourth wall using asides was taken from the original. Sir Ian Richardson’s performance is also far better than Kevin Spacey’s and Urquhart’s marriage is much more of a marriage of convenience; it’s actually Urquhart’s wife who suggests he starts the affair with the journalist.

You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

The IT Crowd (2006-2013):
Genre: Comedy       Number of seasons: 4

I was obsessed with this show when I was in high school. This is one show where the US adaptation failed, and thank goodness. It’s really hard for me to explain why I loved this show so much, but in the first episode Moss gets both the adult and child versions of the new Harry Potter book to make sure there were no differences in the text, and I was sold. It’s about two weird IT guys and their manager, Jen and the dysfunctional company they work for. I still have no idea what Reynholm Industries actually does.

The Thick of It (2005-2012):
Genre: Comedy       Number of seasons: 4

This is another show of which I’ve only seen the first season. I wrote a review of it a couple of months ago when I got Stan, but I haven’t watched any of it since. Peter Capaldi is brilliant, and this is a much better showcase for him than Doctor Who.

Torchwood (2006-2011):
Genre: Science fiction     Number of seasons: 4

Torchwood is Russel T. Davies’ baby that he planted the seeds for when he was running Doctor Who. First there are mentions of it in the second series of Doctor Who, and then Captain Jack Harkness takes over the Torchwood office in Cardiff. It’s great. It’s also not a show you should show your children. It’s darker, and there’s weird sex stuff, like that sex alien thing in the second episode of the show. The third season is the pinnacle of the show, and it’s completely tragic, but a fantastic viewing experience.

If you don’t like a show, stop watching it.

One of the most valuable things I learned last year was that if I’m not enjoying a television show, I just need to stop watching it. This seems like a lesson I should have learned a couple of years ago, but I had more time to watch television in 2014 than I’ve had for a very long time. Also, sometimes really good shows have rough patches and then get better – though this hasn’t happened very often. So I have some examples!

  • Friday Night Lights: The first season of this show about a Texas high school football team (if you know me at all, you’d be surprised that I even recommend a show that has sports in it, but it’s just that good that it doesn’t matter) was critically beloved. Then the writers took it to a place in the second season that was pretty awful, and not just for the thing that happened at the end of the season premiere. The season was cut short due to the writers strike, which ended up being beneficial for everyone involved, because the third season of FNL is one of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen.
  • The Good Wife: Most fans of this show (my favourite show currently airing right now) try to forget the first half of season 4. It’s not funny bad, like season 2 of FNL, it’s just bad, despite one interesting storyline. Then the writers came up with the fabulous “Red Team, Blue Team” in the second half of the season, which set up all the narrative changes that have occurred in the fourth and fifth season. The writers started taking risks with characters and storylines and its paid off.
  • Big Love: Opinions are divided on whether this show got better after its awful fourth season in which there was bird smuggling in Mexico, Bill’s son to his first wife kissed his third wife, Bill ran for office and then outed his family’s polygamy during his victory speech and also Sissy Spacek. Big Love was always a prime time soap, but it was good enough in its first three seasons that it wasn’t particularly obvious. During the fourth season however, it seemed to get soapier and there was less focus on the relationships between the characters. The fifth and final season recaptured what made the first three special, but it never managed to return to the quality of those early seasons.

Now that that’s out of the way, there are four shows that I gave up on in 2014, and I wrote about three of them at various points through last year: those shows are House of CardsSecrets and Lies, and Doctor Who (click on the tags to find the posts, I’m currently having internet issues that’s preventing me from linking to them). I gave up on both House of Cards and Secrets and Lies after two episodes. I watched all of the first season of House of Cards, but that was slightly easier because showcase was airing two episodes a week. When the decision was made to broadcast the show just one episode a week, it seemed like too much of a time commitment. Secrets and Lies just was so bad that I couldn’t watch past episode 2 of a 6 episode miniseries (watch Broadchurch, it’s better). I wrote about why I gave up on Doctor Who, but I might start watching it again if Steven Moffat retires as showrunner. I also gave up on The Newsroom after the first two episodes of its final season, partly because I found a job and I had to cut some television from my schedule, but also because Jane the Virgin was on at the same time.

I highly recommend giving up television shows if you don’t like them, it makes you a much happier person. Also you can spend that time watching better shows, or maybe reading a book or going outside. It’s up to you.

Women as puzzles: Why I’ve given up on Doctor Who

Two weeks ago I stopped watching Doctor Who, which is somewhat surprising, since I’ve been watching the reboot since 2005. And when I say I stopped watching, I saw that it was time for the show to start and decided to watch something else. At one point Doctor Who was a very good show, and in fact my favourite show on television. In 2007 and 2008, my Doctor Who mania was at its peak, and I was really excited that Steven Moffat, writer of my favourite episode “Blink”, was going to take over the showrunner duties when it was announced in 2008. Then David Tennant announced his retirement, and I was disappointed that the two weren’t going to work together. Surprisingly, my issue with Doctor Who since Steven Moffat has taken over as showrunner is that the writing just isn’t as good. Every series of Doctor Who has some dud episodes, and I even used to love those. But the issues with Moffat’s writing go further than an episode that is so bad it comes back around to being enjoyable. This is your SPOILER WARNING, I’ve tried to be as vague as possible, but sometimes that’s just not possible.

Steven Moffat doesn’t write very good female characters. Karen Gillan, Jenna Colman and Alex Kingston are terrific actors, but the characters they play have been somewhat lacking. Following the announcement of Peter Capaldi as the twelfth Doctor, Ryan McGee wrote that under Moffat, the Doctor’s female companions aren’t really people, but puzzles that need to be solved. With Karen Gillan there was something about a crack in the wall. River Song’s identity was a mystery, and she kept meeting The Doctor at various points in time. The Doctor kept meeting various iterations of Clara throughout time, but they were all different people. Or copies. I don’t think I ever watched the episode where they explained that. I don’t really know much about these women other than their relationships with the Doctor or perhaps their occupations. Amy was a model and Clara is a schoolteacher. Even that is problematic. Amy Pond chose a profession that judges women on how they look, and Clara is in a profession that is dominated by women and doesn’t pay very well.

When Russel T Davies was running Doctor Who, it wasn’t a perfect show. There were some terrible episodes, but there were also some great ones, like Midnight, and the Doctor’s companions were three dimensional characters. Rose came from a working class background, worked in a shop, and had a mum and a boyfriend. It seems like an okay life, but she got bored, and who wouldn’t choose time travel instead of working in a shop? Furthermore, the fact that Rose didn’t know her father formed a significant part of her character and resulted in some fantastic storylines. Martha was my favourite companion for a while, even though I’ve spoken to people who think she didn’t bring anything to the show and could have been replaced by anyone else. Her main personality trait was that she was in love with The Doctor, but there was more to her than that (if anything, my least favourite aspect of the Russel T Davies era of the show was his obsession with Rose/Ten and it made me retroactively dislike Rose). What I admire most about Martha is that she chose to leave The Doctor because she knew that if she stayed with him she wouldn’t be able to move on with her life. Sure, she enjoyed travelling through time and space, but there’s a difference between the future and her future, and she knew that her future wasn’t with The Doctor. Despite my initial dislike for Donna, she ended up being the most interesting of Ten’s companions. She wasn’t interested in him romantically, and she was an antidote to his ruthlessness when it came to punishing aliens. In “Turn Left”, there was the element of what would happen to the world if Donna hadn’t been there to stop The Doctor on her wedding day. And despite the awful way that Donna’s story ended, her defining characteristic was her compassion. After Donna lost her memory in Journey’s End, her grandfather Wilf told the Doctor that she was better off for being with him, which was a problematic piece of dialogue. It can be interpreted that the Doctor was the Henry Higgins to Donna’s Eliza Doolittle, but the truth is that they changed each other. I’m not saying that Davies’ writing was perfect, and that there weren’t issues with his female characters, but they were better characters than Moffat’s puzzles.

The issues with Moffat’s female characters also extend to his villains. This article on io9 reveals that every female villain Moffat has written on Doctor Who is basically his version of Irene Adler in Sherlock. And Steven Moffat completely ruined Irene Adler. The series 2 premiere of Sherlock, “A Scandal in Belgravia” is based upon the short story A Scandal in Bohemia. Irene Adler is nicknamed “the woman” in both stories, but for different reasons. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s story, Sherlock calls Adler “the woman”, because she is the only person who was ever smart enough to beat him, and he respected her for that. In Sherlock, the nickname is given to her because she’s a prostitute, and while I like how Moffat’s Adler used her sexuality as a weapon (I have no problem with this), she didn’t beat Sherlock because she was blinded by her love for him. Then Sherlock got to be a hero a second time because he saved her life in the Middle East. That’s not the kickass Irene Adler I signed up for. And The Doctor is basically an alien time-travelling Sherlock Holmes.

A couple of weeks ago I said “Doctor Who is a show that’s on television.” There’s nothing worse than seeing a show you used to love become a show that is just okay. What do I prefer? I’m not saying that you’re a bad person for liking the show. You’re not. But I’m done with it, at least until Moffat leaves. I would encourage anyone who is having similar problems with any show to stop watching, you have no idea how liberating it is. Doctor Who needs to improve a lot before I’m back on board. What gets me interested in television is complex characters rather than someone who has to be the smartest person in the room. When the show gets a writer who can do that again, I’ll give it a chance.