Did Series 12 of Doctor Who disrespect Steven Moffat’s era? Two opposing sides battle this question out in a Doctor Who Debate!
1 show. 2 fans. 1 question. 2 perspectives. This is Doctor Who Debate, where we each take a side, and tackle a controversial question about Doctor Who — but it’s up to you to decide who won the debate! Let us know what you think in the comments.
Still images are occasionally used in place of video clips, to account for the YouTube copyright system. The debate countdown clock turns orange when a clip is being shared for the audience’s contextual benefit (rather than being a quote one of us actually said in full during our debate time). The debate clock keeps running during a video clip if it’s a quote the debater spoke aloud, but preferred the original audio being used. The cloister bell sounds if one of us goes over our allotted time!
01:00 Tomtit: Argument #1
07:27 Neo: Argument #1
12:44 Tomtit: Argument #2
18:55 Neo: Argument #2
24:24 Tomtit: Conclusion
32:28 Neo: Conclusion
This is a transcript of the video. In the video, sources are cited as they come up, but in the transcript, it’s just the spoken word that’s been reproduced.
1 show. 2 fans.
1 question. 2 perspectives.
This is DOCTOR WHO DEBATE, where we each take a side……and tackle a controversial question about Doctor Who.
(Is there any other kind?)
This time, we’re asking: did Series 12 disrespect the Moffat era?
On the affirmative, me, Tomtit, arguing series 12 did indeed disrespect the Moffat era.
And on the negative, me, Neo, arguing series 12 in fact respected the Moffat era.
Each of us will take turns over two rounds.
Where we each have five minutes to argue our case.
Then, we give our closing statements, and rebut each other’s points.
There will be no judges present…because that’s where you come in!
Yes! You, dear viewer, choose which case convinced you more. The quality of our arguments, how well we use our time, anything you deem worthy of judgement.
We would love to hear your thoughts, so sound off in the comments and join the debate.
Now, let’s begin the debate.
JOHN SIMM: It was a surprising way to finish, we both kill each other.
STEVEN MOFFAT: In a very literal sense Missy, although she had in that moment decided to turn good, got dragged down by her past. I thought that had a certain poetry and a certain tragedy to it.
MICHELLE GOMEZ: Yes, this is the end of Missy, as we know her. We’re all done with that now. This little Missy has got other fish to fry.
PEARL MACKIE: Ah, they always survive somehow, don’t they? I mean, I think it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without the Master, would it?
TOMTIT: ARGUMENT #1
The Moffat era is very much a bedtime story, like the one Matt Smith’s Doctor tells Amelia towards the end of The Big Bang. These series of Doctor Who say ‘do good, don’t let rules and systems stop you from doing good, and don’t let things like probability of success, vanity, or greed be your sole reasons for doing good’. ‘Good’ being defined as nurturing and being kind to other people, and not tolerating the opposite, i.e. cruelty and prejudice.
I’ve no doubt that you don’t need this explained to you, because the episodes do a perfectly good job of eliciting these ideas in a much less prosaic way, be it through Clara portentously quoting Roman philosophers, or Moffat offering an aphorism of his own — ‘without hope, without witness, without reward’.
Now, if we pass through the Antizone of discourse, and into the Solitract of Chibnall’s writing…okay, this is difficult, because Chibnall’s Doctor Who doesn’t extend a definite interpretation of what heroism is in a way Moffat’s does. In Moffat’s — and, to a lesser extent RTD’s, but my focus in on Moffat — if his Doctor Who extends to the viewer a sort of instruction booklet on goodness and kindness, Chibnall’s Doctor Who positions itself as a salve for the anxious soul of the times we live in, i.e. you don’t have to do anything if there’s hope. Always hope, hope, hope.
CHRIS CHIBNALL: Pillar of hope, we need a pillar of hope in these times, and that pillar of hope is Jodie Whittaker.
TOMTIT: And our promotional materials portray the Doctor as a ‘pillar of hope’, and the character gives speeches about how the dark times don’t sustain — to a woman who was executed by the Nazis. Lived experiences don’t matter, magical thinking is the answer.
If I were to sum up the dichotomy in one pithy symmetrical statement, I’d say Moffat’s Doctor Who says to you that you shouldn’t let systems stop you from doing good, while Chibnall’s tells you that you shouldn’t let the urge to do good stop you from submitting to systems. Look to the climax of Rosa for a prominent example, where the point of emphasis is on the Doctor urging the fam not to help or intervene. The Thirteenth Doctor ias a passive character to her core, and it strikes a stark contrast to the active, fighting-to-the-last-breath Twelfth Doctor to the point of incoherence, and I’d argue represents a greater contradiction in ethos than we’ve ever seen between two incarnations of the Doctor, beyond simple changes in quirks or interests.
Compare this to how Moffat’s Eleventh Doctor is so informed by the events of RTD’s work on Doctor Who. The Eleventh Doctor’s arc can be read as a deconstruction of the messianic and hubristic component of the Tenth Doctor. It can also be read as a repudiation or condemnation of this, but something I strongly believe is that a showrunner picking up Doctor Who does not have to agree with the previous one. To say that everyone who came after Moffat has to agree with Moffat, for example, would be ridiculous.
What I do think is necessary, certainly in telling long-running stories on television in the 21st century, is engagement with the previous author’s own themes and ideas. Not because people care about the authors, but for the OPPOSITE reason — because people watching this show who don’t care about the difference between RTD, Moffat, and Chibnall…why wouldn’t they want the show to follow its own train of thought? Even if it is changing tracks, like Moffat arguably did with his take on the messianic Doctor. Doctor Who’s anthological nature isn’t enough to excuse gaping voids of characterisation anymore like, say, the Sixth Doctor reuniting with the Master without so much as a word about the fact that the last time he saw him he stood and watched him be burned alive without doing anything to stop it, and oh my God, why does anyone treat Chibnall Who’s similarities to Classic Who as a good thing?
Just like it’s not enough to excuse the Doctor’s incoherent morals, or especially the Master’s 180 from two series prior…Christ, we haven’t even mentioned the Master yet. The dissonance of the Master’s character in series 12 is such that nearly everyone who has seen the show has commented on it. In fact, its reverberations are so vast that even people who have never heard of the Master have been known to mutter strange phrases about ‘Mondasian colony ships…’ in their sleep.
In series 10 — 10 being a mere 2 fewer than 12 — the Master, then Missy, was willing to save the Earth — not Gallifrey, the Earth — because she, quote, ‘wants to change’, and is, quote, ‘engaging with the process [of change]’. The writers of series 10 did an excellent job of making this redemption not motivated by an obsession with the Doctor, not because of a lust or a need for attention, but because of genuine admiration for his ethics. She wants to do good, but she also has disagreements with the Doctor over what good is, and the absoluteness of said good. Basically, Missy is afforded a lot of agency, arguably the greatest sense of internality the character has ever had.
Fast forward, Missy and the Simm Master stab each other in the back, and Missy is out of commission. Where do we pick up from, with the Master in series 12? Well, the character says ‘killing humans…it’s like knowing I’m in the right place, doing what I was made for’. Quite a statement of intent. No elaboration is given on how he came to feel this way off the back of series 10, where Missy was ready to do good without that hope, witness, reward combo.
I think Chibnall’s position is clear, then. Change is impossible, and people can’t deviate from their fixed natures. Yes, we’ve gone full biological determinist. The dialogue outright supports this when the Master says, of his good nature…
THE DOCTOR: If the history between us means anything to you…
THE MASTER: I do believe you’re appealing to my better nature…and we both know I don’t have one.
TOMTIT: All of this also clearly favouring one type of fandom over the other. People who want to see the Master do the same thing over and over again…are in the right. People who like the more ambiguous, pliable Master…are in the wrong. Disrespectful to the plot, character, morals, and fandom of the Moffat era. Again, I’m not saying that the Master can’t go bad again, or that Thirteen can’t be a warrior of the status quo. Just that Chibnall has to, to quote Missy, ‘engage with the process’, and offer a reason why. The closest he comes to giving a reason is his biological determinism stuff, and is that really a great fit for Chibnall’s optimistic vision of Doctor Who?
Chibnall’s ignoring of these things is not just disrespectful…frankly, I think it’s weird, and I think it’s weird because Chibnall is a writer, and writers are supposed to care about stories. But he was too lazy to do the legwork, and lazy is not an insult I level lightly at writers, but in this case I feel it is more than appropriate.
STEVEN MOFFAT: Um, well, you know, I’m happy to stand back, stand back and let everybody else make the decisions now. I did the same thing ages ago. Doctor Who has to change radically all the time, not because it’s necessary, [but] because it’s fun.
INTERVIEWER: What advice did you give to Chris Chibnall on the first day of the job, or would you?
STEVEN MOFFAT: I gave him…a lot of advice about very practical issues, that’s just between me and him. About how you live your life, and how you deal with the pressure. But that’s, that’s inter-showrunner. And I hope he’s taken it. I know he has.
INTERVIEWER: Was it roughly the same stuff Russell said to you seven years ago, eight years ago?
STEVEN MOFFAT: It was pretty much the same stuff, yeah. I mean, the world has changed a little bit in terms of the multiple demands on your time, but…I mean, to be honest, Chris is an incredibly smart man, and he’s showrun before, so most of the stuff I was telling him was Granny sucking eggs and all that. But it’s just saying…these are the things you need in place, and this is how you can live your life.
NEO: ARGUMENT #1
Did series 12 disrespect the Moffat era? Did Chris Chibnall’s second series disrespect Steven Moffat’s five series, the years of Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi? We can talk all day about series 12 episodes, we can talk all day about the Missy Master and the Sacha Master, we can talk all day about the themes we identify in various episodes. But I think there’s a way to really cut through the Gordian Knot here. Let’s go right to the source, the man behind the era. The question is whether series 12 disrespects the Moffat era. Well, let’s hear what Moffat himself has to say.
On the topic of the new Master, Moffat says ‘Oh he was great, great new Master, great Master….he’s absolutely terrific, terrific as the Master’. And regarding the new Master coming after Moffat’s own Missy, in a Classic Who fashion where it’s not really explained how the Master, how Missy escaped from her previous seemingly fatal predicament, Moffat says ‘I think it is absolutely fine with the Master not to know, I like that….I don’t necessarily want all the gaps to be plugged. Kids out there are making up their own stories about how Missy escaped that place and regenerated into Sacha. They’re doing their own version of it, and that’s much more exciting to me than actually filling all those gaps.’
Moving on from the Master to other topics of series 12, on the topic of the new Fugitive Doctor, Moffat says ‘I thought that was very clever’, and that ‘I like that a lot’.
On the topic of canon and the possibility of more, and Mor-bius Doctors, Moffat says ‘if you can make it fit, and you can make anything fit in Doctor Who, that’s exciting….I don’t know what his plan with the Jo Doctor is but, you know, the first time you see William Hartnell, he’s very confused. [So] who knows!’
When a man goes out of his way to praise these things, praise how the new Master was done, praise the reveal of a new secret Doctor, emphasise that supposedly ‘canon-breaking’ lore can in fact be very exciting, when a man does that I think it is absurdly presumptuous to suggest that he’s somehow wrong — about his own opinion! — that he himself is confused, that he does not understand, that he’s actually sending some coded message that he secretly dislikes Chibnall’s era, and you the fans, you need to understand this, or whatever else.
Look, whatever the themes of series 10 or whatever the themes of series 12, let’s drill down to the question here, the question of Moffat, the question of disrespect. Moffat compliments Chibnall all the time; he clearly respects him. Who are we to declare that no, no there is not respect between the two men and their eras, and that in fact Moffat’s own words are insufficient, that we, we as fans know best and in fact these two friendly men that are at odds, that one is making television spiting the other’s? Who are we to say this? It’s preposterous. It’s one thing to dislike series 12, or at least to dislike how it supposedly interacts with earlier Moffat episodes, but it is quite another thing to stuff words into the mouth of a man literally saying he likes Chibnall, he likes what’s been done in series 12, and who clearly, who verbally, who explicitly does not feel disrespected at all.
Do you know what advice Moffat gave Chibnall, when the job of showrunner was passed on? The advice was not ‘leave my characters alone’, the advice was not ‘leave my era alone’, the advice was not ‘don’t do this’, the advice was not ‘don’t do that’. Moffat’s advice for Chibnall was, and I quote, ‘it’s not a piece of fragile China. You’re not carrying a piece of fragile china across a room. Everybody will tell you that you are, but you’re not. You’ve got to make it your own’.
And when Chibnall did make it his own, when he did make Doctor Who his own, Moffat complimented his decisions, as we’ve heard. The fact is, the man himself clearly does not feel slighted by Chibnall’s series, in fact he advised him to run the show like he owned it, and so I think it’s so absurd to dodge that, or try and project hidden meanings onto words from the man himself.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned Missy, you created Missy, and obviously, where, you gave her a great send-off. I mean, do you have any ideas about how she actually came back from certain death?
STEVEN MOFFAT: No. Once I walked off, I walked off. And I don’t, I don’t know what Chris’ plan is. I saw him last night, but I don’t know what his plan is — I don’t want to know! But I think it is absolutely fine with the Master not to know.
MARK GATISS: Yeah.
STEVEN MOFFAT: I like that. Even with the Doctor, there’s all sections you don’t know about. I don’t necessarily want to know every detail. I thought the same with River Song. You don’t have to join everything up. You get glimpses. That’s so much more exciting.
MARK GATISS: Also, what is everyone else going to talk about for the next fifty years? That’s the key.
INTERVIEWER: Big Finish!
MARK GATISS: Yeah!
STEVEN MOFFAT: Well, yeah, but I don’t necessarily want all the gaps to be plugged.
MARK GATISS: No.
STEVEN MOFFAT: Kids out there are making up their own stories about how Missy escaped that place and regenerated into Sacha. They’re doing their own version of it, and that’s much more exciting to me than actually filling all those gaps.
TOMTIT: ARGUMENT #2
Having diagnosed the biological determinism visible in Chibnall’s writing through the Master, so we come full circle to the timeless shenanigans, where we learn the Master does have some motivation. That he’s bitter because of the Doctor’s important place in Time Lord society, and her apparent genetic advantage. We’re right back to childish Doctor obsession.
Most damnably of all, Chibnall sets up the Master’s toxic motivation and then…doesn’t even refute it. The Doctor is paraded as genetically superior, and she lords it over him in the climax. Ironically, in Chibnall’s attempt to have his new backstory now contradict anything, he writes the Doctor as undergoing a mindwipe and reverting to childhood, presumably the child we saw in Listen. Conclusion: no matter what lived experiences they have, the Doctor will always default to an adventurer in a blue box. The Doctor is now a telos all to themselves. Chibnall’s idea of agency is making the Doctor a member of one (this being the Division). And with that godlike status, so is the Doctor now apparently absolved of any moral wrongdoing.
If I had to pick an act of disrespect I hate the most, it would be the Doctor’s callous mindwiping of Ada Lovelace and Noor Inayat Khan. This one has some history behind it. Russell T Davies writes Donna out of the series via the Doctor forcing a mindwipe on Donna against her will. This was done to make the audience feel sad. It’s also an echo of how the Time Lords banished Jamie and Zoe in The War Games, although RTD claims he didn’t have this in mind at the time. Nevertheless, it paints a rich picture — the Doctor embodying the worst chauvinistic instincts of his people, which he claims to condemn. We can read RTD’s intent as making the Doctor, as the Doctor making a necessary tragic sacrifice, or taking his first condemnable step towards the Time Lord Victorious. But all that is irrelevant, because Donna is not at the centre of any of it.
Seven years later, Moffat decides to, quote, ‘mend the Doctor’s ways’ (to quote Resurrection of the Daleks), and devote considerable focus in that finale to a discourse surrounding the ethics of mindwiping, firmly giving the victory to Clara, who insists upon her past, and engineers an equitable solution for her and the Doctor. This, quite frankly, is an amazing thing. Between 2008 and 2015, online fandom became truly consolidated in a way it wasn’t before, and the discussion of things like character agency and feminist readings moved out of the purview of academia, and further into mainstream fandom. And we see the actual result of social progress on screen, in the form of this dramatic shift in Hell Bent, which Moffat then re-emphasises in the series 10 opener, proving its importance.
Now, I can’t prove this, but I think that a significant number of Hell-Bent-dislikers would approve of this, at least conceptually, and the ones who don’t…well, frankly I feel comfortable confining them to the dustbins of history. So, what does Chris Chibnall do? He has the Doctor mindwipe both Noor and Ada, despite Ada’s fierce protestations, but the lady doth protest too much, and the Doctor doesn’t pay mind. I don’t see any room for a reading where the Doctor is deliberately portrayed immorally. Her speech to Ada about the things she’ll go on to do is Dr. Seuss-esque in its inspiration and hopefulness. It reads even more strangely in the light of the trauma of the Doctor discovering her own mindwipe, and I know there are those out there who will praise this as a subtle parallel and character arc, but to me it’s a clear case of failing upwards. The Doctor’s mindwipe doesn’t work as trauma because it’s fundamentally a plot fix, and therefore necessary to respect the sanctity of the show’s overall canon, in Chibnall and certain fans’ eyes.
Back to Moffat. In his era, the idea of memory is so inextricably linked to the idea of stories. Our stories are our power, and our power is our memories, and so on. In series 12, we learned that our memories don’t matter. ADa Lovelace doesn’t need her memories, because her place in history is fixed and static. The Doctor’s memories don’t matter, because she’s the Doctor, she’ll always come out on top, no matter what. And yet, it’s her memories that overload the Matrix — sidenote, The Timeless Children is such a short circuit of a story it fails to function on even a fractal level. I could spend as much time talking about how the Chibnall era disrespects the Chibnall era, so little attention is paid to theme and textual unity, but I digress.
To address your point that Moffat’s supposed approval of series 12 means that disrespect is impossible, first of all, I must admit to a bit of rhetorical neglect on my part. I should have made clear that the question is ‘did series 12 disrespect the Moffat era?’, not ‘did series 12 disrespect Moffat?’. These are two very different questions. Moffat’s authorial opinion can make up a small part of the pie, but by no means all of it. A text is a dialogue between author and audience, and more important than Moffat’s reaction are the fans of, for example, Missy. And there are so many who built up attachment to that character, and are now bewildered at how they have developed. And those fans might, quote, ‘come up with their own versions’, end quote — if that’s even possible. But I think you and I know that when Moffat talked about leaving gaps for fan creativity, he was talking about the circumstantial gap of the Master’s fate, not his actual emotional arc. At a certain point, whimsically leaving gaps for the fans becomes making the fans do the work for us, and at that point, why not start an episode with the Doctor, say, missing an eye? Or owning a new version of K9? Or being married to Yaz? It’s all gaps that the fans can fill in.
THE MASTER: You always behaved like you were different, like you were special. And you were.
MATT STREVENS: I think they’re a perfect pairing, and it’s lovely to go through the show and look at different actors and different Masters. There’s sort of, there’s Anthony Ainley and Tom Baker, or whether it’s John Simm and David Tennant, or, you know, Michelle Gomez and Peter Capaldi, that kind of buzz you get, I think you’ve got that with Jodie Whittaker and Sacha Dhawan.
THE DOCTOR: I have a right to know my own life!
NEO: ARGUMENT #2
A common complaint about The Timeless Children, and often centred in arguments about how it supposedly disrespects previous eras, is that it ‘breaks canon, breaks continuity’, that it invalidates what has come before, that it’s out of lockstep with the past, and so on. The finale develops the idea that there were multitudes of incarnations of the Doctor that we never knew about before. Some took great issue with this. After all, the Doctor can only regenerate twelve times, there’s a limit on the regeneration cycle — isn’t there?
In 2013, with The Time of the Doctor, Moffat went out of his way to contrive how the Doctor could regenerate more times after having used up all these twelve regenerations. Isn’t Chibnall saying the Doctor in fact could originally regenerate infinite times, isn’t that invaliding, isn’t that disrespecting Moffat’s work? Well, here’s the thing — Moffat himself hated the regeneration limit.
He said on the topic of the regeneration limit being introduced: ‘I have had subtracted from me all the joy of imagining those other Doctors by this bloody rule, that came in that for some reason we all decided was true despite the fact that there were many contradictions’
Like you say, memories are stories, and stories have power. Young little Moffat’s memories were impinged upon by the show making a subtractive development, imposing a limit onto his imagination, caging his fan imagination — you criticise how much room is given to fans in interpreting gaps in the show, well Moffat and I criticise those episodes that restrict the audience’s imagination, confining it into oppressive new strictures.
But b that as it may, inserting tonnes of new Doctors, surely Chibnall is ‘breaking canon’ there, right? Well, it would be a little bit difficult for him to have done so, considering he was only six years old when it was actually ‘inserted into the mythos of Doctor Who’.
Yes, this idea of Doctors predating William Hartnell’s Doctor is not at all new. In the 1976 Tom Baker story The Brain of Morbius, the Doctor has a mental duel with another Time Lord called Morbius, a mindbending contest wherein we see the Doctor’s past faces flash by on a monitor. And, curiously, the faces go back beyond William Hartnell, extending to eight more faces, known in the fandom as ‘Morbius Doctors’.
And for decades, some fans would insist these were actually the faces of the other Time Lord Morbius, but the producer at the time, Philip Hinchcliffe confirmed ‘It is true to say that I attempted to imply that William Hartnell was not the first Doctor’, and even if he hadn’t, the visual grammar of the scene in implying they’re the Doctor’s faces, by virtue of the fact they follow his first three faces.
For the next four decades or so, this was all basically ignored. You criticise the mindwiping of characters — I’m criticising a subtle kind of mindwipe of the audience. Remember Tennant’s line about ‘Pretending you weren’t the Doctor, when you were the Doctor more than anybody else’? Well, in the 70s, EIGHT new Doctors were introduced, then forgotten — Until Chibnall, in The Timeless Children, offered an explanation, showcasing them in a montage of the Doctor’s past after we learn about her secret history in Gallifrey’s early days. Clara insisted on her past — and Chibnall insisted on the show’s past.
Think back to Moffat’s frustration with the regeneration limit — he said he felt like something had been subtracted from him, that the joy of imagining other Doctors had been stamped out. It wasn’t until Chibnall that a writer took it upon themselves to meld the often-confusing backstory of the Doctor into a structure that made sense of these stray oddities who were previously all but subtracted from the show.
And earlier Tomtit, in your first argument, you brought up how Missy’s development in series 10 was driven not by anything base, but by genuine admiration of the Doctor’s ethics. I would suggest that the addition to the mythos in The Timeless Children was, in a way, driven by Chibnall’s genuine admiration of Moffat’s approach, Moffat’s ethics to writing the show, the approach that when its yours, it really is yours, and that adding things is exciting, and subtracting things is, well it’s depressing. What greater addition could there be, than not just folding in the terribly ignored Morbius Doctors, but adding untold multitudes of new Doctors?
Rather than disrespecting the past, be if Moffat’s era or any other, Chibnall instead found a way to meld the various pasts of the show together. By acknowledging and paying respect to past lore previously ignored, Chibnall provided fans with something Moffat was sad to lack as a child: validation.
In an interview after The Timeless Children had aired, Moffat said, on this topic, ‘The big [plot hole] that no-one ever mentions is [that] in [1966 story] The Power of the Daleks, just to get nerdy, the Doctor talks as if he’s done this before. The first time [regeneration] happens, he wanders around that first episode behaving as if “Och, my old body wore out, I got a new one.” He does not behave as if it’s his first time. And later on it’s retconned into the idea that it was the first time. But that doesn’t fit’. And then Moffat later says of the series 12 finale itself ‘So I’m perfectly happy with all of that, it’s great fun’.
Once again, the man is on the record as not only saying he’s perfectly happy with decisions made in series 12, but he in fact draws on examples from the history of the show to illustrate why Chibnall’s decisions in series 12 in fact validate the past, rather than disrespect it.
STEVEN MOFFAT: So in fact it’s a lie, you have been doing everything to do with Doctor Who since you left, yeah.
RUSSELL T DAVIES: Okay. Sitting outside those gates in Cardiff…let me in! We’re locked out!
STEVEN MOFFAT: Chris! Chris! I’m in your garden! This tent is leaking! Let me in!
RUSSELL T DAVIES: I went for dinner with Chris Chibnall, and he locked us out the house.
STEVEN MOFFAT: Did he!?
RUSSELL T DAVIES: We got locked out — I’m wondering why we were outside the house, why were we outside the house? Why were we outside the house!? There was only…anyway, and we got locked out. That’s showbiz stories! And it was only the two of us!
STEVEN MOFFAT: How’d you have dinner? Handing food out of a window?
RUSSELL T DAVIES: We had to go through his neighbours, and through the back garden and back round. It was hilarious! Honestly!
STEVEN MOFFAT: That’s the way it is now.
RUSSELL T DAVIES: Best anecdote I’ve ever told.
INTERVIEWER: So have you guys, has it been strange for the pair of you, watching kind of from the sidelines, as he’s carried on? As former showrunners.
RUSSELL T DAVIES: It’s not strange, it’s lovely, because it’s Doctor Who! It’s like, it’s on, hooray!
STEVEN MOFFAT: Would you like to do a question on your own, and get the hell rid of me? Frankly, I think that’d be a good idea.
RUSSELL T DAVIES: …who was that?
STEVEN MOFFAT: I dunno…go on…I’m off to see Chris! He lets me in now.
Dear, oh dear, oh dear. We come back to Moffat’s opinion on all of this. You previously claimed that his response to the Fugitive Doctor was that he thought it was, quote, ‘really great’, he ‘liked it a lot’, end quote. This is, let’s be honest, a bit of a misinterpretation. He was asked on the spot at a press event what he thought of Jo Martin’s Doctor, which he took as an opportunity to praise the return of Captain Jack and the Judoon.
INTERVIEWER: Obviously in this series they introduced a new female Doctor, the first person of colour to play the Doctor, Jo Martin, and I was wondering what you guys thought about that? Were you as shocked as everybody else?
STEVEN MOFFAT: I knew nothing about that, nothing at all. I did know about Captain Jack, but I didn’t know about…and I thought that was very clever, because it made it feel as though the reveal of Captain Jack, and the warning, was the big thing in the episode. So once you get over that hump, you think okay, let’s go back to the story of the week and get on with it. So I thought that was very clever, to conceal a surprise behind another one, I liked that a lot.
MARK GATISS: I saw Chris last night, and I said the digging up of the TARDIS and the grave, genuinely made my hair stand up. It was like, what!? I had no idea that was going to, that was thrilling.
STEVEN MOFFAT: No, not at all. That was really good.
INTERVIEWER: Because they also teased the Judoon were in this episode, so everyone thinks that’s the Judoon episode, then Captain Jack’s there…
STEVEN MOFFAT: Yeah, but I think that’s also clever because we slightly associate the Judoon with a lightweight episode, you know. I’m not, I don’t mean…they are great, but we don’t think of them as the scary monster of Doctor Who. They’re kind of quite funny monsters of Doctor Who. So you don’t expect it to be a great pivotal moment in the show. I thought that was very clever.
TOMTIT: And that the ‘liked it a lot’, ‘really great’ quote is in reference to not the Fugitive Doctor herself, but rather the formal execution of the reveal and misdirects. And the ‘you can make anything fit in Doctor Who’ quote isn’t exactly an inspiring soundbite. It’s one sidle away from ‘you can make any old #&^% work in Doctor Who’. And to Moffat’s advice that Doctor Who is not fine china, I tend to agree. I don’t think showrunners should be bogged down in previous authors’ ideas or plots. But when we look at Moffat’s own work a showrunner, it might be overly judicious to say ‘rules for thee, and not for me’, but I think it’s clear that there’s more to the story.
So I’ll start with the idea that The Timeless Children is respectful of Moffat’s era because he had a childi— a childhood fascination with the idea of more pre-Hartnell Doctors. Okay, so Chibnall did explicitly confirm pre-Hartnell Doctors, but he didn’t just do that, did he? He also put the Doctor at the centre of Time Lord mythology, and gave them a concrete backstory of a CIA agent, and — most crucially — he left no room for ambiguity as to whether this is true or not, no matter how much affronted fans with it was the Master instead. Note, at the time of recording, Chibnall has not retconned any of this.
The thing is, Moffat is an adult, and he is fully capable of manifesting his interests in his own writing. Missy’s allusions to the Doctor being a little girl aren’t just a random quirky dialogue. Moffat is saying if you like this, take it, or ignore it. The child Doctor in Listen he leaves completely open to the possibility that he could be the Master, for example. He may claim that you don’t have to treat it like fine china, but you wouldn’t take that advice from someone who spent their career mastering the art of juggling fine china, would you?
And yes, Moffat has only ever been complimentary about Chibnall’s work on the show, because, as you say, they are friends. When Moffat disagrees with something Chibnall does in Doctor Who, he’s not going to shout it to the presses. He’s going to privately think, okay, my mate made a bit of a dodgy move there. And then move on. More importantly, Moffat and Doctor Who are friends! I’m not suggesting a secret code of Chibnall hate, like you are understandably wary of, but what you have to understand is that, above all else, Moffat cares about the health of the show. Look at just about any interview of his from 2017, and he will mention that the worst thing for a showrunner to do is leave the show worse than when they entered it. That kind of sounds like a man talking about a piece of fine china. So, of course Moffat isn’t going to say a bad word about the program. He genuinely wants it go on forever.
Therefore, it is actually more prudent to look at what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t praise anything about The Timeless Children beyond the vague idea of pre-Hartnell Doctors, and he actively dodges an opportunity to praise the Fugitive Doctor. Ignoring the ridiculousness of Chibnall somehow retroactively pleasing Moffat’s nine-year-old self — red bicycle when he was twelve — it’s not actually accurate to say that the implication of Morbius Doctors was subtractive. In The Three Doctors, Hartnell is called the earliest Doctor.
TIME LORD #1: We’ve achieved a transference, sir.
TIME LORD #2: Splendid.
TIME LORD #1: But I don’t think it’s going to work.
TIME LORD #2: Why? What’s wrong?
TIME LORD #1: They refuse to cooperate.
TIME LORD #2: I see. Well, we’ll soon settle that. Show me the earliest Doctor.
TIME LORD #3: What, him too, sir? But surely…
TIME LORD #2: Show me! He’ll keep them in order.
SECOND DOCTOR: Well, you’ve been fiddling with it, haven’t you!?
THIRD DOCTOR: It was perfectly alright until you touched it.
TOMTIT: And, even if he wasn’t, who’s to say Tom Baker couldn’t be retconned as the twelfth or thirteenth Doctor, not even contradicting the existence of Morbius Doctors? It’s not even clear that regeneration is something that all Time Lords can do. It’s referred to as something that comes from the TARDIS.
POLLY: Then you did change!
SECOND DOCTOR: Life depends on change. And renewal.
BEN: Oh, so that’s it! You’ve been renewed, have you?
SECOND DOCTOR: I’ve been renewed, have I? That’s it! I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the TARDIS. Without it, I couldn’t survive. Come here!
TOMTIT: [of the TARDIS] —which was referred to as something that Susan came up with. The name, at least.
SUSAN: The TARDIS can go anywhere!
BARBARA: ‘TARDIS’? I don’t understand you, Susan.
SUSAN: Well, I made up the name ‘TARDIS’ from the initials. Time, And Relative Dimension, In Space.
TOMTIT: This is a strange thing fans do — act like an absence of information is a tangible thing. Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke did ‘subtract’ the absence of a backstory, when they wrote The War Games. And you don’t have to like that. I, for one, love the vagueness of the Hartnell Doctor’s past. But, it’s simple arithmetic. If you subtract a negative, guess what? It’s a positive. But we’re drifting into maths now, so I think it’s time to bring it home.
To conclude, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say Chibnall’s Who disrespects all past Doctor Who, with its depressing, calcified view of history and heroism. But its affront to the Moffat era is particularly felt, because of Moffat’s eagerness to meaningfully engage with the tenets and assumptions surrounding the show. Chibnall says pooh-pooh to that, and effectively endorses the view that would say Doctor Who is best viewed from Classic to Russell to Chibnall. My only hope is that with the dawn of series 13, with regards to Chibnall, we are way past peak hubris.
STEVEN MOFFAT: I took Chris out to dinner, just as a friend, just to hear what he was up to. But really to work out what his diary was, because I knew he was the BBC’s favourite — and my favourite — to take over. And now, sort of asking casual questions like ‘are you doing the third series of, I don’t know, Broadchurch?’. And I was sort of, writing that down — oh, dear God, so I’m doing series 10 then. So I took him out for dinner again, a month later, at the same table, sitting in the same place in the same restaurant, saying ‘okay, if I do the next series of Doctor Who, can you take over Doctor Who from me at the end of that?’.
Series 12 was contentious, there’s no denying that. The revelation of a mysterious secret incarnation of the Doctor. A controversial finale set on Gallifrey. The wicked surprise of a new Master. Revelations about the Doctor’s past. Footage of the Doctor’s past, as a child no less! Controversial things, no doubt. And also, of course, all things Moffat himself oversaw in his era. When one follows in another’s footsteps, I think it’s easier to see admiration than…disrespect.
Fundamentally, I just reject this premise that we as fans can, or should, project our issues with the show into the mouths of its writers. It’s one thing to criticise decisions Chibnall made in series 12, of course that’s perfectly valid, it’s positively healthy. The same goes for any other writer, and any other era.
But to base those criticisms on the idea that an era clashes with another, I think it can get a little presumptuous and a little tenuous. It’s presumptuous because, as I illustrated at length, writers are their own individual people, with their own individual opinions, and they do not tend to always align with fans.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to call the expert on the Moffat era…Steven Moffat. Now, neither of us really got into the topic of the Fugitive Doctor too much, but sure, we can split hairs about Moffat complimenting the way the reveal of her being the Doctor was executed, rather than the character herself. Totally fair, totally fair. I do notice there weren’t really any holes to poke in the copious other Moffat quotes I drew from. And I notice that I specifically cited an awful lot of things that the man himself explicitly said, and I didn’t really put any words in his mouth like ‘you can make any old $*^# work in Who’, or the supposed way he would approach things if he disliked something Chibnall wrote. If we’re focusing so much on ambiguity and the lack of it, I feel pretty secure sticking to things the man himself has said.
And Moffat specifically praises multiple aspects of series 12, he specifically told Chibnall to make the show his own, he specifically pointed to examples validating Chibnall’s decisions to unveil new incarnations of the Doctor, and he specifically said ultimately it doesn’t matter all too much anyway because the show’s canon cannot really be broken, and it lives on inside the minds and hearts of the viewers, and so on.
Pretty unambiguous statements. And on that topic of ambiguity, you repeatedly claimed Chibnall leaves no room for ambiguity in The Timeless Children, and therefore is supposedly therefore being restrictive in the way that I criticised. Hm. Let’s unambiguously look at the actual script of the episode. Because in it, I see the climactic decision between the Thirteenth and Fugitive Doctors as virtually doing nothing BESIDES establishing ambiguity.
THIRTEENTH DOCTOR: Or are you the matrix, playing more games with me?
FUGITIVE DOCTOR: Don’t ask me. I’m as lost as you are, in here. Maybe you just summoned me?
THIRTEENTH DOCTOR: Where do you fit into all this? Were you me all that time ago? Were all my memories of you erased? Did they force me back into becoming a child? How many more of me are out there?
FUGITIVE DOCTOR: I don’t have those answers, but say I did, would they even help?
THIRTEENTH DOCTOR: Of course they would. All this, it means I’m not who I thought I was.
FUGITIVE DOCTOR: Because your memories aren’t compatible with what you’ve learned today?
THIRTEENTH DOCTOR: Yes.
FUGITIVE DOCTOR: Have you ever been limited by who you were before?
We can gnash our teeth at story choices in The Timeless Children, but when the episode goes out of its way to introduce ambiguity into the situation — is the Master really the most trustworthy source, especially this pointedly evil Master? Is the matrix, a Time Lord construct that the Master was hacking around in, particularly reliable? When the episode does that, I feel treating ideas in as gospel text is kind of premature.
So, moving back into the realm of unambiguity…trying to cast aspersions on things Moffat literally said just seems so, it seems tenuous to me. Because on the one hand, there’s the words the man, a very intelligent and perfectly healthy adult man said, and on the other hand there are fans insisting he might not have actually meant what he said. Maybe he was at a press event, therefore we should raise our hackles and be ultra suspicious. Actually, he might have moved his hand a certain way while speaking, so therefore maybe he didn’t really mean it! Actually, he worded things in a slightly weird way, so maybe he didn’t mean what he said. Actually, he may have said slightly sarcastic things, so let’s throw out the whole quote, and so on. I don’t think the optics are super there.
And talking thematics in Moffat’s series is great, it’s stimulating, it’s productive, but when we’re talking Moffat’s era, the bottom line is I’m gonna listen to the big man himself before anyone else. Going one big man back, when Moffat’s fiftieth anniversary seemed to change the outcome of the Time War, former showrunner Russell T Davies expressed some reservations, laughing at the mechanics of how Moffat contrived a new outcome.
FRANK SKINNER: Because Christopher Eccleston was, of course, the Ninth Doctor, scarred by the Time War.
RUSSELL T DAVIES: Scarred by the Time War, yep.
FRANK SKINNER: Because he destroyed both the Time Lords and the Daleks.
RUSSELL T DAVIES: We thought, until we discovered that they all just missed each other.
FRANK SKINNER: Turns out…were you in any way miffed that you’d invented this fabulous piece of Doctor Who folklore, and then Steven Moffat thought ‘nah, I don’t like it, I’m going to rewrite it’.
RUSSELL T DAVIES: You have to take, when you leave Doctor Who, you have to take a deep breath and think it’s all up for grabs now, it’s all there to be rewritten.
FRANK SKINNER: But not retrospectively, surely?
RUSSELL T DAVIES: You’re very clever. Um, it was, it was an interesting evening. But I love that episode, I love that episode. It was not…it wasn’t so much — oh stop it, this is naughty.
FRANK SKINNER: No, go on!
RUSSELL T DAVIES: It wasn’t so much the Time Lords disappearing, it was all the Daleks shooting themselves. It was like, couldn’t any of them dodge that? Did no Dalek just go ‘whoops!’.
NEO: But conceding that ‘When you leave Doctor Who, you have to take a deep breath and think it’s all up for grabs now, it’s all there to be rewritten’. Moffat’s said the latter part, but he hasn’t even made light-hearted criticism of any of Chibnall’s series 12 decisions, the way Davies did there.
In our first debate together, we discussed the 50th anniversary special, and how Moffat outlined his key vision for it as being driving Doctor Who into the future, looking forward, rather than just indulging in the past. So, if we’re about respecting Moffat’s era here, I think we probably shouldn’t base our criticisms so much in how episodes may or may not perfectly align with points of past episodes.
After all, like Moffat said, ‘you can make anything fit in Doctor Who’. And not only did Chibnall manage to make a languishing yet groundbreaking part of the mythos fit in with the show proper, with the Morbius Doctors, he did it while holding true to Moffat’s own advice about making the show his own. How about we take the man at his word and, regardless of what one might think about series 12, acknowledge that Moffat welcomes the developments of the show succeeding his era, and embrace differences between the eras not as causes for anguish, or slights signifying disrespect, but just part of the ever-evolving magic that is the forever onward progression of Doctor Who?
STEVEN MOFFAT: Why did he end up with only his granddaughter, travelling in that time machine? He’s given conflicting accounts of why he runs around the universe. And I think it’s fine to add to those conflicting accounts, so long as you never make on definitive. And I always think about that when people ask that question, I say, ‘what do you do for a living — when did you decide?’. And everyone’s got a confused answer. You don’t know why you are the person you are, or why you did, and the reasons change from day to day. So he’s like that. We don’t do the story of why he left in the first place, and what happened to everybody else. Unless Chris does it, in which case it’s a very good idea!
Note: the debrief itself is not transcribed here. Following the debate, Tomtit and I had a debrief discussion, where we explored the stances we took in the debate, our thoughts on each other’s arguments, our thoughts on our performances, our thoughts on each other’s performances, what wasn’t said in the debate, and so on.
As this was an organic conversation, I didn’t have working notes to finish up a transcription.
It starts at 40:15 in the video. The YouTube video does have the automatically-generated YouTube captions, for what it’s worth.
“The Finale Falls.” Doctor Who: The Complete Series 10, 13:40-14:12. BBC, 13 Nov. 2017, Blu-ray.
Chibnall, Chris. “FULL Comic-Con Panel | Doctor Who.” YouTube, uploaded by Doctor Who, 24 July 2018, 41:26-41:33, https://youtu.be/GGpi2Jmbr4M
Marion, Aurora [aurora_marion]. “And now the episode…” Instagram, 8 Jan. 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/B7CAn8lA9OA
“The Timeless Children.” Doctor Who, series 12, episode 10, 14:26-14:34, 45:11-46:11, BBC, 1 March 2020. Doctor Who: The Complete Twelfth Series, 1 June 2020. Blu-ray.
Moffat, Steven. “Doctor Who’s Steven Moffat on Jodie Whittaker and Mystery Almost-Companions.” YouTube, uploaded by Radio Times, 1 Feb. 2018, 3:15-3:27, 3:53-4:37, https://youtu.be/FWDJuYxIXg0
Moffat, Steven. “Doctor Who: Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss on The Master and Jo Martin’s Doctor.” YouTube, uploaded by Radio Times, 00:09-00:20, 3:37-4:39, 1:33-1:40, 6:18-6:58, 1:02-2:20, 27 Feb. 2020, https://youtu.be/JcwgOYWUqX8
Chibnall, Chris. “Exclusive: Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall on advice from Steven Moffat and writing Jodie Whittaker’s first moments.” Interview by Justin Cook. Flickering Myth, 12 Nov. 2018, https://www.flickeringmyth.com/2018/11/exclusive-doctor-who-showrunner-chris-chibnall-on-advice-from-steven-moffat-and-writing-jodie-whittakers-first-moments/
Davies, Russell T. “Showrunner Showdown.” Doctor Who Magazine, vol. 551, 30 April 2020, p. 21.
Strevens, Matt. “Closer Look: The Timeless Children.” Doctor Who: The Complete Twelfth Series, 3:35-4:12. BBC, 1 June 2020. Blu-ray.
Hinchcliffe, Philip. “Production.” In-Vision, vol. 12, Jan. 1989, p. 7.
Moffat, Steven. “Ex-Doctor Who boss Steven Moffat defends the twists in Jodie Whittaker’s The Timeless Children.” Interview by Huw Fullerton. Radio Times, 10 April 2020, https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/steven-moffat-the-timeless-children/
Davies, Russell T, and Steven Moffat. “Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat on life after Doctor Who.” YouTube, uploaded by Radio Times, 1:52-2:43, 4:37-4:55, 3:00-3:18, 1 Feb. 2020, https://youtu.be/EDLjf05ODM0
Moffat, Steven. “Jodie Whittaker “will be brilliant”, Chris Chibnall “is going to be bold” – and there could be more Sherlock says Steven Moffat.” Interview by Patrick Mulkern. Radio Times, 8 Dec. 2017, https://www.radiotimes.com/tv/sci-fi/doctor-who-steven-moffat-interview-jodie-whittaker-chris-chibnall-sherlock/
“The Three Doctors [episode 1].” Doctor Who, season 10, serial 1, 21:59-22:23, BBC, 30 Dec. 1973. Doctor Who: The Collection — Season 10, BBC, 8 July 2019. Blu-ray.
“The Power of the Daleks [episode 1, BBC 2020 telesnap reconstruction].” Doctor Who, season 4, serial 3, 5:27-5:48, BBC, 5 Nov. 1966. Doctor Who: The Power of the Daleks — Special Edition, BBC, 27 July 2020. Blu-ray.
“An Unearthly Child.” Doctor Who, season 1, episode 1, 16:47-16:57, BBC, 23 Nov. 1963. Doctor Who: The Beginning, BBC, 30 Jan. 2006. DVD.
Moffat, Steven. “The Steven Moffat Interview: Part 3 | Doctor Who: The Fan Show | Doctor Who.” Interview by Christel Dee. YouTube, uploaded by Doctor Who, 3 Aug. 2018, 18:59-19:31, 17:02-17:42, https://youtu.be/styqnGNTffM
Moffat, Steven. “Ask Steven Moffat.” Doctor Who Magazine, vol. 496, 4 February 2016, p. 4.
Chibnall, Chris. “The Timeless Children.” BBC Writersroom, 11 May 2020, p. 49. https://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scripts/tv-drama/doctor-who
Davies, Russell T. “Frank Skinner & Russell T Davies: “You’re like a gay Shakespeare.”.” Interview by Frank Skinner. YouTube, uploaded by Absolute Radio, 20 Sep. 2017, 6:14-7:05, https://youtu.be/OiEibDxYkKA
Moffat, Steven. “Steven Moffat interview: Doctor Who, The Day Of The Doctor.” Interview by Simon Brew. Den of Geek, 13 Nov. 2013, https://www.denofgeek.com/tv/steven-moffat-interview-doctor-who-the-day-of-the-doctor-2/