To steal a quote from the Ood back in the memorable 2009 special The End of Time – “Returning, returning, he is returning…”
The “he” would be Chris Chibnall. The why is because, following the current series of Doctor Who airing on the BBC, there is going to be a change of power from Steven Moffat to Chris Chibnall. Moffat, who has served as showrunner of the long-running franchise since 2010, is stepping aside alongside star Peter Capaldi and, supposedly, composer Murray Gold. Chibnall is no stranger to the franchise but seen his stock increase thanks to his writing on crime dramas, weaving emotional tales built upon shocking cliffhangers that catch audiences off guard. And his tenure with Doctor Who begins in just a few short months from now.
Television, the official in-magazine for the Royal Television Society, recently did an extensive interview with incoming Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall, already nestled in at Cardiff completing early preparations for his first series at the TARDIS’ reins. Chibnall has previously written for both Doctor Who and its spinoff Torchwood. In the years before and after his occasional pop-in with the Doctor, Chibnall has worked on Life On Mars (the BBC original – not the ABC remake), Spooks: Code 9, Law & Order: UK, and Camelot. Oh, and of course, Chibnall is most known for creating the dizzying and infectious Broadchurch with David Tennant and Olivia Colman. Chibnall also ran the American remake Gracepoint, though American audiences didn’t seem to understand the show at all.
Of course, getting Chibnall to accept the coveted gig with Doctor Who wasn’t easy. The BBC kept railing the budding writer with offers until he finally relented. Chibnall recalls;
“I finally said yes because I love the show to my bones. I resisted it for a very long time, and (the BBC) really had to woo me. But, in the end, I had ideas about what I wanted to do with it. When I went to them and said, ‘This is what I would do’, I actually expected them to say, ‘Ooh, let’s talk about that,’ but they said: ‘Great!’”
Fans have grown accustomed to each new series of Who presenting a larger central story arc with various one-off or two-part stories binding the 12-to-13 episode order together. For example, back in series 6 with Matt Smith his companions Amy and Rory, alongside time-traveling archaeologist River Song, gallivanting with a past version of Smith’s Doctor as they worked to solve who killed the Doctor in the series premiere. Along the way we discovered the deeper mystery involving River Song and had the series capped with an ending that shook up the universe in the years to follow. Of course, Moffat’s years have been a bit, well, complacent. So will his leading of the show be, as Mark Lawson of Television calls, a “radical revamp”?
“Yes. What the BBC was after was risk and boldness.”
Moffat has certainly flipped the script for the storylines in series 10. The adventures of the Doctor, Nardole, and Bill have been gravely serious but also extremely deep in undertone and complexity. Most recently the three-parter by Peter Harness, Toby Whitehouse and Steven Moffat weaved a plot involving the nefarious Monks that echoed society teetering on the brink of collapse, capped by a harsh look at fake news and discerning what is written in virtue and what is accepted as the norm. Moffat’s last series has featured stories of personal and emotional nature, a true departure from his typical light-hearted affair. Chibnall most likely go in the opposite direction when he assumes control of the franchise, eschewing the days of Russell T. Davies’ past.
Fanboys and pundits the world over have already started to post their thoughts on what the direction of the show should be going forward. The biggest mystery of all is who will replace Peter Capaldi, who has quickly become a fan favorite for his arcane likeness to Tom Baker’s sardonic Doctor. While Russell T. Davies seems to know who, but isn’t talking, there’s one person who isn’t following the fans’ pleas – and that’s Chibnall.
“I don’t read any of that. … One of your jobs as a writer is to cut out the noise. All you have is your instincts and your process. The BBC came to me because they wanted those, and so reading coverage about the show is fundamentally useless and bordering on counterproductive. A TV show isn’t a focus group. It is great that people are speculating about who the Doctor will be… but it won’t affect in any way what we do with the show.”
James Strong, a frequent collaborator with Chibnall, has served as a director on some of Britain’s finest productions. He too has a background with Doctor Who, directing seven episodes between 2006 and 2009. (Don’t be too surprised if Strong returns to work with Chibnall yet again with Who in 2018.) Strong has also worked on Downton Abbey, Missing, The Great Train Robbery, Gracepoint, and Broadchurch. Having established a working relationship with Chibnall on several productions, Strong also have come to understand the writer’s quirks and his deepest motivations to his storytelling. Strong too has a fondness for Doctor Who and discusses in the same Television article what he feels is needed to differentiate from Moffat’s tenure;
“Well, my own completely personal view is that it does (need a revamp). It used to be – and I stress this is my personal opinion – at the heart of the schedule, an unmissable family show and, for some reason, it’s slipped a bit from the national consciousness.
“For me, when it goes towards storylines that are a little bit more for the fans, I think you can lose that general appeal. I think Chris is going to offer a slightly different take on what the show should be.”
Strong does add an interesting fact that recently flew under the radar when the BBC reached a deal to stream Doctor Who and all spinoff rights to Shanghai Media Group Pictures in China – there’s a lot more Who to come;
“I know what a big fan of the show he is and I know how much he feels he has a vision for it. It’s a five-year project. That was a huge decision. He’s in his absolute prime and could have done whatever he wanted, writing-wise. It’s an absolutely wonderful result for Doctor Who. I think Chris, essentially, writes emotional thrillers, and that’s perfect for that show.”
If the waits between new series have been painful enough, at least take solace in the fact that the BBC is investing heavily in the future of the franchise. Chibnall looks to be running the show for the next five years, and possibly further. At this point, with Moffat in charge for seven years, a shake-up is exactly what is needed to keep the show fresh. Both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat have had tonally different sorts of shows, with Davies focused on more Earth-set stories whilst Moffat has embraced the more science-fiction elements of the franchise. However, at the end of the day, both Davies and Moffat have the Doctor as relevant as ever, with Gallifrey back in the mix thanks to the wonderfully nostalgic Day of the Doctor and the Time Lord himself squaring off with Missy (The Master regenerated) and a ranging variety of old nemesis from the franchise’s yesteryear.
Having watched Doctor Who since the revival began back in 2005, I could not be more excited to see what Chibnall has to offer. Presently no details still are known on what to expect from series 11. The new Doctor has been cast but won’t be revealed just yet. Chibnall is forming his own writer’s room, though unannounced who will be involved with the new scripts. (I just ask that Mark Gatiss remain aboard in some fashion.) As more details become known, we here at Fan Fest News will pass them along to you.
For now, get your fix in of the Doctor while the getting’s good. Doctor Who will run throughout the rest of June on BBC America, with Peter Capaldi’s regeneration occurring presumably on the Christmas 2017 special. Series 11, the first under Chibnall, films early 2018 for an autumn 2018 debut on BBC One and BBC America. To bide your time during the forthcoming drought you can also binge the entire revival via Amazon Prime.
Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel,
cult 80’s and 90’s television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and…holy overload. He’s still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a blue police box.