Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Little Aside about Who’s Stephen Moffat

I’m more than halfway through the 2010 season of Doctor Who, the first season with Matt Smith as the Doctor.  This is also the first season where Stephen Moffat took over as show runner.  I went back to look at the episodes that Moffat wrote for the other seasons of Doctor Who and realize that he wrote almost all of my favorite episodes. 

In the Christopher Eccleston era he wrote the two part story The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. It was a great “historical” episode, capturing the life of orphaned, homeless children during the London Blitz.  It introduced us to Captain Jack Harkness.  It reflected a period of growth for the emotionally damaged Ninth Doctor who learned to dance again (with all the double entendres that entails).   I thought that it was the most creative episode of that season, with the “monsters” being ordinary people living during the London Blitz who had been turned into zombie like creatures with gas masks fused to their faces. And what was especially scary was that the principal “monster” was a little boy looking for his “mummy”.

In 2006, for David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, he wrote the Girl in the Fireplace, the episode where the Doctor meets Madame de Pompadour.  The creativity of this episode was that it combined great “historical” drama with futuristic space drama since the Doctor and his two companions were stuck on a spacecraft in the future which contained windows into 18th Century France.   The relationship between the Doctor and Reinette is beautifully written and it is a serious story but still has great comic bits (I love the horse on the spaceship).  

Much of the first season of David Tennant involved the Doctor in situations where he reacted with his “silly Doctor” persona.  But in Girl in the Fireplace Moffat gave Tennant scenes of quiet intensity and Tennant took them and ran with them.  And again Moffat created new “monsters” in the clock/clown people (I’m sure they have a name but I don’t know what it is).  He also proved that he is just very good at writing scary scenes that involve children:

Then in 2007 he wrote Blink.  I know I’m sounding like a broken record when I say that it is one of the best pieces of television I’ve ever seen.  David Tennant’s Doctor is barely in it and the story is carried by Carey Mulligan before she became a well known actress in the United States.  Again, he created new “monsters” with the Weeping Angels, incredibly scary but very simple (and cheap) creatures who don’t move if you look at them directly.  They turn to stone and look like statues.  But the minute you aren’t looking … watch out.  I may never look at stone statues the same way again.  I don’t even like to put a clip of it on, because I don’t want to ruin it with spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it.  But here’s an early scene that doesn’t give much away:

In 2008 he again wrote one of my favorite two part episodes:  Silence in the Library/ Forest of the Dead.  Of course I loved the concept of the little girl and the library in her mind just to begin with. Again, a great use of child actors. Again, he created really scary but very simple (and low budget) monsters – just shadows really, but shadows that eat the skin off of people.  Forest of the Dead was an especially good vehicle for Catherine Tate’s character Donna Noble.  I always hoped (and still continue to hope) that Moffat finds a way to reunite Donna with the guy she met in the virtual world (yeah, I know she’s now married to someone else but …). 

And of course those episodes introduced us to River Song.   I’ve now seen River reappear in the 2010 season (with the Angels) and YES I’VE SEEN ARTICLES WITH SPOILERS from the 2011 season but I don’t want to talk about it or the remainder of 2010 until I actually see those episodes. But I loved River in that 2008 season because she was the first human woman character I can remember in Doctor Who who not only acts as an equal of the Doctor but who proves she is as much of an equal as any human is ever likely to be.  And although I don’t like sexist behavior in men or women, I have to admit to a chuckle at this scene:

The really, really nice thing about these episodes is that Moffat got such great actors to play the parts he wrote.  He of course had David Tennant, but he also got a great actress to play against DT with the casting of Dr. Corday, oops I mean Alex Kingston.  (Funny, I seldom watched E.R.but the moment I saw her I thought “oh look, there’s Dr. Corday”).  David Tennant always is at his best when the actor on the other side is great and the scenes with he and Kingston together were wonderful.  DT was always good at the talking side of the Doctor, spewing forth lines of dialog in record time episode after episode, but here, with a wonderful script by Moffat and playing against Kingston, his reaction shots show his incredible strength as an actor:

Oh heck, I’m going to throw in one more scene.  I love the following scene for the lighting and the camera angles and the way that the Doctor and the TARDIS are facing each other like people.  It is just beautifully filmed.  And I also love it because David Tennant never says a word, the story is in his face.  River has previously said that the Doctor (HER Doctor) can open the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers.  The Tenth Doctor (who doesn’t yet trust that he really has met River in the future) disputes this and says it is impossible.  But here at the end, after an emotional separation from River, he comes back to his TARDIS and tries it out  …

In 2009 there was no series, only a few specials that culminated with the regeneration of the Tenth Doctor into Eleven and the end of the David Tennant era and the beginning of the Matt Smith era.   Moffat had no part in those specials except that he wrote the final moments of The End of Time part 2 which introduced Matt Smith’s Doctor.

I didn’t realize all of this when I started watching the 2010 season.  But as I watched the first episode of 2010, which again involved the Doctor (the Eleventh Doctor) working with a child and a scary (low budget) crack in the wall, I started to think that there were some parallels with earlier episodes I liked.  Then, when I saw the return of the Angels and  River Song, I finally decided to look him up. 

There’s no point to all of this other than that I like to pay attention to specific writers once I figure out I like his or her work.  Once I discovered all of this I wasn’t surprised to learn that Moffat had a hand in the new modern, updated Sherlock that ran on PBS last year with Benedict Cumberbatch.  He co-wrote A Study in Pink and has creative credit on the series.  

So you know what’s coming from me, don’t you?   Yes, of course you do. 

I’d like to see Stephen Moffatt and Jane Espenson do something together.   And since she’s just worked with former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies on Torchwood maybe that’s a possibility?  Maybe?  Pretty please?