One brought the show back, one expanded the show to a worldwide audience. The two have both enjoyed long runs as the show’s head writer and executive producer. But who has had a more successful time as show runner?
When Russell T. Davies brought the show back in 2005, many fans were sceptical over how the show would continue. Although the majority were glad it was returning, there were doubts over how the previous 40 or so years would be acknowledged. RTD’s job was to reboot the show, captivating a new audience while ensuring the older fans were satisfied that the show was still the same show that they loved. Doctor Who had been off our screens for sixteen years by the time the modern era’s first episode aired, and bar the 1996 TV movie, there had been little for the fans to enjoy. Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper had a huge weight on their shoulders. Although Eccleston only lasted one series, he was the perfect Doctor to bring the show back. He had the darkness and mystery that every Doctor should but he also brought a humour to the role, a side to the Doctor that hadn’t truly been there since Tom Baker’s incarnation. RTD then had to choose somebody to carry on the series and he made another perfect appointment in making David Tennant the tenth Doctor. He lasted considerably longer than Eccleston, three series along with a number of different specials. RTD departed along with his production team in 2010 and Tennant joined him out the exit door. Steven Moffat took over from the Welshman and his first job was to replace the universally popular Tennant. He went young, and chose 27 year old Matt Smith to become the eleventh Doctor, the youngest man to take the role. Matt Smith was the Doctor that saw the show expand and go global. His second series saw some episodes filmed in America and that helped reach out to a wider audience. Matt Smith’s Doctor was youthful and bumbling, a version that was fun to watch and good for the younger watcher. His reign lasted almost an identical length of time to Tennant’s and Moffat had to choose another replacement. He went for the polar opposite to Smith and appointed Peter Capaldi. The twelfth Doctor is one of the darkest in the show’s history and was a perfect contrast to his predecessor. It is hard to split RTD and Moffat in terms of the Doctors they’ve chosen as all four appointments have been perfect for the show at the time.
When it comes to writing series’ finales, RTD has the edge. His four were a lot more consistent than Moffat’s five, that tend to be very hit and miss. “The Parting of the Ways” was RTD’s first and finest finale, a stunning episode that saw the Doctor go head to head with a fleet of Daleks and have a decision, similar to the one the fourth Doctor faced in “Genesis of the Daleks”, to either try to fight the Daleks, or commit genocide and wipe them all out without mercy. The episode ended with the ninth Doctor regenerating into the tenth, a perfectly written scene by Davies as we got our first look at David Tennant in the TARIDS. Onto series two and “Doomsday” was very nearly the perfect finale. The Daleks and the Cybermen going head to head was epic and up until Rose Tyler was saved from going into the void by Pete it was a a faultless story. Scenes like the one on the beach were RTD’s weakness and this particular scene tarnished what could’ve been the best finale of the modern era. “Last of the Time Lords” is another solid finale by RTD, that is once again hard to fault. Having so little of the Doctor in the finale was a bold choice but it worked for this episode. The way the Doctor returned in the end, flying across the room in a sort of light bubble was a bit odd but overall, he had successfully scripted the Master back into the show and produced another good finale. RTD’s last finale was similar to “Doomsday” as it could’ve been perfect. The scale of the story was once again stunning and seeing a large group of companions at once was great. The episode was faultless until a rather cop out ending that saw Donna defeat an entire fleet of Daleks and Davros by flicking a few buttons. Why would the Daleks build in a setting on their control panel that allowed them to be taken over so easily. Apart from the ending, “Journey’s End” was yet another strong conclusion to a series from RTD who’d showcased his ability to finish a series well and satisfyingly.
Onto Moffat’s attempts at finales and like RTD, his first one is probably his best. “The Big Bang” was an exciting, high paced episode. Throughout his tenure, Moffat has constantly tried to write “timey wimey” stories and this one was his best. Some of his scripts have been difficult to follow but this one had the perfect balance of being easy to keep up with while still being action packed. The concept of the cracks engulfing the universe was very good and the solution with the Doctor flying the pandorica into the TARDIS to create a second big bang was valid. Overall, Moffat did an excellent job with his first finale… it’s a shame he couldn’t carry it on. Series six came to an end with “The Wedding of River Song”. As I said, Moffat enjoys writing stories that jump from time zone to time zone and that’s what he did again. However the first ten or so minutes of this episode was a mess. Seeing all of time happening at one moment, randomly at 5:02 was difficult to understand while watching and the rest of the episode was also frustrating. This series had such a huge aura around it, with the Doctor seemingly being shot dead in the opener. Although that was explained by Moffat, the solution was slightly anticlimactic and the Doctor marrying River was so unnecessary. This definitely goes in the “miss” pile of Moffat finales. Series seven saw Moffat’s slowest paced finale. “The Name of the Doctor” was probably the most conservative finale in Moffat’s tenure. It was a slow burner as the Great Intelligence tried to enter the Doctor’s tomb. The reveal at the end of the episode of John Hurt as the Doctor however was fantastic and set up the fiftieth anniversary special excellently. This episode was certainly better than most of Moffat’s other attempts at concluding a series so would have to be deemed as a success. “Death in Heaven” was the first finale with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and it was a bold concept from Moffat. To bring back the dead as Cybermen didn’t fully work in my opinion. They didn’t seem to have the threat or menace that they should and overall the story was weak. Missy was another bold move. Although her identity was revealed in the previous episode, this was the first we saw of her in full flow. I think she was much better in series nine than series eight. The whole episode was based around her trying to give the Doctor an army and this was quite a weak concept to try to fill out a whole finale. Moving on to the most recent finale and “Hell Bent” was similar to some of RTD’s efforts. This could’ve been brilliant and for twenty minutes it was. Seeing the Doctor own Gallifrey and telling the President to get off his planet was stunning. But then Moffat inexplicably turned the episode on its head and changed the focus of the story to try and save Clara. This completely ruined what could’ve been Moffat’s best episode and therefore easily finds itself in the “miss” pile. Overall, just due to consistency, RTD did a better job of rounding off series and although Moffat time and time again gave himself opportunities to trump the Welshman, he just couldn’t always deliver.
Looking at story arcs, it’s quite difficult to split the two writers. Moffat was undoubtedly more ambitious in creating these arcs that lasted a series or more, but RTD’s were more viewer friendly and easier to follow. All of RTD’s arcs followed the same formula so they may as well be discussed simulataneosly. Throughout all four series, something followed the Doctor and his companion through time and space. “Bad Wolf”, “Torchwood” and “Harold Saxon” were all subliminally mentioned and then the return of Rose Tyler was teased. All lasted for one season and all were rounded off successfully and cleverly. There isn’t much else to say apart from RTD dealt with these as best as he could. The four knocks arc that followed the tenth Doctor through his final stories and ended with Wilfred Mott being the one who knocked four times leading to the Doctor’s death was the best twist in the modern era. It was genius from Davies to make it such a lovable character who eventually killed off Tennant’s Doctor, something nobody could’ve predicted.
Moffat took a more complex route of planting these arcs. Although he did focus on one per series, similar to RTD, the crack in the wall, the silence and the question that must never be asked all came full circle in Matt Smith’s last episode. This is very clever, no doubt. However for the casual viewer, this makes the show very difficult to understand in an episode by episode basis. If I was to be honest, I much prefer the idea behind the three mentioned series arcs that Moffat created, but I much prefer the way in which RTD delivered his. In series eight, Moffat seemed to go back to basics as Missy was the underlying mystery of that year. It worked as well as her reveal was relatively surprising all though perhaps a touch predictable for those who’d given it some thought as to who she could be. Series nine contained undoubtedly the worst arc of the modern era. Unless Moffat is going to return to the hybrid, (which I wouldn’t rule out) it was underwhelming and anticlimactic and served very little importance to the plot of anything throughout. In terms of devising and executing story arcs, it’s hard to separate the two. I would say Moffat just edges it because he pulled off the majority of his despite their complex nature. Yes, RTD’s were easier to take in, but Moffat pushed the boat out and seeing three of them reach the end at once in “The Time of the Doctor” was hugely satisfying. I can understand why many might think RTD had the edge but if you fully comprehend the thought and detail Moffat went into to make his work, this is why I think his were slightly better.
Both oversaw entertaining eras of the show. In terms of watchability though, RTD certainly had the more fun era. Despite Matt Smith being the the Doctor who was most up for goofing around out of the four, there was a sense of ease around the previous series. Under RTD, episodes seemed to run more smoothly and required less thought to understand what was going on. It felt like you as the viewer were on a fun filled adventure through time and space, what the show should be, rather than a constant struggle in the brain to work out what was happening and why. Of course, RTD wasn’t perfect. Personally I didn’t like the romance between Rose and the Doctor and then the mystery of whether the Doctor and Martha would get together. The romance always seemed to overshadow the sci-fi and that’s why Donna Noble was such a refreshing companion. In terms of poor episodes though, they have been more prominent in Moffat’s era. If you were a new viewer, I would definitely recommend watching an episode of Russell’s before Steven’s. Obviously Davies was responsible for some poor ones, but even when they were poor it didn’t seem like such a big deal. In a series, you were unlucky if you got two awful episodes, though under Moffat there tends to be at least three or four dead rubbers a year. Moffat appeared to care for the overall structure of the series more than he did for each individual episode whereas RTD definitely took the opposite approach and maticulously ensured each story was as good as it could be.
Overall, both have taken different approaches to running the famous show. Both have had success in their ways but for me RTD just edges it. If I was pressed to watch one Doctor Who story between the two writers I would plump for one of the Welshman’s. Despite Moffat bringing us the sensational fiftieth anniversary special, episodes such as “Rose”, “The Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time” put Davies just ahead.
10/10 Casting 10/10
8/10 Finales 7/10
8/10 Arcs 8.5/10
9/10 Entertainment 7.5/10
35/40 Overall 33/40