Since 2005, Mark Gatiss has written 8 Doctor Who stories, as well as appearing in two different episodes as an actor. When you think about it this, it is a staggering amount for somebody who has never been the head writer. Even more staggering when you consider the episodes he’s written haven’t been all that good. Some writers get one chance to write for the show and if they don’t deliver, then that’s it for them. Some writers who have even written terrific episodes have not since come back. Robert Shearman, writer of series one’s Dalek hasn’t written for the show since. This seems very odd and unfair. So why does Mark Gatiss continue to get asked back to write for the show?
Well first of all, it’s no secret that Gatiss and show runner Steven Moffat are close friends. Both co-write Sherlock, and before I get totally immersed in Doctor Who I have to say what a sensational job they both do of that show together. But should their friendship mean he gets a free ride as a writer on Moffat’s other show? Well it shouldn’t. I’ll list you the episodes Gatiss has written:
The Unquiet Dead, An Idiot’s Lantern, Victory of the Daleks, Night Terrors, Cold War, The Crimson Horror, Robot of Sherwood and Sleep No More.
It’s also worth noting, Gatiss was responsible for the biopic of William Hartnell’s life during his time on the show. An Adventure in Space and Time was written beautifully, although it wasn’t in the format of a standard Doctor Who story.When you look at the episodes he’s written, none of them jump off the page as being amazing. In fact only a few of them are average. To be honest, The Unquiet Dead and Cold War are the only episodes I don’t dislike. The other six are amongst the weakest of episodes in each series they feature in. To be fair to Gatiss, a lot of his concepts are good, very original and before the episode is aired, they always draw me in and excite me. However they all, and especially Sleep No More, let me down. The writing tends to be a bit lazy, contain plot holes and never really produce a strong, valid ending. I was originally excited for Gatiss’ series nine attempt. A found footage episode seemed like a good new idea that promised a spooky and tense forty five minutes. And it very well could have been had it not ironically sent me and several other viewers to sleep. The revelation that the Sandmen were the sleep in your eye and the whole ending where Rassmussen wasn’t actually defeated as such was so disappointing and verging on ridiculous. I get the feeling if Gatiss had been allowed to pitch this idea to Moffat, but then somebody co-wrote the episode with him, then the whole episode would have worked a whole lot better.
It is undoubted that Gatiss has an extraordinary imagination. His contribution to Sherlock along with his ideas for Doctor Who prove that irrefutably. His writing and end product let him down though. A television coming to life and consuming victims, the Daleks in the middle of the Second World War, Robin Hood and found footage. All fantastic ideas that should have brought so much to the show. Sadly the way he wrote them and formatted them didn’t work. I do believe strongly that Mark Gatiss should continue his involvement with the show in the long term, even beyond Steven Moffat’s tenure. It can’t be doubted what an asset he is, but I think he should only be utilised in the ideas department. Sat round a table, Gatiss could feed writers that have proved themself on the show (like Jamie Mathieson and Peter Harness) wonderful new ideas, and they could go on to produce stunning episodes that will be remembered for all the right reasons. I hope Gatiss stays with Doctor Who, just sadly never again to write a story by himself.