Russell T Davies on Steven Moffat
We do not know how lucky we are.
When asked to consider Steven’s finest moments, I was overwhelmed by images. Heores and villains. Battles and beauty. Monsters and children. Then I realised that I’d only got as far as 20 minutes into The Empty Child -round about the joke about Marxism and West End musicals - and had to sit down for a cup of tea.
I think, as fans, we can focus on the detail - Mondasian Cybermen! - at the risk of missing the bigger picture. That picture being, in Steven’s case, that we’ve just seen one of the greatest sci-fi body-horror thriller action-adventure romances (plus comedy) of our entire lives, beamed on to our TVs for less than 10p, written by a world-class master of his craft who’s now so in command of his talent, he’s riffing on ephemera from 1966 and turning it into gold, whisky, sex, whatever turns you on best. We truly do not know how lucky we are to have a man of this calibre writing our favourite show.
Since leaving Doctor Who, I’m approached, now and then, by strangers who remember my withered husk from Doctor Who Confidential. There’s a glint in their eye as they say, “What d’you think of it now?” An awful lot of those people are dying for me to trash it. I think, genuinely, they’re trying to achieve an intimacy. I think, nastily, they want me to say something bad so they can take it online and have some strange sort of fun. And when I say, “I love it!” they often think I’m lying.
I love it. I love every episode the man’s written. I love the other episodes he’s rewritten and I think few people know how many that is. I love the detail, I love the scale, I love the people, I love the jokes. I love the fact that Steven himself is quite down on The Beast Below. The whole of the UK on a spaceship? The whole of the UK is a spaceship? I’d retire there and then, complete. Nope, for him, it just wasn’t good enough.
I love the man, in truth, I love his mind, I love his standards, I love his rigour, his darkness, his kindness, his ambition, his love of TV. I love the man who wrote the very last line of Coupling, which shows what a lovely human being he is.
I love his women. Consider, in bad fiction, which is most fiction, how women’s roles, which have suffered so many years of neglect that they can be summarised as ‘women’s roles’, fall into the same old categories. They are reduced to the Mother, the Wife, the Daughter, the Bride. Agents of sex and childbirth, nothing more.
But then look at what Steven does with those categories. The Bride stands tall at her reception - literally in her wedding dress - and summons the Doctor back itno existence with an Old Maid’s rhyme. When the Bride has a Daughter, it’s a vital part of a galaxy-spanning revenge. The Daughter then becomes the Wife, a woman of such swagger and joy and tenderness, the Time Lord finally falls in love. We’re not done yet. A lesser category pops up, the Dominatrix, complete with eye-patch, but don’t worry, the Bride who’s the Mother of the Daughter who’s the Wife kills her stone dead! Then a lesbian travels the universe and everyone adores her. And nestling at the heart of the show is Doctor Who’s very own problem category, the Companion, a title inherently subordinate to the Man. Until Clara comes along! Companion to every single moment in the Doctor’s life. A woman so strong that in her first appearance, and her last, Death itself cannot stop her. A decade before Wonder Woman, Steven started weaving his own vast female mythology across the stars, in a funny old children’s show on Saturday teatimes.
I could mansplain all day, but the other thing I love in Steven’s writing is the complexity. I’ve heard some tiny, distant rumours that some people might have a problem with that. But I think it’s the very thing that will ensure Doctor Who’s logevity. You see, in the old days, us older fans fell in love with this show because it was porous. It had gaps. It was cheap, it was rushed, it was lovely and brave and unapologetic, using three walls in Lime Grove to create an entire Dalek invasion of Earth. All those gaps allowed us in. We imagined the offstage armies. We embraced the wobbles and bumps. If Sutekh had a secret hand on his cushion, we hooted, or invented a reason why (Clara!). But we either imagined it better, or saw how good it was underneath. Which is exactly like falling in love.
Now, the modern show has a lot more money. You can see those armies centre-stage. Gallifrey is so gorgeous, it has a spare city. Cyber-fleets can explode behind Rory’s head as a throwaway joke. And sometimes, a lossy show allows the mind the slide off. But Steven has created a brand-new porous surface. He invites us into the plots. He gives us stories which vault and somersault and double-back and trick and trap and treat. It’s not so much porous, it’s more like a great big spinning double helix and we’re clinging on, spinning for our lives, and yelling with joy. Yes, it’s complicated, but that’s wonderful. It will keep people thinking about the show forever.
Okay, my favourite moment? It’s my favourite joke. A Good Man Goes to War. Rory approaches River Song in the Storm Cage, and she says she’s been on a date with the Doctor, to the frost fair in 1814. “He got Stevie Wonder to sing for me underneath London Bridge.” And for a second, there’s that lovely shiver as you anticipae the punchline. “Don’t tell him.”
That’s a small momnt from a man who’s created empires. But a favourite joke is a beautiful thing. I just looked up the line and it turns out, I’ve long since paraphrased it, but that’s even better - like I said, Steven makes us part of the text, and now I own it! The point is, I think of that line every few days. Literally, a couple of times a week, every week. Every now and then, when I’m washing up or watching TV, or walking into town, or whatever, it pops into my head. “Don’t tell him.” And I laugh. I laugh, every single time. It’s been making me laugh for six years and it will make me laugh for the rest of my life. Very few people can write a line capable of that.
We have been so lucky.