It’s interesting to consider what qualities an actor may bring out in a writer.
Back in 2005, Russell T. Davies was lucky to score Christopher Eccleston for the Ninth Doctor role. A serious film actor in the middle of an impressive career, Eccleston came to the show exclusively due to Davies’ reputation as a writer. Davies was forced to bring his A game – not only to give his beloved show a chance, but to meet the demands of his lead.
David Tennant, fresh off Casanova, offered his writer an entirely different set of strengths. The two share a taste for melodrama and a flair for the ridiculous, and it shows in the three seasons they worked together. Serious storytelling took second place to showmanship and fun. ‘Voyage of the Damned,’ the 2007 Christmas special, is a prime example. From Astrid’s death until the Doctor saves the day, we are treated to dramatic zooms, swelling music, and significant facial expressions, all while the story slips quietly into the background. The episode remains engaging and fun, but it loses a share of its sincerity.
Things took a marked turn for the worse with the pairing of Stephen Moffat and Matt Smith. Moffat is a fanboy from the school of thought that all fans are boys. Smith is a young man who still sees women as alien creatures, rather than fellow humans. Together they made television strictly for the most juvenile part of themselves, to the exclusion of any other type of fan. Their work still has merit, in places, but it is marred by their twelve-year-old-boy thinking.
Now, Peter Capaldi brings out the best in Stephen Moffat. Not since Series 1, when Eccleston pushed Davies to be his best, has the writing been so consistently strong, with storytelling as its focus. The nerd remains strong in them – the season is peppered with show history – but now the nerd serves the story rather than the other way round. Authenticity matters again. Human beings matter again.
We enjoyed our re-watch of the third new-Who Christmas special, but it doesn’t hold a candle to S9.