Long considered to be a writer’s medium, the nature of authorship in television drama has become particularly problematic in modern times. To begin the exploration of this idea then, a reasonable place to start seemed to be to take a much hyped television event, in this case the recent Doctor Who special, and gauge the public opinion of who was responsible for its creation. In other words, to simply ask.
After a quick quizzing of certain student companions, the general consensus seemed to be that Steven Moffat, current head writer and showrunner of Doctor Who, should be considered the author of The Day of the Doctor, but how acceptable is this assumption?
Well, to a large extent it is more accurate than any other argument of authorship in regards to the anniversary programme. Moffat’s name is the one that receives the byline when the title credit of the episode appears for a start – as does the name of whatever writer is credited with the latest episode of the show when the conventional series structure is in full flow.
Furthermore, in the run up to The Day of the Doctor there were few interviews featuring Moffat’s fellow executive producer Faith Penhale, yet a mass of coverage focused on Moffat, highlighting everything from his experiences in pre-production to the fact that he was ‘totally bricking it’ about the reception of his work. Hard-hitting coverage indeed.
Nevertheless, an author cannot, of course, be named as such purely because of their recurrence in extensive media coverage, although that fact does hold a certain weight. For example, Matt Smith, the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor – or perhaps the twelfth now, it’s all got very confusing – received just as much interview time in the run up to the event as Moffat, yet he would not be considered as the author of the show in which he stars. We must look into the reasoning behind the public’s attachment of this tag to Moffat therefore to understand exactly why he should be credited as the author of the production.
With authorship being a tag attached to an individual that has contributed remarkably and distinctively to the show on which they work, Moffat certainly can be ascribed as the main creator of The Day of the Doctor, and indeed of recent Doctor Who in general.
During BBC Three’s After Show, aired after the anniversary episode, Smith remarked on the impact of Moffat, commenting: “Steven has changed the mythology of the character, which after 50 years is an achievement.” The showrunner certainly did change the folklore of the iconic Doctor with the revelation that ‘Gallifrey falls no more’, altering previously concrete moments in the history of the programme and setting the show on a different track for the future. Only Moffat had the power to unleash such a change in the series, and the significance of this twist alone shows the magnitude of his impact.
Certainly, after the airing of the programme, Moffat even commented on the complex nature of the numbering of The Doctors briefly touched upon above, stating in a labyrinth-like manner as typical of his speech as it is of his scriptwriting:
“[Matt Smith’s Doctor] is in his 12th body but he’s the 11th Doctor, however there is no such character as the 11th Doctor – he’s just The Doctor, that’s what he calls himself. I’ve given you the option of not counting John Hurt numerically – he’s the War Doctor.”
What this quotation does – aside from causing a headache – is show that not only does Moffat deal with the mythological management of Doctor Who, he also directly controls the manner in which the audience digests the programme both on and off the screen. The intricacy of his plotlines offer fast-flashing details, such as John Hurt’s rejection of his character as the same Doctor as that of Smith and David Tennant, and while these may seem like mere narrative particulars they often hold more influence over an audience’s reading of the series than it seems, on this occasion allowing the spoken chronology of The Doctor’s embodiments to remain less damaged than suggested.
Not only has the writer managed to change the narrative timeline of the Doctor though – although such a phrase feels irresponsibly used in relation to a Time Lord – he has also established a stylistic footprint that is notably his, meaning that whenever the viewer watches a Moffat episode, they can clearly identify it as just that, whether from the clever complexity of the plot or the terrorising nature of the villains.
This is a prominent feature in the narrative of The Day of the Doctor. Moffat’s typically complex plots tend to focus on time-travel rather than simply utilising the TARDIS as a justification for a setting, and the meeting of three Doctors is an obvious example of this, as are the ingenious speeches brought on by the age gap between the protagonists. “The calculations alone would take… hundreds of years,” insists The Gallifreyan General on The Doctor’s plan to freeze his planet. “Don’t worry,” replies Tennant’s Doctor. “I started a very long time ago.”
The use of the uncanny is another of Moffat’s regular ploys, and is here deployed again through the Zygon race, which take the form of a series of seemingly mundane humans yet ooze a frighteningly uncomfortable feel brought on by their true nature.
It is because of these signature points that Moffat simply must be regarded as the author of The Day of the Doctor, and indeed of modern day Doctor Who.
Through signature traits and significant input he has left a distinctive and transforming mark on the project that will define its direction for a long time to come.
As published originally at: www.brignewspaper.com