Having digested the news that our Dear Leader, Steven Moffat, is to retire as Doctor Who showrunner, I have decided to look back on what this remarkable writer has contributed in his career to this remarkable show. I’m counting down my picks for Steven Moffat’s ten best scripts for Doctor Who — although I hope, of course, careful not to be premature about this, that Moffat, in his final series, will deliver yet more astounding writing and that I can say in a little over a year’s time that this list is redundant.
This list is obviously subjective, based on my own opinions and estimations, as there is no objective way to compile a “Definitive Top 10” of anything that can’t be measured. So don’t take this list too seriously if you happen to disagree (as you may) with my picks.
Anyway, without further ado…
10. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone
In his first series as showrunner, Moffat brought back his acclaimed creations, the terrifying Weeping Angels, and stuck the Doctor and Amy in a spaceship teeming with them. It’s an exhilarating and dramatic base-under-siege with enemies that were practically made for this format. The suspense and the adrenaline never lets up: it’s a tight and absorbing pair of episodes that do justice to the Weeping Angels’ second ever outing, after their introduction in the sensational Blink. It also has Steven Moffat’s signature flair for engaging character writing, as Eleven, Amy and River Song (and their respective actors, of course) are all at their luminous best. Notable scenes include Amy stuck in a trailer with a Weeping Angel materialising out of a video recording, and Amy stumbling, blind, through the forest while surrounded by Angels.
9. The Day of the Doctor
Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special was an extravagant, uplifting homage to the show and its fans, indulging shamelessly in the show’s heritage and featuring not just one, but three (four? thirteen?) Doctors. I can’t remember laughing more at an episode of Doctor Who than I did watching Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt perform the hilarious dialogue with each other in this episode. The brilliance of The Day of the Doctor owes much to the novelty of seeing Matt Smith and David Tennant, along with John Hurt, together onscreen as leads, but it’s also an exceptional story in general. It isn’t a sophisticated, artistic work of writing as many of Moffat’s other most acclaimed scripts are, but it’s a jubilant, well-put together and emotionally satisfying celebration of Doctor Who that only a writer with a deep love and reverence for this show could have written. I adore it.
8. A Christmas Carol
Still the best Christmas special by a good length, and, in my opinion, one of the best things Moffat has written for the show. A Christmas Carol isn’t often mentioned among lists of “Moffat’s best”, because, well, it’s a Christmas special and aren’t Christmas specials just light, insubstantial seasonal fluff? Not “real” Doctor Who? Well, yes, generally, but Christmas specials can still be fantastic pieces of writing and production, as I believe A Christmas Carol is, perhaps ironically for the most overtly “Christmassy” of Doctor Who’s Christmas specials. It was an absorbing, heartwarming and very emotional story, a recreation of the eponymous Charles Dickens tale with the unique Doctor Who twist of time travel. It’s filled with enchanting moments, such as all the adventures the Doctor has with young Kazran and Abigail, whose blossoming relationship is beautiful, but also very poignant moments such as elderly Kazran’s emotional catharsis when confronted with his younger self. It’s a perfect Christmas tale.
7. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
It’s hard not to love this one, the bold, explosive two-part opener to Series 6. Like The Magician’s Apprentice, this extravagant opener begun Series 6 with a story pretty much the of the scale and atmosphere of a finale, although in fact it set up the various arc threads which would weave their way throughout Series 6 and culminate in the timey-wimey finale. This story introduced the Silence, probably my favourite monster in Doctor Who, in my opinion one of the more menacing and genuinely scary creatures in the show. Like the Weeping Angels, Moffat’s other notable creature creation, they’re very creepy monsters based on a neat psychological trick, their ability to cause the observer to forget them after looking away. In the episodes this made for many creepy scenes, like Amy being confronted by the Silent in the White House bathroom, and Amy in the Silence-infested orphanage. The plot constructed around the threat of the Silence to human civilisation was also great, suspenseful and claustrophobic drama, and the aesthetic of Americana lends the story an irresistible mood and swagger.
6. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang
The two-part Series 5 finale remains, to my mind, the best finale of the revival. It’s a superlative script that oozes Moffat’s style and voice all over. It’s a delightfully clever script that deceptively wrong-foots the viewer and then radically changes course halfway through. In many ways it’s the archetypal Moffat finale: it’s an expansive, high-stakes plot with a thrilling concept at its core, involving a very timey-wimey threat in an exploding Tardis that threatens to cause the implosion of the whole universe; but it also carries a profound emotional and character-centred quality, punctuated by touching character moments such as Rory’s pledging himself to stand guard over Amy for 2,000 years, and the Doctor’s pathetic goodbye to little Amelia in her bedroom as he fades from the universe. This story embodies those two staples of Moffat’s style: a penchant for clever and intricate storytelling and especially imaginative exploitation of the narrative possibilities of time travel; and a firm anchoring, from a storytelling perspective, in characters and their relationships.
Stay tuned for my top 5 Moffat stories! Please?