Interesting news about Chris Chibnall’s plans for Doctor Who

From Radio Times yesterday:

It looks like new Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall is set to shake up the long-running sci-fi drama when he takes over at the end of the year.

In an interview with Television, the in-house magazine of the Royal Television Society, Chibnall says that all options are on the table for the programme, including a whole-series storyline of the kind he pursued on three series of Broadchurch.

Asked if this approach were possible, he replied “yes”, adding that “what the BBC was after was risk and boldness” when they approached him for the job.

Admitting that he resisted accepting the role “for a very long time”, Chibnall said the BBC had agreed with his ideas for the show – somewhat to his surprise.

“I had ideas about what I wanted to do with it,” he said. “When I went to them and said, ‘This is what I would do’, I actually expected them to say, ‘Ooh, let’s talk about that’, but they said: ‘Great!’”

Interviewer Mark Lawson writes in the same piece: “Chibnall’s general tone suggests that there may be a radical revamp of Doctor Who, which will please those who have suggested the show needs a kick up the Tardis.”

I’ll be writing my review of The Empress of Mars soon–probably tonight if all goes well–but I just wanted to comment briefly on this very interesting bit of news about Chris Chibnall’s plans for Doctor Who post 2017.

Basically, Chibnall appears to be toying with plans for a radical shake-up of Doctor Who’s format when he takes over. There’s a reference to the possibility of a series-long storyline à la Broadchurch in the article–which would be radical indeed, and if Chibnall is considering that, then it’s a pretty good indication that anything is possible for Series 11. Even more interestingly, it looks like the BBC is totally on board with any radical revamping of the show Chibnall is proposing to undertake.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is some of the most exciting Doctor Who news we’ve heard in a long time–and yes, that includes the return of John Simm and the Mondasian Cybermen. I was literally only thinking yesterday about how the best thing Chibnall could do for the show, other than produce great stories, would be to shake up the format. I actually didn’t think it was likely to happen, but an iconoclastic overhaul is exactly what the show needs right now.

I hate to say it, but as brilliant as the Capaldi era has been, at least for us diehards, the thing is just getting a bit stale. A bit passé. I was reflecting on that in my review of Extremis, where I struggled to be enthused by what was undoubtedly one of the boldest and most boundary-pushing episodes we’ve seen on Who. That the show has been sticking to the formula Russell T Davies employed when he brought it back in 2005 has a lot to do with that. Sure, there have been stylistic changes along the way–Moffat in particular has cycled through as many stylistic shifts as he’s done seasons–and the character of the fanbase has changed in tandem, but on the whole Doctor Who in 2017 remains the same show it was in 2005. And I think if it stayed that way any longer we’d all, even us diehards, get bored of it and it would get cancelled.

So, yes, the show needs to change to survive, and more than to survive, to remain interesting. The experience of the show’s first cancellation should be instructive: by 1989 the show had become repetitive, had become boring, had lost viewers, and was canned. The changes need to involve more than more two-parters or extending the format to 60 minutes (although both would be welcome changes). The experiment with a three-part story in the Monk trilogy was a welcome venture, even if that storyline rather flopped. The idea of a Broadchurch-style series-long storyline is even better.

I think I’d also want to see a major stylistic shift under Chibnall. Moffat made a significant stylistic shift away from Davies’ familiar (and relatively consistent) style when he took over in 2010, and has moved even further away from Davies’ style since then, but by and large the show still looks much like it did in 2005, and a casual viewer wouldn’t necessarily be able to distinguish between the two. Just compare televised Doctor Who to the audio Doctor Who Big Finish is making to discern how little the show has actually changed since 2005. Doctor Who is still by and large a soap opera clothed in science-fiction garb, admittedly with more emphasis on the science-fiction bit now than in 2005. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but after 12 years it’s starting to feel stale. It’s hard to get consistently large numbers of people excited about the same thing you’ve been making for 12 years.

Doctor Who should feel fresh again. Series 11 should be a reboot in every sense except continuity. Series 11 should feel like 2005 again, not stylistically but in the sense of freshness and newness, in the sense that you’re seeing an old, familiar show totally remade into a new one. In 2005 the rebranded, revamped Doctor Who captured the attention of a nation–and it can do so again if it successfully does what it’s always been good at, and changes, regenerates.

I was starting to feel uneasy about the prospect of Chibnall as showrunner, given his indication that he was going to throw out all the current writers (even Mathieson and Dollard)–and I’m still uneasy about Chibnall on this front–but he’s just given me a very good reason to be excited about Series 11.

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6 thoughts on “Interesting news about Chris Chibnall’s plans for Doctor Who

    • Clara and Danny Pink wasn’t really a whole-series story, though, it was just a side-arc punctuated throughout 11 different stories, and Moffat has done one of those every series. I’m talking about one story told over 11-12 episodes, like Broadchurch or Series 4 of Torchwood. I’m not saying that’s what Doctor Who should look like from 2018 onwards, but it’s an interesting and novel idea, and I’d welcome it if that’s what Chibnall went with.

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      • I like the concept, but I think pacing would be an issue. I loved Gracepoint (American version of Broadchurch), but my DH was bored by ep 3, and sometimes it was too slow for me too. Season 2 was better with more characters, but the pace was equivalently slow. It would have to be a great big convoluted story to keep it from boring fans. Torchwood was better, but some longish scenes felt like they were there to drag the episode out. That’s my only major concern. As you said, Clara was a side-arc, and I could it plodding and boring. But that’s just me, and almost all of the others who I know personally who watch the show.

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