Doctor Who Debate: Davies vs. Moffat

Doctor Who Debate: Davies vs. Moffat

At Dragon*Con last weekend I went to a panel called Doctor Who: Davies vs. Moffat in the Brit track so as to cover it for the Daily Dragon. The panel discussion was… less than robust, I would say. But then, this topic could have people going on for hours and we only had one. I wrote it up for the DD here, if you care to read.

Coming away from the panel I felt that I’d like to continue the conversation in a venue better suited to deep conversation. And here we are.

The basic idea behind the panel was to examine Doctor Who and debate which “era” of the show — the one headed by Davies or the current one by Moffat — is better overall. Of course, with both showrunners there’s a lot to pick apart and examine and for some there may not be a better overall choice. It’s completely legitimate to point out the areas where either of them excel or falter. And, of course, there will be some pitting the various Doctors against each other.

To back up your arguments, you may mention any episode that’s been aired but don’t reveal any spoilers from unaired stuff. By aired I mean aired in the UK. If you really, really don’t want spoilers for the most recent stuff, you should probably skip this one.

To start the debate, I’ll ask of folks: who do you think is the better plotter? On an episode by episode basis I would have said Moffat until season 5. On an overall arc basis, I’m saying Davies. So far The Silence just makes me roll my eyes, and I wanted to stab the Pandorica thing from the word go. Season 3’s arc was much more satisfying and well constructed… until the Tinkerbell bit.

What say you?

Comments

  1. says

    I loved Moffat episodes back when Davies was the show runner. However, once the Moffat era began, I began to notice how poorly Moffat writes/plots for female characters. (And then I noticed things I’d missed in his earlier episodes that now stand out.) Frankly, I think he has a “chicks, who understand them, amirite?” attitude when it comes down to it. The female characters and storylines surrounding them were much less cringe-inducing in the Davies era.

  2. Steven Schwartz says

    I waffle. ;) I think I am completely the reverse of your position when I have to sit down and think about it, however — and I think I know why.

    On a long-arc basis, Moffatt’s puzzle-boxes intrigue me more than Davies’ “slow hints building up to a big Something”. I found myself disappointed with almost every Davies season finale, while I was not disappointed with the one Moffatt finisher (nor with the .5-season finish from a plot POV, though very much so from a character POV.)

    My confusion is not helped by a slow downward trend in my general opinion of the Doctors (Yes, I rate ’em 9,10,11, in that order), nor is it helped by the fact that, IMHO, the standalone episodes reach greater heights than the “arc” episodes regardless; and since Davies had the advantage of Moffatt as a non-arc episode writer, the comparison becomes unfair. ;)

    I am, however, utterly up to being swayed by argument.

  3. says

    I’m still pretty solidly in favor of Moffat over Davies. They both have their faults. I just like the stuff Moffat gives us in between the faults better than the stuff Davies gave.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the show would be better if it were more “running around and shouting and sexy fish vampires”/”monsters for breakfast, lunch and tea” and less focused on Epic!Myth!Arcs! and Wham!Event!Episodes.

    Because that seems to be where it falls down. There are some clunkers among the monster-of-the-week episodes, but I think if we’re honest, we have to admit that writing is always of a wibbly-wobbly/handwavy quality. The same people who write the imaginary magical science are the same people who write the imaginary magical plots, so you get the same sort of duct tape and spackle approaches in both areas.

    I’m not saying there aren’t shining moments of brilliance. There are! They’re just held up with fishing wire. And I think that as viewers we mind the fishing wire less when we’re watching magical adventures in space than we do when it’s all supposed to come together and mean something.

    I’m not saying it should be a series of completely disconnected adventures. Just imagine if Moffat basically wasn’t “allowed” to do Epic Two Parters and had to advance his plots the way he did when Davies was running the show.

    It wouldn’t fix all his problems as a writer, but I think it would improve the show.

  4. Steven Schwartz says

    A minor note: Just imagine if Moffat basically wasn’t “allowed” to do Epic Two Parters and had to advance his plots the way he did when Davies was running the show.

    IIRC, two of the moments of brilliance that made me love Moffatt were big two-parters; perhaps they weren’t Epic (not knowing your classification scheme ;)), but Empty Child/Doctor dances and Silence/Forest were two of the moments that made me love New Who.

    I find myself idly wondering if part of the problem isn’t that in old Who there were character arcs, and story arcs, but not season arcs. Now, we’ve moved to season arcs, and the intersection of those with character arcs becomes an added complication. Moffatt may be trying to disconnect them in a way that Davies didn’t, and I’m not sure it’s working.

  5. says

    No, those aren’t what I’m referring to barring Moffat from doing… those episodes are the sorts of things I’d like to see more of. They were two-parters, but they were basically monster-of-the-week episodes.

    And yet he established overarching plots of a sort in them: the squareness gun, the Doctor’s thing for bananas (more of a running gag than a plot, mind), River. Those are two part episodes that connect to Moffat’s larger storyline, but the episodes were “about themselves”, so to speak. And they were great episodes.

    It’s when he does something like a two part episode that’s a big event that’s supposed to be about the ongoing plot instead of being about itself that he seems to inevitably disappoint.

  6. Steven Schwartz says

    It’s when he does something like a two part episode that’s a big event that’s supposed to be about the ongoing plot instead of being about itself that he seems to inevitably disappoint.

    Gotcha. That makes sense.

    I admit, looking back on it, I can only think of two two-parters that were Big Evenst that weren’t Big Disappointments: The Farewell to 10 and (though I may be alone in this) the Pandorica two-parter.

    I suspect that part of it is also the problem that season finales always have — when you’ve built up to them for that long, you’re setting yourself up for massive disappointment; I mean, if I’d been hearing of the Vashta Nerada as a Big Meanie for a season, I suspect Silence/Forest would have been more disappointing, love it as I do.

  7. says

    While I’m not a Moffat fan by any stretch of the imagination, I have to grudgingly say that I think he generally does plotarc better than Davies, who sort of seemed to tack it on after he’d written what he wanted. Moffat is a better screenwriter–he understands the construction of a television program better, particularly writing for science fiction. But it’s sort of like voting for the lesser of two evils.

    And I seriously think Moff’s lost the plot with the current season (season plus?) mythos. Let’s Kill Hitler pretty much solidifed that, going to a whole load of wtfy places. And, as kayjayoh noted, he can’t write women well; he just sort of waves at the notion enough to fool people who are used to the usual pablum of Women In SF Telly.

  8. says

    Old Steve does NOT understand women, for sure. It’s an ongoing theme in his life, both as a writer and personally, if his interviews are anything to go by.

    Close analysis of Coupling, particularly the last Series, reveals this quite nicely. You see it in Jekyll, too. Both of these series had great bits and good writing and the female characters don’t stand up to scrutiny at all.

  9. wealhtheow says

    I dunno about which one writes women better–Moffat gave us River Song (but also gave her an afterlife that she’d only like if she were a maternal type, not the adventuring anti-hero she’s seemed throughout the series), an older female scientist who wants adventure more than safety in the steampunk inter-species lesbian Victorians, the teenage mom struggling with societal pressure to deny her child in Doctor Dances, Sally Sparrow, etc. Whereas Davies gave us Rose (who started great but ended soppy), Martha (who started soppy but whose story reportedly ended well), Donna (who was a great character until the Doctor decided to mindwipe her in the most egregiously paternalistic moment ever), a half-dozen shrieking nagging mothers, made a great middle-aged woman in Harriet Jones and then destroyed her for disagreeing with the Doctor about the fate of her *own planet*, and gave us a Sarah Jane Smith who never got over the Doctor and felt empty without him. Davies’s choices annoyed me more, but I think that’s more a personal thang than anything.

    …um, sorry for the wall o text, clearly I have a lot of ~feelings~.

  10. says

    Yeah, I would have to agree that Davies’ choices annoyed me immensely, but…I see a lot of back-patting and ‘social justice people need to Calm Down’ commentary about Moffat’s women characters in fandom, and it is slowly but steadily building to the point where I want to explode.

    I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong, but…see what Tempest says above.

  11. says

    I have to say Moffat.

    Russell T Davies for me often used comedy far too much (seen even more in the first 2 series of Torchwood).

    I’m a fan of the original series (as in classic who) and I think that Moffat has managed to bring some of the magic and importantly science fiction back to it while still being able to put his own mark on it.

    While I think the story arc is a bit overblown this series, taking 1 thing out would make it work. I like the fact that instead of getting 1 word like Bad Wolf, Torchwood or Saxon, we are slowly getting bits of information throughout the series while still having some stand alone episodes (While I hated the pirate one the doctor’s wife was amazing).

    I kind of feel if we had Russell T Davies, he’d have just left it to the end to reveal everything and leave us with a headache. Instead of giving us one thing and not really any information, we are getting bits of information, and for a TV show this generates a lot of debate, thus more people talk about it, and that’s what they want.

    My main problem with Russell T Davies is he could never finish finales. The last of the timelords if that was its name, time was reversed. They might as well have had and it was just a Dream. Then Journey’s End had the in case Daleks get out of hand press this button (on their own ship) button. While the big bang 2 wasn’t perfect it beat Russell’s stuff for me.

    If I could change one thing about doctor who, I’d try to make the doctor need to use his clever brain more often. It seems with new who, the doctor has to just go I’m the doctor run often or use faith or something. I’d like to see the doctor trapped and having to think for his life like he never has.

    Oh and a few more alien planets would be good. It’s slowly over the series of new who got better. I’d love a classic who like episode where they land on some planet, like a Jungle, get separated. It’s been done a lot yeah, but it worked then and I’m sure they could modernise it a little. The thing about those episodes was that they didn’t know where they where, it was trying to work out what planet they where on, and not knowing what lurked around the corner.

  12. Dom says

    I’ve done things in the reverse order and begun watching all the Moffat episodes and then the Davies ones. And it’s hard to go backwards, because the Davies ones are so painful. I found the quality of the Davies era was a lot lower than that of the Moffat one, in terms of acting and special effects. They had a lot of moments in the Davies era where things were just … silly, like for instance all of the stuff that happened in the Christmas specials. Eek.
    Personally, I try to watch the David Tenant episodes and I can’t sit through them. They’re really bad. I’m happy to skip a doctor.

  13. JB says

    I like Moffat a lot better. In Season Six it gets a bit weird, I like the standalone episodes better than the huge arcs. But I still ultimately enjoyed it.

    In the Davies episodes I just get bored a lot. Some things were great, but like it’s been said already he doesn’t end things well. It seems like the Doctor is a lot more passive, or maybe he doesn’t get a chance to shine as much as seasons 5/6. The thing I love most about this show is the mad man in a box, and his story, and character, and who he takes along for the ride, and Davies’ episodes have much less Doctor in them. There’s more action and drama, but I don’t care about it enough to pay much attention.
    I loved the Master in The Sound of Drums. But he got so far in he couldn’t get himself out, so Tinkerbell and then a time reversal ended it. I would have enjoyed it more if less had happened and the Doctor got out of it honestly. For example, the tesalecter (probably spelled wrong) in Season Six. Introduced in one episode and then used by the Doctor to get out of his death! That was bloody BRILLIANT!

    There’s so much more magicky cop-out stuff, and I don’t like that. It makes it less interesting. Sherlock Holmes is so good because of the title character’s brains, not the situation he’s in. It seems like Doctor Who should be like that too.

    Some may be saying that “Well, Moffat had his own Tinkerbell stint in ‘The Big Bang’! What do you think of that?”
    To that I say, it made more sense. It was on a smaller scale, and Amy is implied to be special/odd in that she grew up with the crack and all that. I do take a spoonful of salt with it, but there’s not as much buildup and it’s less out of place.
    In “The Last of the Time Lords” I was expecting something brilliant to get out of that mess but got basically nothing.
    In “The Big Bang” instead of being wished back to youth the Doctor was remembered, after planting sparks that Amy Pond could bring into a blaze. That was enough for my willing suspension of disbelief to take, and instead of being disappointed that Martha hadn’t actually come up with an awesome plan I was happy that the Doctor was back.

    Speaking of Amy, Moffat is supposed to write women badly too.
    I think Amy is a stronger character than Rose was. I think Rose got herself into trouble more, and there were a number of times when I wondered how she could be such an idiot.
    Moffat’s girls could be better I suppose (I do think Donna is a stronger character than Amy), but I’ve never really cringed at anything they’ve done or said like I do some female characters. Doctor Who under Moffat is very much watchable. Anything anti-feminist about it isn’t obvious or offensive to me (and I consider myself to be very much a feminist).