Doctor Who: Russell T. Davies vs. Steven Moffat, Part One

I haven’t gotten around to writing about Before the Flood yet.  I’m not sure why.  I liked it, but I didn’t know if I had anything interesting to say about it.

But then something interesting occurred to me.  Not about Before the Flood, but about every Doctor Who story that came before it.

Well, not every story.  Just the ones since the series restarted in 2005.  And only the full length episodes, not the specials or minisodes or what not.

And that’s this:  with Under the Lake, we now have an equal number of Doctor Who episodes produced by Steven Moffat as was produced by Russell T. Davies.  That’s right, if we’re only talking about full-length episodes, than the show has had 60 episodes each for both writer / producers.

But which one has done a better job?

The Twelve Doctors

Nowadays, one of the biggest controversies that you get between fans of Doctor Who is not to do with favorite Doctors or favorite stories:  it’s to do with whether Davies or Moffat are the better showrunner.  Seriously, just go to the comments section of any popular Doctor Who related post and you’ll find people who talk about how Steven Moffat has just ruined their show because he’s an egotistical control freak, or he hates women, or whatever.  It’s crazy.

For the casual fan who has got better things to think about, Russell T. Davies was the guy who kick-started the new show into action and was the head writer and producer for the first four years (the Christopher Eccleston / David Tennant episodes).  Steven Moffat was perhaps the most critically acclaimed writer during this time, who took over Davies’ position after he left, and has run the show ever since (the Matt Smith / Peter Capaldi episodes).  I think both writers have had their strengths, but on the whole I prefer Moffat, whose clever time-travel wackiness appeals to me a bit more than Davies’ sentimentality.

But in celebration of this momentous event (which of course is now two episodes behind us), I’ve decided to write this series, where I will compare the two producers’ tenures episode by episode, to determine once and for all which one of them has done the better job of it.

Of course, I know this won’t determine anything for anyone, not really, but I thought it’d be fun anyway.  My plan here is to compare each episode from one producer with its corresponding one from the other – first and first, third and third, forty-seventh and forty-seventh, and so on.  To determine which episode “wins” each bout, we will use the complex evaluative rubric of which one do I remember liking better, regardless of how long it’s been since I’ve seen it, and knowing in advance I have a bit an admitted Moffat-bias.  But I’ll try to be as fair as I can each time, and offer a brief commentary on each “battle”.

So first up…

1. Rose vs. The Eleventh Hour

This is an interesting start.  Both stories introduced new Doctors, new companions, and new Tardis interiors to the audience.  But the contrast couldn’t be stronger.  I like Christopher Eccleston, and I don’t mind Billie Piper as Rose, but The Eleventh Hour absolutely trounces its predecessor in terms of fun and inventiveness.  Something Steven Moffat has really gone for is to give the Doctor really clever (if not entirely believable) ways of pulling out his victories, as well as establishing the character as being made out of something like pure awesomeness.  We see both of these very clearly in the way the Doctor faces off with Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi.  Meanwhile, Rose features the the titular companion swinging on a rope and kicking some a vial of poison into the monster.  And also a very silly killer wheelie-bin attacking Mickey.

Winner:  Moffat (The Eleventh Hour)

2. The End of the World vs. The Beast Below

The End of the World introduces to us Cassandra, who is maybe the grossest thing I’ve seen on TV in a long time, and the Face of Boe.  It was also the story in which we learned that the Doctor was the last survivor of this people, and featured a bunch of crazy aliens.  The Beast Below, on the other hand, had the outrageous idea of Great Britain floating around in space on the back of a space whale, and it brought in some interesting thematic elements of Amy wrestling with whether to retain her memory or not.  Neither story is a classic, but in the end The End of the World is a step up for the series, while The Beast Below was a big step down.

Winner:  Davies (The End of the World)

3. The Unquiet Dead vs. Victory of the Daleks

I don’t remember The Unquiet Dead all that well.  It was the first of trend that the series had for a while, in which supernatural threats, albeit with some sort of sci-fi explanation, appeared in a historical setting featuring some famous real person.  In this case, it was Charles Dickens in a story about ghosts.  Meanwhile, I do remember Victory of the Daleks quite well.  It’s not the worst Dalek story that the series has produced, but it’s the worst one in Moffat’s tenure and was the episode that got me really worrying about where the show was going, especially after the strength of The Eleventh Hour.

Winner:  Davies (The Unquiet Dead)

4. Aliens of London vs. The Time of Angels

Parallels continue as we hit the first half of the first two-parter from each era.  Aliens of London featured farting fat aliens who chucked madly to each other.  The Time of Angels brought back one of the series most terrifying creations in an adventure of epic proportions, and also really set the River Song story into motion in a major way.  Now, I kind of liked Penelope Wilton’s Harriet Jones, but overall Aliens in London doesn’t hold a candle to the later story, which is one of the series most enjoyable adventures.

Winner:  Moffat (The Time of Angels)

5. World War III vs. Flesh and Stone

I said most of it above, but Flesh and Stone continues the huge fun of the first part.  It’s here that we learn also how the cracks in the universe erase people from history.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense that the Angels get “psycho-sematically” frozen during that one part, and the ending where Amy throws herself at the Doctor is a bit stupid, but overall the Weeping Angels trump anything that the Slitheen can throw at them.

Winner:  Moffat (Flesh and Stone)

6. Dalek vs. The Vampires of Venice

Dalek is one of Series 1’s most memorable segments, simply because it re-introduced the Daleks to the show, but in a way that made the creature much more “personal” to the Doctor than we’d ever seen before.  The Vampires of Venice is a serviceable episode, and is important mostly for making Rory a companion, but otherwise, it wasn’t all that great.

Winner:  Davies (Dalek)

7. The Long Game vs. Amy’s Choice

I’ve written about Amy’s Choice before, noting that it is a well done and interesting episode that ultimately is not particularly memorable.  I’ve seen The Long Game relatively recently as far as Eccleston episodes are concerned, and found it to be less bad than I thought.  Still, it wasn’t particularly good, and it’s not particularly memorable except for the silly image of Adam being stuck back home with a bizarre machine sticking out of his head.  Remember back when that brought up a fan theory that Adam was actually Davros?  Glad that’s behind us!

Winner:  Moffat (Amy’s Choice)

8. Father’s Day vs. The Hungry Earth

The Hungry Earth brought back the Silurians to the show and featured a good guest appearance by the actress who later went on to play Madame Vastra, but aside from that doesn’t have all that much to recommend it.  Father’s Day was the first episode of the revival series to really deal with time travel as a concept.  It’s a bit of a bumpy, uneven story, but I quite like it for its handling of Rose as a character and for introducing us all to Pete Tyler, who is one of the nicer presences in the series during Rose’s time in the Tardis.

Winner:  Davies (Father’s Day)

9. The Empty Child vs. Cold Blood

Well, this is where it gets a little funny, because The Empty Child, which earns Russell T. Davies a clear win for this round, was written by Steven Moffat!  Oh well, this is a contest between producers, and Davies had it in him to hire talent like Steven Moffat.  Anyway, The Empty Child is the second best episode of the entire season (just after The Doctor Dances, it’s follow-up), and features one of the creepiest of all menaces of Doctor Who, of any era.  At the same time, it’s a very good character story, or at least it sets up one for it’s second part.  Cold Blood, on the other hand, is memorable for erasing Rory from history, but not much else.

Winner:  Davies (The Empty Child)

10. The Doctor Dances vs. Vincent and the Doctor

Vincent and the Doctor is a touching story that a lot of people liked, and that I was accepting of.  It features a good guest appearance by Tony Curran as Vincent van Gogh.  But The Doctor Dances features the fulfillment of all the promise of The Empty Child in terms of emotions and character development and clever narrative.  It’s one of the best episodes of the entire series.

Winner:  Davies (The Empty Child)

11. Boom Town vs. The Lodger

Both of these are sort of “calm before the storm” episodes, but the difference is that Boom Town is sort of stupid (aside from a good dinner time conversation between the Doctor and Margaret) while The Lodger is very funny and features a huge amount of fun from Matt Smith.

Winner:  Moffat (The Lodger)

12. Bad Wolf vs. The Pandorica Opens

Bad Wolf featured the re-emergence of the Daleks as major antagonists of the series, as well as a bunch of funny game show paraodies.  Ultimately, it was an okay episode punctuated by a great cliffhanger (one of Davies’ best, really), featuring the weaponless Doctor vowing to come after Rose even though she is being held prisoner by bazillions of Daleks.  The Pandorica Opens, on the other hand, featured tons of classic monsters and a very clever twist on the revelation of what was being held inside the Pandorica prison.  And then it finished that up with an amazing cliffhanger showing the universe ending.  It also had that rockin’ speech of the Doctor shouting at all the space ships in orbit above him.  Pandorica for the win!

Winner:  Moffat (The Pandorica Opens)

13. The Parting of the Ways vs. The Big Bang

Both episodes are pretty heartfelt.  In The Parting of the Ways, you get the new Doctor saying farewell to Rose as he regenerates for the first time to a modern viewing audience.  You also get the death of Lynda, one of the most effecting in the series to that point.  In The Big Bang, you get the Doctor whispering himself into Amelia Pond’s memory so that she’ll be able to call him back into existence at her wedding.  Overall, the cleverness of what’s going on in The Big Bang, along with the deeper (in my estimation) relationship that Amy has the Doctor make the later episode the winner for me.

Winner:  Moffat (The Big Bang)

14. The Christmas Invasion vs. A Christmas Carol

I didn’t mind A Christmas Carol.  I thought the flying sharks were fun, and some of the scenes between Matt Smith and Michael Gambon were strong.  But I loved The Christmas Invasion.  Aside from the ridiculous killer Santas and killer Christmas trees (which were pretty bad), the story made for a great debut of a new Doctor.  The last act, where the Doctor wakes up and takes command of the situation is a tour-de-force combination of David Tennant’s performance and Davies’ dialogue.

Winner:  Davies (The Christmas Invasion)

15. New Earth vs. The Impossible Astronaut

The Impossible Astronaut sets up a number of questions that in retrospect, are annoying that we never got a complete answer to, but in and of itself it is a great episode (along with it’s follow-up) and introduces an outstanding new villain, the Silence, as well as features a great River Song.  New Earth, on the other hand, is one of the stupidest episodes I ever remember seeing – I still can’t over the sight of David Tennant grinning like a fool with a bunch of colorful packs of jell-o strapped all over his body.

Winner:  Moffat (The Impossible Astronaut)

Day of the Doctor

Okay, so 25% of the way through, I am going to wrap this up for now and continue it again soon.  Before signing off, let’s check our tally board:

Russell T. Davies – 7
Steven Moffat – 8

Pretty close so far!  Where do you agree or disagree?  Sound off in the comments!  And have a look at Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4 of this series by clicking through the links.

Until next time…

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2 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Russell T. Davies vs. Steven Moffat, Part One

  1. I’m a much bigger fan of Moffat, especially loving series 5. I’d give him the win on Beast Below and Christmas Carol, personally.

  2. Beast Below I think is arguable. But Christmas Invasion is a pretty solid one for me, if only for the third act. But overall, I prefer Moffat as well.

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