Doctor Who: Russell T. Davies vs. Steven Moffat – The Final Smackdown!!

As I mentioned in Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 this little series, recently Steven Moffat equaled and then surpassed his predecessor, Russell T. Davies, in terms of how many full length episodes of Doctor Who he had produced.  As of Under the Lake, both men were in charge of exactly 60 episodes (full length ones, not counting minisodes, or charity specials, or special bonus scene scenes on the DVD’s, or whatever).

I decided to evaluate which one had done the better job, by comparing their work, episode by episode (Davies’ first episode vs. Moffat’s first episode, and so on).  I admit I have a bit of a bias toward Moffat as a writer, but I’m trying to be as fair as I can in these evaluations.  Also, I admit that some episodes I have not seen for a long time.

Doctor Who Series 9For the casual viewer who doesn’t have time to be aware of things like who is producing Doctor Who, Davies was in charge of the episodes during the Christopher Eccleston / David Tennant years, and Moffat has been in charge of the episodes from the Matt Smith / Peter Capaldi eras.

When I last left off this little endeavor, the score was close, with Moffat at 26 preferred episodes, and Davies at 19, giving Moffat a substantial lead, but overall still quite close.

So…to continue:

46. The Sontaran Strategem vs. Into the Dalek

Though the Daleks have had some good stories, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the creatures. Into the Dalek was interesting for how it took Capaldi’s Doctor forward, but the story itself was a bit lacking, and the Daleks a bit tedious. The Sontaran Strategem, on the other hand did an excellent job re-introducing another classic monster to the series, as well as really solidly featuring UNIT as a competent organization. It’s not a deep story, but it’s a good one and has a classic approach to its story.

Winner: Davies (The Sontaran Strategem)

47. The Poison Sky vs. Robot of Sherwood

The Poison Sky has all the benefits of its first half (see above) and generally was a very successful two parter at bringing back an old threat in a way that felt both “classic” and “updated”. Robot of Sherwood, meanwhile, has some good moments but on the whole is a bit silly.

Winner: Davies (The Poison Sky)

48. The Doctor’s Daughter vs. Listen

The Doctor’s Daughter is an enjoyable romp that brings out a new dimension for the Doctor as he finds himself relating to family again.  It also an outstanding job with Donna Noble as a companion.  But at the same time it’s a little thin on the ground in every element (the Hath, the use of Martha Jones, the concept of a war that’s only been raging for a week but nobody realizes this).  Listen on the other hand is a strange episode the likes of which we have never seen before or since.  It starts out feeling like a terrifying scare-fest on the order of Blink or The Empty Child, but takes a strange swerve in the middle where it turns out to be deep pscyhological case-study for the Doctor himself, eschewing any explanations for anything that is going on.  It’s a bit controversial, but I think in the end I’ll have to give it to Listen just because not only was the story so original, but also the production overall held up much better.

Winner:  Moffat (Listen)

49. The Unicorn and the Wasp vs. Time Heist

It seems that the best part of most of these “famous historical character” stories is the guest performance by the actor playing the historical figure.  Certainly, that’s the case with The Unicorn and the Wasp, in that more memorable than the story itself is simply the presence of Agatha Christie in the story.  On the hand, I enjoyed Time Heist, although not as much as the stories that neighbored it in Season 8.  It was clever and narratively satisfying, and had a pretty memorable monster.

Winner:  Moffat (Time Heist)

50. Silence in the Library vs. The Caretaker

Wow, this is tough.  I really like both of these episodes.  If Silence in the Library were just about the Doctor fighting the Vashta Narada, I don’t think it would do as well, as as frightening as they are in concept, the reality of seeing them as lumbering skeletons is just not all that effective.  However, Silence in the Library also introduces River Song to the series and is part of one of the best uses of her character.  The episode also served as a bit of a trial run for the entire Moffat era of the show, hinting at the personality of the 11th Doctor well before we’d seen him on TV.  It was almost like Moffat went back in time to write the episode.  All of this are points in its favor, and even though I really loved the humor in The Caretaker and the tension in the relationships between the Doctor, Clara and Danny, the earlier story gets the win for me.

Winner:  Davies (Silence in the Library)

51. Forest of the Dead vs. Kill the Moon

Another difficult match up!  Kill the Moon has some of the series’ best ever character work, with an electrifying scene between the Doctor and Clara at the end.  The story itself is complete nonsense, of course, but I still enjoyed it (and even came up with explanations for all its implausibilities–see here).  But Forest of the Dead has got going for it everything that Silence in the Library did, but also adds to it the strange fictional world that Donna finds herself inside, River Song’s emotional death scene, and the absolutely brilliant conclusion.

Winner:  Davies (Forest of the Dead)

52. Midnight vs. Mummy on the Orient Express

Well, this just isn’t fair.  Mummy on the Orient Express is possibly the best episode of Peter Capaldi’s debut year on the show.  It’s scary, it’s gripping, it’s original, and serves as a turning point in our view of the 12th Doctor.  But Midnight…well, Midnight is Midnight:  the very best script that Russell T. Davies wrote for the show, and a contender for the revival series best episode ever.  It put David Tennant’s Doctor into the most challenging one we’ve seen:  one in which all of his normal mechanisms for dealing with his enemies only work against him.  It’s a powerful, terrifying, claustrophobic tale, and there are few episodes that would have the ability to best it.

Winner:  Davies (Midnight)

53. Turn Left vs. Flatline

Turn Left is supposed to be great, and it is enjoyable with it’s trip through alternate versions of many of the series memorable moments.  But it had too many flaws for me to fully enjoy, especially the complete lack of sense surrounding for Rose’s presence.  Flatline is one of Season 8’s best episodes, bringing in a new and wholly original monster that are a lot of fun, and solidifying Clara as one of the series’ best companions.

Winner:  Moffat 

54. The Stolen Earth vs. In the Forest of the Night

And in contrast to the last few entries, In the Forest of the Night is one of the worst episodes of Season 8.  There’s a cheap feeling to the production, and it’s all awkwardly staged and edited.  The Stolen Earth has a bit of a feeling that it’s just building up to the good stuff, but is still an enjoyable adventure with a very good series of cliffhangers, including the Doctor being shot and apparently regenerating.

Winner:  Davies (The Stolen Earth)

55. Journey’s End vs. Dark Water

This is another tough one.  Dark Waters is quite a solid story with some creepy moments and the somewhat shocking reveal of Missy’s secret identity.  It is a rock solid production full of high emotions, which is only let down by the episode’s follow-up.  Journey’s End is the epic conclusion to its season, and in some ways feel like conclusion of the entire Russell Davies era (even though it wasn’t it his last episode).  It’s not as airtight as Dark Water, but it’s hard to look past it for its conclusion of Rose’s story, it’s conclusion of Donna’s story, and its inclusion of everyone else – Martha, Mickey, Sarah Jane, Jackie, etc.

Winner:  Davies (Journey’s End)

56. The Next Doctor vs. Death in Heaven

Death in Heaven wasn’t bad, and it concluded in Season 8 in fairly epic manner, but it also had some dopey stuff in itThe Next Doctor was a good bittersweet character story that made decent use of the Cybermen and included the revival’s first use of actual flashbacks to the classic series.  I enjoy both episodes, but I think I prefer the David Tennant Christmas special, now that the novelty of Missy’s character is behind us.

Winner:  Davies (The Next Doctor)

57. Planet of the Dead vs. Last Christmas

Planet of the Dead isn’t the worst of the specials that David Tennant starred in in lieu of actually producing a 5th season of the show, but it’s the most bland and forgettable.  I remember the flying bus and Michelle Ryan…and that’s about it. Last Christmas was much stronger, with some genuinely creepy moments, some clever story twists, and an unexpected sense of closure for Danny Pink.  It almost collapses under the weight of its own cleverness, but managed to stay standing until the end.

Winner:  Moffat (Last Christmas)

58. The Waters of Mars vs. The Magician’s Apprentice

The Waters of Mars is a bit of a classic style, with a terrifying monster, a clever Doctor and a colorful group of guest characters.  It also tries to be more than that with it’s whole “Time Lord Victorious” thing.  This element is more interesting but less successful – it would have been nice to have seen it developed more fully, and not be built only on David Tennant’s Doctor simply ranting about things.  Meanwhile, The Magician’s Apprentice kicked off the current series of the show with great style and panache.  It’s perhaps the only story in the show’s history to introduce a significant and successful twist right at the start (the revelation that the boy is Davros).  I wasn’t crazy about some elements, like the Doctor rocking out on his electric guitar, or some of the stuff with UNIT and Missy, but overall I am won over by Peter Capaldi’s rich performance as the Doctor and the dynamics of his relationships with both Davros and Missy.

Winner:  Moffat (The Magician’s Apprentice)

59. The End of Time, Part 1 vs. The Witch’s Familiar

OK, let’s get this out of the way:  I am not much of a fan of The End of Time, and none of the elements that I do like are found in Part 1.  I’ve never liked Russell T. Davies’ macabre silliness or John Simm’s Master, and both are at their worst here.  The cliffhanger, where the Master duplicates himself into every human being on the planet, would of course be bad in real life but is a bit embarrassing when seen on TV.  Over in The Witch’s Familiar, we have an episode that’s actual an improvement over it’s already decent first part, and contains a lot of compelling scenes and situations between the Doctor, Davros, Missy and Clara.

Winner:  Moffat (The Witch’s Familiar)

60. The End of Time, Part 2 vs. Under the Lake

Part 2 of The End of Time is a huge improvement over its predecessor, focusing less on the Master (which was still sort of stupid) and more on the dramatic return of Gallifrey and the Time Lords.  It also features our final farewell to the Davies-era of the show, with the Doctor touring the lives of just about every character the show has had.  Some of those didn’t work so well (Martha & Mickey, Captain Jack), while some of the others were great (Donna, Rose).  Plus it had, you know, David Tennant regenerating into Matt Smith.  Under the Lake was a good episode, and a solid set up for a two-parter, but just doesn’t have the significance or gravitas of the David Tennant special.  Maybe someday we can do this exercise again when Steven Moffat has left the show, except this time start at the end of his run, and the results might be different.

Winner:  Davies (The End of Time, Part 2)Doctor Who Season 8And that’s it!

OK, let’s have a look at the Leader Board and see where things stand.  For this round, the results are:

Russell T. Davies – 9
Steven Moffat – 6

Whoa!  What an upset!  Russell T. Davies wins his first round.  It’s not a big surprise, as this round covered some of Davies’ very best material (including most of his best year on the show, Season 4).  Still, it was up against Season 8, which I enjoyed a lot.

Adding up the overall, final scores, we get this result:

Russell T. Davies – 27
Steven Moffat – 32

And we have a winner!  Ladies and gentlemen, presenting  Steven Moffat–now crowned officially the greater of the two modern day Doctor Who producers!

…OK, nothing official about this, of course, and it’s not surprising to me that Moffat won in a contest of my opinion since I already knew that I liked him better.  But it is a little surprising to me that the contest was relatively close.  I suppose it’d probably be different if I only compared episodes that were written by the two men (remembering that Moffat wrote 5 of the episodes that won victories for Davies).

Anyway, thanks for reading – and feel free to sound off on agreements or disagreements in the comments.

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