Last night, Doctor Who fans were surprised by the unexpected news that Steven Moffat will step down as showrunner following the next season. His replacement? Chris Chibnall.
Moffat took over the reins of the TARDIS in 2010 and has since introduced Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor and Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth, a reign that has included the companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Rory Pond (Arthur Darvill) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), not to mention characters such as River Song (Alex Kingston), Missy (Michelle Gomez) and villains such as Weeping Angels. Even John Hurt had a stint as a Time Lord in the 2013 50th anniversary special, which saw Matt Smith and David Tennant team up.
“Feels odd to be talking about leaving when I’m just starting work on the scripts for Season 10, but the fact is my timey-wimey is running out,” Mofat said in a statement. “It took a lot of gin and tonic to talk [Chris] into this, but I am beyond delighted that one of the true stars of British Television drama will be taking the Time Lord even further into the future. At the start of Season 11, Chris Chibnall will become the new showrunner of Doctor Who. And I will be thrown in a skip.”
“I have decided to schedule Steven’s big finale series in spring 2017 to bring the nation together for what will be a huge event on the channel,” comments Charlotte Moore, Controller of BBC One. “2016 is spoilt with national moments including the Euros and Olympics and I want to hold something big back for 2017 – I promise it will be worth the wait!”
That only leaves one other question to be answered: who on earth is Chris Chibnall? And what makes him – as opposed to, say, Being Human’s Toby Whithouse, Luther’s Neil Cross or Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss – the right choice to steer the TARDIS and its Time Lord?
Here are nine things to know about Chris Chibnall.
1. He’s a Doctor Who fan
That’s the first question anyone has about a new Doctor Who showrunner – and it’s arguably the most important. After all, you can’t have someone take over a show with such a vast mythology (and an even vaster horde of fans) having only dabbled in it.
“Doctor Who is the ultimate BBC programme: bold, unique, vastly entertaining, and adored all around the world,” said Chibnall last night, calling it a “privilege and a joy” to be the next “curator” of the series.
“I’ve loved Doctor Who since I was four years old,” he added.
In fact, he even appeared on a televised discussion of the show at the age of 16 to represent the Doctor Who Appreciation Society.
2. He knows what he wants from the show
A showrunner needs to know what he wants – and even at the age of 16, Chibnall wasn’t afraid to tell the writers of Doctor Who that to their face.
“It could have been a lot better,” the young him said of Season 23 (The Trial of a Time Lord), noting that it wasn’t only too complicated, but “was also very cliched, it was very routine, running up and down corridors and silly monsters”.
“It would be nice to have something totally different form the norm, though,” he added. “That is why we would like the show to be made much more adult. Because it has the capacity to be very adult, very entertaining and very dramatic.”
3. He’s no stranger to being in charge
Chibnall isn’t a stranger to navigating the telly waters, from creating ITV’s Broadchurch to bringing US TV drama Law and Order to UK screens.
4. He’s written for Doctor Who and Torchwood
Not just a fan, the now grown-up Chibnall has experience penning Doctor Who stories, with five episodes of the show under his belt, spanning both David Tennant and Matt Smith’s tenures.
Even more promising than that, Chibnall was one of the writers chosen by Russell T Davies to help bring to life the spin-off Torchwood, with Chibnall contributing eight episodes over the first two seasons, including some of the more interesting outings, such as Cyberwoman. (He also wrote Exit Wounds, Fragments, Adrift, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, End of Days, Countrycide and Day One.)
5. He’s versatile
True to his youthful comments about not following formulae, Chibnall’s writing for Who and Torchwood has been versatile, with his TARDIS adventures ranging from the Silurian double-bill of Cold Blood and The Hungry Earth (pictured above) to the intense 42, a real-time sun-burning thriller. As well as TV, he’s also written for the stage, with plays including rom-com Kiss Me Like You Mean It.
6. He can do prestigious drama…
Moore describes Chibnall as “a wonderfully talented writer who I know will bring something very special to the hit series”. It’s hard to disagree, if you’ve ever seen the first season of Broadchurch, which saw David Tennant reunite with Chris to produce a moving, smart and gripping crime drama about grief, justice and community – the kind of series that also demonstrates his ability to handle an over-arching narrative. Go back even further and you’ll note that he holds the rare privilege of writing for both seasons of the excellent Life on Mars.
7. …and the not so prestigious
On the plus side, Chris Chibnall gave the world Broadchurch Season 1. On the downside, he also gave it Broadchurch Season 2, a total mess of a sequel.
His questionable TV output doesn’t end there, from the underwhelming Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, a forgettable Doctor Who romp that never lived up to its title, to the uneven and misguided Camelot, starring Eva Green.
8. He doesn’t want to stay on Earth
If you’ve been previously longing for The Doctor to bid farewell to Earth and tour the universe more widely, rest assured: Chibnall has said that he’s “relishing the thought of working with the exceptional team at BBC Wales to create new characters, creatures and worlds for the Doctor to explore”.
9. He knows how to keeps shtum
Chibnall’s time on Broadchurch has also taught him how to hold his mouth shut – a vital trait in any Doctor Who head writer.
“I think the hardest thing to do in a second season is keep our secrets, because frankly, when we were making the first one, nobody knew who we were and nobody cared and obviously people will be a bit more interested this time,” he told Den of Geek in an interview after Season 1’s success.
“By the end, the recommission was the harder secret to keep, because everybody was on my tail, especially that Monday of the finale, I had to tell a few little fibs because it felt like the audience had taken it as their own show, we really wanted to tell them that it was coming back first, rather than announce it in a trade magazine or something.”
Questioned on the projects he still had in his pocket, he responded: “Do you really think if I’m not going to tell you anything about Broadchurch series two, that I’m going to tell you about something that might be five years in the future!”
That knack for not giving away much is still evident when he spoke yesterday about taking over Doctor Who, particularly in the wake of Moffat’s final run.
“Hearing his plans and stories for 2017, it’s clear he’ll be going out with a bang,” he concluded in a typically evasive comment. “Just to make my life difficult.”
A lifelong Doctor Who fan with an uneven track record and an ability to keep secrets? Chibnall seems like a perfect successor to Steven Moffat.
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