The recent announcement that Chris Chibnall is to replace Steven Moffat as Doctor Who showrunner is a handing over of the TARDIS keys from one lifelong fan to another. In photos of Moffat aged 11 years old, he can be seen with brow furrowed staring deep into the pages of an old Doctor Who novel like someone trying to discern the secrets of the universe (which, presumably, is exactly what he was doing). He admits that back then he was “Quiet. Bullied at school. Read a hell of a lot. Very bookish… Huge Doctor Who fan,” and says that even today he is “At every level a shy person”.
Chibnall meanwhile was a teenaged member of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society who once went on TV to tell the writers at the time exactly how they were getting it wrong. The previous year he penned a winning entry in Doctor Who Magazine’s competition to write a theme song for the show.
Aged 14, current Doctor Peter Capaldi made a failed bid to take over the official Doctor Who Fanclub. A year later, he had a letter published in Radio Times congratulating the magazine on its excellent Dalek feature. Talk to him now and he retains an encyclopaedic knowledge of classic Doctor Who episodes and monsters and some very strong ideas about what he’d like to see happen next in the show.
These geeks really have made it, landing some of the top jobs in British TV (Chibnall also has Broadchurch under his belt while Moffat got to put his own spin on another childhood hero with Sherlock).
It’s fantastic for them, and arguably quite necessary on a show with Doctor Who’s history to have someone in charge who knows it inside-out. But what links these three, and what has got them where they are today, is the genuine passion and excitement that pushes them on. In short, it’s their very geekiness that has made them successful.
The idea of the geek as an awkward, ineffectual nerd is past. Awkward they may sometimes be (although these days even the self-deprecating Moffat regularly addresses audiences of thousands without a hitch) but in a world where tech is king, and science-fiction and fantasy are more mainstream than ever, ineffectual they certainly are not.
Whatever you think of the increasing pervasiveness of social media, computer nerds like Mark Zuckerberg have become some of the most influential people on the planet because they made a virtue of sitting in front of a screen all day (and night) hammering out code rather than going to college parties.
You may think the current plethora of superhero movies is simply the result of cynical attempts to create moneymaking franchises (you might, on the other hand, see them as a sign that we are all slowly becoming geeks). But there’s no denying that, in many cases, the people now at the helm of these films were obsessive fans back when it wasn’t particularly cool and certainly didn’t make you rich.
There are geeks everywhere. Conventions and cosplay are massive. The Big Bang Theory is one of the most successful shows on the planet, watched by millions of people around the world and pulling in seven-figure salaries for its stars. ‘Real fandoms’ may see it as a watered-down version of geekery that simply throws as many references as possible at the wall to see what sticks, but that doesn’t change the fact that it has brought at least some version of that world into the mainstream. And it has put actors who would once have been relegated to roles like ‘quirky friend two’ centre stage, which has got to be an inspiration for other would-be stars, who would otherwise never have seen themselves as leading man material.
On British TV, shows like Tomorrow’s World have always catered for our appetite for scientific intrigue but only now do we have academics like Professor Brian Cox who could quite reasonably be described as a rock star of astrophysics, and who recently dedicated an entire televised lecture to the science of Doctor Who.
The increasing integration of geeks into mainstream society has even had a significant impact on me personally. As a lifelong fan of Sherlock Holmes, an occasional comics reader and a general-purpose lover of sci-fi, I had never really thought I might one day get to spend a decent chunk of my working life writing about that stuff for an audience as big as we get at RadioTimes.com.
But Sherlock was the most watched show of the Christmas/New Year period and has been one of the biggest dramas on (and off) British TV for some years. Doctor Who is a global phenomenon and for a while held a world record as the drama watched by the most people simultaneously.
The geeks have inherited the Earth – and there may just be a piece for everyone.