Doctor Who is regenerating! With Jodie Whittaker confirmed to be leaving the BBC sci-fi drama behind, the hunt is on for her replacement – but the identity of the Fourteenth Doctor is only half the story.
You see, with head writer and showrunner Chris Chibnall also departing, a new creative lead must be appointed to put their spin on the Whoniverse, with the BBC currently remaining tight-lipped about who or what “the new generation of Who” will be.
In recent weeks, we’ve put forward our ideas and theories for what could come next for Doctor Who – but for this all-important behind-the-scenes change, we thought it was high time someone asked the fans what they wanted from the next showrunner.
Now, after some time working with online focus groups, social media pages and by simply scouring Twitter, we have our answers – some of which might be quite different from what you’re expecting.
“Personally I think it should be given to someone who isn’t a Doctor Who fan but understands the show as well as the history and lore,” one person responded to our call for showrunner ideas.
“It needs to rise up something completely fresh and new… it needs to completely change.”
But not every fan agrees, with some going for old favourites, while still others suggested less obvious choices from the wider world of TV. Will any of them be right? Could the next Doctor Who showrunner be hidden somewhere within these responses?
For now, it’s a mystery – but we might have at least assembled one or two suspects. Starting with…
A familiar face
Both Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall were already regular NuWho writers when they took over the TARDIS, so plenty of fans have theorised that the next showrunner will also come from that pool.
Names that cropped up regularly included frequent Moffat collaborator Mark Gatiss (who has written more Who episodes than any other non-showrunner), Being Human creator Toby Whithouse (who wrote episodes for David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi), Peter Harness (who has written four episodes including the acclaimed Zygon Invasion/Inversion two-parter) and Jamie Mathieson, who penned three fan-favourite episodes during the Capaldi/Moffat years.
“Mark Gatiss would do an incredible job and has several writing (and acting!) credits for Doctor Who already,” one fan said, while others noted that the Sherlock co-creator had been trying to get Who revived even before 2005.
“Toby Whitehouse, Jamie Mathieson or Peter Harness,” another suggested.
“Toby Whitehouse must be one of the longest serving guest writers Doctor Who’s got,” one of our responders agreed.
“He’s churned out some of the most unique episodes like The God Complex, A Town Called Mercy, and Lie of the Land. And he’s got great showrunner experience through Being Human and Noughts and Crosses.”
“Peter Harness would also be great for identical reasons,” they added, noting his time creating sci-fi and fantasy series like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and War of the Worlds.
Other Whoniverse candidates included two-time Jodie Whittaker scribe Pete McTighe, as well as former Sarah Jane Adventures boss (and two-time Who co-writer for 2009’s The Waters of Wars and 2014’s Into the Dalek) Phil Ford.
“Maybe Pete McTighe, scriptwriter for the Kerblam episode and co-author of Praxeus?” one fan suggested.
“Phil Ford, who ran SJA for a while might be a good pick,” added another.
I’m spoken for, I’m afraid. And I’d much rather write an episode of Doctor Who than showrun several seasons. https://t.co/kFS0JoTNpt— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) July 29, 2021
Other names swirling around included Face the Raven and Thin Ice scribe Sarah Dollard (also known for her work on A Discovery of Witches and Bridgerton), Knock Knock’s Mike Bartlett and even The Doctor’s Wife/Nightmare in Silver writer Neil Gaiman, despite the fact that he’s already ruled himself out of contention.
“Dream pick is Neil Gaiman, which breaks my rule that I feel they should have written more than 3 episodes but he has written other material I guess,” one fan told us.
“But sadly he has said he wouldn’t do it.”
Basically, if you’ve ever set foot anywhere near Doctor Who at any point in your career? You’re on the list somewhere. Though of course, not every prospective candidate suggested to us has such a long history with the show…
If they ran odds on Doctor Who showrunners like they do Doctors, at this stage, Wainwright would probably be the bookies’ favourite, with a lot of rumours suggesting that the Last Tango in Halifax, Happy Valley and Gentleman Jack creator could be in line to take over the sci-fi series.
While she hasn’t worked on the series before, she has more of a pedigree in this area than you might think (as RadioTimes.com’s Executive Editor Morgan Jeffery has explained), and already she’s a popular choice with fans.
“I would personally love this,” Who fan @BadWolfArchives wrote on Twitter. “From the shows I’ve seen, she is fantastic at writing realistic characters, and her world-building is fab too.”
“The rumours about Sally Wainwright running Doctor Who seem pretty decent,” agreed Darren Mooney on Twitter.
“It would suggest that the BBC see the series as an ongoing concern worth directing a pretty big deal showrunner towards. It might be fun to have a not-we run ‘Doctor Who’ for a while.”
“It’s not going to happen but Sally Wainwright as showrunner / lead writer would be amazing!” added another Twitter user (@M_Struthers)
“Sarah Lancashire / Surrane Jones as the Doctor? Well we can dream!”
J. Michael Straczynski
The Babylon 5 creator and writer certainly has a sci-fi pedigree, and after he expressed an interest in the role fans became even keener on the idea.
“JMS created my all-time favorite show, and he’d be a perfect fit for Doctor Who,” Raven Woods wrote on Twitter.
“If BBC Studios hasn’t hired a new showrunner, they should seriously consider Straczynski.”
“People worried that Straczynski wouldn’t make a good Doctor Who showrunner have literally never seen Babylon 5 and it shows,” added Twitter user @Gallifrey4ever.
Previously, it seemed unlikely that Straczynski was on the BBC’s radar for the job – but with such strong fan support, who knows? Stranger things have happened.
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Try Big Finish
I'm writing a script (this is in response to Twitter asking me 'What's happening?'). Also, I've just had lunch. Not interesting, but true.— Nicholas Briggs: The Human Frontier (@BriggsNicholas) July 27, 2021
Some fans had another tack, however. While trying to find someone to write or be in charge of Doctor Who, why not try out some people who’ve been doing the job for years – albeit for audio drama company Big Finish?
“Nic Briggs,” one reader pitched, suggesting that Big Finish’s creative director and regular writer/producer could do a good job in live-action.
“He’s done a fantastic job managing Big Finish stories and can write the Daleks like no other!”
And he’s not the only audio drama name to make fans’ lists.
“One underdog who I think the BBC should consider would be Matt Fitton,” a reader told us.
“He’s written and edited countless Doctor Who productions with Big Finish working with almost every previous Doctor. I don’t think there’s anyone more qualified to lead Doctor Who than he is.”
Look, it’s probably one of the least likely prospects in this list – crossovers from Big Finish to TV Who are rare enough (basically, it’s just Dalek writer Rob Shearman and Nic Briggs as an actor), let alone having someone be in charge of the whole thing. But some fans clearly think it’d be worth a try.
The wider world of sci-fi
A few more left-field choices came from elsewhere in the sci-fi genre, whether it’s longstanding US titans of TV or comedy legends from here in the UK.
“Although they haven’t written for Doctor Who yet, Rob Grant/Doug Naylor [from] Red Dwarf certainly have experience with a long-running sci-fi and could bring an element of comedy that’s been missing in recent years,” one reader suggested.
“Ronald D. Moore – ran Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Battlestar Galactica,” added another (of course, Moore’s series Outlander was originally seeded from a character based on Doctor Who actor Frazer Hines).
Another name on some fans’ lips? Jane Espenson, known for her acclaimed work on series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, The Nevers, The OC, Caprica, Marvel’s Jessica Jones and (perhaps most crucially) Torchwood series four, giving her a toehold in the Whoniverse.
“On the subject of great female writers, Jane Espenson did some of the fourth series [of Torchwood] and she absolutely f**king rules,” Twitter user @LTDangerous wrote.
“And she wrote the single most harrowing moment of anything related to Doctor Who EVER so good on her for making me sweat as my heart pounded out of my chest.”
And if we choose to stretch the definition of sci-fi a little further, the names came coming.
“It’d be interesting to see what Life on Mars creators Matthew Graham and Ashley Pharoah could do with the series,” one of our readers said.
Or…make a big change
One of the difficulties in predicting the next Doctor Who showrunner is that so few candidates exist who match the profile we’ve seen from the last three – a major industry figure in their own right who’s created and run their own shows before, who also has a long experience with Doctor Who and its world.
With this in mind, some have wondered whether the modern ‘showrunner’ model of Doctor Who should continue at all, looking to the examples of other shows (like the partnership of writer Michael Waldron and director Kate Herron on Loki, or writer Jack Thorne and executive producer Jane Tranter on His Dark Materials) for inspiration.
“My suggestion is to drop the all powerful, my show my precious, I am the mastermind behind and the public face of all of it, panjandrum *SHOWRUNNER* role,” one RadioTimes.com reader said.
“Just hire a good producer. Someone with the sense to delegate and the experience, professionalism and taste to find the right people to delegate to.”
“IMO I think they should go back to producers and script editors personally,” one fan noted, looking back to the days of the classic series, while another had an even more drastic suggestion.
“Of course if the BBC really are struggling in their recruitment process, I’ll happily volunteer myself to take up the challenge,” he wrote. “Joking aside, why not give the fans a go? Open a competition for fans’ Doctor Who story ideas and build a series out of the best ones.”
“As much as it was a disaster with the Absorbaloff Blue Peter competition I’d love to see a fan written episode,” agreed another.
And one reader had an even more intriguing idea.
“Yes, Sally Wainwright would be great as Doctor Who showrunner, but I maintain that it would be way funnier if they kept it a secret who was in charge so people didn’t know who to get mad at,” they joked.
“And they’d do press conferences wearing a different Doctor Who monster costume each time.”
You heard it here first – the next Doctor Who showrunner is… a Zarbi. We can’t wait for their first Radio Times interview.