Doctor Who is regenerating this Christmas, in more ways than one.
Yes, Peter Capaldi is leaving the role after three series as the Doctor, and in some ways heralding the biggest change the show has seen as Jodie Whittaker becomes the first ever woman in the role.
But the Doctor will still be the Doctor, change is part of his or her DNA, which is why we’ll have seen five different incarnations of the character in the last eight years. What hasn’t changed for almost as long is the man in charge, so when Steven Moffat’s final episode as boss airs on Christmas Day it really will be the end of an era.
Not all Doctor Who fans are Moffat fans – he is often criticised for making his plots too complex and too contrived, occasionally the cleverness of his dialogue can seem almost self-satisfied and sometimes he can stray into mawkishness – but if you’ve enjoyed Doctor Who at any point in the last seven years and eight months, you’ve enjoyed it under Steven Moffat.
And if you look back over that time, one thing you can’t escape is how many big, big moments it has included for Doctor Who.
Moffat is the master of the blockbuster scene, but has also been fantastic at using his knowledge of the show and his imagination to spot ambiguities in Doctor Who history and to transform them into something astounding. He’s made sure that every series has featured eye-opening revelations, and spine-tingling moments of drama or inspiration, and he’s responsible for so many firsts on the show that it’s easy to forget just how much we take for granted about Doctor Who, that might never have happened without him.
So as Steven Moffat bids farewell as Doctor Who showrunner, here’s a timely reminder of some of the biggest, boldest, cleverest, most surprising and most emotional moments from his time in charge…
Keeping a secret can be tough when it comes to Doctor Who but sometimes it does come off, especially if you use a clever bit of misdirection.
We knew in March 2012 that Jenna(-Louise) Coleman had been cast as the next companion but we weren’t expecting her to appear until the Christmas special. So when she popped up at the end of September’s episode Asylum of the Daleks as Oswin Oswald, a character who turned out to be a Dalek herself, the reaction was just what Moffat had hoped for.
RadioTimes.com ran a message from the showrunner and the new companion, in which they both clearly took glee in the surprise, and thanked fans and the press for not allowing it to leak out.
As it transpired, this was the beginning of a series-seven story arc which cast Oswin/Clara as the Impossible Girl, split into many selves and scattered through time in order to help the Doctor at multiple points in history. While not all fans loved this device (some felt it made Clara more plot than character in her first series), it’s worth remembering that without it we wouldn’t have had a surprise that, on the night, had fans buzzing and the internet in meltdown.
And that wasn’t even the biggest early character reveal of Moffat’s tenure…
The moment when feature-length 50th anniversary special The Day of The Doctor brought together all 12 incarnations of the Doctor was exhilarating enough in itself, but when those 12 became “No sir! All 13!”, and we got a glimpse of Peter Capaldi’s unmistakeable attack eyebrows a month before he was supposed to make his debut in the 2013 Christmas special, it was ramped up to another level of shock, excitement and triumph.
Of course, the Day of the Doctor also contained a more subtle, but equally spine-tingling, appearance from another incarnation of the Time Lord.
We had heard that Fourth Doctor actor Tom Baker would cameo at some point in the episode but we had no idea how or when, and with only minutes left to run we thought it might have been just a rumour after all. And then, from off screen, that unmistakable voice, and there he is. No, you’re crying…
Speaking of Doctors meeting one another, The Day of the Doctor delivered many New Who fans’ dream pairing as Moffat convinced David Tennant’s Tenth to return for a full adventure alongside Matt Smith’s Eleventh…
…and of course John Hurt’s new War Doctor.
Spotting a gap in Who history – the Eighth Doctor’s unseen regeneration – and coming up with a new Doctor to fill it was a stroke of genius from Moffat that gave us not only the amazing John Hurt showing the youngsters how it was done but also this brilliant reveal in series seven finale The Name of the Doctor, which was no less impactful for the fact that we knew it was coming…
…not to mention a brief comeback for another fan-favourite Doctor, Paul McGann’s Eighth, as he regenerated into the War Doctor at the end of seven-minute short The Night of the Doctor.
This Christmas, two more Doctors will meet as David Bradley reprises his role as William Hartnell’s First Doctor from An Adventure in Space and Time – the drama about the genesis of the show – opposite Peter Capaldi’s departing Twelfth. Two Doctors at the very opposite ends of the Time Lord’s history, on screen together, both wrestling with the frightening prospect of regeneration – who could ever have hoped to see that?
Their first brief meeting at the end of the series-ten finale caused a huge buzz among fans and I can tell you after having seen the episode that the dynamic between them really works.
Earlier this year, we saw another major comeback of yet another fan favourite as John Simm’s Master returned for the series ten finale. After reports that he had had enough of Doctor Who, it felt like quite a coup and the fact that this one couldn’t be kept secret didn’t stop it being a big moment. In fact, we got four moments for the price of one…
After the first report from a tabloid paper, fans were beside themselves with excitement – not to mention trepidation that it might be a false alarm – then the official BBC announcement caused a second wave of elation (and relief), before Simm’s briefest of appearances in the trailer for the episode turned it up another notch…
…and finally there was the comeback itself as, towards the end of part one of the series-ten finale World Enough and Time, Bill’s ‘friend’ Mr Razor pulled off his disguise to reveal his true identity.
Of course, the second part of that adventure also gave us the joy of seeing Simm’s Master getting to grips with his later incarnation, Michelle Gomez’s Missy.
And as we look to the future, following incoming showrunner Chris Chibnall’s casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor, it’s worth remembering who laid the groundwork for that.
Moffat’s decision to introduce us to a female Master set the scene for what could be one of the most important updates in Who history – and he even followed it up with proof that a Time Lord could change both sex and race, leaving the door well and truly open for the show’s first non-white lead.
Innovation like that has been a trademark of Moffat’s Doctor Who tenure.
Having an alien such as Silurian detective Madame Vastra as a central hero is itself pretty unusual…
…but giving her a girlfriend is unprecedented. And while Jenny and Vastra’s may not have been quite the first gay kiss on Doctor Who, it may well be the first inter-species…
…and though Moffat said people made too much fuss about Pearl Mackie being cast as the first gay full-time companion, Bill Potts, it certainly feels important to me.
More Moffat innovation has included Peter Capaldi’s one-hander Heaven Sent – to my mind one of the best episodes of Doctor Who ever and the first to feature the Time Lord as the only speaking part for almost its entirety.
And even before he began running the show, Moffat was re-inventing Doctor Who, knocking the Daleks off their perch by creating the Weeping Angels, which are now regularly voted the scariest monsters in the Whoniverse.
In fact, Moffat has been consistently great at scaring us, and for me by far his most macabre episode was World Enough and Time, in which Bill finds herself in a ‘hospital’ for pre-conversion Cybermen. The moment when she realises that the patients are all suffering horrible agony – repeatedly tapping out “pain, pain, pain” on their silent keyboards – is the darkest ever in Doctor Who. But the most affecting overall is probably the episode’s cliffhanger in which a newly converted Cyberman steps out of the shadows to tell the Doctor in its metallic squawk “I am Bill Potts… I waited for you”.
I’ll end with something just as hair-raising but a little less downbeat – a reminder of Moffat’s Doctors at their most eloquent and emotional.
Matt Smith’s farewell speech gets me every time…
…and his stand-off with assorted alien races at Stone Henge is a defining moment too.
Peter Capaldi, meanwhile, has been given his share of inspiring speeches – about the nature of fear, the value of every life – but it’s Moffat’s profound treatise on the futility of war that should be taught in schools.
Quite a legacy, isn’t it?
Doctor Who Christmas special Twice Upon a Time is on Christmas Day at 5:30pm on BBC1