Dr. Moo concludes his look at Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who scripts between 2005-15 by putting a bunch of things in a list.
Over the last few months I’ve had a weekly column where I’ve taken a look at all the TV episodes written by Steven Moffat, beginning with The Empty Child going all the way up to The Husbands of River Song. Now that’s over join me as I try to figure out a ranking order of worst to best.
Some ground-rules: No mini-episodes, no spoofs, only the 33 TV serials to date are allowed.
33. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe
This Christmas Special was clearly only made because the BBC demanded a Christmas episode. Even the most hardcore of Moffat’s fans (like myself) must admit it: This one’s a mess.
32. Time Heist
In a word: Bland. The twists are so obvious that you can see them a mile off, the main villain is a cardboard cutout cliché and the story has little substance. Could’ve been so much better.
31. The Caretaker
While it advances the Danny/Clara/Doctor arc there’s really nothing much to this one. The villain is especially out of place and the schoolkids are REALLY annoying.
30. The Beast Below
There are tonnes of good ideas on display but there simply isn’t enough time to explore them and tell the story at the same time, and it suffers as a result.
29. The Name of the Doctor
The fan service of the opening and the twist ending are all you take away from this one, the rest of it is fairly mundane and forgettable.
28. The Wedding of River Song
This one’s nuts with all of time happening at once and a character driven storyline as we see how the Doctor escaped his “death” at the hands of The Silence.
27. The Girl Who Died
This one’s a comedy! With Vikings, Odin, electric eels and Benny Hill, there’s a lot to like even if it is all over the place tonally.
26. Into the Dalek
Seeing the inner workings of a Dalek should’ve been awesome but it was mostly a chance to run around corridors, not unlike what we’d seen a thousand times before.
25. Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead
River Song makes her enigmatic debut, the Vashta Nerada are scary monsters and there’s a strong sense of mystery all throughout. The Data Core was an especially good concept.
24. Let’s Kill Hitler
A surprisingly deep and layered story combined with a deep and rich allegorical subtext and some hilarious setpieces that all come together for one of Doctor Who’s funniest ever episodes.
23. A Good Man Goes To War
A character study that asks whether the Doctor has grown too confident and self-assured before proving definitively that he has when he ultimately fights a losing battle.
22. The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone
River Song returns and the Weeping Angels return with her, this one is scary and dark and very atmospheric.
A compelling story, a clever “jigsaw puzzle” plot, likable supporting cast, scary and iconic monsters and even though the Doctor’s barely in it he’s still the main focus of the narrative. It’s not a fan favourite for nothing!
20. The Angels Take Manhattan
We get to see how Eleven deals with certain defeat, Amy and Rory get one of the best companion departure scenes of all time and the Weeping Angels are used effectively.
19. The Time of the Doctor
This episode could maybe benefit from being a bit longer but Eleven’s regeneration was done in fittingly epic style and Twelve’s first scene endears him to the audience immediately.
18. Asylum of the Daleks
Moffat set out to make the Daleks scary again and succeeded. Add to this the early debut of the new companion, and then her surprise death to throw the fans a curveball, and you’ve got yourself a great season opener.
17. The Snowmen
We get to see a new side to Eleven now that his two best friends are dead. We also get to see the ‘official’ debut of Clara before she dies (again). Plus we get to see the origins of the Great Intelligence.
16. Dark Water / Death in Heaven
Missy is the Master and the Cybermen can convert the dead. Meanwhile Clara and Danny reach the traumatic end of their relationship. “Don’t cremate me” are three words this story keeps repeating but they’re not the three words this one’s really about.
15. The Bells of Saint John
It’s Clara’s true debut at last! She makes a great impression here in a story that’s filled to bursting with action-packed setpieces – This one’s a non-stop thrill ride!
14. Last Christmas
A Troughton-esque “base under seige” story with added Santa Claus. It’s also properly scary and kids will stay up for the second night in a row – but not for the same reasons!
13. Deep Breath
Twelve is here and he’s a hardarse! The darker tone the show will take on is established in style and the “don’t breathe” setpieces are breathtaking (I’m not apologising for that one).
12. The Husbands of River Song
Twelve meets River but she doesn’t recognise him. Cue mistaken identities, the Doctor finally gets to do “it’s bigger on the inside” and then we see River’s final date with the Doctor in an extremely moving coda (bring tissues).
11. The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon
An ambitious opener that begins the series six with the Doctor dying, the tone for the whole season is set from the off. Some of the most scary and exciting scenes in Who history are found here.
10. The Day of the Doctor
A fitting celebration of fifty years in the TARDIS. The War Doctor meets up with the Tenth and Eleventh to fight off Zygons and then save Gallifrey. Tom Baker’s in it too.
9. Heaven Sent / Hell Bent
One episode is an acting masterclass with just the Doctor on screen. The other marks the conclusion to his time with Clara in a moving and unpredictable way.
8. The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang
The cracks in time are explained when the TARDIS explodes. Also features the show’s greatest ever cliffhanger and a genius resolution to it.
7. A Christmas Carol
A love story so moving that not even a flying shark can damage it, this one’s also a clever exploration of the possibilities of time travel as Eleven becomes The Ghost Of Christmas Past.
6. The Girl in the Fireplace
Ten’s charming ladies man persona sees him falling for Madame De Pompadour when he discovers pre-revolutionary France on a spaceship.
And now we’re onto the TOP FIVE!
5. The Zygon Inversion
I may be cheating by putting this one here because it’s only half a story and Moffat is only the co-writer, but this episode was simply too magnificent to not make the top five. Peter Capaldi is on fire as the Twelfth Doctor, Jenna Coleman gives a fascinating dual performance, even Osgood is tolerable and the allegorical subtext is an important message we could all do well to hear. The speech at the end speaks for itself and Capaldi’s delivery of it would surely be worthy of an Oscar if he were only eligible for one. His “not on my watch” speech is up there with the very best scenes this series has to offer. One of the finest performances ever in the history of the show.
4. The Eleventh Hour
Before the 11th Doctor can fully recover from his regeneration he has to stop the Earth from being incinerated. As well as the new Doctor, this story also had to introduce a new production crew. Everything is at stake for this episode. Everything. Yet Moffat and Smith make it look effortless. It won over everyone who criticised Matt Smith for being too young, not being David Tennant, not being experienced enough, or whatever else. On top of that, on a more personal level, it was here that I became a fan of Doctor Who – and I’ve never looked back. As well as a startlingly good debut for Eleven it’s also a really good, engaging and enjoyable story in its own right and I doubt any debut for any Doctor could ever top this one.
3. The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
For me, this is the first time that so-called NewWho felt like it actually was “proper” Doctor Who (if such a thing as “proper” Doctor Who can be said to exist). This is the one where Christopher Eccleston's Ninth Doctor first feels like the same man as his predecessors. This is the one where the ability to scare the kids first comes into play. This is the one where the show’s unique sense of humour first makes an appearance. It’s also here that we meet a very modern companion in Jack “so many species so little time” Harkness. It’s here where we get a good cliffhanger with a resolution that’s so obvious it’s genius. There’s so much good stuff here that it took nearly a decade for Moffat to top it – begin as you mean to go on by writing an all-time classic!
2. The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar
This story felt like we’d been transported back to the 70s, only with better production values. It's like a great big love letter to the Dalek stories of old, while still managing to go in its own direction. With the return of Davros we got a philosophical discussion of the similarities and differences between him and the Doctor, meanwhile the Master and Clara take a dangerous trip through the sewers of Skaro. We also get a chance to see Davros as a child (with a truly phenomenal child actor playing him) and finally get a glimpse of the war on Skaro that left the Kaleds so desperate to survive. It’s the discussions between the Doctor and Davros that give this story the edge and it would easily stand as my overall favourite TV instalment of Doctor Who were it not for a certain other episode broadcast a year earlier…
Listen is one of those episodes that gets it right on every possible level: Moffat shows his ability to scare us better than he ever has before and delivers a timey-wimey plot that’s not too complicated for its own good, Capaldi gets to be both menacing and hilarious (often at the same time), the Danny/Clara relationship is believably flawed and relevant to the story, the Doctor gets some addition to his backstory, Clara’s status as one of the greatest companions ever is secured by what we see here, and there’s also an impromptu trip to Gallifrey. But more than any of that, Listen is also basic. There’s virtually no music or special effects, just pure acting and writing combining to achieve a level of perfection no other Doctor Who story ever can hope to come close to.
So that concludes my ranking order of The Moffat Scripts. Tell me your favourites!
When he's not obsessing about Doctor Who whilst having I Am The
Doctor play in his head, Dr. Moo can usually be found reading up on the
latest in Quantum Physics. As you do when you're a physicist.