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A Moment Of Positivity: Five Good Things Written By Chris Chibnall

Moo wants to be positive.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave since early 2017, you're most likely aware that Doctor Who fandom has been a divisive place to be in over the last few years. At the centre of it all, there is one man: Showrunner Chris Chibnall. He’s far from perfect, and having to follow Steven Moffat (and Russell T Davies before him) was never going to be easy. It’s certainly a tough standard that’s been set.

But the amount of rubbish Chibnall has thrown at him often seems unfair. So with that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at five good things Chris Chibnall has written in a bid to spread some positivity about the man running my favourite show.

5. Broadchurch
The show that made Chibnall the heir-apparent to Moffat’s throne. The debut series of Broadchurch managed to come out of nowhere in 2013 and capture the public's imagination. Four years later it was still the only thing done by a Doctor Who writer that could be used as a credible case to succeed Moffat as showrunner. Challenges from Peter Harness and Toby Whithouse simply were not able to compete.

Chibnall’s writing shines throughout all three seasons of Broadchurch. Admittedly the second is a weak run but it still proves he was willing to take a risk and try something different, while the third series showed that he can own misfires and correct the course. He didn’t just write another detective drama, instead Chibnall used the trappings of one to explore the real world implications of what was being investigated. That’s a really inspired decision, and strong performances from David Tennant, Olivia Colman, and Jodie Whittaker (among others) carried that premise to its full potential.

4. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Power of Three
I’m cheating by lumping these in together, but both have similar strengths and within the context of Doctor Who series seven they do go together nicely. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship reads like a title that came first and story second. But as it plays out you realise that it’s really a perfect example of a Doctor Who episode. The sense of childlike joy and wonder that the series has at its best is thrust right into the very title of the episode and it spirals on from there, with Chibnall balancing a big ensemble cast (most of which are completely new) with effortless precision. He makes it look easy.

The Power of Three, by contrast, is the big character piece for Amy and Rory before they leave the show in the next adventure. It’s their last moment of fun before they go and die! Chibnall crafts a terrific story that moves from place to place and setpiece to setpiece briskly but never with any whiplash that a less talented writer would end up causing. The scene where the Doctor and Amy have a heart-to-heart besides the River Thames is especially stand-out. “I’m not running away from things, I’m running to them,” the Doctor tells Amy. “Then why do you keep coming back to us?” she replies. Beautiful stuff.

3. P.S.
It’s easy to dismiss this scene that never got made and ended up existing only as a DVD extra. Doing that however is a mistake. P.S. is a perfect moment of closure for the character of Brian Williams, who had become a fan-favourite – which Chris Chibnall must get a lot of the credit for, after writing him so well in the two episodes discussed above!

In addition to providing Brian with some closure, it also gives similar closure to Amy and Rory by addressing the one lingering plot thread from their time on the show. It’s a shame that scheduling conflicts meant this was never filmed, but also a testament to Chibnall’s writing of it that it can have such an impact. Unlike the other examples on this list, this one is entirely dependent on his script and not the stellar cast he’s lucky enough to write for.

2. The conclusion to Torchwood series two
The last three episodes of Torchwood’s second season are the show at its best, and Chibnall is the writer responsible for all of them. Take the penultimate installment Fragments for example, finally offering some backstory on the ensemble cast and hitting all the right emotional notes without becoming cloying. Following it we have Exit Wounds which pays this off as two of the team are killed in both suitably dramatic style and in a way that feels meaningful and not cheap. It’s a terrific ending to Torchwood in its original form before it shifted to serialised storytelling.

But before these two comes Adrift. Where to even start on this one? Torchwood is known for being sometimes violent and frequently leaving an episode’s cast dead by the end. In Adrift that doesn’t happen. Instead it looks at the consequences. Behind every dead body in the sci-fi genre lies a real human tragedy. This is an episode which dares to explore that fact by following the story of one woman who just wants closure about her son. In the end she gets her answer, but decides she was better off without it. There are no easy answers here. There can’t be. But that doesn’t make it wrong to ask, and credit to Chibnall for doing so.

1. Doctor Who
At the time of writing this, Chris Chibnall has been showrunner of Doctor Who for two seasons. Both have been mixed bags, nobody credible will dispute that assertion. But looking at the positives what do we see? We see an assured show that makes concerted efforts to do something worthwhile every week. Chibnall’s contributions to series eleven are hit-or-miss overall, but The Woman Who Fell to Earth is such a confident start and Arachnids in the UK is tremendous fun. Resolution is a joy from start to end.

Series twelve demonstrates a willingness to respond to criticism. After accusations of ignoring the past – not entirely unfounded, granted – he bookends with a pair of Master stories, one set on Gallifrey with added Cybermen, casting the first non-white actor in the role. Along the way he also throws in a whole new Doctor out of nowhere. In casting Jo Martin, Chibnall becomes the man who gave us the second female Doctor only one season after the first, and also the first black one. The subsequent introduction of the timeless Doctors is also a good thing (which I’ve discussed before in detail here).

There’s also Chris Chibnall's co-writer credits on Rosa and Can You Hear Me, two very important pieces of television that address issues of racism and mental health respectively. Both are very timely and necessary and it’s to his credit that he has his name attached to both. He didn’t need to do that. But we should be so glad he did.

Concluding comments
I could have gone into greater detail on all of these but instead I just wanted to touch on them briefly so I could cover as much ground as possible. Chris Chibnall isn’t as good as Davies or Moffat, but that is not a justifiable reason to dislike him. He’s been doing important and valuable work throughout his screenwriting career and as fans of Doctor Who we should be very thankful for him.

I look at my initial reservations about Chibnall when it was announced he would take over as Doctor Who showrunner, and I can say I was wrong. He was absolutely the right man for the job. And, on the off chance he’s reading this, I would like to extend my personal thanks for the work he’s been doing. Thank you, Chris Chibnall. Keep up the good work.

“Moo” is the pseudonym used by this Doctor Who fan. He can usually be found procrastinating by thinking about Doctor Who. Follow him on Twitter @z_p_moo for more of his unusual takes, but do so at your own risk.

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