Thomas Sutcliffe: This is no job for a grown-up

‘In the wilder extremes of Whomania, I’ve felt like the one person whose brain doesn’t respond to an alien hypnosis beam’

Related Topics

Something rather remarkable happened this week, though it's possible that it passed unnoticed by those of you without a professional interest in the matter. For the first time in around the past 140 issues, the Radio Times appeared without any mention of Doctor Who on its cover. No illustration of a Sontaran in Sontaran evening dress. No little red flash promising you an opportunity to meet Doctor Who's daughter. No copyline implying that an ornament of the Royal Shakespeare Company has finally achieved career apotheosis with a walk-on part. It was so uncanny I had to check twice, but it was really true. It was a Doctor Who-free zone – which I'd come to assume was as unlikely a thing as a first-class stamp without the Queen's head on it.

It helped, of course, that Doctor Who isn't actually on this weekend – having been bumped out of the schedules by the Eurovision Song Contest – but I'm pretty sure that such details haven't stopped them in the past... and I was naturally tempted to interpret the absence as evidence of a larger cultural shift. Just as Kremlinologists used to detect shake-ups in the Politburo hierarchy by checking out who was sitting where on the May Day reviewing stand, could this vacancy be a sign that the hegemonic power of Doctor Who is, at last, beginning to fade?

That eerie Radio Times cover coincided this week with the news that Russell T Davies is to give up acting as the programme's executive producer, though he will be in charge of four specials that are planned for next year. Davies is to be replaced by the writer Steven Moffat, author of the sitcom Coupling and the recent series Jekyll, which showed that he could give fantastical storylines a nice edge of adult wit. This seemed to me to be a good news/bad news deal. On the one hand, one of Britain's most interesting television writers has at last been liberated from the task of thinking up silly nonsense for a teatime audience and could be welcomed back to the real world. On the other hand, this had only been achieved by the cultural equivalent of a hostage swap. There are writers one would be quite happy to see chained below decks in the Doctor Who galley, so that their energies are entirely consumed in a broadly harmless manner, but Moffat – who can write for grown-ups – is not one of them. He didn't see it this way himself, of course, announcing that it was the "best and toughest job in television".

I'd beg to differ – and it's one of the reasons that I'm so glad that Davies has finally sprung himself from literary incarceration, even if he's only on provisional parole for the moment. Because although it is undoubtedly quite tricky to come up with a really memorable bit of Gothic for the Doctor Who series (Moffat's episode "Blink" comes to mind as an example, as it happens), it's also true that most episodes of Doctor Who are forgivingly predictable in their plot and psychological dynamics. In the wilder extremes of Whomania over the past couple of years I've occasionally felt like the one person on the planet whose brain isn't wired to respond to an alien hypnosis beam – a lucky break obviously not shared by the editor of the Radio Times, BBC commissioning editors and, I might as well confess, my own children. Can't everybody see that it's OK for immature audiences but hardly justifies the black hole gravitational pull it seems to exert over genuinely talented writers? Does nobody else feel like giving Christopher Eccleston a heroic conduct medal for getting out so quickly, before the franchise had a chance to scar him permanently? And am I the only person who yearns to see David Tennant released into a less two-dimensional role? (People like to pretend it's three-dimensional characterisation, but it's actually just like one of those novelty postcards which flicker as you turn them from side to side).

Of course, it's a good thing that children have decent writers writing for them and possibly a good thing, too, that families have something they can all watch together (though I thought we were all supposed to be outside, playing a fat-burning game of park football). But, pace Moffat, the really tough job on British television remains writing decent drama for grown-ups – popular series that don't invent other worlds to escape to, but address the one we actually find ourselves living in. There aren't that many writers who can take on the tricky post-watershed topics of how human beings – not Daleks or Oods or Cybermen – relate to each other. Davies is one, and it's good to have him back on Earth.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Pentagon has suggested that, since the campaign started, some 10,000 Isis fighters in Iraq and Syria have been killed  

War with Isis: If US wants to destroy the group, it will need to train Syrians and Iraqis

David Usborne
David Cameron gives a speech at a Tory party dinner  

In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Simon Kelner
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy