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: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent