The Case for Neil Gaiman as Showrunner of Doctor Who
Though there are no definite plans in the works that we've been made aware of, Steven Moffat has said in recent interviews that he is probably closer to the end of his time as head of Doctor Who than the beginning. Ten men and one woman (appropriately enough) have served as the showrunner and head producer of the half-century old show if you don't count the television movie. The average length of time in the position is around three years, with Barry Letts serving for five and John Nathan-Tuner holding the top spot for nine.
The question on everyone's mind aside from who might replace Matt Smith as The Doctor is who would inherit the crown of the narrative. My personal guess is Mark Gatiss, who in addition to writing some really tremendous episodes is well versed in the mythos and magic of Doctor Who.
But ask the question on any open forum and the answer won't be Gatiss or Gareth Roberts or Chris Chibnall or any of the other long-term show writers. People want the prince of stories himself, Neil Gaiman, who just turned in his second wonderful effort with "Nightmare in Silver."
How would such a thing be in reality?
Flashback Review: Nightmare in Silver
Neil Gaiman has been a Doctor Who fan from the very beginning. According to his introduction to the reprint of Doctor Who and the Daleks, he distinctly remembers being three years old and having school mates bend down the straws of their glass milk bottles and scream, "I AM A DALEK." He watched the show whenever he could, and collected the novelization when he couldn't. As I personally embark down the road of the adventures for which no full serials survive armed with those same paperbacks, it makes me feel even closer to a man I consider my literary hero.
No doubt, Gaiman has the right heart for the show, and he definitely has the writing chops. Anyone who has ever read his Sandman series also knows that if you want an overarching epic story that can survive over years, he can do that as well. The Hugo award for "The Doctor's Wife" speaks for itself. When Gaiman pens an episode of Doctor Who nothing but magic comes out.
I read an interview a week or so back where Gaiman talked about the calls for him to become showrunner, and I think a part of him is seriously considering what that would mean. It would certainly entail the derailment of any other writing, which is a shame because The Ocean at the End of the Lane sounds like a really amazing novel. He's mentioned that the only reason he's been able to contribute to the show so far is because he's wealthy enough to take six months off to pen an adventure.
It's equally clear that he loves the show. Not as a fan, not as a paycheck, but the way a true Whovian does. The way that we know, no matter how much we may disagree with his take sometimes, Steven Moffat does. To use Stan Lee's old term, Gaiman is a true believer. I have no doubt that he would make for very good television if used more.
That said, I don't want him as a showrunner.
Part of it is selfish. I mentioned his new novel. Gaiman novels already come too few and far between. I have no desire to wait a decade for a follow-up to American Gods or whatever else he's got cooking.
Mostly, though, it has to do with the nature of his style. Gaiman is both the best and worst case scenario for showrunner. Where he shines best, where he has always excelled, is his ability to take an existing mythos and present it in a new and exciting way. Sandman was the reimagining of the DC Universe and mythology. American Gods was a shake-up of known gods. What makes Gaiman, well, Gaiman, is his unique ability to weave the threads of stories into a new fashion. Everything he does is like a narrative technicolor dreamcoat.
On the surface, yes, that's perfect for a show that's run for 50 years. On the other hand...
With Gaiman in charge I simply couldn't see the show progressing much. I can't see him crafting something like The Silence or the Weeping Angels. Both "The Doctor's Wife" and "Nightmare in Silver" were intense exercises in looking back. House was never supposed to be an original villain; he was supposed to be The Great Intelligence. We weren't supposed to stumble into the Tardis control room of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors. We were going to get someone from the classic era.
His decision to focus on the Mondasian Cybermen last week shores this up. Gaiman is interested in the past more than the future.
Admittedly, we could use someone willing to focus on trying to tie the old series more firmly into the new. Sarah Jane and the Brigadier are gone, most of the Doctors are unrecognizably old, but there is such a seam of gold to tap into that perhaps Gaiman could draw the divide to a close.
Wouldn't that be a mistake, though? We have to consider the future of the series, which already borrows so heavily from classic Seasons 4 - 6 as it is. When you consider the current crop of low ratings, I wonder if we're not already in danger of entering a tail-swallowing cycle of fan service as it is. Gaiman would make that great, but would it ensure the survival of the show?
I say no. By all means, I want Gaiman back in Series 8, preferably with a two-parter that changes everything. I would love to have him writing three or so adventures per series, or even better a Christmas special.
More than that, Peter Jackson already wants to direct Doctor Who for the price of a Dalek. Turn the two loose together for a special, perhaps a theatrical film. Let two fanboys with Hollywood clout finally tells us the story of the Time War and the death of the Eighth Doctor. Barring that, a feature film-length episode crafted by Gaiman can certainly put as many butts in the theater seats as Serenity did.
Neil Gaiman is not the man we need to take Doctor Who to the next level, but he is definitely the man we want to tell us the stories of old that the modern audiences need to be told.
Both Gaiman and Doctor Who are Pop Culture Institutions That Make Great Religions. If you need a primer for the Great Intelligence, we've made one.
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