Why new Doctor Who directors are more interesting than its writers

WHEN the news got out about Steven Moffat‘s new series of Doctor Who – and specifically who would be behind the episodes – all the attention was focused on his choice of writers.

Certainly Richard Curtis and Simon Nye would not have been on most people’s list of go-to guys to relaunch Who, and have attracted a lot of comment.

But looking at the episode list today, it is the directors that caught my eye – Adam Smith, Andrew Gunn, Jonny Campbell, Catherine Morshead, Ashley Way and Toby Haynes. Why?

Because before this series, none of them had directed Doctor Who. Zip. Zero. Nada. I have as much experience of directing Doctor Who as they do. (the closest is Way, who worked on Torchwood and some Who Tardisodes).

And that list has no Euros Lyn. No Graham Harper. Both of whom have done sterling work with RTD and Tennant (and have nothing on at the moment, according to the IMDB).

Is it just me, or is that risky? You’re turning your back on a lot of understanding, skill and knowledge there, which for a new production team may have come in more than handy. What’s more as a viewer, if I saw their names on the screen I knew we would be ok, as a safe pair of hands was at the tiller.

@MerseyMal rightly points out that Harper was the only person with experience in 2005 so this is not unprecedented, but the bar was set far lower then too compared to now.

Of course, I suppose it is not totally unexpected given Moffat’s desire to make the show his own and to make it sufficiently different to its predecessor, but still I think it is a gamble.

And when you dig a little deeper, it is interesting when you see the background of the directors of seven of the episodes. Moreover, it backs up what I believe the type of promotion we have been seeing  reveals – that new Who is being pitched for a younger audience.

Adam Smith, who directs the opener and Weeping Angels two-parter, and the director of  episodes two and three Andrew Gunn – both come from a youth TV background, working on Skins and Hollyoaks respectively.

Toby Haynes – who directs the two-part closing story – also cut his teeth on MI High and Hollyoaks, as well as Spooks Code 9.

Yes, they have gone on to work on other shows – notably Life on Mars, Being Human and Ashes to Ashes – which bodes well given their pedigree as @seaneeboy suggested on Twitter, but given the similarities between their CVs, I think it shows a clear skill set that Moffat (who also started off in children’s TV with the sublime Press Gang) is looking to employ.

I may be wrong, with plenty of other shows popping up on the directors’ imdb pages while Morshead and Campbell come from an ‘older’ TV background, but it feels like a pattern, especially when placed alongside what we have seen so far.

Am I right (or a window licking conspiracy theorist) and more to the point is it a good thing? Well, we forget sometimes that Doctor Who is meant to be a children’s show to a degree, albeit with a lot of adult fans too, so why shouldn’t it go that way?

The set up was bound to change too, otherwise we’d still have RTD and Phil Collinson calling the shots.

But I don’t really want to watch Gallifrey 90210 either (although as @eddierobson says, change on that level is massively unlikely) , and still need some convincing this is the right way for the show to go if that is Moffat’s plan.

I guess the only way to find out is by watching on April 3, but if we get a lot more super-fast jump cuts and flashy pans than usual, I think we will know why.

UPDATE: Den of Geek have posted a spoiler free review of Doctor Who’s first episode, The Eleventh Hour, which includes this paragraph:

For arguably the biggest difference with this Doctor Who is it feels younger. That’s perhaps an inevitable observation given the age of the two leads, but there’s a feeling here that Moffat is playing on the fearlessness of youth as well in his writing. We’re not going down that path in detail because this is most certainly a spoiler-free write up. Yet even the way the show is directed by Adam Smith has a very modern urgency at times. However you look at it, there are certainly little evolutions to be found here.


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14 thoughts on “Why new Doctor Who directors are more interesting than its writers

  • Sabrina


    In an interview in the fan Doctor Who podcast Radio Free Skaro Graham Harper revealed that he was approached by the new team twice but both times he had just commited to another project. But a lot had been said in Doctor Who Magazine about trying to achieve a different, fairytale-like and more movie-like look for the series with the new directors and new HD cameras.

  • I like the idea of Moffatt having a clearout – would’ve been nice if it had included Murray Gold too – but it seems a shame to throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Trouble with the former directors is, you’d be very hard pushed to spot the work of oen over another. Euros Lyn’s stuff was very good, but to my mind was simply a more polished version of the same directorial style as everyone else.

    I was thrilled that Harper got another go, but whereas his stuff in Classic Who stood apart for its imaginative angles and lighting over the staid work of others, his new Who stuff was – well just like everyone else’s.

    I think Doctor Who really needed about up the backside for Moffatt’s reign – no point in retreading the same stuff and I was tired of the previous style – and I hope the new team gets it right.

    Some of my favourite Classic Who eras – season seven, 18 and the latter part of McCoy’s – were pretty radical reboots, so there’s reason to be cheerful.

    This is the programme, after all, that is regularly lauded for its malleable, evolving set-up. Fingers crossed eh?
    .-= Robin Brown´s last blog ..When the public interest and media interest coincide =-.

  • I would frankly be amazed if any changes they make are aimed at shifting the audience in any way. I think they will be purely creative changes to refresh the show. It would be very odd to take a success and suddenly say “Let’s aim for the teen audience” at the risk of losing everyone else. There’s been a lot of talk about Smith’s age, but you can bet that if Tennant had been willing to stay they’d have been happy to go with a 38-year-old lead. And as for Gillan, well… http://www.denofgeek.com/television/260706/doctor_who_10_companions_younger_than_karen_gillan.html

    • Overall I agree with that Eddie, (especially as my teenage years are long behind me) but my reading of the style of the trailer compared to RTD’s era and the seeming correlation in the director’s backgrounds gave me pause. As I said in the post, April 3 will reveal all.

      Maybe then I will be able to take down my Beautiful Mind style conspiracy web in my garage?

  • Gary Bainbridge


    The point is, Doctor Who is the showrunner’s vision and the showrunner’s responsibility, because it’s such a leviathan. No other show on British TV has the overheads, the CGI, the practical effects, the merchandising. RTD wanted directors who would do as they were told, the Moff would presumably want the same. But when RTD found directors who could work within those limits and still produce beautiful distinctive work, like Euros Lyn, Graeme Harper and Joe Ahearne, he used them time and again.

    • Fair enough, but Moffat knows Lyn can do what he is told and follow his vision as Lyn directed Shadows in the Library / Forest of the Dead and The Girl in the Fireplace with his screenplays (which RTD said he never touched as they were so good). I think he is good enough to do whatever Moffat wants, so it surprises me he is not involved.

  • Gary Bainbridge


    Doctor Who was Euros Lyn’s big break. Russell T Davies’s policy was to get directors straight off the likes of Casualty and Holby City because the last thing he needed was an auteur. And the Moff is clearly carrying on that policy. I think you’re just being a stupid ape, finding patterns that aren’t there. With the greatest of respect.

    • Lyn isn’t an auteur though – just someone who has a proven record of excellence. And Davies could take a gamble as he was starting from zero, whereas Moffat isn’t. Everyone expects this to be a massive hit, and having a big hitter in your corner would be a good thing I’d have thought, unless you want to take the show in a different way.

  • This post is all news to me but only confirms what I suspected right from the off with the appointment of Smith & his companion. She looks barely out of school & as much Dr Who may have been a childrens programme at it’s inception I think to ignore how it’s moved on to a wider audience is a massive gamble.
    One I hope we won’t live to regret.
    .-= Leebo´s last blog ..A candid life =-.

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