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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who thing: would Neil Gaiman be a good showrunner?

Neil Gaiman Suranne Jones Matt Smith

Apparently there are fans who are calling for Neil Gaiman to take over running Doctor Who whenever Steven Moffat steps down, which I was unaware of until Jef With One F at the Houston Press blog Art Attack brought it to my attention. As he says:

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’m not sure that I’d call “Nightmare in Silver” magic, but point taken. Gaiman is a fantastic writer and a lifelong lover of the show. That said…

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.

I’d add, too, that Gaiman’s experience as a teller of stories does not correspond in any way with the demands of producing a television show. So that would be a huge practical issue.

(Do go read all of Jef’s piece. He has an awesome idea about how Gaiman could make an incredible contribution to the Who canon apart from just writing more episodes for whoever is running the show.)

What do you think? Would Neil Gaiman be a good showrunner? Who would you like to see running the show? I’m thinking Toby Whithouse, whose Being Human was amazing and who wrote the heartbreaking “School Reunion.”

(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)

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  • Isobel_A

    I’ve been hankering for Neil Gaiman to be showrunner since ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. I don’t think he’d be looking back so much if he had control of the series, rather than just an episode.

    I strongly disagree with Jef with one F’s suggestion that Neil Gaiman wouldn’t come up with something like The Silence or the Weeping Angels – his novels are very original – the Angel Islington, anyone?

    And he has had experience of writing/producing a TV show – Neverwhere is a novelisation of the TV series, and not the other way around. Also – producing Sandman to deadlines is probably transferable experience.

    ETA: Of course, Neil Gaiman as showrunner is complete pie in the sky stuff, and I agree that Toby Whithouse would make a fantastic showrunner.

  • Jem

    Maybe the most important thing is to match the creative person with the wonderful vision – be it Gaiman, Whithouse, Gatiss or Chibnell – with an executive producer who has the power and TV nouse to make sure that the showrunner’s singular voice/ vision results in a consistent quality of production, scripts which are sufficiently polished before they are filmed, proper pacing, strong casting, inventive publicity, regular scheduling and sufficient respect from the BBC. Also to sometimes say “no” to the showrunner. Maybe it’s the strong parterships and teams, rather than the grand showrunner model that works best.


  • Paul

    Gaiman’s experience as a teller of stories does not correspond in any way with the demands of producing a television show. So that would be a huge practical issue.

    This is what it really boils down to. Neverwhere actually stacks up as support for this rather than a counter-argument, since it was a mess.

    Another problem is that he is two divisive. Remember when Moffat was just a writer? He was tremendously popular. But once he becomes producer, his distinctive vision divides people sharply (RTD’s did too). And Gaiman is even more distinctive than Moffat was.

    He may well be a better writer than Whithouse, but Whithouse, I’m confident, would be the better showrunner.

  • Tony Richards

    I’d like to see Toby Whithouse too.

  • Tony Richards

    Now that I think about it, it wasn’t until I started watching Doctor Who and other BBC shows that I even paid attention to show-runner or head writer. I mean were guys like Joss Whedon and Gene Rodenberry show runners? Is that even a job title in American television?

  • Froborr

    I don’t care who the next showrunner is as long as they hire Connie Willis to write an episode. I can’t understand why, as near as I can tell, nobody has ever even approached her or suggested it, when it seems like a match made in heaven. (Well, okay, except for the part where AFAIK she has no screenwriting experience, and novel skills don’t always translate–see the repeated attempts to get a workable script out of Christopher Priest for the classic series. Still, they should try!)

  • I’m a huge Gaiman fan – got 90% on that Telegraph quiz a few days ago – but I don’t think being “showrunner” would cater to his strengths. Having overall charge of the story – especially if he could structure a vision for at least a whole series, oh yes – but not showrunner. I’m sure he’s sensible enough to realise that himself.

  • Froborr

    By “awesome idea,” are you referring to the Time War movie?
    Ugh. I’m sorry, but Davies was right: by its very nature, the Time War can never be shown. No matter what dream team you put together of writers and directors and actors, it would inevitably fall short of the Time War we can almost but not quite imagine.

  • Isobel_A

    Heh – this is funny because I thought it was an American thing – the first I heard of it was in realation to Sera Gamble and Supernatural (which, incidentally, should have gone out on a high with him at the end of S5 and not turned into the godawful mangled shadow if its former self that it is now).

    I googled around, out of interest, and Wiki does talk about Joss Whedon as ‘showrunner’, although I remember him in the past simply being referred to as ‘creator of Buffy’. So perhaps it’s just a new term in general?

  • Tony Richards

    Hmmm, it might be. Maybe the lack of a show runner in the past caused characters, not in soap operas, to “forget” stuff they went through the previous week. I mean everyone in the damn town should’ve known that Jennifer Love Hewitt talked to ghosts by the end of Ghost Whisperer.

  • RogerBW

    Yeah, Neil’s primarily a writer, not a producer or director or a people-wrangler. His writing’s slowed down quite a lot already with all the other stuff he’s doing; do the people calling for this really want him to work entirely in a derivative universe, never doing anything of his own again?

  • Although I wouldn’t mind Whithouse as a second choice, I’m still hoping for Gatiss as showrunner. I don’t think you can go wrong with the other half of the Sherlock team, and I love pretty much everything Gatiss has ever been involved with. Of course, I said that about Moffat, too, and now I’m definitely ready for a change…

  • Elwood72

    Neil Gaiman would not be a great showrunner. He’s too much of a perfectionist and it takes him too long to complete a project. The show would be behind schedule and over budget, he would be fired, and fans would be outraged, etc. He’s a great writer of episodes, though – “The Doctor’s Wife” was wonderful, and right now I want Porridge added as at least a recurring character, if not a companion, ASAP. But Moffett was a wonderful writer of episodes as well, but has not really been a great showrunner. He needs to reign himself in, and reign in his guest writers even more, in order to deliver a more consistent and coherent product. I’m hoping to see Toby Whithouse take over the show, based on his success running Being Human, and on his Who scripts including “the God Complex,” which showed how much he really gets the show and its central character.

  • b.lynch black

    she’s not british. she’s brilliant, agreed… but not british. i’ve never seen a single writer on that show who wasn’t british — and she’s a woman. 99.99% of the writers seem to be men.

  • I’m not sure how qualified they would be to be showrunners or if they’d even have interest in doing it but I’d be interested to see what Nicholas Briggs or Gareth Roberts would do at the helm.

  • b.lynch black

    maybe what’s needed is an *artistic* director and a show runner. a team, so that someone with the creative vision and someone with the practical know how could run a show with an overarching storyline, a dedication to the basics of the character and a good practical head for the details and pacing that is necessary for a show like DW. when i was in a theatre group, we had an artistic director who was also our president, but there was also our practical, energetic show runner type person, as well as a committee who chose the plays, helped with detail work, etc. as for me, i don’t think Neil Gaiman would be a good showrunner, but he might be an excellent artistic director.

  • RogerBW

    maybe what’s needed is an *artistic* director and a show runner.

    In my understanding, “showrunner” (at least as it’s used these days) quite specifically combines the two roles of artistic direction and administrative effort – in return for doing all the hard work, you get to push the show in the direction you want.

  • Martin

    My only real concern here is that we were so quick to want Moffat in charge because of Blink and look how that’s turned out.

    Yes, Gaiman has written some great Who stories (OK, one truly great one and on ok one) how does that qualify him to be show runner?

    I’d say Toby Whitehouse is a good choice when Moff bows out because he’s already been a show runner on Being Human and that’s been consistently good for it’s whole run.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    The American equivalent to showrunner is “Executive Producer“. Of course, a show may have numerous EPs, but only one (or maybe two or three) will be in charge of the overall direction of the show. The rest are usually collecting credits and paychecks. You can usually tell which EP is the showrunner by when in the credits their name appears. On most American dramas, it’s the first EP credited at the end of the show, between the final fade and the end credits. Also, this is a different job description than what executive producers do on a film production.

  • I’d vote for Chris Chibnall or Toby Whithouse because they’ve done some fantastic recent work.

  • Tony Richards

    I knew guys like Joss Whedon (Firefly, etc) and JJ Abrams (Lost) were in charge of the over all story. But it didn’t dawn on me until I watched Doctor Who what a show runner was. I had never heard the term before. I figure Shonda Rhimes is in charge of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. But aside from her I don’t know that I could identify any other show runner on television. Nor is there anyone other than Joss Whedon that would entice me to watch a show precisely because they were in charge of it. BTW, it feels like I’m talking to Jaime Hyneman because of your avatar.

  • Bri

    Although, smaller engagements/fallout from the Time War could be enticing…if handled well.

  • Doubt it. Gaiman is a great writer, of massive, monstrous, and reality-bending epics that would the give the BBC financial comptroller an aneurysm. He may have a lot of experience with writing, but he does not seem to have a lot of experience with writing (or planning a series) with a budget in mind. Russell T Davies had a lot of experience in TV production and he still almost sank Doctor Who in Series One by accidentally spending the entire SFX budget in the second and last episode, and he still needed Julie Gardiner to rein him in for the rest of his tenure. I think they should use Gaiman like how Russell used to use Moffat, only let him write one or two scripts a series, but give him creative and financial carte blanche.

  • Danielm80

    I think that’s an argument for Connie Willis.

  • I think New Who emphasizes whimsy and charm at the expense of world-building and dramatic logic. It’s diverting enough and occasionally delivers some speculative fizz, but doesn’t hold my interest in the way that Battlestar Galactica or Fringe did. Above all, its ingratiatingly eager to please. Time to dematerialize?

  • ProperDave

    I’ll go with Whithouse too, for his casting skills as well as his writing. From the last series of Being Human alone, both Colin Hoult (Crumb) and Steven Robertson (Mr Rook) look like potential Doctors to me. Yesterday I was watching Ricky Gervais’s Life’s Too Short Easter special, in which Hoult gives a hilarious performance as Warwick Davis’s New Age guru Bryan Medici, and could just picture him as Matt Smith’s successor.

    EDIT: I just googled Colin Hoult and found that his last three one-man comedy shows were called Carnival of Monsters, Enemy of the World and Inferno. I reckon he’s a fan, don’t you?

  • That’s fighting talk – we Whovians are an antsy lot, and we’ll even take on a phalanx of Star Wars fans if they don’t show respect.

  • b.lynch black

    you and i might think that — obviously the men at BBC don’t.

  • b.lynch black

    i’m with you Les (as you know — feisty Whovian here), but must concede that under Moffat, whimsey and nonsense have sort of taken over — with very little subtext. and the subtext was what i *lived* for through the original series, and the davies’ years. not enough mystery, not enough backstory hints now… not even enough front story mystery. just mush. however, personal doubts aside, it doesn’t mean i won’t stand up against a phalanx of any other fans of any other shows.

  • Bob

    What about Pat Cadigan? She’s not English, but her manges to write both science fiction, and horror brilliantly, and the best Who has a foot in both of those camps

  • RogerBW

    I don’t believe she has any experience of screenwriting, which has generally been a filter for Who scriptwriters. Could be interesting, though.

  • Bob

    I remember the terrible disappointment that was ”Neverwhere”. After all of the abuse Moffat has taken-some of the stuff about him on the internet is quite howlingly mad, bordering on the scary-will anyone be that keen to take the job on?

  • Bob

    Sorry, that should be ”she manages”, not ”her manges”. I seem to be experiencing ”keyboard bilndness” today!

  • Froborr

    Huh. I had assumed Connie Willis was British, because everything I’ve read by her was set in Britain.
    Regardless, she’s written several excellent novels starring Oxbridgean (is that the right word for someone from Oxford?) time travelers. That’s what Time Lords *are*!

  • RogerBW

    Yeah, unfortunately her appreciation of Britishness is very much a surface thing – Blackout/All Clear are riddled with basic errors about wartime life in England.

  • Froborr

    It’s a combination of a couple of things. The idea that a show should have a single person who is in charge both in an administrative sense and in the sense of guiding the overall story is relatively new–I think it traces back to David Lynch and Twin Peaks, but I welcome correction on that point. Most likely, New Who inherited the idea from its single biggest influence other than classic Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
    Coming from the other direction, Doctor Who has been running for so long that it becomes meaningful to talk about eras of the show. The most obvious thing to base eras on is who plays the Doctor, but until the new series changes of lead actor rarely corresponded to changes in creative direction, so changes of producer and script editor (two separate roles in the old series, combined to form the showrunnner in the new series) are often used instead. The result is that long-time Doctor Who fans are used to paying attention to who’s running the show, and compare Moffat to Davies the way they once compared Bidmead to Saward or Nathan-Turner to Cartmel.

  • b.lynch black

    Oxbridgean is usually a reference to someone who went to Cambridge or Oxford and has a certain attitude — the reference is usually from someone who hasn’t attended those institutions. also, i’ve met connie willis. she’s a lovely, warm midwestern US person.

  • b.lynch black

    perhaps so, but they are *fantasies* after all…

  • Paul

    Good point. Talk about a poisoned chalice. It may not be so much a question of “Who do we want?” as “Who’s prepared to do it?”

  • cautia

    1) Sera Gamble is a ‘her’, not a ‘him.’
    2) The term showrunner is not new, nor is the concept that it describes. It absolutely existed back when Buffy was on the air, I remember hearing it often. I don’t know exactly how far back the term goes though, but the concept of a showrunner goes back to the beginnings of television. The word itself became necessary to distinguish ‘executive producers’ who either did nothing or who were in charge of things other than the creative direction of the show from the executive producer or producers who were in charge of the show’s creative direction.

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