Steven Moffat Wins Judge’s Award From The Royal Television Society

Congratulations to Steven Moffat for receiving the Judge’s Award for outstanding contribution to television from the Royal Television Society. It is amazing that Moffat could be great at such a wide variety of writing, from Coupling, one of the best sit-coms ever written, to an updated version of  the Sherlock Holmes stories, to taking over as show runner of Doctor Who.

“The Judges’ Award is given for an outstanding contribution to television, and there are few screenwriters in the world whose work boasts the same incredible range as tonight’s recipient. Equally at home with horror, detective stories, situation comedy, action adventure and sci-fi, this year’s winner is an author in the truest sense of the word. With a vocation encouraged by his father, his first foray into television arrived in the form of the awarded and still iconic children’s drama series Press Gang. (The first and last time he needed a leg-up from anyone but not the last time he would call on a family member for help). With a clear comic ability and an already-proven knack for seeing the insane and ironic in ordinary life, tonight’s winner forged a highly accomplished career in situation comedy during the 90s, paving the way for his most successful original comedy to date, Coupling – regarded by many as a paradigm for near-perfect comic writing and storytelling. Sitcom, it would turn out, was the perfect warm up for tackling two of the biggest icons in British fiction in his most recent works: Sherlock and Doctor Who. Channeling all that he had learned about structure into shaping mind-bendingly brilliant sci-fi and thriller plots, as well as placing a funny man/straight man pairing at the centre of extraordinary and impossible circumstances, with his friend Mark Gatiss he invited an entirely new audience to claim Holmes and Watson as their own. And in his downtime reinventing Doctor Who to overwhelming critical and ratings success from the get-go. There are few writers who would trade Steven Spielberg and Hollywood to work with the Daleks in Wales but this man did. Indeed, with a seemingly inexhaustible resource of utterly distinctive plots and the ability to use comedy liberally to form a devoted connection with the audience, our winner is living, typing proof of why television remains THE writer’s medium.”

SciFi Weekend: US Premiere of Doctor Who; Everyone Loves Hugo; FlashForward May Survive

The new season of Doctor Who premiered on BBC America last night, complete with visits to the United States by the new show runner Steven Moffat and stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. I previously discussed the season opener after it aired here, avoiding spoilers while waiting for the US airing. I’ll discuss the episode further, now including spoilers. (Significant spoilers will be limited to what has aired in the U.S. only but if you want to know absolutely nothing about future episodes you might turn around. Note that Amy Pond most certainly would not look away.)

The regeneration was both fun and showed the effects upon The Doctor when experiencing this. The BBC explains that regenerations were initially modeled on bad LSD trips during the original episodes in the 1960’s. This regeneration included a scene of Matt Smith hanging out of the Tardis as it flew low over London and a quite funny sequence in which The Doctor grabbed loads of food complaining of hunger and then spit them out in front of a young Amelia Pond. Young Amelia/Amy was played by a cousin of Karen Gillan.

While time travel is often used in Doctor Who episodes as a mechanism to get The Doctor into the story, it does not play a major role during most episodes. Steven Moffat tends to use time travel more than other writers for the series. In this episode the newly-regenerated Doctor had a bit of trouble with the Tardis settings and accidentally didn’t return to see Amy for years after meeting her as a child.

This manner in which The Doctor met Amy allowed for an immediate bond which otherwise might have taken many episodes to develop. Amy has spent her life obsessed with the time traveler she met as a child, with adults trying to tell her she imagined him. Once she met him as an adult she could not resist going off with him. She even accepted his promise to return her by the next morning in her time despite seeing that The Doctor could not be trusted with promises to return promptly. In the previews we learned that the reason she wants to return by morning is that it is her wedding day.

Amy is both a strong character as a companion and is a Moffat character who might have fit in well in his other series, Coupling. While it is doubtful the BBC will allow him to include sex in his stories to the degree he did on Coupling, he did devise quite an interesting back story for Amy. When The Doctor first met her as an adult she was wearing a police uniform (with an unusually short skirt) and hand cuffed him. The outfit was actually one she wears in her real profession as a kissogram girl. If this was Coupling I bet the character would do more than just kiss, and we’d be hearing far more about it.

Meeting Amy was interspersed with an alien threat which began when she was a child and concluded when The Doctor returned years later. An alien convict escaped from prison and got to earth due to a crack in time. Moffat showed the depth of his writing skills with moments of suspense along with humorous scenes, such as humans stopping to film the alien threat with their cellphones.

Since Doctor Who returned many of the seasons had season-long arcs in addition to the stand alone episodes. The crack in time might be playing such a role this year as it comes up again in the third episode, which I’ll discuss more after it airs in the United States. In the meantime, in the second episode watch for any hints as to Amy’s ultimate marital status, and Steven Moffat’s comment on contemporary politics (which I’ll discuss separately in an upcoming post).

This week’s episode of Lost was once again essentially a story about love. While Hugo visited Libby’s grave on the island, in the alternative reality he finally got his date with her. We learned a little about the island when Michael returned and explained to Hurley that the whisper sounds are the souls who couldn’t move on after death, because of something bad that they had done while on the island.

We also saw more examples of characters having some knowledge of the other reality by means other than near-death experiences. Desmond remained interested in having the other passengers see evidence of the other reality. When he literally ran into Locke he might have been seeking to give him a near-death experience but he also appeared angered by some knowledge of what the Man in Black did to Desmond while in Locke’s body. I bet Locke meets Jack and others when taken to the hospital, and I wonder what he will have to tell them.

The television version of FlashForward differs from Robert Sawyer’s novel in having the key event take place during the first year as opposed to years afterward. If the show had not gone on extended hiatus the episode of the show with the actual FlashForward might have coincided with the actual date. Instead the April 29th episode will show “the beginning” of the event, with the rest coming on the May 6th episode, entitled Course Correction.

Despite low ratings there is hope that FlashForward might be given a second season. The show has two advantages. The international ratings are far better than the American ratings, and the show is directly produced by ABC making it more economically feasible to continue a low-rated show. More surprises, such as how they handled the mole in the FBI, might even help them improve in the ratings.

SciFi Weekend: Brilliant Work By Steven Moffat, Matt Smith, & Karen Gillan As Doctor Who Returns

Doctor Who returned this weekend on the BBC, with BBC America to show The Eleventh Hour on April 17. I’ll try to avoid any major spoilers here but those who don’t want to know anything before watching might want to turn around (as is also suggested at one point during the episode when The Doctor changes into his new outfit. (One mild spoiler: new companion Amy Pond doesn’t even consider turning around as he changes clothes.)

We have a new Doctor, a new companion, a remodeled Tardis, and Steven Moffat has taken over as show runner. Moffat is responsible for some of the top Doctor Who episodes in recent years, winning a series of Hugo and Nebula awards. His episodes include Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace, and a pair of  two-part episodes, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead. Moffat has also shown his versatility in writing on previous shows, such as Coupling, one of the best sit-coms ever (BBC version).

It is largely due to Moffat’s talent that Matt Smith succeeded in taking over the lead role following David Tennant, considered by many to have been the best actor to play The Doctor so far. The show opened where the regeneration scene in The End of Time Part II left off. The Tardis was flying low over London with The Doctor hanging on out the door.  As has happened with some other regenerations, The Doctor was just not quite himself for a while, providing some of the more humorous moments of the series. With a series of events I will not spoil, The Doctor wound up meeting his new companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), and faced a new threat to earth.

The episode shows many of the aspects of Moffat’s style. While time travel has generally been used as a device to get The Doctor to a certain place and time for a story, Moffat actually uses time travel as a factor within many of his stories. Aspects of this story which were reminiscent of his earlier story, The Girl In The Fireplace. While far less than in Blink, there was more suspense than is usually seen in the stories by other Doctor Who writers. We have a new Doctor who is different from earlier ones but very strong continuity is also maintained with the past.

Karen Gillan did an excellent job as The Doctor’s new companion, Amy Pond, and I see reason to believe she will become as significant a character on her own as recent companions such as Rose Tyler (Billy Piper). She is already attracting considerable attention over the internet, with Google searches for old pictures of her breaking traffic records here–especially when she is scantily clad. (This is especially appropriate as Moffat’s characters on Coupling often described the internet as primarily being a repository for porn.) Not only was Moffat’s experience as a sit-com writer of value for the scenes of a totally messed up Doctor post-regeneration. Amy Pond, who has worked as a kissogram and likes to wear short skirts, could have fit in well on Coupling.

I’ve seen some apprehension on line before the episode aired that Moffat might throw out the past and recreate a different show. There was nothing to fear. Moffat has always been a big fan of Doctor Who, even turning down work with Steven Spielberg when he had the opportunity to work on this show.  Moffat brings his own style, but it is clear in this episode that Moffat considered the entire history of the show in developing his version of The Doctor. Matt Smith’s Doctor, while his own character, is clearly portrayed as part of a long succession of Doctors, and references are also made to the villains he has beaten in the past. Where Moffat’s style varies from past Doctor Who writers, it will only strengthen the show.

SciFi Weekend: Torchwood to US; Kissograms on Doctor Who; Rebooting An Old Roddenberry Series; Caprica Premiers; Rob Lowe Leaving Kitty

The Hollywood Reporter has a story on the possibility of Fox picking up Torchwood. Russell T. Davis would write it and John Barrowman might still star, but I still have my doubts about this working as an American television show. Many shows with science fiction aspect have had difficulty making it in the United States. One of the features which makes Torchwood special is being a more serious show taking place in the Doctor Who universe which would be unfamiliar to many American audiences. Even under the best of conditions, far too many genre shows such as Firefly and Dollhouse have died quickly on Fox.

It also does not always work to try to translate successful British television series to the American networks. Some such as The Office have been successful but there have also been many flops. Two examples of such failures in recent years have been Life on Mars and Coupling. The American version of Coupling also showed that having the writer of the original BBC version does not guarantee success. Coupling, which NBC had hoped to be the replacement for Friends (and which was in many ways more like a combination of Seinfeld and Sex in the City) failed for several reasons in the United States. They used the same scripts as were used on the BBC–written by incoming Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat.

The article also mentions the possibility of also rebooting Doctor Who for American television. That would be far, far worse than doing this with Torchwood. It isn’t clear if the idea for Torchwood is to pick up the series where it left off but with a more international background or if they would reboot it.

I’ve been impressed with Steven Moffat for doing such a great job on such different television genres. I’ve sometimes joked that I would like to see some of the characters from Coupling become The Doctor’s next companion. We don’t know very much about The Doctor’s actual upcoming companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). TV Overmind has picked up a report that “everyone thinks she is this prim and proper policewoman… it’s going to be revealed early on that she works as a kissogram.” Reading that, she just might be a Steven Moffat character of the Coupling variety!

Personally I think this whole trend towards reboots is going a bit too far. I would primarily reserve it for shows which were so bad that they should be done entirely differently (such as Battlestar Galactica) or for shows which never made it and we have no emotional investment with the original. One such show which is being talked about for a reboot is an old Gene Roddenberry idea, The Questor Tapes. His son Rod has said, “My father always felt that Questor was the one that got away. He believed that the show had the potential to be bigger than Star Trek.”

TrekMovie.com has some information on the show:

Now 36 years later “Questor” is back. Gene’s son Rod Roddenberry will develop the project along with Roddenberry Productions COO Trevor Roth and Imagine Television’s President David Nevins and EVP of Development Robin Gurney. The team is currently in negotiations with writer, producer and show runner Tim Minear (Lois & Clark, The X-Files, Angel, Dollhouse) to produce. Of course there still is no guarantee that the new “Questor” will get picked up as a series either, but Imagine Entertainment, which was founded by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, has a good track record on TV. Imagine developed shows like 24, Friday Night Lights, Lie To Me; Arrested Development, and many more (including JJ Abrams Felicity)…

Gene Roddenberry may never have got “Questor” as a series, but he didn’t forget the idea of that android on a quest. “Questor” influenced the creation of the character Data in Star Trek The Next Generation.

John Kennith Muir has more background, including a review of the original movie.

Caprica premiered on television this week. My original review from when it came out on DVD was posted here.

Rob Lowe, who left The West Wing before the series was completed to attempt to make it on his own show, has now decided to leave Brothers and Sisters at the end of this season. While his previous attempt with his own show failed it is more understandable that he wants to try again as opposed to remaining where he is as his role on Brothers and Sisters is not as substantial as his role as  Sam Seaborn on The West Wing. There is no word as to how he will exit the show. Possibilities include his character having another heart attack or a divorce from Kitty.

SciFi Weekend: Surprises on Dollhouse and Lost (Penelope Widmore is Sally Harper!)

dollhouse-tv-series-1x11-stills-gq-03

There were several surprises this week. Some of the surprises were actually anticipated but this isn’t necessarily bad as it could indicate that the writers did a good job of setting up the surprises as opposed to bringing in things out of left field. Spoilers released earlier in the season also made some more predictable.

Briar Rose, this week’s episode of Dollhouse, began with one surprise as Ballard dumped Mellie. At first I was surprised he would to this but the moment we saw Mellie back with her handler the reason became clear. I had no doubt that Ballard was following and that this would be how he found the location of the Dollhouse.

While Ballard was hunting for the Dollhouse, the obligatory Echo story showed yet another use for the Dollhouse’s technology as this was used to help an abused child. It was not clear how this organization, which generally sells their services to millionaires, wound up helping this child (or how they could find the Dollhouse when the FBI could not).

alpha

The real surprise of the episode was that Kepler turned out to be Alpha, but I actually expected that even before they made in inside of the Dollhouse. This guess was helped both by knowing that the season would end with a confrontation with Alpha and as Joss Whedon had already hinted that we would first see Alpha in a different identity.

eliza-dushku-nude-allure-01

The show started out with problems, probably because of the interference from Fox, but is ending the season strong from a creative if not ratings standpoint.  Briar Rose set up a the finale, which will hopefully be a season as opposed to a series finale, with Alpha taking Echo. It turns out that both Ballard and Alpha are obsessed with Echo/Caroline. Of course after her nude picture in Allure (above) , I imagine there might be lots of guys who are obsessed with Eliza Dushku.

lostfarday

Lost had its 100th episode, centering around Daniel Faraday. The Variable probably foreshadows the final episodes of the season as they move on from living with the Dharma people. The show could turn out to be a real game changer if it does turn out that people are variables which can change events, contrary to what we were previously told. The ultimate surprise could turn out to be that everything changes.

The surprise in this episode which came as no surprise was seeing Daniel Faraday get shot by his mother, Eloise Hawking, after going back in time before he was born. (It would have been far more interesting if instead he shot his mother before he was born, but presumably time could not be altered in that manner). We had already known that a major character would die before the end of the season and, being gone for a while, Faraday certainly seemed expendable. Seeing him enter the hostile’s camp after outright telling Jack and Kate that any one of them could be killed made his death so obvious that I told my wife that he was about to get killed with total certainty.

There are suggestions that there could be variables which change time, but it does not appear that changing Daniel’s fate is included. Eloise Hawking seems to know more about time travel and the island than anyone else. If she had sent Daniel back to the island, knowing that her younger self would kill him, she must be very certain that time could not be changed. Perhaps she had everyone else go back in the hopes someone else would be killed or events could have been chaged in a different way, but if she really thought she could change events the most sensible course would have been to keep Daniel from returning (unless there are other reasons this was not possible). It is conceivable that, like Ben, Daniel will survive the shooting but I will be very surprised if this is the case. What remains to be seen is whether Jack or anyone else does can change the sequence of events which have taken place on the island, leading to the crash of Oceanic Flight 815.

lost_jpg_595x1000_q85

While somewhat contrived, they made use of a story featuring Daniel and Eloise to show that Desmond is all right in the future as Eloise met with Penelope Widmore at the hospital. We also found, in a relatively minor surprise, that Charles Widmore was Daniel’s father.

coupling-us-cast

The biggest surprise of the week for me came when I obtained copies of the US version of Coupling. The show was based upon a BBC show which I previously discussed here.  The US version was intended to replace Friends but was actually a combination of Friends, Seinfeld, and Sex and the City. The BBC version, besides being one of the greatest comedies ever made, is notable for being written by Steven Moffat, who will be taking over as show runner for Doctor Who when it returns on a regular basis in 2010.

The show was a flop in the United States but now that I’ve seen the BBC version I wanted to give the US version another chance. Seeing what the series turned into in the BBC version, I was curious to see the entire US run, especially as only four out of eleven episodes were aired here.

One problem the show had in the United States was the protests about the amount of sex discussed in the show. It was also probably hurt by the shorter length of the US version due to commercials. Typical episodes of Coupling were like many episodes of Seinfeld in which different stories often came together at the end. Taking an excellent script by Moffat and cutting out several minutes would be likely to ruin it.

tell_me_you_love_me_castpic

I’ve wondered if the problem could have been the quality of the actors. Here is where I had the surprise. Playing the beggining of an episode I found that in the US version Sally Harper was played by Sonya Walger. Walger also plays Penelope Widmore on Lost, was in the HBO series Tell Me You Love Me, and played Michelle Dixon on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

The presence of Sonya Walger alone does not redeem the US version of Coupling, but after seeing her in Lost on Wednesday I was surprised to see her face when I started to watch Coupling. Although it has an ensemble cast, Sally was far less significant to the stories as compared to characters such as Steve and Susan. The actor playing Steve also looked familiar, and I later tracked him down to be Jay Harrington, who currently is doing an excellent job as star of Better Off Ted (shown here with Portia de Rossi of Allie McBeal and Arrested Development). Presumably he has improved his comedy skills since staring on Coupling.

better-off-ted

SciFi Friday: Approaching the Moffat Era for Doctor Who

4x13-journey-s-end-screencaps-doctor-rose-badwolf-tenth-rose-3543783-640-352

Journey’s End, the season finale of Doctor Who and the final regular episode under Russell T. Davies aired Friday on the Science Fiction channel. My comments on the episode were previously posted here. Davies will still be doing a series of specials while David Tennant is performing in Hamlet, with the series resuming on a regular basis in 2010 under Steven Moffat. Among the episodes written by Moffett are the Hugo-award winners The Girl in the Fireplace, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, and Nebula award winner (as well as nominee for this year’s Hugo award) Blink.

Moffat is working with Davies so that the specials lead into his planned episodes according to SciFi Wire.

“It’s all happening in this head,” Moffat said in an interview at Comic-Con International in San Diego on July 23. “I know where I want it to start. I don’t mean to make it sound very grand. It’s very simple, just where I want it to be when it takes off. So [Russell’s] arranged for that.”

Moffat, who has written some of the most popular episodes of the new series so far, said that his new role as executive producer will require him to approach writing from an entirely different perspective.

“There are a bunch of things I’ve always wanted to see in Doctor Who, yes, but now it’s slightly different–it’s very different in my new position,” Moffat said. “Obviously, I only turned up once a year, and practically my brief was to write, in effect, the Moffat episode–the one that’s very different, the one that’s a bit timey-wimey or a bit scary. And that’s all they were expecting. And they would just tell me, ‘Go, and do your thing.’ So I would do my Moffat-y thing–whatever the f–k that is–in a very, very pronounced way. But you couldn’t have a whole series like that. If you started a series with ‘Silence of the Library’ or ‘Blink,’ people would turn off. You can’t have that as the first episode. It’s just too grim. So it’s different contemplating it from this position, very, very different.”

The series will also continue to embrace a wide range of tones and genres, Moffat said. Rather than adapting the show to his particular writing style, he looks forward to experimenting with different voices to maintain the show’s variety.

Moffat discussed his plans for Doctor Who in an interview with IO9. One of the questions dealt with how future companions might be portrayed compared to the companions in the past few seasons:

One of the great innovations of the Russell T. Davies era was the idea of the companion being connected to her home and family, and keeping the family as a supporting cast. How do you keep that fresh with a succession of new companions?

You change everything, all the time. Even that element of the show has changed radically over the past four years… You don’t worry about doing things radically, in an a new way… [You] do what tells the story… It was very important that Rose, Jackie and Mickey were clear, developed characters. [When the show started] the Doctor was a ridiculous guide. [Audiences didn’t] understand who he is and what he’s supposed to be. But [now] it’s very different, because the Doctor is the most familiar character in the show. [Originally] we knew Rose much better than the Doctor, and now we know the Doctor better than we know Rose. And now we see Rose from the Doctor’s point of view, instead of seeing the Doctor from Rose’s point of view. You have to stay alive and stay lively, and Doctor Who is about change. Change is part of Doctor Who‘s formula. It must change.

Working on Doctor Who was Moffat’s childhood dream, and this was such a high priority for him that he turned down a £500,000 movie deal with Steven Spielberg so he could take the job:

Moffat said: ‘I know a lot of people won’t understand it but I’ve been dreaming about writing for Doctor Who since I was seven.

‘There are no bad feelings between Spielberg and me, but Doctor Who has to come before Hollywood.

‘The show has enjoyed a renaissance. I am working on scripts to be filmed next year. Russell T. Davies is doing four specials next and then my shows will begin. The show is all-consuming.’

coupling

This isn’t the first time that Moffat gave up something in order to work on Doctor Who. He previously wrote the British sit-com Coupling. His interest in Doctor Who could be seen in the series as the male lead is named Steven Tayor, who had also been the name of a character on Doctor Who. An early second season episode had a brief reference to Daleks. Moffat wrote the series for four season, but turned down an offer to write a fifth season due to being busy with other projects, including his work on Doctor Who.

I recently started watching Coupling and highly recommend the show. In addition to being available on DVD’s it is being shown on BBC America. NBC had planned to have an American version replace Friends when it completed its run but it did not last long due to both poor adaptations and protests by some affiliates with the manner in which the episodes dealt with sex. The scripts were based upon the original scripts but execution was far inferior to the original. The BBC episodes also lack the commercial breaks of the American episodes, allowing more time for the plots to play out.

The extra time might be important as, while the show is often compared to Friends, Moffat was influenced even more by SeinfeldCoupling manages to combine the best of Friends, Seinfeld, and Sex and the City. Instead of dealing with “nothing” as Seinfeld did, it deals with more exclusively with relationships and sex, but many characteristics of Seinfeld can be seen in the writing. This includes the manner in which topics are discussed, with some of the conversations sounding like they could be between Jerry and George. Coupling often takes this further with the male and female characters having two parallel conversations about the same situation, with quite different views. Coupling is also much like Seinfeld in the manner in which two or three different stories might be told during the episode which come together at the end in an unexpected manner.

While some are predicting that episodes of Doctor Who under Moffat will be scarier episodes such as those he has written previously, seeing his work on Coupling demonstrates the versatility of his talent. Coupling is quite different from Doctor Who, but should The Doctor and Captain Jack get together at a pub, Moffat is capable of writing quite interesting dialog between them. He also has the ability to write about relationships with The Doctor’s future companions which probably would not be allowed considering the appeal of Doctor Who to younger viewers.