Saturday, May 31, 2008

Week Eight: "My Life with the New God-King"

Steven Moffat: The Unauthorised Biography. The power! The passion…!

I can't remember, now, why I might have been staying home from sixth-form college that day. Nor can I remember why I might have been watching Children's ITV at half past four in the afternoon, and I certainly can't remember why I didn't even bother reaching for the remote control when the voice-over announced a programme called Press Gang. A series about a whoop of schoolchildren running a junior newspaper is not, under normal circumstances, the sort of thing that a seventeen-year-old geek-boy in 1990 would have found acceptable: for anyone who went through puberty in the 1980s, it has that horrible smack of Jossie's Giants about it. In fact, I'm not even sure why I sat through the whole twenty-five minutes, since the opening scenes didn't do anything so far-removed from the usual run of adolescent programming that it gave me a specific reason to keep watching. No Egyptian gods, no horses on space-stations. Still, by the time the end credits arrived, I'd found myself genuinely concerned over the question of whether the Male Lead and the Female Lead (who were entirely new to me then, but whom I later discovered had been suffering UST for all twelve episodes of the previous season) would end up getting it on. I made a note to watch this programme again, if ever I should be at home on a Thursday.

Three weeks later, I was, just in time to catch the episode which ended with the all-important "Spike and Lynda agree to go on their first date" cliffhanger. At this point, the programme crossed the line from "watch this if you're available" to "set the video", and the following episode - "At Last a Dragon", considered in Press Gang circles to be the centre-point around which the rest of the series revolves - convinced me that it was probably the best thing on television. However, this was something I had difficulty explaining to my peer group, especially the "better than Doctor Who" part of the argument. They assumed I was being ironic in some way. Bear in mind that 1990 was the start of the Irony Age, when near-adults would watch Byker Grove in the belief that they were being post-modern (even now, Ant and Dec's career seems to be built on the principle of the audience pretending they're good) and spliff-addled teenagers would tune into repeats of Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds just to sing along with the theme tune. The notion that Press Gang was actually good good, rather than kitsch good, wasn't easy to get across.

So when Steve Lyons gave a nod to the series in the dedication to Conundrum, and the paperback, celebrity-free version of Human Nature went one better by giving a credit to the programme's sole scriptwriter, it was nice to know that I wasn't just imagining it. His ascension to emperor-elect seems almost inevitable now, but what's notable is that people were saying "if Doctor Who comes back, then they should get that Steven Moffat to write for it" as early as 1991. We might also note that Press Gang began in the same year that original-flavour Doctor Who ended, raising the question of what might have happened if John Nathan-Turner had managed to hold on for just a few more years, and Moffat had ended up writing for the pre-CGI, pre-mini-movie version. "Blink" on old-fashioned video-stock would, after all, look like the natural follow-up to "Survival".

"Moffat"! Somehow, I find it impossible to think of him as "Steven". I can comfortably refer to the man who dropped my manuscript down the back of a shelving-unit as "Gareth", or the man who gave us Donna Noble as "Big Russell", and yet… perhaps it's his snarling, predatory Scottishness, but Moffat's name is one that has to be snapped. I can't hear it without feeling as if someone should be waving their fist in the air at the same time, like a headmaster shouting at one of the Bash Street Kids… or, perhaps more appropriately, like a headmaster shouting at a wayward teacher in a '70s sitcom. I say "snarling", although if you watch it again now, then one of the key things to notice about Press Gang is that it's basically a work of idealism. It's not just that Moffat seems to have been on a mission to make children's TV that worked properly, but that the programme's entire philosophy comes across as an idealistic one. Bear this in mind, because it's going to be important later. The Press Gang universe is full of twisted, neurotic personalities, yet cynicism rarely wins out, and the fight usually turns out to be worth fighting.

(Well… up to a point. In the final series, something terrible happens to the makeup of this universe, and female characters who've previously been depicted as intelligent, principled and self-reliant suddenly become parasitic harpies with absolutely no taste in men. It's worth mentioning that Moffat's next project, Joking Apart, was a sitcom about a comedy writer who's going through a hideous divorce. I never asked him about this, but the conclusion seems obvious, in much the same way that you just knew Warlock had to be written by a man who'd recently been dumped by his girlfriend.)

I finally met Moffat on the 1st of April, 1998, the same day that I played an elaborate April Fool's joke on Stephen Cole by dumping 450 pages of Interference on his desk and saying "look, I just wrote a Doctor Who book!". The first time I saw him, he was in the middle of a loud and marginally drunken conversation with a female acquaintance. He was complaining about a kitten. Had his wife bought a kitten, or did one of his friends have a kitten that had annoyed him in some way, or…? It wasn't quite clear, even at the time. What I remember is that his acquaintance responded to this by protesting, 'but it's so cute!'. To which Moffat shouted: 'It'd look cute stuffed!'

I think I must have realised, right then and there, that I'd misread the situation entirely. I'd assumed that he'd be like one of the idealistic personalities from Press Gang. In fact, he was like one of the twisted, neurotic ones. With hindsight, it seems so obvious.

From a personal point of view, it's not difficult to understand why Moffat and I have never precisely seen eye-to-eye. Let's start with the Krays-style argument that men never really grow up, or at least, that they never manage to break out of the rules they set for themselves during adolescence. We'll take it as read, just for the time being, that every adult male has in some way become "stuck" during that long hormonal death-crawl from puberty to home-ownership. If true, then the difference between myself and Moffat is simple: I never quite stopped being seventeen (the age at which I first saw Press Gang, although I'm assuming there's no connection), whereas Moffat never quite stopped being nineteen. There's a whacking great gulf between the two. A seventeen-year-old, especially a bright seventeen-year-old, is fundamentally driven by angst. His mind will be open to whole new empires of experience, but he'll have no way of contextualising this in terms of the people around him. This will make him frustrated, and often socially clumsy, likely to be an idealist but with no clear idea of how to put his idealism into effect. He's inclined to be a poet, if only a bad one.

But this sort of thing doesn't trouble the nineteen-year-old, who will have worked out exactly how to deal with other people, even if it means doing everything possible to cover up any sign of emotional weakness. He'll have no time for angst, since he'll be too busy hanging around the university bar, trying to impress the girls. And, to be fair, often succeeding. If he has any neurosis, then it's the neurosis of a manchild who knows he can't ever be seen to lose any of his credibility. Idealism is fine, but only if you don't look too enthusiastic about it, and only if there's a chance to take the piss out of anyone who's less arch and impassive than yourself. (In Moffat's case, I've seen him deliberately sabotage geeky-sounding conversations that he obviously finds quite interesting, just because he can't allow himself to feel like a geek… q.v. what I said about his appearance on the Confidential accompanying "The Doctor Dances", pretending not to know what nanites are.) As a great writer once said, however: the most important thing to notice about someone who uses his sense of humour as a weapon isn't that he has a sense of humour, but that he needs a weapon.

I'll give you the short version, if you want. I like Star Wars because of its dynamism, its scope, its technique, its sheer artistry. Moffat likes Star Wars because Han Solo's dead cool and there's lots of sexy hardware. In that light, those who've read "The Book of the World" might want to take a moment to consider the difference between my idea of a great big cosmic library and the one we see in "Silence…". The "Book" version is designed to suggest the Big Picture, the sense of something huge and majestic waiting beyond the walls, ready to break open the story-universe. It's basically a world-building exercise, which is why the descriptions are so bloody long (it's not like "Blink" or "The Sontaran Stratagem", y'know… if you're creating a whole ecosystem from scratch, then you can't just say "right, now we're in a warehouse" and leave it at that). Whereas the "Silence in the Library" version is about the individual elements, not the environment. There's a conceptual monster that children can turn into a playground game at will, at least when it's sunny; there's an ensemble cast that covers all bases, with enough snappy one-liners for everyone; there's a framing sequence about a reality-shift between the normal world and the nightmare, one of Moffat's specialities ever since Press Gang; there's a chief supporting actress who's capable of slick backchat with the Doctor; there's this year's big character-gimmick, i.e. an apparent future companion; there's techno-chic for the hard SF fans, and an implied Horror from the Dawn of Time for the gothicists. In short, this episode's got everything it needs to be… well… cool.

So obviously I prefer "The Book of the World". Not purely because I wrote it, but because I'll go for "world-building" above "cool" any day. Moffat is built the other way around. Both of these approaches can be thought of as adolescent (and there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that), although they're very different stages of adolescence.

Moffat didn't pay much attention to me, the first few times we met. This seemed reasonable, since I didn't have XX chromosomes and big honkers, although things changed when - for whatever reason - he read Alien Bodies. The next time we found ourselves in the same pub-space, he bounded up to me and started telling me how good it was, while I stood there trying not to look alarmed. Ten years on, this sounds as if it should have been a meeting of two gargantuan talents (yes it should, shut up), and yet in a way, it guaranteed that we were never going to be close. When I say that we didn't see eye-to-eye, I mean it in a sense that's almost literal. Remember, you've got to think of this as a confrontation between an awkward seventeen-year-old (actually 26) and a socially-ambitious nineteen-year-old (actually 37). Anyone who's ever met me will know that I'm not very prepossessing at the best of times, and having decided that I was competent as a writer, Moffat immediately seemed to take it upon himself to… how can I put this? To treat me as if I were a promising young acolyte. He was always aware of his status as the high-ranking, award-winning member of the Doctor Who Gang, and used terms like "alpha male" rather a lot in conversation: again, this is going to be important later on, when we try to work out what he's likely to do now that he's the King of the World. I realise, looking back on it, that I was deferring to him all the time. I didn't realise it then, because I wasn't fluent in body language.

There's a thing called the "power-pat", and it's a way for the alpha male to demonstrate his dominance over the other males in such a way that it looks perfectly friendly. It's so primal that gorillas have been known to do it, and so powerful in its social impact that world leaders are now trained in its use by body-language specialists (George W. Bush did it to Tony Blair during every public meeting they ever had, as if we hadn't already worked out which of them was taking it like a bitch). I only found out about this circa 2000, which is why I didn't initially understand why Moffat kept putting his arm around me every time he saw me. When I did work it out, I felt rather annoyed, and told everyone I met at the Tavern that he had a gay crush on me. Sure enough, he'd invariably walk up to me, touch up my shoulders for a while, then walk off again, at which point everyone would start giggling. And, on one occasion, writing "SM4LM" graffiti on one of the tables. Eventually, after reading up on bonehead non-verbal communication, I decided to try putting the boot on the other foot. The next time Moffat approached me, I turned around, reared up to my full height, advanced on him like a wall of hairy man-flesh, and - for the first and only time - took the "offensive" role in the conversation, questioning his own life and career as if such things were obviously my business. He started to shrink back, and after a couple of minutes, I realised that he was actually deferring to me. And I remember thinking: dear God, is it really this simple?

You see what I mean about all men being conditioned by their adolescence. But if all this monkey-posturing sounds absurd, then let's put in the context of the late '90s / early 2000s. You may remember a time, in the days before "Doctor Who fans" meant thirteen-year-olds, when the Virgin / BBC novels actually seemed important. The authors certainly thought they were important, and pride was their most valued possession. After all, the reason I gained a reputation as an unhealthy influence was that I broke what Keith Topping called "the unspoken code", the Omerta-like law which held that New Adventures writers should all stick together in the face of fandom and not publicly criticise each others' work. I say "Omerta", but in practice, they behaved more like Medieval overlords than mafiosa: the elite have to form a united front, because otherwise, they'll be revealed as weak, flabby individuals and the peasants will get ideas above their station. Oh, and you're the peasants, by the way. When the new series began, those authors who were promoted to scriptwriter-level went from "overlords" to "royalty", which is why my heartless attack on Mark Gatiss was received with the same shock as if a small-time landowner in the Middle Ages had just referred to the Prince of the Realm as a big spaz.

You think I'm exaggerating…? Then consider this. When Paul Cornell took me to task for the social faux-pas of having opinions, he seemed appalled that I was incapable of respecting the natural hierarchy, and asked whether there was anybody I 'bent the knee' to. Bent the knee…? What is this, geek feudalism? When I told him that I had no interest in serving or reigning, he asked me: 'Do your followers know that?' I found it horrifying that anyone could even think that way, and I still do.

I digress, but only slightly. The upshot is that I have no interest in power, either my own or other people's. The adage that "power corrupts" misses the real issue, which is that the very definition of power is "the capacity for abuse". I managed to make Steven Moffat my bitch, just the once, by making the same moves that a gorilla might make while attempting to take control of the flange. I couldn't keep it up, of course. Being a pack-alpha is far too much like hard work. I'm an anarchist, for f***'s sake, seventeen-year-olds are allowed to be.

So, this is what we should bear in mind about the boss-to-be. He's a man who's painfully aware of his own status, to the point where he used to be known in certain circles as Steven "Did I Mention I've Got a BAFTA?" Moffat. But more ominously, he's a man who's spent an awful lot of time in the company of people who are even more status-obsessed than he is, and who've traditionally had difficulty telling the difference between "fandom" and "serfdom". It'd be unfair and inaccurate to say that he desperately wants to be liked at any cost, but it is reasonable to say that unlike Russell T. Davies, he's not naturally inclined to write anything which might risk alienating a large chunk of the audience. Those of you who don't like "Gridlock" or (the big one) "Love & Monsters" will no doubt be delighted to hear this, but some would argue that Doctor Who is in a better position to take interesting risks than anything else on television. Fortunately, Moffat is one of the few writers working in modern-day TV who's actually capable of writing rather than just storyboarding, so his episodes tend to be worth watching even when they're playing it safe. "Silence in the Library" is a good indicator: the scenes set on what-looks-like-Earth aren't really going out on a limb, since they just employ the author's favourite technique of setting one branch of the story in a "side-space" away from the main adventure (this started with Press Gang's "Going Back to Jasper Street", which Cornell unquestionably had in mind when he wrote the framing sequences of "Father's Day"), yet they're different enough from the "normal" run of this year's Doctor Who to be attractive to the viewer. If we're talking about his tendency to avoid big risks, though, then the real test-case is…

…oh, Christ, here we go again…

…then the real test-case is "Blink", which still seems unforgivably lazy to me. This is an episode that wants us to believe it's character-driven, but one of the problems with today's pretend-it's-just-like-the-movies approach to TV is that characterisation has very nearly become a lost art, and people who talk about "good characters" usually just mean "lots of snappy one-liners". Sure enough, "Blink" has lots of snappy one-liners. It's also got a standard-issue Spunky Young Female as a protagonist, a standard-issue female sidekick who makes post-modernish comments about the story being just like a TV show, and a standard-issue pet geek who becomes a foil for standard-issue comments about fanboys only having friends on the internet (again, Moffat appears terrified by the suggestion of nerdliness… I'll brush over the fact that the nerd in question is called "Lawrence" on this occasion). Add to that all the "timey-wimey" material - not exactly standard-issue, although it's been second-nature to Moffat ever since "Continuity Errors" - and the result may be the best-ever episode of Torchwood, but it still seems unduly cynical for a programme like Doctor Who. Any competent writer should be able to auto-produce this kind of thing without even thinking about it, even if he can't literally micturate it while semi-conscious. Beyond the central concept of monsters that can't move while you're looking at them, you don't have to invent anything. The fact that it won a British Academy award speaks volumes about the way our expectations of TV drama have changed over the last couple of decades. Just think: in 1986, The Singing Detective wasn't even nominated.

When you start to dwell on all of this - no, don't bother, I've done enough dwelling for all of us - certain elements in Moffat's scripts take on a new significance. To an extent, he's the Doctor Who version of Neil Gaiman, a writer who's prepared to contrive his storylines with near-clinical precision to make sure that (a) the right demographic groups are interested and (b) he gets to look like a rock star. This is probably the harshest thing I've said so far, since [I really, really, really don't like Neil Gaiman, but I've been informed that my original way of expressing this verges on libel], and even Moffat isn't that desperate. But unquestionably, there are things in his scripts which exist solely to get specific parts of the audience on his side. As I said at about this time last year, Mme de Pompadour doesn't even have a personality, and she's presented to us as a form of historical blow-up doll: "One of the most accomplished women who ever lived, now with three realistic holes!" Her purpose is simply to give the Doctor something to fall in love with, even though the two of them have nothing in common, and even though Moffat has to resort to a Vulcan mind-meld in order to get them together. What he really wants to write about are clockwork robots, spaceships that punch holes through time, and his trademark "temporal architectures", but a romance is needed in order to make the fangirls feel a bit moist, so therefore… a romance appears out of nowhere.

Something similar happens in "Blink". When the snappy one-liners and the scary statues have done their work, there still needs to be something more emotive at the heart of the story. Ta-daah! The time-shifted policeman gets to die in hospital. If you watch the clock, then you'll find that his death-scene is longer than all his previous scenes put together, which says it all: his purpose isn't to be a fully-functional character, it's to kick the bucket and make us feel sad. In the fifty-first century, Miss Evangelista has obviously inherited this "doomed and tragic" gene, and her death-scene is even more tortuous while managing to be even less moving. The lesson being that if you kill off a character who's flatter than the Nodes, then it's just not going to make us cry, no matter how long you try to draw it out for. And along the same lines, I bet there's an excuse for Professor River Song to break down sobbing and / or die tearfully in the second act.

Not only that, but "Silence in the Library" is quite ruthless in marketing itself to children, firstly by having the Doctor address them directly (whether it's by talking to the camera or actually communicating through a TV set) and then by presenting the little girl as the creator-messiah of this world. Even the McDonald's Corporation isn't this adept at manipulating the responses of the under-twelves. Yay, kids! This is your programme! Exactly why there's a subplot about a child talking to the Doctor via a TV, when this supposed to be a story about books and libraries, I'm not sure. Actually, I'm not even sure why it's set in a library at all, rather than a generic alien ruin. Shouldn't it be about reading in some way, instead of just making smug comments about Geoffrey Archer and Bridget Jones…? Still, we're only halfway through. Let's give it a chance.

Come to think of it, if we're contemplating Moffat as someone who's hyper-sensitive to his social environment, then even "The Empty Child" is worthy of close inspection. I'm sure I'm not alone in noticing that there's an awful lot of gayness in this story: Captain Jack having an affair with the army officer is fair enough, but when the man whose house is invaded by Nancy (Nancy…!) turns out to be slipping it to the local butcher, you start to wonder whether anyone heterosexual lives in 1941 at all. Now, on being recruited to write for the series, Moffat would obviously have deferred to Big Russell and - so to speak - been on the receiving end for once. Trying to please a gay producer during the making of the gayest-ever version of Doctor Who, he… fills the world with people who have unconventional and mildly anachronistic lifestyles, despite being unremittingly straight in himself. It's like Zelig.

This is, of course, massively unkind. In fact, Moffat's need to give the punters what they want - or something like what they want, with enough twists to make it seem worthwhile - cuts both ways, especially if we're trying to imagine him in his Big Cheese role. Supplying a little bit of what everyone fancies is a perfectly valid way of running the show, provided it's a strategy for the series as a whole rather than a formula for every individual episode. And some things which seem contrived in the short-term can pay off in the long-term. On paper, Sally Sparrow doesn't have much of a personality to speak of, and most of her human appeal comes from the performance (and, if we're going to be honest, the pouting) of the cute one out of Bleak House. But then, you can say exactly the same thing about Rose in the script for "Rose": it works because it gives Billie Piper the ideal platform to do what Billie Piper does best, not because it gives her any real depth. It's easy to believe that when he reboots the series in 2010, Moffat might give us a companion designed according to the Sally Sparrow principle. Indeed, since C*th*r*n* T*t* has set a precedent for one-shot supporting characters making a long-term comeback, it might as well be Sally Sparrow. It's not as if Carey Mulligan's got anything better to do. However straightforward she may have been in a single forty-five-minute instalment, it's not hard to imagine her being developed into something more complex over the course of a series. The best companions are launchpads for the actor, and that's not necessarily true of the supporting cast.

More importantly, though, the need to stay Leader of the Gang is a very different urge from any that's driven the series so far. Where Russell T. Davies has failed, he's failed because he's been drawn into the soft, velvety guts of showbiz, eventually reaching the point where he's come to think of other showbiz types as being his target audience. We know he's always had a camp streak as wide as his buttocks, and there have been times during his Confidential interviews when he's looked as if he wants to launch into a chorus of "That's Entertainment", so perhaps it's no surprise that he might now consider the presence of Kylie Minogue to be more important than the presence of a plot. Yet despite being surrounded by sexy actresses for the last two decades, and despite Coupling being rendered to the USA to be horrifically tortured by experts, Moffat remains surprisingly untouched by showbiz. True, he may recently have become a member of the sinister voodoo police-force known as the Tintin Macoute, but it doesn't seem to have spoiled him.

In fact, if anything's distorted his agenda, then it's been his reputation amongst Doctor Who-kind rather than the call of Hollywood. "The Empty Child" established him as The Scary One, and Big Russell has repeated this time and time again, which means that he's had to live up to it every year. Gasmasks… done that. Thing lurking under the bed… done that. Statues… done that. What else? Er… oh yeah, shadows. That'll work. Ah, of course, that explains it. Why a library? Because libraries are creepy, that's all. He can't keep this up, but nor should he have to: once he's in charge, we might assume that he'll have better things to do than keep ticking off items from his list of Stuff That Freaks Out Five-Year-Olds. In this week's Confidential, even David Tennant has pointed out that there's a "checklist" method in effect here. But the fact is that if Moffat wants to remain Top Gorilla while he's in charge of the entire programme, then he's not going to do it by dedicating himself to a "King of Terror" role that was never really his calling in the first place. He never seemed to have any aspirations to make children wet themselves before 2005, which is why his first attempt at a library-based story ("Continuity Errors") doesn't even suggest that libraries might be scary places.

And with hindsight, the gasmask-zombies look like a side-effect of "The Empty Child" rather than being the things he's most interested in. What are the things he's most interested in…? Sexy hardware and snappy one-liners, natch. Captain Jack is like Han Solo without the God-awful dialogue. Yet as things stand, the writer's spent three years believing the producer's hype. The cliffhanger-monster in "Silence", lumbering after the Doctor while repeating the same phrase over and over again, comes across as a last-ditch effort to repeat a winning formula. Sadly, 'who turned out the lights?' isn't really as catchy as 'are you my mummy?'.

Here's one more point about the Future According to Moffat, though. He hates sci-fi, probably even more than I do. Which is to say, the "toys" of science-fiction have an obvious appeal for him, but he couldn't even take Babylon-5 seriously the first time round. As we all know, his default setting is sitcom, not Star Trek. Ergo, we can assume that he has little or no interest in story-arcs, especially when we remember that most of his scripts are about intricate, self-contained structures rather than vast swathes of galactic history (this is what I meant about "temporal architectures", his insistence on getting characters to run up and down their own histories instead of corridors, hence "Continuity Errors", "The Curse of the Fatal Death", "The Girl in the Fireplace", "Blink", "Time Crash"…). Now, this raises questions about the shape of the 2010 series. You can just about imagine what he might come up with as a first-episode story, even though his strong suit is landing the TARDIS in the middle of a conceptual labyrinth rather than setting up a completely new vision for the series… and, potentially, introducing a new Doctor as well as a new companion. But the end-of-year two-parter?

No, "Doomsday" isn't what he does. A long run-up to an immense universe-threatening horror goes against his nature, because to Steven, the big finish isn't as important as the fiddly bits in the middle. It's hard to imagine him even caring what the nature of the catastrophe is. Then again, we don't know for a fact that he'll elect to write the season finale himself. We don't even know whether Russell T. Davies has left the series for good, or whether he might pop back from time to time, perhaps to write something suitably epic while the new boss is working on something more convoluted.

I just called him "Steven". Clearly, I'm starting to warm to the subject-matter. It's a bit like Stockholm Syndrome.

I haven't heard from Moffat in nearly a year now. The last time he e-mailed me, apart from his junk-mail message telling everyone in his address book to watch Jekyll, was on the day after I wrote my response to "Blink". One correspondent described this as an "evisceration", although I like to think that it was at least a nice evisceration. But he seemed to lose patience with me long before that, perhaps because I kept refusing to act according to my station, perhaps just because I got on his nerves. Though he'd occasionally compliment me on the quality of my comedic writing, I can only remember making him laugh once, and that was with an obscene comment about Julia Sawalha. So there was a definite point at which he stopped putting his arm around me and beginning every sentence with the word 'listen…' as if to give me fatherly advice, and instead started getting agitated at everything I tried to say and shouting 'WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?'. Of course, by that time, I'd been through the "Unquiet Dead" fiasco and become persona non grata as far as "official" Doctor Who was concerned. Was this what made him give up on me, then? My utter lack of Omerta?

If so, then there may be a final irony here. Moffat was present when I started drinking, and believe me when I say that there was a definite, specific occasion on which I can be said to have "started". Indeed, he plied me with alco-pops at every opportunity, and has suggested on more than one occasion that he feels vaguely responsible for my subsequent near-alcoholism. I have my own opinions about who's responsible for what, but what if he's right? What if it's true? Apart from anything else, it's got to be said that if I hadn't been boozed up on the night of "The Unquiet Dead", then I probably would've responded with a finely-honed 3,000-word essay rather than the angst-burst that eventually ended up on the internet. The same could be said for numerous other turning-points in my recent life, not all of them so public. And if you go back further, then Press Gang must surely have been a key influence on me as a writer, if not on my seventeen-year-old self as a human being. This would make Steven Moffat more responsible for my existence, or at least the existence of the Lawrence Miles that everybody in fandom knows about, than anyone else still living. Dear God, what kind of monster has this man created? I'll say what I like about "Blink", he's got nobody to blame but himself. I'm home, dad!

According to the Word on the Streets (which is to say, those theoretical streets which seem to be inhabited solely by Doctor Who fans dressed like Huggy Bear), Moffat's promotion to the executive level means that Rob Shearman is likely to be invited back in from the cold, after falling out with the production team in 2005. Rob - one of the few Doctor Who writers I've met who seems to find the power-game of pro-level fandom as ridiculous as I do, and therefore one of the few I genuinely like as a person - is an interesting case, because after the "Unquiet Dead" review, he positively demanded that I disembowel "Dalek" in the same way. I never did, but inviting criticism is probably the healthiest thing that someone in his position can do: any decent writer should know, instinctively, that he can't expect to inflict his work on hundreds / thousands / millions of people and keep his ego intact. Now Steven's about to become the most significant screenwriter in the UK, and not only that, but a highly-visible public figure who's going to be held accountable for an awfully large portion of our licence-fee money. I wonder whether he's prepared for the full horror of that, and whether he'll be able to acknowledge his mistakes. Assuming he's going to make any.

The trouble is, the ability to admit your own weaknesses isn't a typically nineteen-year-old trait. Especially not if the nineteen-year-old in question is trying to impress eight-million people at once.