Series 11 of Doctor Who sees the debut of an almost entirely new team of writers and directors. Over the coming days Blogtor Who will be finding out more about these new faces and just why we should be excited to have them on board. But one face is already well known to fandom: Chris Chibnall
The new series of adventures for the Doctor and her friends is mostly written by brand new faces. People joining the ranks of Nation, Cornell and Whithouse as writers for the best TV show in the word. There is one, very important exception: new showrunner Chris Chibnall. But beyond his five episodes of Doctor Who (soon to be doubled over the next ten weeks) who is Chris Chibnall?
Over a wide ranging career, Chris Chibnall’s written 76 hours of television, taken charge on six television shows and created three. Or five if you include the two foreign remakes of Broadchurch.
Ah, yes, Broadchurch. Probably the show that he’s most associated with, and the one that catapulted to international fame. A true phenomenon, it showcased Chibnall’s understanding of tension and mystery but also his ability to find humanity in ordinary people suffering through extraordinary events. It’s first two seasons created a compelling murder mystery, then subverted it. After all, how many TV detectives’ methods leave prosecutors with a difficult job we never get to see? The third season’s power flowed from a true sense of outrage and horror at the destructive effect of toxic masculinity on both women and men and represented Chibnall finding the same voice of righteous anger that so often defines Russell T Davies’ work.
Chibnall’s body of work reflects the darkness and the light
For Broadchurch Chris Chibnall drew deeply on his connections to the Doctor Who family. Former Doctor David Tennant took the lead, while Arthur Darvill and Torchwood’s Eve Myles were also among the cast. And Chibnall’s own connection to Doctor Who is clear. He’s the writer of 42, The Hungry Earth, Cold Blood, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Power of Three. He took a major role in defining the spin-off Torchwood in the first two seasons, too, writing Day One, Cyberwoman, Countrycide, End of Days, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Adrift, Fragments and Exit Wounds.
Chibnall’s work on these shows has proven him ready for the big chair in a couple of ways. Firstly, the sheer variety of stories – he gave us the fun romp Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. But also the nihilistic looks into the human soul of Countrycide and Adrift. It speaks to a key skill any head writer on Doctor Who needs. Secondly in his gift for crisis management.
Since the oldest days of Doctor Who there have ‘unsuitable scripts’ requiring last minute replacements, budget overruns meaning the next episode in the pipeline has 32p and a Murray Mint to be made with, and unusable footage that needs to be worked around. Chris Chibnall has the reputation for guiding troubled slots through such problems. Ironically, this has led to criticism of some of his stories. Fans not accounting, for instance, for Power of Three’s climax being rebuilt in the edit from ADR and existing footage. With an unusable filmed scene, and no time or budget to remount it, Chibnall writing a way out was miraculous.
A lifelong passion for Doctor Who
Chris Chinball’s love of Doctor Who is long enduring. A childhood member of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society he infamously appeared on BBC discussion program Open Air in 1986. There he strongly criticized the “disappointing” quality of the writing of Pip and Jane Baker to their faces. Twenty years later he admitted to regretting it and that he’d later apologized to them. But while he now claims no 16 year old should be so opinionated about a TV show, it speaks volumes about his passion for the program which future he now guides.
The road to Torchwood
Outside of his two most famous shows, Chris Chibnall’s career has been defined by hard graft. And he’s built his skills through hard won experience. The path that led him to running Doctor Who ultimately begins with the monologue Stormin’ Norman, detailing Tube driver James Bolam’s last day. It’s a testament to its quality that the notoriously choosy Bolam signed up to star in Chibnall’s first television drama. Born and Bred told tales of a 1950s cottage hospital in the early days of the NHS. It secured a loyal following with its humanity and gentle humour. This then led to writing two episodes of Life on Mars – the only writer other than the original creator to do so. Working on that show brought him into contact with future Doctor Who producer Julie Gardner. In turn, she later wanted him for Torchwood.
Torchwood is where he truly earned his reputation for making successful productions against a challenging background. The first script – detailing the world, setup and characters, arrived on January the 2nd 2006 and the premiere was on October the 22nd. Chibnall took it from a single script to an entire completed season of thirteen episodes in less than ten months. Scripting, casting, filming and post-production were all done at a blistering pace. I was an accomplished that impressed many in the industry.
From Camelot to Broadchurch
It also introduced Chris Chibnall to the director James Strong, with whom he formed a strong working relationship. It was Strong who suggested their next project together – the film United, starring David Tennant as Manchester United’s Jimmy Murphy. Almost at the same time, Chibnall was creating the ill fated series Camelot for American network Starz. Camelot was beset by studio interference that frustrated its showrunner. The contrast between the constant compromises and diluting of his vision for Camelot and the ability to tell the powerful story he wanted with United couldn’t have been clearer to him. He came from the experience with a conviction to be the definitive voice in his projects from then on. He returned to Strong with his new concept for a TV show that would effectively be another movie “only eight hours long”. That concept became Broadchurch.
Broadchurch, in perfect circular fashion, brought him home again to the show he’d been so passionate about as a teenager. It’s astounding ratings and critical success, combined with its creator’s history and knowledge of Doctor Who, put him high on everybody’s speculative lists of potential replacements for Steven Moffat.
A new beginning for the Doctor
So what should we expect from Chris Chibnall’s Doctor Who? More than anything, we should expect it to be absolutely his voice and vision. The Moffat era was, to some extent, Moffat’s spin on the show format originated by Russell T Davies. Series 11 will represent a bold new start – as distinct from the ten most recent seasons as the Hinchcliffe era of the mid 1970s was from 1960s Who. But we can also expect it to look unflinchingly into the nature of human beings, the good and the bad. To show just how generous and decent people can be at their best, while espousing that we can one day overcome the worst of ourselves. And to do all that alongside scares, tense cliffhangers, plot twists and raw emotion.
In other words: it will be Doctor Who. All over again.
Doctor Who returns to BBC One at 6.45pm on Sunday, October 7th with The Woman who Fell to Earth by Chris Chibnall. Series 11 stars Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), and Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair).
‘We don’t get aliens in Sheffield.’ In a South Yorkshire city, Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien are about to have their lives changed for ever, as a mysterious woman, unable to remember her own name, falls from the night sky. Can they believe a word she says? And can she help solve the strange events taking place across the city?