Every once in a while, a new name pens an episode of Doctor Who. If things work out, they’re invited back. Others, like the names below, are never seen again for whatever reason.
For an example where somebody returned and improved on their previous work, we need look no further than Tom MacRae, who wrote the Series 2 two-parter Rise Of The Cybermen/ The Age of Steel. When he came back for Series 6, he brought his A-game with The Girl Who Waited, delivering an emotional piece with tragedy at its core.
The writers below should be given the same opportunity; if they got the chance, they could deliver some of the best episodes yet.
1. James Moran
Our first pick is James Moran, writer of The Fires of Pompeii (and that Torchwood episode where the sleeper agent had the massive rock blade in her arm. I think it was called ‘the alien who woke up’). Lots of good writing hinges on a central dilemma, and Fires provided this in spades. Mostly it makes the viewer feel grateful that we don’t have to make a choice like the one that the Doctor has to make in this episode, leaving thousands of people to choke on ash.
The episode was broadcast all the way back in 2008, and we’d love Moran to come back and have another crack at it. He has remained a part of the Whoniverse, as he’s given this story a sequel (The Descendants of Pompeii) during the recent Who watchalongs, so he could still return.
2. Simon Nye
Any episode which balances humour with emotion will always be a winner in the Varnham household. Amy’s Choice manages that in spades, with some crackers like ‘how do you stave off the self harm?’ and Rory having to shove an old woman into a hedge. Nye was given the brief that the episode should make Amy realise that she really loves Rory, and it absolutely delivers on that premise. He understands what makes Who tick, as seen by the way he channeled a childhood fear of old people into his writing alongside the humour.
Although we’d love to see him return, it looks like he’s ruled himself out. Apparently he hasn’t been asked since, and he told Digital Spy that “I think my Doctor Who years are over now. I did one Doctor Who and I enjoyed it, but I haven’t watched it for a while.”
I guess we have to chalk this one up as a loss and move on to…
3. Rob Shearman
I always felt that Rob got a bit of a raw deal with NuWho. He went through more than 14 drafts of the story that ended up being Dalek; having to constantly revise and resubmit your work, all while not knowing for sure that it’ll be used, is a tough thing for anybody to deal with. At one point, he had to rewrite the story around the Toclafane, while the producers frantically scrambled to get the rights to use the Daleks. But eventually it aired and people loved it.
And then he never came back to the show.
It’s not like the final result was a forgettable episode. It’s a classic even to this day. The episode has a few excellent moments which still stand out: the moment where the Dalek uses a single blast to exterminate a room of soldiers; the Doctor meeting the Dalek for the first time; and the Dalek eventually choosing to kill itself rather than give into emotions.
If you want to revisit his only contribution to the show, you can rewatch it on iPlayer, Netflix etc. Or you can wait for his Target novelisation, which comes out in March 2021. But will we ever see him return to the show itself?
Shearman told Den of Geek in 2015 that “I’d never say never to a Doctor Who return. I love the show so much… I’m a better writer because I did move away from the series. But I hope our paths will cross again at some point.”
We hope so too.
4. Richard Curtis
Whatever you may think of Richard Curtis as a writer, there’s no doubt that he crafted one of the best historicals that the show’s ever done – Vincent and the Doctor if you needed reminding.
The villain of the episode is quite forgettable and it’s not exactly a subtle parallel of van Gogh’s own demons. But it’s still effective.
A few people don’t like the scene where Vincent van Gogh sees his work on display at the Musee d’Orsay, but I love it. Rather than glamorising a dubious historical figure (see Churchill, who did some dodgy stuff in his day, which the DWC will mull over at a later date), the scene gives a capsule review of why van Gogh is so beloved by the art world, shows the man himself (Tony Curran) being massively affected by seeing an exhibition of his work, and then finally follows that up with an absolute gut-punch, where it is revealed that the artist knew that he would be a huge success and committed suicide anyway. (Plus, knowing that Curtis wrote the episode as a tribute to his sister makes it more impactful.)
Apparently Curtis wrote this one because he thought his kids would like it. Richard, if you’re reading this: your kids would like a follow-up as well.
5. Catherine Tregenna
Another Torchwood veteran (Out of Time, Captain Jack Harkness, Meat, and Adam), Tregenna emerged from the Hub to bring us the Who episode The Woman Who Lived. I liked this one.
Sure, as with Vincent, the alien threat is ultimately forgettable (I always refer to the bad guy as MGM because I can’t remember the lion’s name), but again this episode isn’t about that. It was a neat exploration on what it would really be like to be immortal when you have a limited amount of brainspace, and when all of your children would die while you live on. It also did a great job of setting up the rest of the season and Ashildr’s character going forward. I love the fact that Ashildr still has a vulnerable side after 800 years, and that when she realises she’s been taken advantage of, she does what she can to help the Doctor.
As shown by her Torchwood episodes, one of Tregenna’s strengths is character work and the relationships between them. That’s a quality that Doctor Who always needs, and that’s why her scripts will crackle whichever Doctor she eventually writes for.
Which one-shot writers would you like to see return to the Doctor Who fold?