As we do regularly, we’re approaching the end of an era with Doctor Who. Stephen Moffat’s departure is being celebrated by some and mourned by others. Likewise Chris Chibnall’s appointment as his replacement. Inevitably, at a time like this, fantasy casting is everywhere. But, as I said in the sister article to this one (see here), we have another unique opportunity here.
Time Lords are now canonically gender and ethnicity fluid. And, with that in mind, the next question is obvious; why does the Doctor Who showrunner have to be a white man?
The answer is of, course, “He doesn’t.” Or at the very least, “He doesn’t have to be one of the same five names that always come in discussions about potential Who showrunners.”
So, that’s what we’ve decided to examine here. No disrespect to Chris Chibnall who we’re sure will do a great job but in the spirit of the calls for diversity that are sweeping the entertainment industry at the moment here are some prospective show runners who aren’t white males. None of them are the usual suspects and they’d all bring new, different, great perspectives to the show.
This isn’t a demand for positive discrimination. All discrimination is bad. Neither is it tokenism. We’re not being “social justice warriors” just “social justice devil’s advocates”. It’s a way of showing that when you’re forced to think outside the obvious, the not-so-obvious doesn’t seem quite so not-so-obvious after all.
Some of them may not want the gig. Some of them might not be quite ready in terns of relevant experience yet. But it’d be nice to think that one of them, or somebody like them, might be in the running next time.
No, not the White Queen from X-Men. Emma Frost has written for Jamaica Inn, The White Queen, Casualty and many others. By itself that’s impressive but two other credits on her resume put her solidly in the frame for Doctor Who. The first is her longstanding work as showrunner for Shameless, a TV show that, like Doctor Who, has made a virtue of near constant change. The second is her work as a consulting producer on The Man In The High Castle. The highest-rated TV show Amazon has produced to date it’s an excellent adaptation of a near unadaptable book. Frost’s work there is especially great and shows just what she could do if given control of Doctor Who.
Brooke is another candidate whose work is defined by long-running shows. Her work on Mr Selfridge has spanned years and shows she’s comfortable working with large scale, prestige shows. She’s also excellent at small scale, character-driven suspense as shown by her award winning Secret Smile, which featured a memorably horrific turn from David Tennant. That eye for character and logistical experience combines to make her a great potential showrunner for Doctor Who.
Tregenna wrote four of the best episodes of the early, often wildly uneven seasons of Torchwood. “Adam” and “Out Of Time” in particular stand with the best hours that show produced. Recently she wrote “The Woman Who Lived”. In doing so she played a vital part in cementing Lady Me as a part of the show’s continuity.
Wouldn’t it be great if she got to do more? Tregenna’s comfortable with the Who production, has worked with both the outgoing showrunners and has a unique perspective on the source material that ensures her episodes are always interesting and often brilliant. Showrunner seems the next logical step for her.
The creator and lead writer of the excellent Wolfblood, Moon is perfectly positioned to take the role. Wolfblood is a justifiably acclaimed CBBC series that’s done what so few series manage; be a long-running, popular and respected British genre show. It’s also very inventive, character-driven and has adapted to cast changes with ease. Moon continues to do excellent with it and that, along with her work for S4C, makes her a strong contender.
Coel is just as comfortable in front of the camera as well as behind it. She was seen recently in London Spy but is best-known for her excellent turn in Top Boy as well as her work in Chewing Gum, the E4 sitcom based on her first play, Chewing Gum Dreams. That play won the Alfred Fagon Award for Best Playwright of African or Caribbean Descent in 2012 and has gone on to be produced numerous times by various theatres across the country. That, combined with both her experience working as an actor and the different dramatic perspective writing for theatre demands makes her a perfect potential showrunner.
Rebecca Levene has been working with Doctor Who for years. She was the line editor on Virgin’s acclaimed run of New Adventures novels and the Bernice Summerfield novel Where Angels Fear as well as several short stories. More recently she’s started in on The Hollow Gods, a four-book fantasy series beginning with Smiler’s Fair. She also worked on the storyline and script for the excellent Zombies! Run app.
She’s a logical choice for the showrunner role not just because of this pedigree but because of how it combines with her TV work. Like Samuell Benta, Levene is comfortable working digitally as well as for the screen and her willingness to embrace new media, as well as her vast experience, makes her one of the strongest candidates for showrunner.
An immensely successful and prolific playwright, Morgan is also one of the most interesting TV screenwriters in the UK. The Hour, her 1960s set news show was excellent, won an Emmy and was cancelled far too early. However her most recent work, River, is what shows just how good she’d be as Who showrunner.
Starring Stellan Skarsgård it’s a gentle, brutal series that uses detective fiction as a means of exploring personal loss and mental health. It does this by having the lead conduct conversations with the dead and, through that, begin to doubt his own sanity.
Sounds grim, yeah?
Well it both is and isn’t. It’s a very funny, very sad show about a troubled, brilliant man who cares too much. It plays with fantasy elements, is endlessly clever and marks Morgan out as a unique talent with sensibilities that would fit Doctor Who like a glove.
Jo Ho is best known as the creator and writer of Spirit Warriors. Broadcast on CBBC and BBC Two it followed Bo, her sister Jen and their friends. Transported to a spirit world, the kids discovered they had special powers and were destined to race Li, an evil warlord, to twelve Spirit pieces. It was a great show, mixing martial arts with fantasy and, like Wolfblood, is a high point in CBBC’s drama output.
Since then, Ho has written several movies, written for BBC supernatural series Bishaash and is developing two TV series. She’s got a keen eye for character and subtlety and combines that with a clear love of genre and a tremendously wide range. Like many other people on this list, she’s very busy but, like everyone on this list, she’d be a great showrunner for Doctor Who.
No don’t laugh. Although that’s what you normally do with Lenny. Henry is one of the titans of modern British TV and he’s far more versatile than anyone whose only ever seen his standup routines might think. A producer and screenwriter as well as multifaceted actor Henry both produced and helped devise the TV version of Neverwhere. He’s also a fiercely articulate advocate for greater diversity in British TV, all of which combines to make him a strong contender for the role of showrunner, or, indeed, the Doctor himself.
An increasing number of screenwriters and producers are getting their start digitally through Vimeo and youtube. Benta is one of them. His sitcom, All About The Mackenzies is a perfect example of what can be done outside the traditional production system; it’s clever, really funny and has a style all its own. It also establishes Benta as a major, self-starting producer whose unique approach would bring something very different, and welcome, to Doctor Who.