I’ve talked about Doctor Who episodes, seasons and incarnations at length, but I haven’t highlighted the brilliant writing team yet!
Part of the reason why this show is so great is because its premise stretches out across genres, and the writers have come up with what’s felt like every idea under the sun. It’s time to give some love to the team behind the camera!
I’ll only be looking at the writers from the Russell T Davies era (Season 1-4) this time, and in the future I’ll go over the other showrunners – it makes it easier to do that way. Also, it’s worth mentioning that I’ll only be looking at these writers’ contribution to this particular era (so Chibnall will get away with it this time!).
Before we begin, you can check out some of my related blog posts below:
16 – Matthew Graham
- Fear Her
Matthew Graham wrote one single episode under RTD’s supervision, and it sucked. Not a great turn-over.
People consider “Fear Her” to be one of the weakest Tenth Doctor episodes, and I’d have to agree. I don’t think it’s as much of a dumpster fire as some people say, but it definitely leaves a stale taste in the mouth.
15 – Mark Gatiss
- The Unquiet Dead
- The Idiot’s Lantern
If you’ve read some of my other Doctor Who lists, then you may know that I have a bit of a grudge against Mark Gatiss. It’s nothing personal, just that I think his episodes are always amongst the weakest of their respective season.
Both “The Unquiet Dead” and “The Idiot’s Lantern” are sub-par Who episodes, and almost everyone agrees. Luckily, those were the only two contributions he made to the RTD era – other than acting as the villain in an episode penned by …
14 – Stephen Greenhorn
- The Lazarus Experiment
- The Doctor’s Daughter
In all honesty, Gatiss and Greenhorn are joint 14th in my ranking. They both made two snooze-fest episodes of Who which tended to be the weaker instalments in their respective seasons.
If I had to pick, Greenhorn would probably edge it due to “The Lazarus Experiment”. It’s a bad episode, that’s undeniable, but I feel that’s mainly down to the CGI abomination of a villain – the actual script itself has some interesting ideas and themes that could have been executed better.
13 – Chris Chibnall
Would ya look at that, a future showrunner dipping his toes into the Who waters! Unfortunately for Chibbs, another destined-to-be showrunner smoked him out of the competition (we’ll get to him later).
Since I’m only looking at “42” on this list (and therefore I can’t roast Chibbs for his terrible writing in later seasons … yet), I have to admit that this Season 3 effort isn’t half bad. It’s typical, cliché stuff, but it’s also the kind of popcorn Who that you can turn your brain off to.
12 – Helen Raynor
- Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks
- The Sontaran Stratagem / The Poison Sky
Helen Raynor managed to bag a couple of prestigious two-parters in the RTD era – each one tackling an iconic villain – but neither were as good as they could have been.
I don’t hate the Dalek two-parter as much as others, and the Sontaran story isn’t half bad, but they don’t exactly blow your socks off. On the whole, this is about as average of a writer performance as you can get.
11 – Tom MacRae
- Rise of the Cybermen / The Age of Steel
Speaking of prestigious villains returning in two-parters, Tom MacRae had the monumental task of reviving the Cybermen in the modern day. He did okay.
It’s not the best Cybermen story on the whole, but it has its moments. I especially like the parallel universe stuff going on in the background – I wish we got more of that in the show at large.
10 – Gareth Roberts
- The Shakespeare Code
- The Unicorn and the Wasp
- Planet of the Dead
Gareth Roberts has written quite a few episodes of the show across the first two eras – I had no idea he penned some of the classics like “The Shakespeare Code” and “The Unicorn and the Wasp”.
Those two stories would have been enough to send Roberts to the “Great” tier, but then he had to go and ruin it with “Planet of the Dead” – one of the most boring episodes ever. RTD co-wrote that one, though, so maybe Roberts isn’t to blame. But I imagine he is.
9 – Keith Temple
- Planet of the Ood
“Planet of the Ood” is a great Season 4 episode that expands upon the established Ood law in unique and fascinating ways, and Keith Temple deserves a lot of the credit for that.
The only thing holding him back from the higher tiers is that the Oods aren’t his creation. The original writer (ranked higher on this list) had the ingenuity to create one of Nu Who’s most iconic monsters, so unfortunately Temple has to settle for a bottom half finish.
8 – Toby Whithouse
- School Reunion
Toby Whithouse would go on to write many more episodes in the Moffat era, but for RTD he only penned one – and it was great.
“School Reunion” is lots of fun, and the villains are excellent … but I do have to wonder how much of that is down to the writer. Sarah Jane’s return carries the episode, and Anthony Head commands the screen as the big baddie – without them, I’m not sure if the episode would have been half as interesting.
7 – James Moran
- The Fires of Pompeii
Another one-and-done writer, James Moran’s “The Fires of Pompeii” has always been a favourite of mine.
I love how the Doctor is put in his place, and the ethical conundrum he’s presented with is expertly constructed. If Moran had written more, he could have jumped up a few places.
6 – Robert Shearman
Robert Shearman only wrote one episode, and the Daleks aren’t even his creation to begin with. Usually that would mean he should rank lower on my list, but the single episode he penned is one of Nu Who’s most important.
“Dalek” is the perfect re-introduction to an all-time great Sci-Fi monster, and this is easily the scariest they’ve ever been. Shearman deserves all the praise in the world for updating them for a modern audience.
5 – Matt Jones
- The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit
The Ood two-parter from Season 2 is legendary, and that’s completely down to Matt Jones’s brilliance.
There are too many fascinating Sci-Fi concepts and themes to list off, and the Oods themselves became one of Nu Who’s most iconic foes. In a series known for its “base under siege” episode archetype, Jones managed to craft the definitive one. Well, maybe other than …
4 – Phil Ford
- The Waters of Mars
“The Waters of Mars” is my favourite episode of Doctor Who. It has everything I could possibly ask for in a Sci-Fi story, and the route the script takes is nothing short of shocking and ingenious.
You’d think, then, that I’d rank Phil Ford at the top of the list, but there are a couple of factors holding him back. He only made one episode, first of all, and the one he did make he co-wrote with RTD. It’s impossible to say whether my favourite aspects of this episode came from Ford or Davies, so I don’t think the former can make the top three.
3 – Paul Cornell
- Fathers Day
- Human Nature / The Family of Blood
All of the writers in the “Great” tier only wrote one excellent episode or story, but Paul Cornell managed to pen two phenomenal stories that are still talked about to this day.
“Fathers Day” is a highlight of Season One, but the “Human Nature” / “Family of Blood” two-parter is possibly my second favourite Doctor Who story of all time. The writing in all three episodes is phenomenal, and the darkness of the Doctor is handled superbly every time under Cornell’s supervision.
2 – Russell T Davies
- Openers, Closers and Specials
- Turn Left
The showrunner himself, Russell T Davies wrote a staggering number of episodes – all of the openers, closers and specials were his, and a few of my favourite individual stories displayed his genius as well.
“Gridlock”, “Midnight” and “Turn Left” are all excellent examples of his craft, and moreso than any other era the finales always delivered. If it wasn’t for “Love & Monsters” (urgh), RTD would have comfortably made the top tier.
Despite overseeing my favourite era of the show, Davies still only has to settle for second place. That would seem sacrilegious at first, until you realise who my number one pick is …
1 – Steven Moffat
- The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
- The Girl in the Fireplace
- Silence in the Library / The Forest of the Dead
Before he was showrunner, Moffat started off as a mere underling to RTD for the first four seasons. The four stories he wrote in that time were nothing short of sensational.
In all honesty, I can’t find a single fault with any of his six episodes. “The Girl in the Fireplace” would probably only make my top 20 stories, but the other three are so memorable that they’d crack my top 10. It was a no-brainer to hire him as the next showrunner following RTD’s exit.
Aaaaand that’s my list! Before we get to the Moffat and Chibnall eras, you can check out some of my latest blog posts below:
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