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Steven Moffat has produced some great Doctor Who. So how did he become so hated?

The self-deprecation paradox.

The only time I ever met Steven Moffat, he made me feel stupid.

This wasn't a recent occurrence, to be clear: I wasn't meeting Steven Moffat, the BBC's biggest hate figure/golden goose, but Steven Moffat, jobbing TV writer. I was 19, making my first appearance at a monthly pub meet up for Doctor Who geeks, and feeling pretty awkward about basically everything. So, to break the ice I decided to tell Moffat how much I loved his kids TV series about a school newspaper, Press Gang.

“You're too young to know better,” he growled.

I was a bit taken aback by this. I think I spluttered something about being in the middle of an English degree, actually, which helped about as much as you'd expect. “Oh, obviously a mature and intelligent critic, then,” Moffat replied.

And there the conversation ended.

“He doesn't like being complimented,” someone told me later. “Makes him uncomfortable.” Moffat wasn’t being arrogant: he was being self-deprecating.

That was about 15 years ago, and many things have changed since. Steven Moffat is now one of the most famous TV writers in the world. He's run Doctor Who for six years, spending longer at the helm than Russell T Davies did before him, and has overseen its first real period of mainstream success in the US. He's also co-created Sherlock, a series whose audience is so global that more people are thought to watch it in China than actually live in Britain – even though no Chinese TV station broadcasts it. If you ever wondered why the BBC didn’t sack him, well, duh.

All this has helped to give Steven Moffat a measure of celebrity almost unknown among TV writers, and make his face almost as recognisable as that of his actors. But he's also become – there’s no other word for it – hated.

In online geekdom, the reaction to Friday's news that the next series of Doctor Who would be his last was reminiscent of the bit at the end of The Return of the Jedi, where all the Ewoks start dancing. A substantial chunk of the fandom wasn't just happy Moffat was going, they were crowing: it was less like a TV writer changing jobs and more akin to the fall of a dictatorship.

All this, to me, seems absolutely crazy.

Partly, my response stems from being rather more invested in Doctor Who than is healthy in a fully grown man. It's not a coincidence that Moffat's stuff has got really, really big: at his best, he's really, really good.

Chris Chibnall, the man who's replacing him, is known mainly for Broadchurch, the ITV murder mystery which has been both original and good, but sadly not at the same time; and Torchwood, a show so bad that it required its own truth and reconciliation commission. I actually quite like some of Chibnall's Who episodes (Dinosaurs! On a spaceship!), but it is nonetheless the case that the show is swapping one of the best TV writers of his generation for a man who isn't, and that bothers me.

But that's only part of the reason I was stunned by the reaction to the news of his departure. The other, bigger part is best summed up as a question:

How did we move from hating someone's work, to thinking he's the devil?

Arguments that Steven Moffat is the spawn of Satan come in two main forms. The first is that his gender politics are iffy. There's a fair amount of truth to that, though my suspicion is that it comes not from any deep seated hatred of women but simply from his background as a sitcom writer. He thinks he's writing a joke; everyone else thinks he's making a statement; hilarious mutual misunderstandings ensue.

But I'm aware that another identikit white bloke is exactly the worst person to say, “Hey, misogyny isn't a thing”, especially when he doesn't actually think that anyway. So let's accept the argument that Moffat's work is problematic and move on to the other hit against him: that Steven Moffat is an arrogant monster who thinks he knows better than everyone else.

I don’t buy this at all. One of the things I really like about Moffat’s work is that you can genuinely see him responding to his critics. He didn't cast a female Doctor (and thank god, given how he writes women); but he did cast a female Master, and he's repeatedly established that a female Doctor would make perfect sense within the fiction.

It’s also hard to read The Abominable Bride, the recent Sherlock special, as anything other than a response to claims his work stereotypes women. Whether or not it succeeded in this is a different question, but you can certainly see the writer listening.

So why does the world still think he's so arrogant? Maybe it’s just a matter of tone. Moffat's predecessor in the TARDIS, Russell T Davies, also went around singing the show's praises, even when it was bad – this is, possibly literally, in the job description – yet he never got tarred with this brush. Maybe it's just easier to blow your own trumpet when you're jovial and Welsh than it is when you're dour and Scottish.

Or maybe it's the way Moffat still uses self-deprecation as his standard register – only now he's doing it in BBC press releases. But, just as in that pub all those years ago, being self-deprecating when you actually are the big shot in the conversation doesn’t come across as humility at all. Somehow, it ends up looking like its opposite.

Or maybe it's simply that I'm not the only one who's become massively over-invested in a silly show about a man who travels through time in a box. Maybe nobody could write it any more, without some of their choices – and as showrunner, Moffat does have to make practical choices – annoying a vocal chunk of the audience.

On Saturday morning, incidentally, both Moffat and Chris Chibnall were coming under attack on a friend’s Facebook page when Moffat himself appeared. He ignored the attacks on himself and his work and, politely but firmly, corrected the factual errors in their attack on Chibnall. Then he apologised in case he'd come across as arrogant.

When I tweeted about this, someone replied:

“Letting them be [rude about him]? That's good of him. He's allowing other people to have an opinion? What a hero.”

Some of Moffat's critics seem under the impression that being able to identify problems with someone's work automatically gives you the moral high ground over them. I'm not altogether sure that it does.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 28 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Should Labour split?

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Beware of tea: the cuppa has started wars and ruined lives

. . . and it once led F Scott Fitzgerald to humiliate himself.

A drink sustains me – one that steams companionably as I write. It is hot, amber and fragranced differently from any wine; nor does it have wine’s capacity to soften and blur. I’ve never understood how the great drunks of literature, Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and their like, ever put anything on the page more worthwhile than a self-involved howl, though even Hemingway apparently finished the day’s writing before beginning the day’s drinking.

Tea is more kindly, or so I’d always thought. Those aromatic leaves, black or green, rolled and dried and oxidised, have some of wine’s artistry but none of its danger. Even their exoticism has waned, from a Chinese rarity (“froth of the liquid jade”), for which 17th-century English traders were made to pay in solid silver, to a product that can be found dirt cheap on supermarket shelves.

There are even home-grown teas now. The Tregothnan estate in Cornwall has supplemented its ornamental rhododendrons and camellias with their relative camellia sinensis, the tea plant, while Dalreoch in the Scottish Highlands grows a white (that is, lightly oxidised) tea, which is smoked using wood from the surrounding birch plantations. Tellingly, this local version is priced as steeply as the imported rarity once was.

I enjoy a simple, solitary mug, but I also appreciate communal tea-drinking – the delicate tea warmed with water at 85°C (a little higher for sturdier black blends), the teapot and china, the pourer volunteering to be “mother”, as if this were a liquid that could nurture. But in reality, tea is not so gentle.

Those long-ago English traders disliked haemorrhaging silver, so they started exporting opium to China from India and paying with that. This was a fabulous success, unless you happened to be Chinese. In 1839, a commissioner attempted to clamp down on the illegal and harmful trade, and the result was the Opium Wars, which the Chinese lost. “Gunboat diplomacy” – a phrase that surely constitutes froth of a different kind – won England a great deal of silver, a 150-year lease on Hong Kong and an open tea market. China received a potful of humiliation that may eventually have helped spark the Communist Revolution. As many of us have recently realised, there is nothing like economic mortification to galvanise a nation to kick its leaders.

Later, the tea bush was planted in India, Ceylon and elsewhere, and the fragrant but bitter brew for the upper classes became a ubiquitous fuel. But not an entirely sweet one: just as the opium trade ensured our tea’s arrival in the pot, the slave trade sweetened it in the cup. Even today, conditions for tea workers in places such as Assam in north-east India are often appalling.

Scott Fitzgerald also had tea trouble. When invited round by Edith Wharton, he frothed the liquid jade so assiduously with booze beforehand and risqué conversation during (a story about an American tourist couple staying unawares in a Paris bordello) that he was nearly as badly humiliated as those 19th-century Chinese. Wharton, unshocked, merely wondered aloud what the couple had done in the bordello and afterwards pronounced the entire occasion “awful”.

Some would blame his alcoholic preliminaries, but I’m not so sure. Tea has started wars and ruined lives; we should be wary of its consolations. On that sober note, I reach for the corkscrew and allow the subject to drive me softly, beguilingly, to drink.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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