Swipe File: Steven Moffat Vs Alan Moore

Steven Moffat, new showrunner for Doctor Who, is in New York with Karen Gillen and Matt Smith promoting the new series. Or season as you lot call it.

Which reminded me of one of my favourite swipe files.

You see, Steven Moffat used to write a spectacularly good children’s TV show back in the nineties. Not only was it his first TV job, but he wrote all five series of it, and it launched the careers of Julia Sawalha, Dexter Fletcher, Lee Ross, Paul Reynolds, Lucy Benjamin and Gabrielle Anwar. Press Gang.

Set in a newspaper office for schoolkids, the stories usually revolved around reporting one story or another, but ended up being very strong character pieces. Stylistically reminscent of Hill Street Blues and Moonlighting, the show saw Steven Moffat begin to develop intensely well structured plots that would serve him well on Coupling, Joking Apart, Jekyll and Doctor Who – as well as demonstrating a litany of sharp quick-fire gags. It also inspired a generation to take up journalism as a career.

One two-parter still sticks in the mind. The Last Word starts with the announcement of the murder of a member of the Junior Gazette publishing team. In a series of flash-forwards and flashbacks, we see a young masked gunman hold the staff hostage, and TV reports of the eventual murder. The dead individual is not named. By the end of the first part, only the gunman and the central figures in Press Gang remain in the newsroom.

For a week, I debated with friends over which of the cast was going to be killed. In the end we narrowed it down to Sarah, played by Kelda Holmes, sensible, dull, responsible Sarah, who we decided we would least miss.

Chapter two opened with Sarah at the funeral. Yeah, Moffat knew how to mess with us even then. The flashbacks and flashforwards continue, each member of the team escaping until there were the romantic couple-at-odds leads Lynda and Spike facing the now unmasked gunman. And Lynda gets to leave. The gun is pointed at Spike’s head. There is a shot. We flash to the funeral to see Lynda struggling to find the hymn being sung in her hymnbook. And Spike’s hand comes into view, finding the page.

We discover that the gunman had shot himself. And in a bid to spare his family’s feelings, the staff of the Junior Gazette had covered it up, retroactively making the gunmen one of the staff writers, telling authorities that the gunman had escaped.

A thrilling, clever bit of drama for kids. No wonder Press Gang remains so loved. And Steven Moffat so successful.

And one can imagine a certain Alan Moore sitting back and enjoying it too. Certainly Moore is known for taking aspects of other people’s work and making them his own, from DR And Quinch to From Hell. And the novel Superfolks seems to have inspired a number of scenes in Marvelman and Superman.

Because in the conclusion Alan Moore’s run on Wildstorm comic book WildCATS  published a few years later, has the exact same plot device. Issue #34 sees a funeral being held for an unnamed WildCATS member, flashing back to the team being held captive by Tao, and repeated flashforwards and flashbackards, eliminating the death suspects, as they both escape and appear in the funeral scene until eventually Tao is killed by Majestic and the WildCATS decide to give him a funeral as a member of the team, rather than a traitor.

Of course, Alan Moore also laid the groundwork for the reveal in WildCATS #50 that Tao survived and used a shapeshifter to take his place – the one we knew had escaped -and it was all a setup for the WildCATS characters to think Tao had died. So Tao basically killed “himself”. Even though he didn’t. Steven Moffat never thought of that one…

In Swipe File we present two or more images that resemble each other to some degree. They may be homages, parodies, ironic appropriations, coincidences or works of the lightbox. We trust you, the reader, to make that judgment yourself.  If you are unable to do so, please return your eyes to their maker before any further damage is done. The Swipe File doesn’t judge, it’s interested more in the process of creation, how work influences other work, how new work comes from old, and sometimes how the same ideas emerge simultaneously, as if their time has just come. The Swipe File was named after the advertising industry habit where writers and artist collect images and lines they admire to inspire them in their work. It was swiped from the Comic Journal who originally ran this column, as well as the now defunct Swipe Of The Week website.

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