'Sherlock' Season 3, or why 'Doctor Who' needs less Steven Moffat

It's a Steven Moffat showdown, as our favorite consulting detective demonstrated just how hard it is to watch "Doctor Who." For most fans, it isn't a question that they would choose to answer. "Doctor Who" versus "Sherlock" -- which show do you love more? But the return of "Sherlock" Season 3 has reminded us just how good a show helmed by Moffat can be -- and how bad "Doctor Who" now looks in comparison. 

Of course "Sherlock," unlike "Doctor Who," has two showrunners. Mark Gatiss joins Moffat as a co-creator, and it was actually Gatiss who wrote the "Sherlock" Season 3 opener, "The Empty Hearse." But as with all shows, just because the showrunner did not author that particular script does not mean that they weren't involved in the creative direction. In fact, we would be concerned if they weren't involved. 

"Sherlock" Season 3 episode 1 "The Empty Hearse" was funny, dramatic, surprising, and had a healthy dose of self-awareness. That the first episode of Season 3 was a little too concerned with fan service is a fair criticism, but it didn't distract us from absolutely loving it. The ambiguous answer to Sherlock's survival won't sit well with all fans, but we have to give the showrunners credit where it is due. After all, they gave us three possible explanations for how Sherlock survived (Anderon's, Sherlock's, and the fan's), and we have no doubt that they could have given us a lot more. And unlike in "Doctor Who," none of those answers was "the Sherlock who died was actually a robot replica of me, filled with tiny (crazy) people." And thank goodness for that.

The problem is that the multitude of 
possibilities offered through "Doctor Who" create their own set of issues. When events can be explained away by a giant reset button (Season 5), a robot filled with tiny people (Season 6), or a quick jump into someone else's timestream (Season 7), it allows writers to go off the rails without planning any real way to reign things back in. It is a problem often faced by fantasy and science-fiction stories, and is one that has undermined the success of Moffat's era of "Doctor Who." In "Sherlock," it is crucial that the showrunner(s) know the end game before they plan out the problem. The constraints of real life mean that the story is more organized, planned out, and better executed. Moffat is unable to rely on a quick fix to tie up his complicated story lines -- he must know the answer before he begins. And undoubtedly, Mark Gatiss plays a crucial role in creating a balance between the outlandish and the (somewhat) realistic.

The return of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson makes us sad for what "Doctor Who" could be, if only Moffat managed to employ some of the same restrain in the science-fiction juggernaut. For us, the choice is clear: "Sherlock" is the far superior show, and "Doctor Who" suffers terribly in comparison.

"Sherlock" vs "Doctor Who": Who gets your vote?
Photo/Video credit: BBC America