On Being Moffatty

In honour of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary, I figured I’d do my bit to make this an “All Doctor Who, all the time” blog for this week – although I’ve been trying to add in some other stuff too. Besides, I thought this would make for an interesting discussion, and I’ve already done something similar for Star Wars so why not?

So anyway, I was interested in the discussion I’d seen from various people about the recent Who series, namely that some of the trends as typified by Steven Moffat are unpopular with fans. Well, I don’t think I qualify as a fan (see my earlier blog entries, I am a lover of the show but don’t know that I would count myself a fan), but I was certainly interested in the idea and I was given some nice responses to look at. Hopefully I can be impartial in this, I honestly feel I don’t have a solid investment in feeling either way since I never really paid any attention to the precise writers / directors / creators before. Like I said – lover, not fan.

futurama-leela

Here are some of the main points from what I could see:

1. He does good individual episodes, many of the really good ones are his.

This seems to be something a lot of people agree on, and according to Wikipedia he’s won awards and all sorts. He’s been a follower of the show for a long time and it seems to have been his lifelong goal to write for Who. I’m obliged to tip the hat and say more power to him.

This isn’t a point for or against, really – it’s just a point a lot of the against-people tend to lead in with, as precursor to a “but”.

But…

2. He’s remaking the Who story and mythos according to his own wishes.

I’ll have to take people’s word for this, but yeah, it seems legit. I mean, when you write something, that’s sort of what you do, isn’t it? And if you’re writing stories as part of an existing series / mythos, it’s even closer to fan-fiction than independent writing, isn’t it? Not to deride it at all, I’m just trying to find a comparison. He’s writing his own stuff but he’s using existing characters and an existing premise. If he was doing it really badly, someone would have stopped him by now. But that’s probably subjective – no doubt the people who feel he is doing it badly aren’t the ones in a position to stop him.

3. He’s making it up as he goes along.

I have to concede that this seems to be the case, although there are – to me – moments of over-arching and plot-thread-interweaving magnificence in the series. I can’t say how much of that is Moffat and how much of what’s Moffat’s is pure luck … after reading some of the notes I’ve been generously supplied with, I see there are clear Moffat-themes (the Doctor as Godling, the power of stories, monsters like the Silence and the Weeping Angels who all seem to be a kind of metaphor for Internet critics[1], and so on) but whether that constitutes a plan … not sure.

weeping-angel-and-silence

[1] What? If you don’t keep an eye on the Silence all the time, you forget they exist almost straight away but they’re still there. If you don’t keep an eye on the Weeping Angels all the time, they can sneak up on you – and if you do keep an eye on them, they get into your head. Sounds like the Internet to me.

Anyway, I’ve never been all that fussed about sticking to a plan and maintaining continuity and rules, at least in Who. It breaks the rules all the time. Now, apparently, there’s a bit of canonical lore going around that Time Lords only get twelve regenerations, so if we stick to the continuity this next Doctor is going to be the last one. So let’s make up some way out of that, please. Of course, there seem to be plenty of ways around it even without cheating, so.

4. His female characters are lame.

There are plenty of strong female characters in Who, but often they only get one or two chances to be strong before the narrative requires them to be helpless or out of their depth or a romantic interest for the male character, or a combination of all three[2]. How frustrating that there’s no such thing as a woman who can write screenplays! Oh wait.

strax

[2] I can only assume Vastra the lesbian Silurian is an exception to this, and they had to lampshade that by making Strax call her girlfriend “boy” all the time.

I can accept this – Who is bloke-heavy, guilty as charged. Nothing much to add there. Boo to the phallocentric hegemony. I don’t think this is something we can really put on Moffat’s doorstep and set fire to before ringing the doorbell and running away, it seems to be a pretty consistent theme / failing throughout the series … but sure. Legitimate complaint nevertheless. I’m all in favour (despite my rant below) of fixing that shit.

The problem with this one is, I am a guy and I don’t care. I think the Bechdel Test is the worst kind of First-World-Problem stupid. I think complaining about this stuff is at best a counter-productive way of getting “equality”. I’ve taken part in discussions about whether the Doctor should regenerate as a woman, and my opinion on the matter just keeps coming back to “they could do it, but they’d have to be careful with it because any change from white male is going to have to jump the ‘we’re just doing this for political correct completeness’ hurdle before it does anything else.”

That’s not fair, I agree. River Song was a good female (semi-)Time Lord, and still could have been written better. As soon as somebody does, I’ll watch it and love it and I won’t bat an eyelid. I don’t know, maybe it’s a huge deal and maybe it’s not.

I should probably stop there. I accept that there’s no chance for an “I’m not sexist, but”-opening on this rant so I guess I’m sexist. I know this will make some women angry, maybe some men too. Sorry about that. I think I’m a fairly nice guy, even so. If I’m sexist, then women’s liberation is in a lot of trouble.

5. He disrespects the classics.

The recent 50th Anniversary show was heavy on Tennant and Smith, with only a smattering – at best – of the old Doctors and even of Eccleston. Again, legitimate complaint. I would have liked to see more of that too, but there are logistical issues.

For a start, the boys are old now. Not hideously so – they rocked in the little BBC special they made for the occasion and I appreciate how everyone involved seemed to have a sense of humour about it – but I run into the same problem with them as I did with Tom Baker. They regenerated back when they were young(ish) individuals, so why would they appear as old(ish) men?

The alternative is to do more fantastic computer editing like they did in The Name of the Doctor and the 50th Anniversary. I wouldn’t be against that. So okay, call it “objection sustained” on that one too.

6. He uses phoney-baloney get out of jail free cards.

I don’t have much to add with this one, I think it’s fair to say but I just don’t have a problem with it, although many do (and that’s fine). The Doctor does preposterous things to get out of trouble, and the larger his challenges became, the larger the nuggets of weapons-grade baloneum he’s had to pull out of his time vortex.

Which brings us to…

7. He’s made the Doctor too big, which writes the character into a sort of a God-corner.

Yeah, this I can sort of see too. The number of times he confronts aliens, often with barely even a pair of pants to his name, and grand-speeches them into running away, is a bit much. The Oncoming Storm, the Lonely God, the “basically, run”, the “just to bring you down” – while they do give me chills – have finally brought us to that point where the Doctor sort of should have been all along. He can travel anywhere in space and time and he’s basically immortal. The question isn’t “why has Moffat made him into this?” but “why wasn’t he this from the start?”.

Speaking purely for myself, I can agree with this one too. But I think he was this from the start. He just hid it better, in his earlier regenerations. He loved humanity more, because humanity was sweeter. He loved the universe more, because the universe hadn’t kicked him quite so many times. He respected the laws of time and space more, because they hadn’t taken so much away from him.

So sure, we end up in a situation where basically the Doctor is the most awesomely powerful and important phenomenon in the multiverse. Sure, a lot of viewers would like to preserve the time when he was just the Doctor, a day-saving alien who appeared and disappeared and didn’t make much of a splash. I wouldn’t mind that either, because I was never sick of seeing it. Maybe the next Doctor, as well as getting us out of the pretty-boy-romantic-Doctor rut, will also rediscover a bit of the mere mortal.

Heck, maybe bringing Gallifrey back into it will fix the problem straight away. After all, the Lonely God only really started going off the rails when he “destroyed” them all and they weren’t around to haul him up by his ear and give him a talking-to anymore. Bring Gallifrey back and the Doctor’s days of prancing around Stonehenge daring a fleet of hostile alien ships to take their best shot are going to be numbered.

Because the old-school Time Lords (as evidenced by Hurt’s beautiful performance) just can’t be having with that shit.

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14 Responses to On Being Moffatty

  1. aaronthepatriot says:

    Lists are annoying. Therefore:
    1. Excellent research and thoughts, very much obliged my friend. I’m glad you hunted down the criticisms because I just really didn’t give the anti-Moffat position enough credence to even bother.
    2. That Bechdel test is stupid, you nailed that one. Holy crap. When my wife gets together with another woman all she DOES is talk about me. And it’s not good. Amirite? Of course I’m right. I’m a man after all.
    3. Point #7. Oh point #7. Which is really more like short story #7, and in the non-fiction category, but I digress. Actually if I can digress further, I am right now Monica from “Friends” in that great episode where she numbered all the erogenous zones for Chandler (Ross?), and then laid out some “attack patterns” to follow, ending with the hilarious “Seven…seven…SEVEN!” Which will stick with me for all time.

    Crap OK back to the point. This is exactly right, what you said about how circumstances have shaped this doctor into the Moffaty one. It is completely consistent and logical. I like how he might go back to the more subtly awesome and not-so-godlike one with the future and what it may hold, but just as Eccleston burned out in one season (due to the rage still from what he had to do as the War Doctor, I choose to think), this growing magnificence is because, well, he’s the LAST freaking Time Lord. He practically IS a God. Long-time viewers have to remember there’s no one to put him in his place anymore. And I believe Tennant and Smith basically taunted with this several times. Specifically I’m thinking of Smith’s first episode with that alien ship and the awesome medley of Doctor videos, and later in The Pandorica Opens when he taunts all those spaceships. Oh and in Silence in the Library with Tennant, as one of his examples. It’s clear Moffat knows he is doing this…it’s deliberate. So figure it out people, it’s CANON now. And it works.

    In other words, well said. And based on what you’ve told me, Moffat must be a lover, too, not a fan (LOL at that pic you included), so insta-pass from me.

  2. aaronthepatriot says:

    Furthermore, The entire Silence plot is an acknowledgment by the show that the Doctor has gotten out of control, isn’t it? And the Pandorica as well. Even humans point this out to the Doctor, such as the one human survivor from Mars in “The Waters of Mars”. She puts Tennant in his place for trying to play God. The show has been VERY aware that they are performing this Moffatty shift in the Doctor’s personality. It was intentional, and logical. And I think we should expect another shift to come.

    • stchucky says:

      I took the liberty of fixing the typo and erasing the amendment comment. And basically yeah, these were the incidents I was thinking about too. It’s totally conscious and intentional on the part of the creators, turning him into this new, wild power.
      Now whether viewers like that (some obviously don’t), or whether it’s going to change in later series (maybe it will), there’s no way to know. I’m looking forward to finding out though.

      • Aaron says:

        Right. Well those people are wrong and should fix themselves. Stupid fans. Perfect solution about the typo, I like it. If wordpress allowed me to do that I would have (or maybe it does and I just didn’t see the option).

        Hey speaking of female Doctors (and thereby Doctors of other races, etc.) what are your thoughts (as if I had to ask) on an American Doctor sometime. I mean, hello! How many English speakers use British English vs. the far-more-prevalent American English? Right?

        What’s that? No? Shit…. Well, still, I want an American Doctor! Gregory House as the 14th Doctor! Oh the irony!

        What? He’s what? Damnit…. Ok ok, Brad Pitt! He plays a good “nutty” guy…. Brad Pitt for Doctor Who because if Timothy Dalton can be a Time Lord, so can Brad!

  3. stchucky says:

    A USian Doctor would be, oh my God, so hated. So, so hated. I’d almost like to see it happen just so I could witness the phenomenal, epic hatred. And I don’t use the word “epic” in its glib, modern interpretation here. The Internet would have to be renamed “the Haternet”.

    Don’t misunderstand, I know you’re not talking about a full USisation of the show (which invariably kills a British comedy, so would probably do so for a British sci-fi as well). And to be fair, when they re-cast Ford Prefect as a USian it actually worked pretty well and I didn’t really care. Sooner or later the UK and the US will get in sync with this stuff.

    In the meantime, if you want a USian Doctor, take a look at Captain Jack because that’s about as close as you’re going to get for a while.

    • Wow well I want to see this too, where the hatefulness on the internet reaches new levels! But, wouldn’t it be nice at least if Doctor Who had some real Americans instead of just more Brits ACTING as if they are Americans? Who the hell does the UK think it is, does the world revolve around them or something? The Doctor never visits the USA? Of course he would! In fact, he’d probably MOSTLY visit the USA since we’re doing most of the big bad shit in the world anyhow. Geez, the arrogance of the Brits. Unbelievable.

      And, Jack is the American example? An oversexed, in fact sex-obsessed, always asks “can I fuck it” whenever a new non-ugly person arrives, smarmy, arrogant, invincible dickhead? What the hell did we do to deserve that? Damnit…that doesn’t sound like any Americans I know at all!

      OK so no US doctor, well so how about this cute idea: Back to House, MD. Have him do his American accent thing and he can be Dr. Who #14. Also knows as Dr. WTF?

      • stchucky says:

        Oh, well played.

        I was going to play this as a straight-up debate, but now I’m wondering. Do you want a USian actor to play the part of a standard British-sounding Doctor? Or do you want a USian actor to play the part of a USian-sounding Doctor? Or, it seems like you’re also OK with a UKian actor playing the part of a USian-sounding Doctor … I guess it all depends on how much can change in a regeneration. I’m guessing a lot, since gender is possible.

        Hugh Laurie could do it. So could Cary Elwes. In fact, as evidenced by “Robin Hood: Men In Tights”, he could also do a convincing English accent. I think he’d make a fun Doctor.

      • I just want some changes around here, that’s all. I was trying to be open-minded. Plus I can’t come up with a good US actor to play the doctor (but wait, Nathan Fillion? Eh? Eh?) so I was kind of giving up on that. I want the Doctor to visit the most powerful country on the planet. Is that too much to ask? I don’t care if he’s UK or US as long as the US gets the respect it so richly deserves, finally. Sorry is that too Rodney Dangerfield of me?

        Bottom line: we need more tv series and movies about the US, this Doctor Who thing needs to be reined in. *girn*

        I’d rather see a Laurie Doctor than an Elwes, but good call on Elwes nonetheless. Either way, there are plenty of chances for snarky crossover jokes. If you’re in to that sort of thing.

  4. stchucky says:

    Fillion would be a GREAT Doctor. He’d love doing it, too. I suspect he might be sensitive enough to the politics involved that he’d be hesitant to take the role out of concern people would hate it, but he might do well. Same goes for Wil Wheaton, although many would wedgie me to death for saying so. And he would probably have the same sensitivity about the role.

    And whaddaya want? The Daleks and Weeping Angels at least have gone to Manhattan. Actually I rather like the times the US is brought into it – as you say, the snarky crossover jokes are beautiful, like “the last President of the United States of America” in the first new Master arc. And the “you’ve seen their movies” reference in the recent 50th Anniversary special. I was (re-)watching with a USian buddy and we both agreed that was brilliant. When UKian snidery and USian … shall we say, earnestness and enthusiasm? … come together, the sky’s the limit.

    As for more shows about the US, Obvious Troll is Obvious. If you’re going to do that shit on MY blog, you’d better bring your A-game.

    I believe that is a USian sporting reference of some sort so you should totally understand and appreciate it.

    • That’s one of the few sporting references you know, isn’t it? Well, no worries, appropriate or not I’m in the same boat so I can’t really criticize. However, I hesitate to bring my A-game lest you devote all your precious writing time to furiously concocting comebacks to defeat my racist wit. So, pardon me if I don’t exactly swing for the fences just yet ;D And pardon the 2-off pun. And the extra sporting reference, I know, it’s hardly sporting of me. Ok I should stop.

      I agree on the snarky fun of the crossovers, and…Americans are earnest? Well, thanks for that. I think we have trouble even being honest with ourselves, let alone the rest of the world, but I’ll take it! Still, you think that’s enough US in Dr. Who then? Well, I’ll remind you of one of Bart’s classic chants: “We want more asbestos! More asbestos!”

      I now have the 14th doctor (and man, if the 13th has to petition the council of Time Lords for more lives, this would have been an epic choice for 13 instead): John Noble. Denethor didn’t predict that, 10 years ago, I’ll bet! Oh they HAVE to make him the Doctor!

      But this whole topic got me thinking about US vs. UK (or British-English-speaking, etc.) thespians. And on her own Marta brought this up too. We both seem to have developed a much higher esteem for British actors (etc. as above) than American ones, over the years. I bet there’s good blog material in this since you’ve got an even better breadth of experience than I have, possibly of both categories, but let me just tell you our thoughts. And be proud, she formed a lot of her thoughts based on watching Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith. Woo!

      Basically, we were thinking about all the actors we really respected and felt were more than just film stars, and almost without exception all were non-Americans. I don’t really need to name more names but you know, Colin Firth, Helen Mirren, Dame Maggie Smith, Ian McKellan…need I go on? I could all day. Some have been named above or earlier in this blog.

      And we have so few Americans of the same caliber, IMO, once you really start to consider their ability. It’s almost as if in the UK (etc. again), you have ACTORS, and in the US, we have movie stars. If you get my meaning. US film stars are all about their big personality. And it shows up in the filming, too. It always seems in the Hollywood movies with big American actors, there’s a lot more focus on that one actor, both in advertising and during the movie, whereas with UK (etc.) it’s more an acting team, a part of a whole…I dunno just something *different* in the shots of the films and the actors themselves.

      Am I on to something here? Or just ON something?

      • stchucky says:

        Oh, I think this new guy has what it takes to give the Time Lord Council a talking to:

        (in case you didn’t look him up yet … around 4:30, there’s a nice part where he also deals with a USian, namely Sledge Fucking Hammer [although Sledge does alright, I think])

        And you really are onto something with that comparison, I’ve often thought about it before but I’ve never thought of it in those terms. Actors vs. movie stars, that’s really good. I’ll have to have a think about some sort of essay on the topic!

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