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.
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”.
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, and so on) but whether that constitutes a plan … not sure.
 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. How frustrating that there’s no such thing as a woman who can write screenplays! Oh wait.
 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.