[Author’s Note: Major spoilers for seasons one through eight of the revived series of Doctor Who.]
[Author’s Note: This piece was written before the announcement of the new Doctor was made. Will the change in casting be enough to bring me back? Maybe. Depends on the writing. First step would probably be to hire more women writers.]
Okay, so we’re doing this. So let’s set up some context for this. I used to watch Doctor Who, which you could probably surmise from the title. I’m no mega-fan. I jumped in on season three of the revived series, watched the back catalogue and started watching contemporaneously around the time of the season four specials.
Similarly to Game of Thrones, I fell out of love with the series. The difference being that I stopped watching Game of Thrones following what I considered, and what is widely considered, to be the worst season. I stopped watching Doctor Who following season eight, whereas I believe that season seven is the worst season across the series.
Now, I laid out a lot of hate against the showrunners in my last article of this type. I could certainly do that in this article but I will restrain myself, despite the showrunner being, in my mind, more egregiously full of contempt for his audience. Oh boy, already I’m on the attack.
Now, when I discussed my switching off Game of Thrones, my big issue there was that the showrunners seemed to arbitrarily change things from the source material for reasons that were never fully clear. Sometimes it worked, like in parts of season four. Sometimes it didn’t, like everything they did with Sansa in season five. Anyway, onto Doctor Who.
So, when the news was announced that Steven Moffat would be running Doctor Who following Russell T. Davies departure I was pretty happy. I mused to a friend of mine the following sentiment:
‘Remember, those good episodes he wrote [The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink] during the Russell T. Davies era, every episode will be like that.’
However, I soon realised:
‘Remember, those good episodes he wrote during the Russell T. Davies era, every episode/season is like that.’
I genuinely enjoy the episodes he wrote during that era as some of my favourite. However, I have a lot of issues with the recurring conventions of Moffat that crop up often during his tenure as showrunner. First, I’m going to look at Blink and show how he transformed the story of Blink into the arc of every single season of his tenure (Up until I stopped watching, of course, so I have no idea if season nine and ten avoid this pratfall).
So, in season five, the big mystery is that many of the locations that the Doctor travels to contain cracks in time. The big arc of season five is very much ‘where did these cracks in time come from?’. It might be a little bit shallow to compare Blink’s unravelling plot with season five’s cacophonous offerings, however, there’s something there. Blink opens with a message from the Doctor hiding behind some wallpaper to Sally Sparrow. This scene ends with the reveal that the Doctor is writing this message in the 1960s. From there we learn that he is trapped in the 1960s and using various methods to contact Sally Sparrow in the present to save her, the TARDIS, and himself from their current scenario.
So, the interesting thing about Blink on its own is that the inciting incident has already happened and we’re chasing after the aftermath of that incident. Similarly, season five is all about unravelling the mystery of the cracks in time. So we get to the end of the season arc and we discover that the cracks in time exist because River Song, a character who is always in the Doctor’s future, blew up the TARDIS. We are at the end of the season, where things are supposed to reach their conclusion. Basic bloody storytelling is that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. You can mess with this structure by telling the events in a different order, but that aspect doesn’t change.
Blink, as a singular episode in someone else’s ongoing series, has to have an end and is far more satisfying because of it. This is one of the big reasons why I stopped watching the show. You can track this trajectory through the other seasons I watched as well.
Season six: Who is the Impossible Astronaut that kills the Doctor? How will the Doctor survive because he has to survive because the show has to continue? The answers? River Song killed the Doctor and he switched places with a robot duplicate essentially. That might be the most satisfying conclusion to a Steven Moffat season ever … no, wait, why did River Song kill the Doctor? Find out next season.
Season seven (oh man, season seven was so forgettable that I actually had to rewatch parts of the finale to remember what the magical mystery MacGuffin even was): Who is Clara and how did she survive death twice? Answer: she’s not someone mystical or supernatural as they’ve led you to believe. She’s someone who jumped into the Doctor’s personal time stream, which is also his corpse? Good god, season seven was confusing.
Season eight: Who is Missy? Missy is the Master.
I’ll get to one of my major frustrations with season eight soon, and why it made me quit watching, but first I want to look at season seven’s resolution and one thing that Moffat does that I wish he didn’t. I have a lot of irritation for how much the show under Moffat returns to the Doctor’s past before he left Gallifrey initially. Annoyingly, I have to do this weird doublethink because I do enjoy the backstory thrown into the season three final episodes wherein Gallifreyian children must look into the time vortex at the age of ten.
I think my doublethink here is due to the fact that the story is just a smidgeon of backstory in season three, whereas in seasons seven and eight we have Clara returning to contact the Doctor repeatedly in his initial time on Gallifrey. On one of those occasions, she returns to Gallifrey and it’s not entirely clear how she got there because it’s only revealed to be Gallifrey later. Now, I’m no Doctor Who expert but considering that a large part of the fiftieth anniversary special’s dramatic conclusion was placed on finding Gallifrey you’d think this would be a big moment, but it’s not. Yell at me in the comments about how it makes sense because of one obscure piece of lore, never mind that it devalues the dramatic weight of the entire season’s quest to find Gallifrey.
Now, onto season eight. I want to focus on Danny Pink in season eight of Doctor Who. A character who is introduced as a clear love interest for Clara who gets unceremoniously killed by a car in the penultimate episode of the season. Clara and the Doctor track the last vestiges of Danny’s consciousness to the Nethersphere. It’s revealed that Danny really is dead, but the dead are being resurrected somewhat for Missy’s evil plan. Some stuff happens and Danny stays dead. However, through some magic science fiction mumbo jumbo, there’s a chance that Danny could live again. He, however, chooses to give it all up to pay for his mistakes and resurrect the kid he shot in Afghanistan. Fine, that all works emotionally or whatever.
My real issue is that earlier in the season we have seen Danny Pink’s descendant in the form of Orson Pink. Now, why am I so torn up about this plot hole? Because it’s a lie. It’s a lie that toys with your emotions. The showrunner can do whatever he wants to fulfil the emotional arc, logic and consistency be damned. In that moment, I saw his contempt for the audience. Every smug self-satisfied moment of inconsistency and handiwaveness rolled into one single moment where it didn’t matter what happened earlier. The moment was all he cared about. Moments at the expense of scenes and seasons. That’s why I quit watching, because I was being treated as an infant with no recollection of what happened last week on the show.
You can see how it was hard to keep myself objective. I’m very not a fan of the way that Moffat treats the audience with contempt. The audience is the sole reason that you get to do what you do. So treat them with some goddamned respect. I recall hearing an interview somewhere where Moffat said something to the effect of ‘the Doctor can change the past, so continuity doesn’t matter in the broad scope of things’. He might as well be saying ‘these stories that you’ve invested time in don’t matter and you’re an idiot for investing in them’. That drives me mad. Stories matter, and being glib about the consequences of a continuing story is like spitting in your audience’s face.
So that’s why I stopped watching, I’m sick of being treated with contempt.