The Glass Teat


Doctor Who or Doctor Doom?

The real problem with Steven Moffat

By Geoffrey Dow
Managing Editor, True North Perspective
Originally posted at Edifice Rex Online

I fear I'm becoming One of Them, one of those strange and hideous trolls, shuffling about in the dark passageways of fandom, who seem to exist only to tear down that which they claim to love. You know the one: I've watched every episode of New Who and I've hated every bloody one of them!

Well, I'm now one-sixth of the way through Steven Moffat's second series at the helm of this venerable franchise, and I'm coming more and more to resemble that monstrous beast, The Fan Who Hates His (or Her) Fandom.

The accusation's been tossed at me before, but not, I think, with even a smidgeon of truth. So far.

Though it's no secret I haven't been any too pleased with Steven Moffat's reign as Who's show-runner so far, the fact that his was the mind behind episodes like "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances" and "Blink" gave me good reason to hope for better things to come.

But now, having viewed the opening story of his second series, and coming after the morally idiotic Christmas special, my hope is dwindling fast.

Like a bungling time-traveller, Moffat seems to be working backwards. Starting as a writer of the morally complex, spiritually uplifting and yet also frightening (and even very funny!) tour de force that was "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances", his decline sees him shedding even the facade of a moral stance in favour of a puzzle. A puzzle whose solution is, er, genocide.

"You should kill us all on sight"

Gloating like a pulp-fiction villain, the Doctor proclaims,

"You've given the order for your own execution. And the whole planet just heard you. ... You just raised an army against yourself! And now, for a thousand generations, you're going to be ordering them to destroy you every day. How fast can you run?"

That's right folks the Doctor's (our Doctor!) solution to the alien menace is to make every member of the human race an executioner, with the small consolation that none of us will remember the slaughter. (What becomes of all those alien bodies is a question left unconsidered.)

Last Christmas, Moffat's Doctor (our Doctor!) ignored the humanity of the "girl in the refrigerator", and now Moffat's Doctor (our Doctor) isn't bothered that the best solution he can find is genocide, he's thrilled about it. Moffat's Doctor positively cackles as he explains his plan, just before River Song goes on a shooting spree right out of Grand Theft Auto.

To Steven Moffat, genocide isn't just painless, it's fun.

Does it matter that Karen Gillan seems to be turning into a real actress? Or that, if there was still any doubt, Matt Smith owns the Doctor as well as any of his predecessors? That Alex Kingston and Mark Sheppard are excellent character actors or that Arthur Darvill has made once-plastic Rory perhaps the most three-dimensional character on the TARDIS?

I think not.

In retrospect, the signs were there as far back as "Blink". There was always something a little false in Kathy's blithe acceptance of her fate; how many young women from the 21st century would really be happy being plunked into the early, pre-feminist 20th?

Still, for one episode, we could accept such a characterization as an individual quirk, unlikely but not implausible. And besides, the rest of the episode was so much mind-blowing and also romantic fun, one nearly had to let it go. But Moffat's weird lack of respect for his own characters kept on manifesting itself.

Think of Rose and Mickey, abandoned to die on a derelict space ship by the Doctor, and rescued only through luck.

Think of River Song, "immortalized" as a computer program, doomed to spend eternity caring for unreal children.

On the one hand, River as we have come to know her, would never choose a false immortality inside a computer over death; and on the other, the Doctor, as generations have known him, would never be so selfish as to abandon two people in his care simply because he had a crush on someone.

Moffat's clever plotting is a cheat, at best an empty shell, with only emptiness beneath the filligree'd surface.

While I'm sure there are some who enjoy puzzles above all else, most of us who love — or who even merely like — Doctor Who, like or love a program that, as Craig Ferguson so delightfully put it, celebrates "the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism".

Not any more. Now, human beings being used as collateral without the Doctor batting an eye, and genocide is a joke.

No wonder the numbers in Britain are dwindling. Those who only like it will tune in to something else. Those of us who love it, well ...

Me, I guess I'll watch next week's pirate spectacle while waiting to see what Neil Gaiman manages to show us the week after — but frankly, I'll be doing so with expectations low and hope only that the ratings will continue to tank, enough so that the BBC starts casting about for another show-runner.

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