(SPOILERS for Doctor Who Season 8 and a few earlier episodes too, if you haven’t seen them yet)
I am extremely disappointed with season 8 of revamped Doctor Who. Steven Moffat has, it seems, allowed the fanboy to overrule the writer in a way that Russell T Davies managed to avoid (at least for the most part). Season 8 also shows the signs of a writer who is not receiving adequate support from a script editor and producer.
“Don’t You Think he Looks Tired?”
Even more worryingly, Moffat has had a hand in writing almost all the episodes so far this season. In seven episodes so far, only two do not have a writing credit for Moffat, and in one of those (Robot of Sherwood) it turns out (from information published in Doctor Who magazine) that he was a part of creating the concept for the episode.
I’ve lost the link for it but I believe it was Doctor Who Rants on Twitter posted “Don’t You Think He Looks Tired?” (a play on the six words with which the 10th Doctor brought down Harriet Jones, Prime Minister). And frankly, yes. He does.
I said he lacks adequate support from his script editor. Another Doctor Who Magazine piece was a series of articles talking with Terrance Dicks about his long-running involvement in the show. Dicks talked about the importance of a strong script editor who can say, “Actually, this idea is crap. Go away and work on it.” Moffat, in writing or co-writing so many episodes, is necessarily scraping the barrel for ideas and stories, which means in turn that he’s using the bad ideas as well as the good ideas. On the one hand, there seems to be nobody to step in and say, “No, look, this isn’t as clever as you think.” On the other hand, there’s pressure to produce so many stories that the crap ideas get thrown in with the good ones. A case in point is the ending of “Listen”: The point, and poignant twist, took about 30 seconds to show. Moffat hammered it home for another five minutes. A good and effective editor would have cut that.
Part of it seems to be Moffat having an obsession with a season story arc, which in a short season (as is common with British television) means a much more hands-on approach to crafting the scripts. Perhaps, with greater trust of other writers (“here’s what we need the story to do for the arc, go away and come up with something!”) he could come up with that overall story and leave the rest to everyone else. Perhaps, if he let go of the whole story arc thing and allowed the season to develop naturally, it wouldn’t matter at all.
So my first complaint is simply that Moffat is clearly overworked.
“Year of the fanfic”
The obvious marker for this is that Moffat found an opening titles on YouTube and decided to use it for the actual show. The arrangement of the theme tune is “naff synthesiser in your bedroom” stuff: it already feels like watching someone’s homemade story posted on youtube instead of a proper episode.
But the writing feels that way, too. Moffat as showrunner has acted like an internet fanboy, “Here’s what I’d like to see!” Moffat writes Doctor Who as though the driving principle is, “What does this fan find fun?” rather than, “What makes a good story?” His “key moment” stories (most notably Day of the Doctor and Time of the Doctor) too often answer the questions that Moffat loves thinking about, instead of the questions that drive the story – and the series – for the viewer. He writes like a fanboy, not like a writer. For all that RTD was a fanboy and it showed, when I watched his episodes they felt like the writer had been in charge of proceedings. Moffat doesn’t achieve this nearly often enough.
Then there’s the “compilation album” feel of Season 8. With the exceptions of “Robot of Sherwood” and “Time Heist” (which have their own problems), every episode has seemed to make reference back to some previous episode of Doctor Who either by imitating it or choosing key iconographic elements from it. I wouldn’t mind if it was “Doctor Who’s Greatest Hits”, but Moffat seems to have gone for the rather more dubious “Now That’s What I Call Doctor Who 51”
So far (‘M’ indicates a Moffat writing credit):
- Deep Breath (M): revisit Girl In The Fireplace & let’s hear it for the Paternoster Gang recurring characters!
- Into The Dalek (M): Redo “Dalek” but with “Fantastic Journey”
- Listen (M): Time for a “spooky” thing like Blink
- The Caretaker (M): Redo “The Lodger” but this time the companion is the freaked-out human!
- Kill The Moon: Aim for Tom Baker era darkness with Genesis of the Daleks-type dilemma and a version of the “here’s 1980” scene from Pyramids of Mars.
Of course, those Tom Baker scenes are “Greatest Hits” material, but the cover versions in Kill The Moon are well short of the quality of the originals.
“I’m sorry, you can’t travel with me any more”
By far the worst part of season 8 is Clara and her relationship with the Doctor. The defining characteristic of Clara’s personality seems to be the absolute conviction that nobody in her life could ever cope without her constant presence to watch over them and make decisions for them. Admittedly, her background is “constant carer for others” (and, let’s face it, as the Impossible Girl, that was her entire purpose in the Doctor’s timeline), but the idea of someone strong enough to make their own decisions is anathema to her. When someone does (particularly the Doctor) she basically yells at them until they do what she wants, because clearly in her vaunted opinion, they can’t possibly be responsible enough.
She also handles the TARDIS console without permission and decided to sneak her boyfriend on board (because she wants both men in her life to like each other, or something). Everything belongs to her, no one is allowed to have boundaries or secrets from Clara, because Clara is the sole bastion of truth and morality in the universe. It was a throwaway joke line in “Deep Breath”, but increasingly Clara’s statement, “Nothing is more important than my egomania” is starting to look like the most honest she’s ever been.
These constant boundary violations by Clara have led to at least three incidents in season 8 where with any other Doctor (and certainly with Ecclestone’s or Tennant’s versions) Clara would be invited to leave the TARDIS and never come back. We know Ecclestone’s Doctor was willing to eject bad passengers because he did it; Tennant always seemed to have that backbone, though not the need. The disrespect shown for the Doctor’s sanctuary and home; the disrespect shown for his experience and perspective; the disrespect shown for the TARDIS not just as a home but as highly advanced technology that she can’t possibly understand: it all adds up to a sense of immature entitlement, and activities that no one would regard as acceptable in real life.
Even if it weren’t for Clara’s clear problems with boundaries, her relationship with the Doctor is significantly different from the basic premise that governed much of the show’s history. Previously, whether by choice or accident, the Doctor’s companions have been “along for the ride”, the Doctor wandering the space-time cosmos (again, whether his wandering is purposeful or directionless) and his companion(s) wandering with him. With the 2005 relaunch, there has been much less “accident” and the Doctor has typically set out early on to impress his new companion with some wondrous tourist destination; there’s typically been much more of a “ties to Earth” element: family and romantic interests who crop up on the TARDIS’s frequent visits to Earth. However, the basic theme has been somewhat haphazard travels that could last for ages of subjective time for the travellers.
Clara, rather than being a travelling companion, is a package tour customer: they go somewhere, they go back home again. She wants to have the glamorous, exciting, adventure of “travel”, but she wants it to be on her schedule and with a comfortable place back home that she always returns to.
Contrast this to the end of “Survival”, in which the Doctor asks Ace “Where to now?” She replies, “Home.” “Home?” says the Doctor. “The TARDIS” says Ace. Even as the new version of Doctor Who made the ties-to-Earth element stronger, the TARDIS remained “home” for those who travelled on her. But now “home” is a flat and a job at Coal Hill school; the TARDIS is just a plaything to Clara – a camper van at most.
Clara appears to want the romance of the travel, without any of the commitment of actually leaving home. While her Season 7 adventures seem to have been “wandering”, in season 8 she’s clinging to the memory: no longer “gap year” backpacking round the globe, but twice a year on a cruise liner to see the usual monuments. I get what’s in it for her to overstretch herself by trying to live both lives. I just don’t see why the Doctor – particularly this Doctor, who supposedly has so much less patience for humanity – would put up with it and keep coming back for her. Why doesn’t he find someone else, someone who will give themselves wholeheartedly to the mystery and adventure of roaming the galaxies? Why is he so “clingy” still, when it’s obvious she’s no longer a full-time crew member on the TARDIS? When his own granddaughter moved on, the Doctor was able to cut the ties and let her get on with a new life: why bother Clara at all?
The emphasis has become not “ties to Earth” but “tied to Earth”. We don’t know what happens when the Doctor isn’t with Clara. The best hint is in Listen, when we see him pondering the question of “the perfect hiders” and popping around various places. But it’s starting to feel like those stories of what he does in between showing off to Clara, are more interesting than the ones where she is involved. Does he, perhaps, go off with an alien girl and have adventures with her instead? (Or, for that matter, with an alien boy, or alien of a gender unrelated to human genders.) He tells Clara that, “I’ve lived 2,000 years. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. It’s time I did something about that.” Maybe when he doesn’t have to worry about her poking her nose where it’s not helpful or wanted, he’s actually doing it. Lord knows that teaser line hasn’t led to anything in the season so far (despite the whole “Now That’s what I Call Doctor Who” effect). I want to see the Doctor as a traveller again!
There have been several jarring moments in Season 8 that I could pick at as well (for instance, the whole thing with the Doctor suddenly forgetting how human ageing works; and why he would ever tell any person that they were’t special or significant, given his general drive to save everyone he can). At times I wondered if people were trying to either write for the War Doctor, or else trying to revisit the irascible side of William Hartnell’s portrayal. But it’s these overarching themes that have shown through that really bother me about Season 8 so far.
I would like to see Moffat give up the reins to someone else, maybe contributing one or two episodes at most per season (so he only uses his good ideas) and someone taking on the job of script editing properly. Get away from the fanfic version and avoid redoing favourite moments from previous shows.
I want to see Clara leave. The literary logic of her character (given the “Impossible Girl” explanation) would have her die to save someone else; the IG part would make it the Doctor, but I think a more satisfying way to close that circle would be to have someone else, probably Danny Pink, or “the school”. Alternatively, the Doctor could just leave her to get on with the life she’s chosen for herself.
And I really really want the old theme tune arrangement back, or else something properly innovative as a new arrangement, invent a whole new instrument to play it on, anything!