Deny: Moffat’s Doctor Who
Like with any rules of Entropy, the Law of Diminishing Returns basically argues that the longer something is in production, the higher the surrounding costs & the lower quality begin to erode not only the product but also the consumers’ faith in said product. In terms of media: this means that the longer a series is being broadcast or a franchise is made the higher the costs it is to make & the lower the quality of the show/franchise becomes, which in turn erodes viewers faith that they will see a return to the (imagined) quality of the series.
This can be argued as being true for the majority of television series & media franchises in existence. With some long running series losing what originally made them popular because of changes in production costs/values, changing cast/production staff & disagreement between writers & producers over the direction the series should progress &/or end verses the (overbearing) expectations of the audience/fandom.
I think few series/franchises currently in production epitomise all these as greatly as the last few years of the seminal sci-fi Doctor Who.
Now, many people have been throwing around qualifiers such as “worse series ever!” & making (empty) threats to stop watching the show & cease investing in the merchandise. I’m not going to do such things, despite being a long long term fan of the franchise. In my never humble view, the past series has indeed been, overall, terrible but it hasn’t been ‘irredeemable’.
To begin this argument, some background first:
My earliest media memories are of watching Doctor Who in that lovely two hours that the ABC used to dedicate to children’s programming between 5 & 7 PM. I began with the colour repeats of the Jon Pertwee & Tom Baker incarnations before the broadcasts progressed to Peter Davidson, Colin Baker & Sylvester McCoy. I also had the luxury of watching the repeats of earliest episodes when the ABC decided to show them as a double episode block when I was a teenager. I even watched the basically subpar made-for-television movie starring the eternally underrated Paul McGann as part of an advanced fan screening. I’ve even read the old comics & books, listened to the radio dramas & currently possess, thanks to a highly invested friend, all the episodes from the 1st to the movie.
So, yes: I am highly emotionally invested in the franchise as a whole but I am still not any sort of compulsive super-fan or mouth-frothing fanboy.
Yet, I do have to comment in the decline of quality over the past several years but I’m not going to lay the blame on the usual suspects. Instead, I am going to offer up a few (possibly controversial) views & opinions on where possibly the fault lies.
You see, the fans were particularly blessed with the relaunch of the series back in 2005, with the fantastic (but discontent) Christopher Eccleston in the titular role. That short run was memorable in that it paid homage to the original series but moved beyond what was known –leaving a chronological & narrative gap between the 8th & 9th Doctors, filling it with an unknown conflict simply called ‘the Time War’, that supposedly wiped out the Time Lords & their Dalek enemies. This new entry into the long running franchise rebooted audience expectations & demand, reaching into new US markets & reinvigorating a slightly stagnant fandom who were hungry for new produce to fuel their hungry. The short lived but excellent Eccleston run lead into David Tenant’s tenure & whilst I maintain that Tenant was an average Doctor (but great actor) working with amazing material, it was his 5 year period with the show that the majority of new fans latched onto. Unfortunately, the series decline began in 2010, when show runner Russell T. Davies left & Tenant hanged up his Sonic Screwdriver, being replaced respectively by Steven Moffat as show runner/head writer & Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor.
Whilst many erstwhile fans pin the blame on Smith for the series’ decline, I maintain that he was an incredible actor working with subpar & that it was Moffat’s fault for the failing quality of the show.
Many have already criticised Moffat’s failings, including accusations of misogyny (which he has oft times defended himself against but even more allegations of tyranny are still thrown at him), he is merely a single facet of a much larger problem between audience demands/expectations & the bureaucrats who run the BBC.
The heart of this issue is the current UK Conservative Government’s attempted to make huge cuts to the BBC budget which, in turn, will & have taken huge chunks out of Doctor Who’s soaring budget costs. Yet at the same time, the same BBC Trust’s is wishing a great merchandising stake, especially from the US market (even altering scripts & season schedules to fit the US timetable) & dumbing the series down so it will be both friendly to kids & the perceived average US audience.
This creates a dichotomy between the wants & needs of the BBC chairpeople, the extreme & diverse demands & expectations of the audience/fandom & the overall controlling nature of Moffat’s production. This is amplified by the fact that Doctor Who is the flagship franchise of the BBC & affected by political whims of various levels of governance, stakeholders & broadcast partners. Not to mention the extreme ways that the BBC sought to avoid online piracy & audiences having episodes ruined across various timezones & geographic locations.
Such behind the scene scuffles ultimately spill out onto the screen –such as having mid-season breaks to accommodate the US audiences or huge shifts in plots– yet it all spills at the feet of Moffat, his offsider/writing partner Mark Gatiss & the rest of the core production team, especially the writers.
Many people have levelled criticisms of the past two seasons of Doctor Who on Peter Capaldi & Jenna Coleman, similarly to how criticism was thrown at Smith & Karen Gillian’s Amy Pond, but they are all victims of the same forces. That being Moffat, his writers & the production.
The past two seasons have seen the uber fan Capaldi take the reigns of playing the Doctor & he proves himself again & again to be a powerhouse of an actor, bringing depth of emotion & contrast that you wouldn’t expect to see in a ‘mere sci-fi adventure show’. Yet, like Smith before him, he has been given such awful, inconsistent & boring material to work with. Similar can be said of Coleman’s character, Clara, who first only existed as a mystery to be solved, lacking in any depth or agency of her own. Both Smith & Capaldi were reduced to tropes, one-liners & caricatures whilst their companions enemies & plots only exist in relation to them. By playing to too many differing audiences & ages, Moffat has spread everything too thin, too haphazardly, throwing ideas at walls before disgarding all impact that they might have had -which is seen best in how he dealt (or didn’t deal) with the antagonists known as The Silence.
The utter nadir of this could be seen in the appalling episode Kill The Moon that presents the very worse that Moffat has to offer as showrunner. The plot is nonsensical & the resolution so Beyond the Pale that it actually lowered viewer numbers for the remainder of that season.
Yet even in the face of this, Moffat still reigns supreme on the show & does not look likely to dislodge himself anytime soon.
So, this brings up to his (series 9) 2015 tenure & the moddled tales that he brought us.
The true shame of Moffat’s run is that there are some genuinely good & interesting ideas floating amongst the detritus of the season -such as the Doctor’s speech near the end of Zygon Inversion. Again, this is epitomised with a single episode, stumbling amongst the wilderness: Heaven Sent, which sees Capaldi alone after Clara has died (for the 3rd time on screen). This showcases the strengths of Capaldi’s acting but also highlights the weakness of Moffat’s writing & handling of the show overall.
This is emphasised by the shockingly bad episode Sleep No More, written by Gatiss, who was has enjoyed much fan hatred for previously poor episodes (Cold War & The Crimson Horror), which is such a jumble of tropes mixed with exceptionally bad pacing & shallow characters.
It is this jumbled shallowness that does ultimately mark Moffat’s tenure on the series.
Characters & stories seem disconnected, often contradicting previous Moffat tales (such as stupidly repeated use of The Weeping Angels which lessened their affect & appeal each time they had to be explained, with the worst being The Angels Take Manhattan). More often then not the audience is given rushed stories, 2 dimensional characters & endless to camera gags to cover up the plot holes. This became one of the biggest criticisms of the Smith run as The Doctor but, again, it wasn’t Smith’s fault. He was a good actor doing his best with bad material. Unfortunately, Smith’s talent (& the talents of Tenant & John Hurt in the 50th anniversary episode) really show up the flaws in the series. More so when you have endless contradictions coupled with storylines that never end up going anywhere. More so is the fact that Moffat introduces characters & scenarios that seemingly have deep backstories that are part of some other associated media, one which doesn’t get played out on screen, so it’s like walking into a conversation between old friends halfway through. Moffat doesn’t give his viewers a grounding point or a common reference, throwing in new idea after new idea without any development or reason other than he thinks it’s pretty cool. This too unfortunately affects how he’s made Capaldi portray The Doctor.
Shifting from series 8 to series 9, the Doctor has seemingly undergone a transformation from grumpy problem solver to the cool dad showing off his mid-life crisis. This is seen in how the Doctor now plays the electric guitar (which Capaldi actually does) & has turned his Sonic Screwdriver into Sonic Sunglasses. Clara has also gone from mystery to be solved, to the ultimate control freak to fun loving friend (with benefits). Whilst the two leads play well on screen together, there is no narrative chemistry there. No reason that the Doctor feels the need to protect Clara above all overs (Before the Flood), even at the cost of other lives. Supposedly it plays into the idea of the old angry Doctor from the Time War as well as the 3 regretful incarnations that came after him who are either looking to escape or find forgiveness in their actions.
It reeks of Moffat trying to make his long term mark on the series, by altering the lore & history of the entire backstory, but also speaks of undermining what Davies did before him. This can be seen in how he changed the outcome of the Time War, brought back characters like Davros & changed The Doctor’s oldest (in story not continuity) enemy, The Master (whom Davies had already reshaped) into Missy –who comes off more as a trope-filled insane exgirlfriend than as someone who wants to bring the universe to its collective knee-like appendages.
Whilst it is perfectly natural for any person to want to leave their legacy, many fans (both long & short term) feel it is as though Moffat is leaving a shite stain on something they love; after rubbing himself all over all those whom came before him (especially Davies).
Now, while Doctor Who is a show that has endured a great many ups & downs in terms of production, stories & acting, there is something lingeringly wrong with Moffat’s period. Whilst he has delivered fan beloved characters like River Song & has helped to create many “pop culture moments” the long term feeling towards his work will be one of resentment & confusion –especially at his narrative handwaving & ignoring his on continuities.
Is there a way to repair the damage that Moffat has done?
Probably but right now he just feels like a gangrenous wound to the franchise as a whole: needing to be cut off.
If the BBC would be rid of him & his offsiders, bring in a fresh creative team as well as sanction a stable budget & season structure, maybe Doctor Who can return to the Davies/Tenant era that so many fans want it to hark back to.
Yet, I personally do no feel as though that is the way the series should go.
What Doctor Who needs is an entire shaking up of the formulas of quips, running & single story episodes. Mixing a new formula with the old serial structure would be a giant boon to the franchise as a whole. The main fan demand is for a female Doctor but that doesn’t offer anything really new. As has previously been argued, if you want a strong female Doctor you need someone who can write interesting female characters; otherwise you just have a woman doing all the things that the Doctor has always done. Same as if you changed to a non-white, non-cisgendered character. If you do not have a production team that can bring out the positives & uniqueness of such a character than it is merely tokenism or pandering to the most vocal members of the fan community.
If Moffat is go, so must the philosophy of the BBC Trust of Doctor Who being a kiddie oriented cash cow whilst trying to keep an adult audience as well as the rabid mewling of the fandom -who except everything & so are never happy with what they get. Attitudes to fan pandering & treating them as idiots who will lap up any references like the proverbial dog also has to be destroyed –more so if you want to see something fresh.
So, it remains that Moffat needs to go. His attitude, story & era needs to be mainly forgotten. Not with an a waving of the hand to reboot the entire universe or disregarding all that has come before. More we should remember the good of what Moffat brought –especially from the actors involved– but ignore all the miscues, the fobbing off & sudden changes to the narrative. They should be ignored but not forgotten; so that they mistakes won’t be wrought again.
I could have spend my time in this article an episode by episode breakdown of the issues of the past season but, to be honest, I can barely remember the majority of the episodes. Nothing incredible sticks in my mind. There are the small glimmers of greatness here & there but more oft than not, they are buried under a mountain of nonsensical shite that coats my memories with things that I’d rather forget. There is much redemption still there –especially with Capaldi playing the titular role– but it is not enough for me to revisit it like I would the older, cheesier series that grew up with many of which haven’t aged well at all) but having to watch Clara die yet again & having our emotions manipulate over trite stuff with characters who we’d largely forgotten because of their dullness reeks of manipulativeness. Not to mention bowing to fan demands by bringing UNIT scientist Osgood back after previously being killed by Missy (in the most pathetic way). It is things such as those that leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, leading to resentment & back talk. Whilst the majority of the fans won’t simply switch off, less & less are defending the things that are wrong with the series against even the tiniest criticism (something which marks an ardent fan).
In the end, whilst there has been some good things that Moffat had brought to the franchise, he ultimately feels toxic to the long term future of Doctor Who. If he steps aside to allow a fresh perspective on the show from an entirely new team free from his influence & the interference of the BBC heads then we should see a diminishing of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Yet, I do personally feel that anyone at the BBC is brave enough to cut Moffat from the show right now, nor are they interested in altering the formula in any way.
Maybe it is the formula that is at fault. The eternal rhythm of banter, quip, running, problem solving & endless asides. Maybe the formula is too ingrained in both the series & the audience, with those in charge becoming unwilling to disentangle things to bring a new perspective or construct a new concoction to play around with.
In the end of the end, there is nothing overall wrong with Doctor Who. It does what it is intended to do, which is entertain, but it wears on the good will of the audience & pulls at both the demands of the invested fans & the blase nature of the casual fan. The nexus of so many of these issues does seem to be Steven Moffat, who has done so many good things in the entertainment industry over the years, yet seems to detrimental to Doctor Who as a whole. For this I cannot condemn him but I can still Deny him. & that I shall do. Until either he leaves or he remedies all the ills that he has caused.