Doctor Who Series 9: Uncollected Thoughts


Go away. Please. Just go away.

Well now, that was embarrassingly bad, wasn’t it?

After the announcement that Jenna Coleman was leaving Dr Who, thus removing from the series its single, most glaringly awful annoyance, I made the last-minute decision to rescind my personal ban on watching the series. That was an awful mistake.

‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ was a perfect example of Stephen Moffat’s increasing tendency to throw it a lot of brightly coloured bits of jumble, whirl them around a bit and pretend that the outcome was a coherent story. So, we had, in short order, a fourteen year old boy wandering into an explicable war scene, the Twelfth Doctor all set to help him out of a forest of hand-mines (so much effort for a very weedy, nonsensical pun) and learning that freckle-face’s name is Davros, some guy sliding around on roller skates under a monk’s cowl, looking for the Doctor, Missy freezing aircraft all over the world to attract UNIT’s attention, the Doctor partying in 1128AD with an electric guitar and more anachronisms than you could shake a stick at, a conversation with a very low-key, non-shouty Davros who’s due to die in the morning and the Daleks destroying Missy, Clara and the TARDIS.

That none of it made the least amount of sense, and will make even less after part 2 finishes the story off next week, is exactly why Moffat has, with unbelievable rapidity considering how well he handled the Fiftieth Anniversary, fallen out of the bottom of the dustbin and needs to be removed from control of the show. It has already become unwatchable, and that’s without Clara.

Take Missy’s return. When last she was seen, the Doctor was killing her, permanently, no regenerations, no flowers by request, so as to ensure that Clara, who was intent on doing it out of revenge for the death of Danny (you remember, the guy who got run over by a car when she announced her undying love by mobile phone whilst he was crossing a busy road: talk about Displacement) wouldn’t have to live with blood on her hands.

Nobody believed for a minute that that was the last we’d seen of the erstwhile Master. So, how do they get over this hurdle? What ingenious little story lies behind this latest resurrection? Six words: ‘Not dead. Back. Get over it.’ with one might bound, Moffat frees himself from the curse of rationality forever. He can do anything he wants, and then just flip it without explanation. The last link to reality is this shattered and Dr Who becomes literally meaningless.

Then there’s Clara. She’s in the classroom, teaching badly as always, Jane Austen, brilliant writer, and totally great kisser, and then suddenly, without anyone batting an eyelid, she’s shooting off to UNIT HQ at the Prime Minister’s personal request (which no-one finds in the least bit strange), and it’s not because she’s the Doctor’s current official companion, it’s because UNIT, and Kate Stewart, desperately need Clara’s superior knowledge and understanding of A) how to recognise an alien invasion when you see one and B) what to do about an alien invasion.

Seriously, I am not kidding. Moffat has gotten so totally involved with his jumped-up companion – who is so fucking ignorant she actually tells the Daleks, the Daleks, that they can’t destroy the TARDIS – that he thinks he can sell the idea that a 29 year old teacher knows more about planetary defence than the whole of UNIT.

After that, the bit with the Doctor in the Twelfth Century was basic-level inanity, and not even Clara being exterminated could raise a smile because we know it won’t take.

What made everything exponentially worse is that this fifth-rate, amateurish tripe was based on a supposedly serious idea. Admittedly, it’s a very old idea, one that was explored back in Tom Baker’s day and, what’s more, taken directly from dialogue of a higher standard that this dog.

We saw it all a very long time ago in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, the moment when the Fourth Doctor held up two bare wires that, it touched together, would destroy at source the entire Dalek race, removing them from history before they entered it. It was a moral dilemma of epic dimension. Moffat even had the conversation replayed, as Baker posed the question of what if you had the life of a young boy in your hands that, by snuffing him out, you could avoid untold dearth, destruction and carnage?

That’s exactly what the opening scene did. And the Doctor, the Twelfth Doctor, left Davros where he was as soon as he learned the boy’s name.

The cliffhanger is that the Doctor returns, directly from Skaro, where he’s seen Clara evaporated, mad with grief, toting a Dalek exterminatory arm and ready to save Clara’s life by exterminating Davros to little pieces.

Cheap, inane, moronic. I shall submit myself to watching next week’s second part, then wash my hands of things until Moffat walks. Please, please, please let this colossal abdication of writing standards not have crept into Sherlock as well.

Dr Who: Ok, then, maybe…


With the new series of Doctor Who coming up on Saturday, I have been busy avoiding any trailers or spolilers, though not for the usual reason of wishing to watch the actual broadcast without knowing what to expect: you know, as a drama.

No, this time I’ve been ignoring the programme because of Clara Oswald.

However much of a minority I may have been in, I rapidly grew to hate the Doctor’s current companion the longer series eight went on. Stupid, self-willed, convinced of her own righteousness, cheating and lying and avoiding responsibility for her actions, she was not what I wanted to see in the programme. When you spend roughly a third of each episode screaming at one character’s bone-headedness, one of two things has to give: her or you.

And when the exceedingly risible end to the Xmas Special made it plain that Clara wasn’t going, I decided I had to.

Until just this afternoon, when it was announced that Jenna Coleman was leaving, and before this year’s Xmas Special, because she’s going off to play Queen Victoria.

That doesn’t mean to say that things will be any better this forthcoming season, nor that her eventual replacement will prove to have a brain between her no doubt pretty ears, but I can at least try the series again, knowing that instead of screaming at the screen, I can keep repeating, “this too shall pass, this too shall pass, this too shall pass…”

Doctor Who : The Last Christmas – Uncollected Thoughts


I’m not showing a picture of the Doctor or his Companion

Oh dear. And it was all going so well, right up to the last moment, when…

Actually, strike that. It wasn’t going at all well. This year’s Doctor Who Xmas Day special was, and let’s be honest about it, a mish-mash of styles, trying to marry up industrial strength whimsy in the form of Nick ‘Santa Claus’ Frost, complete with two self-aware elfs and a battery-powered Rudolph, and Xmas horror in the form of Dream Crabs who weren’t even pretending not to be a direct rip-off of Alien. It can be done and if anyone could do it, you’d have bet on Moffat.

But not this year’s Moffat. Not after the disaster of a one-year-too-many series which has gone overly loud on the emotional moment basso profundo pedal time and time again, and wasted the opportunity that always exists with a new Doctor.

That Moffat had lost that fine touch was obvious from the opening scene of Santa knocking down a chimney stack, the elves bickering, the reindeer running riot and Clara standing there in the snow earing nothing but pyjamas and dressing gown (which she was to wear for the whole episode), open-mouthed. In the snow, falling like a cartoon. And not feeling the cold in the slightest.

After that, the second-hand horror hardly had a chance, and that was before we got to the Polar expedition scientist Shona. Shona – twenty-something, with a pronounced Lancashire accent and heavily into Slade’s ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ which was only thirteen years older than she was – was played by Faye Marsay, and played to perfection. If this were a previously undiscovered episode of Victoria Wood As Seen on TV from 1986 or thereabouts.

The Earth’s under attack by these Dream Crabs, who cause people to live in their dreams until they die. That meant that, whenever somebody woke up, they were still asleep and dying, until the Doctor finally got everyone to realise they were dreaming and wake up, by flying away on Santa’s sled. Except for the one who spent more time guzzling on a turkey leg than anyone outside a dream state physically could: he died, but that was all right because nobody gave a damn about him, or the fact that a living Dream Crab remained behind, temporarily sated and looking for another victim. Missed that, didn’t you, Moffat?

Clara’s dream as, of course, Xmas Day with Danny. She’d already drawn the Doctor’s attention to the fact that Danny hadn’t survived, the lie on which the series ended with she and the Doctor separated, and this Xmas idyll – he’d got her all the right presents – allowed Clara for the only time ever to be what she wanted to be: relaxed, in love and content.

And Moffat struck gold in this scene: Dream-Danny was so beautifully dreamed by Clara, so exact, that the moment he heard that he was a dream and a dream that was killing Clara, he ordered her out, sacrificing himself again to ensure that she would live.

It was a beautiful highlight, which made the ending turn out so appalling. Everybody’s waking up to grossly disintegrated Dream Crabs (except for the poor, dead sod that Moffat forgot after he’d served his purpose as cannon-fodder). Except for Clara, who wants a few more minutes… So theDoctor has to turn up in her real-life bedroom, to pry the rubber mask off her face and reveal… that Clara fell into her dream sixty-two years after she last saw the Doctor.

She has no regrets. Well, not many. She travelled all over. She taught in every country in Europe. She lived a full life. There were no more men for her after Danny: well, there was one who matched up to him but, well, you know… (break out the sick-buckets, please). Jenna Coleman’s time, which has been the subject of no litte debate, is clearly up.

Except, and I am typing this bit from within the sick-bucket itself, the Doctor suddenly wakes up with a faceful of disintegrating Dream Crab again, races off to Clara, sonics the Dream Crab off her face and fuck all that misleading shit, she’s still young, and lovely and, do you know what, despite everything that’s happened, perfectly willing to reject every atom of character, personality or believable response to the trauma she suffered over Danny, cos she can still go surfing the Universe of Time and Space.

It’s unbelievably glutinous and unforgivably false to anything resembling human emotion. My response, the moment the Doctor woke up a second time (in defiance of all story logic, such as it was, that had been established) was an out-loud, “Oh, fucking hell, no.”

And that’s me and Doctor Who  done. Call me when Moffat leaves, because until then I m just not interested any more. Marry Xmas.

Uncollected Thoughts: Doctor Who series 8 finale – part 2


Nothing personal. Just go away. Now. Please.

Hmmm.

To repeat what I said last week, I have struggled with this series. Not with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, but with Clara Oswald, companion and self-important entity, bowing out at the last with a declaration of how special she felt at having gone travelling with the Doctor, and a thank you for making her feel special. Here I was prepared to say that she got so far up my nose that you would have to reach through the next three incarnations to get her out, but to be truthful, by this point the once-glorious Impossible Girl had just become a black hole that sucked in any sympathy I could muster wherever she was in this story.

Which was a shame for parts of it were good, and one part was very good indeed when Moffat’s desire to touch the heartstrings worked perfectly.

The story itself was relatively simple: the Master had worked out how to bond Cybermen to the dead, an unbeatable combination, and had been zipping up and down the Doctor’s timeline applying her formula to his friends and those who had died for him. Interestingly, the whole point of this inescapable menace was to place the army that could control the Universe and all of Space and Time in the hands of the Doctor. It was both an appeal to the Dark Side that Moffat’s been teasing ever since Capaldi’s eyebrows came along, but mainly it was an attempt to get the Master’s childhood friends back, and to prove that the Master could not possibly be all that bad, because the Doctor is just like her.

To do good. For a moment we were in Bag End, in the Shire, as Frodo Baggins offers the Ring to Gandalf. All the wrongs you could right… but just as Gandalf found the strength of heart to refuse the Ring, the Doctor removed the One Bracelet that Controlled Them All, and instead flung it to Danny-the-unassimilated-Cyberman, who led the Cyberman army to destroy all the Master’s plans.

After that, it was all a matter of endings, and there were too bloody many of them, lined up like dominoes, some of them better than others. Clara insists that the Master be killed for what she’s done (though the part of me that isn’t prepared to be blinded by great goops of emotion at this point notes that Clara isn’t out for justice but revenge for her poor dead Danny, and that though Danny fought nobly back against proper Cybernising – with not even an inadequate explanation for how – it was Clara who got him killed: talk about Displacement Activity). However, in order that dear Clara shouldn’t be tainted by comitting murder, the Doctor does it himself disintegrating the Master (a truly scenery chewing performance by Michelle Gomez) into a puff of smoke.

No Regeneration there then. Until the next showrunner wants to bring the Master back, so lets hope that the next one has more of a taste for tedious but necessary explanations of how than Moffat has sadly proven to be.

Then there’s the suggestion that Danny can come back from the dead to Clara, except that he instead sends back the boy he killed when a soldier, which was in its way equally saccharine. This led into the goodbye scene between the Doctor and his Companion with both of them lying furiously to each other in a wholly unconvincing manner (except that Jenna Coleman’s booked to do the Xmas Special, for which Nick Frost is playing Father Xmas – I may plotz, which is not meant disrespectfully. Npt to Nick Frost).

The other two endings were good though. A long time ago, last November to be exact, Gallifrey was restored and the Doctor (Matt Smith) promised to find it, setting up an exciting plot strand full of potential, which has been completely ignored all series. Now the Master has found it, and it’s back where it’s always been. Just before being disintegrated, she whispered its co-ordinates to the Doctor, except that she lied and she’s dead and it wasn’t there. Maybe this will get some people off their arses and pursue that story.

But the one that sealed it for me, though it was in its own way just as full of synthetically created emotion as everything else, was Kate Stewart. The Brigadier’s daughter popped up to appoint the Doctor President of Earth and commander of the globe’s armies, a somewhat unnecessary foreshadowing of the Master’s plan, but she also popped out, sucked from a crashing plane and spiralling off to die.

Except that she’s found safe and alive in the graveyard, under the safe guard of a Cyberman who spared the Doctor the actual execution of the Master. One Cyberman, among those created from the Doctor’s associates, who saved the woman who grew up to step into his shoes. Though Nicholas Courtney cannot give us a bow, his shade can occupy a Cyberman’s uniform and stop time for a moment for those of us who go back that far.

So the series is over. I switched off quickly to avoid trailers for the Xmas Special. It surely can’t be as bad as this was, please.

Uncollected Thoughts: Dr Who series 8 finale – part 1


The Impossible (to believe in) Girl

It began so well.

I like Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. I liked the opening episode of the series. But I’ve liked each succeeding episode of this series a little less, each week, to the point where, even though I can objectively say that the first half of this year’s finale was excellent, I felt little or nothing during it. No surprise at the revelation that the Cybermen were back, given that that had leaked so much that someone as determined as I am to avoid spoilers was aware of it. Not even surprised that Missy is the Master, picking up on the tease flung out by Neil Gaiman in series 6 about how Timelords can change gender.

Nor moved by the central motivating issue that set this story into motion: Danny’s dead. Dead, knocked down and killed by a car whilst crossing the road, because he was concentrating on what Clara had just told him: that she loved him, and she really meant it.

That raised a hurdle that the show couldn’t clear. No, not a hurdle, but a barrier. Because Clara put it in absolute terms, terms of such devotion and commitment as we all dream of hearing being spoken to us and I didn’t believe a word of it. In fact I didn’t believe a syllable of it. They were words written by someone who has felt that true, unbelievable emotion but I have not seen a single thing this series that but an atom of belief into me that Clara felt like that towards the man she has consistently cheated and lied to, with whom she has shared no even plastic romantic moment, has never confided anything with openness and honesty.

Shot through as many feet as are needed to cripple a centipede, the episode’s driving force didn’t stand an earthly.

In fact, it is Clara and how she has behaved throughout this series that has slowly drained away my enthusiasm. Each week, she has been consistently and increasingly stupid, self-willed, self-important and blazingly ignorant of what the fuck she has gotten herself mixed up with now, until the point when the Doctor takes over and shows up how idiotic she’s been behaving and she doesn’t learn a single thing. I’ve slagged off Moffat before for an underlying misoginy in both Sherlock and Doctor Who at different times, but this has been ridiculous.

And all the while people have been leaping around with joy at these stories and praising Jenna Coleman to high heaven, and I’ve been wondering what for. After all, she had decided that she had found her One, the last man, person, thing, she would ever say ‘I love you’ to, but she had to very specificly tell him this on the phone and not in person, for no easily discernible reason than that it was a supposedly clever way to get him killed.

After that, I was on no sympathy with anything in the episode, which was a shame because, a few seriously unwise stabs at jokes by Chris Addison aside, it was probably excellent, written and played well by all. That final scene, where Danny first tries to convince Clara that he is the real Danny, then tries to keep her from coming after him, into death herself, reached a stunningly good conclusion when Clara exploded and threatened to cut off the connection if he told her he loved her one more time, and Danny, after a pause that felt like a lifetime, brokenly whispered it in a voice, and with a deliberation that convinced even me that he did, truly, feel that deeply for her. But I was a long way from being able to feel that scene as it deserved: had I not been so removed conviction, I am certain there would have been tears.

Next week, the series is all over, and so is Jenna Coleman. I shall miss her chirpy face and the pageboy bob, and the opaque tights when she’s wearing the short skirts, but to be honest, I’ve had enough of her. Moffat’s Doctor has been the only one of the New Who I’ve enjoyed, but in this series we’ve gone back full circle to what I didn’t like about the first series of the revival. I’d rather have Jenna Coleman than Billie Piper any day, but I do not want to watch a Doctor Who that’s all about the bloody assistant and her journey.

I think it’s time for Moffat to move on. I’d like to see another mind at work. If nothing else, it would give me a decent excuse to drop out because my enthusiasm is dying on its feet.

Uncollected Thoughts: The Twelfth Doctor


I’ve been here before – five years ago, was it? A new Doctor, Matt Smith, the Eleventh. What would he be like? Would the show be better under Stephen Moffat than the turgid treacliness of the last half hour of David Tennant under Russell T. Davies?

Funnily enough, those weren’t the questions in my head. The only question I had was: did Karen Gillan look as good onscreen as her photos suggested? To which the answer was a decided yes, plus I loved the accent, and that Matt Smith seemed interesting in his own right.

After not having watched the series regularly since the days of Baker (C), I found myself back with Doctor Who. And, with a few reservations here and there, usually in the places where everybody else was cheering, I’ve enjoyed the ride, none more so than in that final sequence of stories: The Name of the Doctor,The Day of the Doctor, The Time of the Doctor.

So here we are, with another new Doctor to assess: Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, the oldest Doctor, a reversal of New Who policy, an experiment in changing more than just the face of the Doctor. And unlike five years ago, I was watching the start of this new series for the Doctor himself, and not his companion. Though they are both Scots, so I suppose the difference isn’t that great.

And?

Well, I could start by saying that they had me at the moment the Dinosaur wading down the Thames hacked, and coughed up the Tardis. Then Strax knocks on the door, and the Doctor pops his head out and says, “Shush!” and shuts the door again (and when are we going to get the Madame Vastri, Jenny and Strax soin-off, Moffat? Come on, we will not be patient forever). And they did. I was on the hook and ready to be wound in.

But by the end of this extended introductory episode, things were different. By then I was no longer roaring with laughter, and fully into the swing of the old madness once more. Because, as the episode deftly progressed, that was the madness of Matt Smith, of Number Eleven. There’s always a perod of unsettlement with Re-generations, as the Doctor’s new form shapes his mind in the new direction it will take, with the old self acting as a conduit. Capaldi made an excellent job of hosting the spirit of Smith, especially in some of the early boasts he was making, ruffling the startled Clara’s feathers.

And this section of the programme confronted explicitly some of the questions about Capaldi’s appointment, the abrupt (and chancey) reversion to the Doctor as an adult, almost grandfatherly figure. From Clara’s doubts, her instinctive shying away from the stranger, her unconcealed distaste for the lined face and the grey hair, her conviction that she didn’t know the Doctor any more, to Twelve’s own confusions about himself and how he looks.

Adroitly, given that Capaldi has already twice appeared in the series with other Doctors, this was dealt with by Twelve trying to recollect where he’d seen his face before, and asking himself the rhetorical question about why he’d chosen this one? Interesting word, ‘chosen’. But did not the Curator himself all but state outright that he had chosen to return to a favourite face, or were our nostalgic tears brimming too much at that moment? I’d like to see that investigated a little deeper, Mr Moffat, the extent to which a Re-generating Doctor can choose his new incarnation.

But once he began to concentrate, Capaldi’s Doctor began to take on gravitas. The Smithian flipness dropped away, the confusion realigned itself, and the new Doctor, a more serious, and darker version, began to take shape. With age, Capaldi brings gravitas back to the role. What’s more, he’s set a theme for this series: he’s lived for over 2,000 years, during which time he’s made mistakes: it’s time to go and sort them out.

I’ve not really discussed the plot, as it wasn’t really what mattered in this episode. It was just a vehicle for Twelve to emerge, just as the Victorian setting was a welcome excuse to have the Paternoster Gang around (spin-off! spin-off! spin-off!) as well as a basis for Capaldi’s ‘costume’ as Twelve. Though it can’t be completely ignored: the Doctor persuades the big bad villain, the Half-Faced Man to accept death, though we are left ignorant of the final detail of jump or push. But it leads to a beautiful moment at the end, when the Half-Faced Man finds himself taking tea in a delightful garden, with a familiar dark-haired woman, talking of her ‘boyfriend’: if I say she’s an uncredited Suranne Jones, would you recognise her?

Boyfriend. That’s a loaded word now. Clara, 27 years old and looking pretty darned pretty in her twenty-first century cardigan/blouse/short skirt/opaque tights ensemble, is very unsure about continuing her journey without Eleven’s youthful buoyancy. Twelve solemnly tells her, he’s not her boyfriend (but we know whose he is, don’t we?). And then, in an unheralded cameo, we get Matt Smith on the line, moments before Re-generating, basically pleading the Impossible Girl to stay with Twelve and help him.

It’s a bit weepy and manipulative, and it’s the one thing in the whole episode that I found to be a bit dodgy, and a bit of a nervous let-down: did we really need a bit of Eleven just to buttress things? Are we that nervous about the new direction?

On the whole, I think I’m going to enjoy this new incarnation, and I’m certain the series needs to row back a bit on the daffiness of Smith. In the end, though, Deep Breath was a transition episode and we haven’t seen all that much yet of what it’s transitioning into. It took me three weeks befoe concluding that I really did not like the Davies/Eccleston Doctor. We’re on the brink here, but I think the balance will tip the right way.

 

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor – A More Considered Response


I watched the first one, so very long ago. In the living room, at my Gran and Grandad’s, at 53 Chappell Road, Droylsden. I was probably the only one watching, absorbed in a black and white television set showing BBC, and thus tuned to Doctor Who because it followed on from Grandstand and, maybe, The Telegoons.
My parents, my grandparents and uncle were talking as our traditional Saturday afternoon wound down towards that soon-to-come moment when Uncle Arthur would run us back to Openshaw. They may have been talking about what had happened the day before, about the assassination of President Kennedy, or they may have been just talking about what families talk about. I was the only one watching: this was a children’s programme, and the only other child present was my sister, then only sixteen months old and not interested in television.
Fifty years later and everybody’s been waiting for months for the Fiftieth Anniversary special. There’s a funny feeling to watching this, knowing that I am now old enough to, officially, remember something for half a century. To be able to draw a parallel between myself then and myself now.
But that’s my problem, not yours (just wait until you reach that point, that’s all I can say).
Apart from an initial flurry of speculation when John Hurt made that astonishing appearance in the last minute of the last series (and nearly everybody was right in guessing that he was the Doctor who had actually ended the Time War, though there were no other plausible moment in the Who mythology where he could, with any satisfaction, have been accommodated) I’ve deliberately avoided anything that would tip any hands as to what would happen in the special. If there were to be any moments of great dramatic revelation, I wanted them to be dramatically revealed at that moment in the story that Stephen Moffat had conceived, and not in any trailer, forum, newspaper or spoiler.
And I managed to get to the start of The Day of the Doctor as free of pre-conceptions as it was possible to be without having hermetically sealed myself away for the last six months and five days. I knew that David Tennant and Billie Piper (groan) were going to be in it, and Christopher Eccleston wasn’t, but I had avoided everything else with determination.
Except for The Night of the Doctor, which was a game-changer in that opening moment when the Doctor you weren’t expecting appeared, and then the bloody door was blown off and if they’d kept that so hidden, anything was possible.
So I got there with no idea what to expect, unlike the millions of others who knew what they wanted to see, so many of whom, in the watching and the immediate aftermath, seem to have not got their Fiftieth Anniversary. I, on the other hand, can say that it satisfied me. It was, of all improbable things from Moffat, low-key, and personal in its heart. And I think that it was all the better for it.
The mandatory nod to the very beginning was dealt with joyfully: the original (and greatest) theme music, Clara a teacher at the school that grand-daughter Susan attended, Ian Chesterton’s name on the Board of Governors. It was the best kind of Easter Egg, placed in plain sight for all to see and recognise, but without the sense of having missed something for those who saw but did not recognise – like all the others I didn’t notice and which didn’t get in the way.
Moffat built his mystery quickly but carefully. A message from Queen Elizabeth: the First. Paintings that contain a frozen moment of time, the answer shown before the question is asked, just as the two sides of the Smith Doctor’s mobile phone call were shown in reverse order. The time fissures that bring together the Smith Doctor and the Tennant Doctor in Elizabethan times, where we can see the typing up of a loose end from Tennant’s era. The convention that whenever two or more Doctor’s meet, they really don’t approve of each other, but still end up working like a dream.
But this Special is about John Hurt, the unknown Doctor, the interloper who’s inserted into the mythology at precisely the moment where all is obscure: the Time War, Russell T Davies’ great sweeping away of a cluttered past, of Time Lords and Daleks, the addition of the dark element that is so bloody, uniformly, boringly mandatory in everything and everyone, without the slightest thought for individuality. The corruption without which any character in television or film becomes, somehow, unreal and unrealistic.
Sorry to all you Davies fans: I wanted to like Doctor Who when it came back but I lasted three episodes of Eccleston before giving up, and I know an awful lot of you regard this story as just a comprehensive shitting on Davies’ Doctor(s), but what Moffat did was brilliant.
The Hurt Doctor who was introduced in such dark circumstances, the version that could not justify himself with the Name, the Warrior conceived to make War, the man who chose, with deliberation and knowledge, to commit double-genocide, turned out to be a Doctor – a real Doctor. On the day his decision had to be made, on the day when he would activate the Moment – the alien weapon which would do this – the machine’s conscience intervened.
To have her played by Billie Piper, not Rose nor the Bad Wolf, but a simulacrum, a deliberate pre-echo, was a moment of inspiration. I hated Rose, and I loathe Billie Piper, but here she was brilliant, incarnating her role with thought, compassion and gentleness.
If he were to do this, the Hurt Doctor’s punishment is to live. But first, he must see how he will live. So he too is introduced to the Smith and Tennant Doctors, via the Time Fissure, and he is neither raging warrior, destiny-laden nor dark, but a Doctor who can snap and snipe at his successors as much as they do at each other, with the same irreverent humour that has always come with the turf of Doctor Who, and who makes himself real in his successors eyes in a way that they, culpable but removed and wishing to distance themselves, had not before been able to do.
So much so that when the Moment comes, they are prepared to accept, and share the responsibility that they have, in their different ways, sought to avoid. So much done, yet the inevitability of things prevails. Time is Time.
Yet this is to reckon without the Impossible Girl, Clara who has occupied the Doctor’s life, all of it, and who still has the belief in this unusual being to ask if there is not another way?
I’ve screamed at Moffat’s misogyny in the past – it very nearly fucked all over The Naming of the Doctor – but he can here be absolved of much, by putting the resistance to inevitability into the hands of Jenna Coleman and Billie Piper.
And there is another way. A way that preserves the unity of time, the sanctity of these years of New Who, of the Doctors who lived with themselves as ultimate villains. It comes from the Smith Doctor because he’s the current incarnation, but also because he’s the one who’s lived longest and had the most time to think. And through him, Gallifrey is saved, in secret, by removing the planet into a frozen moment of time.
Into a painting.
And in that glorious ending, all the Doctors – ALL of them, each in their TARDISs – come together to have the home they fled at a time that is so long ago that it might as well no longer exist: and because we are so close to another regeneration, there are not just Twelve, there are Thirteen, for a second of time in which we glimpse the Capaldi Doctor’s face.
And it is all reset, and the Hurt Doctor is redeemed, and regenerates into Christopher Eccleston (whose refusal to take part robs us of a moment that should have happened, the preservation of the final unity, his face in the wardrobe of his predecessor, the full regeneration). But there is one final moment for those of us who go back to marvel at.
New Who has often been accused of rejecting Old Who. That can’t be said any longer: this Special alone has built the bridge between the two eras: the unexpected, unimagined Doctor has cemented Old Who in the shape of McGann to New Who in the shape of Eccleston. It has opened a very great door, whilst accelerating the series towards confrontation with a chance bit of lore that seemed meaningless and fay when spoken casually in the past: twelve regenerations, and twelve only: Thirteen Doctors.
And Capaldi makes Thirteen.
But in its final moments, as Smith muses on retiring, and becoming a curator, he is approached by the curator, of this museum of the strange on that silly little planet that the Doctor, in all his faces, has visited so often. The curator is an old man: he is Tom Baker, the oldest survivor of the Thirteen faces. And in his guidance as to what to understand from the painting Gallifrey Falls No More, he is the promise to all of us that Capaldi cannot be the end, that one day the Doctor will retire, and will regenerate into an old, familiar, beloved face and form.
I’m grateful to Moffat for meeting the expectations I never had, for eschewing empty bombast and pomposity, and making this story about redemption, acceptance and the removal of an inhumane burden. As far as I’m concerned, fifty years has been worth it, and in a subtle fashion, the ground has been relaid for fifty more. To those of you who hated this, or were bored with it, or confused, or sneered, or thought that it was conceived in hatred to shit all over Russell T Davies, I’m sorry that you can’t take joy from this.
I, at least, am content.