The Time of the Doctor is an unmitigated mess. An incoherent, continuity-laden, Universal Monsters-style mashup. Underdeveloped characters populate a sparse narrative that acts as a fragile and mediocre framework for massive info dumps. It’s all undercoat and no gloss. A more apt title would be The-Time-of-Explaining-Everything-That’s-Been-Left-Unexplained-Over-The-Last-Four-Years.
The entire enterprise pans out as precisely the kind of continuity-orientated crappily-written, poorly-characterised rubbish that caused Doctor Who to be cancelled in the 1980s. It’s The Trial of a Time Lord meets Attack of the Cybermen with a detour into Time and the Rani. On acid. It also completes the neutering of the Weeping Angels as a threat. Stick mirrors in front of them and all’s well. Reflecting (sorry) that old adage that evil can’t face itself (as with the Mara in Kinda). Makes one wonder if Steven Moffat is able to face himself anymore…
I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. I stole a time machine and ran away, and I’ve been flouting the principle law of my own people ever since!
There’s no denying Moffat’s scope and ambition for Matt Smith’s finale as the Eleventh Doctor. A summation of four years of adventures. A tying up of loose ends. Gathering together plot threads left hanging since The Eleventh Hour in April 2010. A fitting last hurrah whilst establishing the foundations for a new era. Unfortunately it crashes and burns in a rushed apocalyptic fury. There’s a huge sense of Moffat sitting at his computer typing furiously and thinking, “Oh shit, I’ve not explained that bit from The Eleventh Hour, or that bit from The Big Bang, or that bit from The Wedding of River Song”. Viewers are expected to possess fantastic levels of recall relating to all the plot elements that have gone before as Moffat unleashes his mighty convoluted saga.
Hang on tight, here we go…
The prophecy imparted in The Wedding of River Song has come to fruition: “On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely, or fail to answer, a question will be asked – one that must never be answered. And Silence must fall when the question is asked.”
Following Gallifrey’s salvation in The Day of the Doctor the Time Lords are adrift in a pocket universe, seeking a pathway “home” via the inter-dimensional cracks created by the destruction of the Doctor’s TARDIS in Series 5. Through the cracks they transmit a message, the correct answer to which will guide them back to their home universe. The message of “Doctor who?” By identifying himself under his true name the Doctor will effectively resurrect his people. Forces are moving to prevent the Doctor answering. It’s feared that the Time Lords’ return will precipitate a new Time War that will set space and time afire. Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, The Silence, and hundreds of other monstrous races gather at Trenzalore.
Got all that?
Thankfully there’s Wikipedia, iTunes, DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube, and a plethora of social media, to assist the bewildered in catching up.
Where’s River Song? Given her significance to the life of the Eleventh Doctor it’s a reasonable assumption that she’d pop along for her husband’s final days. Instead of Alex Kingston’s adventurous archaeologist as a central female character we’re lumbered with the lacklustre Tasha Lem (Orla Brady). This Mother Superior of the Church of the Papal Mainframe (with eye makeup homaging Pris from Blade Runner) is clearly inspired by Sherlock’s dominatrix version Irene Adler. It’s a wonder that Moffat just didn’t go the whole hog and ask Lara Pulver to play the role. With strong hints that the Doctor and Tasha had been romantically involved in the past, here was another one of Moffat’s failed attempts to introduce sexual tension into the Doctor’s existence. But it simply leaves the unpleasant taste of the Doctor looking like a dirty old man. Again.
And now it’s time for one last bow
Like all your other selves
Eleven’s hour is over now
The clock is striking twelve’s.
Ok, The Time of the Doctor solved the twelve regenerations/thirteen lives conundrum that’s dogged the Doctor since the limit was revealed in 1976’s The Deadly Assassin. However, Moffat himself created the issue artificially early with the confusing introduction of the War Doctor and the Tenth Doctor’s supposedly aborted regeneration from The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End (Russell T Davies, who wrote those scripts, and therefore knows best, didn’t consider this to be a proper regeneration). Moffat probably patted himself on the back and thought, “Oh look, aren’t I wonderful? I’ve solved the problem I caused”.
For such an epic game-changing moment, one redefining the nature of the Doctor, the arrival of the new regeneration cycle was spectacularly underwhelming. Akin to the Time Lords blowing inter-dimensional fairy dust onto Tinkerbell. Plus, if they knew the Doctor was there why didn’t they bring Gallifrey back across the dimensional divide? After all that was the crux of the so-called plot. Also conveniently forgotten in the melee of The Time of the Doctor was a major plot point of David Tennant’s swan song. The End of Time saw Lord President Rassilon planning “The Final Solution”, the implementation of universal genocide and the ascension of the Time Lords into beings of pure thought. Where has the leader of the Time Lords been during the events of the Time War-orientated 2013 specials? Timothy Dalton too expensive to bring back as Rassilon? More likely his presence would have created plot complications that went against the grain of saving billions of Gallifrey’s inhabitants.
Moffat spent an inordinate amount of The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor generally ignoring or rewriting Russell T Davies’ hard work on Doctor Who. The Doctor’s soul-destroying moral burden relating to the Time War eliminated; the Daleks once again an unthreatening joke (as in The Chase, Death to the Daleks and Destiny of the Daleks) after being restored as unstoppable instruments of war, and the intention of the greatest 21st century cliffhanger of a seemingly unannounced regeneration being twisted.
Regeneration is the lifeblood of Doctor Who, an ingenious concept of rebirth and healing used to prolong the series beyond William Hartnell’s failing health. The deployment of the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration energy as a weapon of mass destruction against the Daleks was a fundamental betrayal of the concept of regeneration. Whilst American superhero films such as The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel may feel the need to conclude their narratives with ever-increasing levels of urban destruction there’s no reason for Doctor Who to unleash bangs, flashes and explosions in an attempt to compete. It’s all wrong for a series where the lead character who is fundamentally an intellectual non-violent Victorian explorer in space and time.
Since the arrival of Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman, whose acting consists of variations on the theme of a startled rabbit’s appearance) Moffat’s writing has steadily become sloppier and sloppier and sloppier. He’s obsessed with high concepts bound to the Doctor’s identity, nature and ethos. The Time of the Doctor is the culmination. It’s a more wheezing, groaning and ramshackle mess than the TARDIS will ever be. It’s hideous, horrific and just plain bad. Goodwill, 50th anniversary fervour and previous successes (particularly Blink) carried Moffat through the failings of The Day of the Doctor. But the party’s over. The harsh light of day has dawned.
The first face this face saw. We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.
In tandem with Moffat’s decline comes Smith’s. Here he’s a virtual caricature of his earlier performances. Pirouetting with the sonic screwdriver and delivering grandstanding speeches rather than naturalistic dialogue. It’s as if the Doctor is pretending to be the Doctor, and wildly exaggerating all his mannerisms in the process. Dumping his original tweed “Indiana-Jones-in-the-classroom” professional outfit appears to have cursed his performance. For the majority of his tenure Smith’s been an outstanding Doctor. Defying doubters who bemoaned his casting (remember he was only 26 when he was unveiled as the youngest incarnation so far) he magnificently proved everyone wrong. Smith beguiled everyone with his old man trapped in a young body characterisation. One moment a drunken giraffe in his eccentric clumsiness, the next moment making you believe, truly believe, he was hundreds of years old and carrying the deeds of aeons upon his shoulders.
Smith’s tour de force moment came in The Big Bang with a heartbreakingly melancholic speech to the sleeping Amelia Pond (Caitlin Blackwood). Moffat’s intricate plotting and Smith’s performance were arguably at their height in that moment. The only moment within The Time of the Doctor that came close to recreating such a perfect storm of writing and performance came with Karen Gillan’s unannounced cameo as Amy Pond. The Doctor’s hallucination of Amy as he prepared to regenerate and her “Raggedy man…goodnight” line combined to generate a genuinely tear-jerking moment, driven by the chemistry of the actors and the near-familial connection of the characters.
The Caves of Androzani remains the greatest regeneration adventure. From its opening minutes Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor fights mistaken identity, political machinations and death-by-poisoning to save himself and his companion Peri (Nicola Bryant). Robert Holmes’ dark superlative script paired with Graeme Harper’s innovative direction provided Davison with the forum for his standout performance as the Doctor. Everyone watching knew that it was Davison’s finale, yet there was a hope that this version of their Time Lord friend would live on. The Doctor’s transition from his fifth incarnation into his sixth occurred in an explosive cacophony of sound and colour that eclipses all of the Doctor’s 21st century regenerations. The Time of the Doctor was about scale. The Caves of Androzani was about character. That’s why a now-30 year old story trumps the current flash-bang-wallop mentality.
Such thin gruel as The Time of the Doctor might be forgivable if it weren’t for a massively contentious issue. An issue now impossible to ignore when reviewing Steven Moffat’s current version of Doctor Who. Reinforced here by the character of Tasha Lem. The elephant in the room that’s his all-pervading idiotic misogyny. Generally sexist behaviour; treating females like objects; engineering any opportunity for the Doctor to snog (without permission). Doctor Who doesn’t need this stupidity. As 2013 closed the series was well on the path to becoming an American-style puerile sex comedy – where giggling occurs every time naughty bits are seen in shadow.
The credo of the Doctor is that he’s “never cruel nor cowardly”. Let’s make that “never cruel nor cowardly nor disrespectful”. And in what brain-addled moment was born the concept of the Doctor and Clara being naked with only those attuned to holographic clothing seeing them covered up? A childish, facile and unwelcome spin on The Emperor’s New Clothes. This sexualised nonsense needs to be purged. Immediately.
Stay calm! Just one question: Do you happen to know how to fly this thing?
Doctor Who is arguably the most popular it’s ever been, but there’s no shaking the ever-increasing justifiable criticism. Massive international profile, high overseas sales and profitable merchandise revenue can’t compensate for accusations of misogyny, poor script quality and lacklustre performances. And how many producers/executive producers has Moffat worked his way through in comparison to Russell T Davies?
Vague rumours have emerged of clashes between the show runner and his new leading man over script quality. Peter Capaldi certainly seemed ill at ease with the inane kidney colour line. On the plus side there are rumblings that the Twelfth Doctor will have a serious darker edge with stories harkening back to the gothic horror of the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes years of Seasons 12-14. Let’s hope 2014 will bring genuine scares, chills and horror back into the universe of Doctor Who.
Apparently when Tom Baker considered scripts to be poor he reportedly labelled them as “whippet shit”, hurled them across the rehearsal room and generally terrified everyone. For Series 8 the writers need to rebel against being asked to include detrimental material and the lead actors need to take the same attitude. If necessary at readthroughs Capaldi should waggle scripts and go, “Er, Steven…What is this convoluted, overblown, sexist rubbish?”
Suddenly Series 8 feels like a make-or-break time for Doctor Who.