I loved Doctor Who.
I really loved it.
I loved that I could enter this space where any ordinary person could become something extraordinary, where every person could do something to earn them that look from the Doctor, that radiant grin that said “you brilliant thing, you.” Where white trash housemothers and shop girls and temps and med students and scared boyfriends and time-hopping con men could make themselves matter, not because of who or what they were but because of what they chose to do.
Watching Doctor Who made me feel loved, as a human, as a girl, as a young adult with no direction in life. It reminded me that even though I had the capacity to be ugly and petty and small, I had an equal capacity to be brave and loving and extraordinary.
That’s what Russel T. Davies understood. He understood that people are beautiful and terrible, nasty and kind. The people in Midnight are more horrifying than the Monster, but the abrasive flight attendant sacrifices herself to save everyone. There isn’t even a monster in Miracle Day, just panicked humans doing terrible things to each other.The government officials in Children of Earth is more horrifying than the 456, but Ianto’s family and the people who fight back are filled with love. To borrow a phrase from War on Supernatural, The Doctor and the Monsters are just jello shots at a party. The stories are really about people.
RTD understood people so well that he could make you fall in love with characters in a single line. He killed characters and it mattered and it hurt because they weren’t cardboard cutouts, they were people.
Then we get to Moffat and The Time of the Doctor.
Moffat doesn’t bother to create more than cardboard cutouts. He believes in his own writing so much that he thinks if he tells us enough that we should care about something, we will. He tells Matt Smith to cry over Handles, the cyberman head we’ve known for all of one episode. He tells Jenna-Louise Coleman to tearfully beg the Doctor not to change, as though she’s known him so long and they’ve been through so much together. He introduces a paper family for Clara (complete with Moffat’s oversexed old woman trope) and expects us to care as much as we cared about Jackie or Wilf. Of course there’s the Random Hottie with Implied Sexy Doctor History in Tash, the nun of nakedness for no other reason than a dumb joke. He throws in a relationship between the Doctor and Barnable, not that we know anything about Barnable. He creates a town full of stick figures that the Doctor loves enough to defend for hundreds of years.
And then, assuming that we all care enough because he’s told us to care enough, he slaps on a voiceover and throws in some montages so he can skip all the legwork of making us care. Not once, but like THREE TIMES.
We don’t see people in this episode. We see The Doctor. We see him deciding to fight an unwinnable battle defending those who can’t defend themselves like that’s something new for him. Plot points are tied up and secrets are revealed like Moffat’s going down a checklist.
He sort of fights. Clara sort of helps. Not that Clara has any real personal stake in this of course, because Clara is little more than a cute little wind-up toy to be wheeled in and out when the Doctor pleases.
And then the Time Lords help, I guess, and then leave? And Matt Smith gets an admittedly lovely speech and then regenerates. No people. This episode is all about the Doctor.
Which. Doesn’t. Work.
Let’s review. In Nine’s regen episode, he was surrounded by people who were brave enough to take a stand against the oncoming Daleks and were killed, as well as the cowards in the basement who just wanted their winnings from Sattelite 5. Not to mention Lynda with a Y, who was too sweet to win Big Brother but stayed behind to fight, Mickey Smith and Jackie Tyler, who helped Rose to find her hope again even though they finally had her back, and Rose Tyler, who looked into the heart of the TARDIS to save her doctor. And yes, Nine has his own arc. He decides to be a coward instead of a murderer, because he’s seen what all these humans are capable of and it’s changed him.
In Ten’s regen episode, we see The Doctor return to Wilfred because he’s seen what he becomes without companions and it terrifies him. He’s also afraid he’s going to die and he’s not ready to go. We see a father/daughter pair filled with so much vanity that they almost end the world, Wilfred, who wouldn’t shoot someone during his war and stood by his decision, and Donna, who breaks our hearts because she can never be what she was (and the Doctor needs her so desperately). Ten dies because Wilfred does something silly and human. He rushes in and gets himself stuck, and Ten has to help him, because it’s what he does. But he rages against it, and we see that Ten has a little ugliness in himself, a part that thinks he’s better than these people, until he realizes he isn’t.
Moffat’s episode did the narrative legwork. He crossed his t’s and dotted his i’s, and I said “Oh. Huh.” and felt literally nothing. There was no struggle (yeah, ambiguous stalemates make for THRILLING TV). There was no decision (heck, he only stayed there because his TARDIS came back late). There were no people. There was a cyberman head, a random kid, a nun with a vague past, a companion with no personal stake in anything, and a tritely named town populated by stick people.
I wanted to feel something. I really did. But there was nothing to feel. I watched out of the same feeling of detached obligation that it seemed like Moffat wrote it with. Matt Smith acted his heart out, as he always does, but he can only do so much when he’s surrounded by propped-up crash test dummies.
Because here’s the fundamental fact Moffat doesn’t seem to get. Doctor Who is not about the Doctor. In RTD’s Doctor Who, the Doctor carried the action while the companion carried the emotion, though sometimes they switched. In Moffat’s Who, The Doctor is forced to carry both the action and the emotion, leaving the humans around him to pick up whatever tiny crumbs he leaves behind. Clara gets a line here, random side character gets to push a button here. And the end result is that there’s nothing to care about.
Under RTD, Doctor Who was about “the ordinary person who stumbles into something extraordinary and finds herself their equal.” Under Moffat, it’s about impossible men and impossible girls doing impossible things in an impossible box. The soul has been pushed aside to make room for the puzzle. And I’m getting pretty tired of it.