The “Doctor Who” I fell in love with was a wild, joyous romp through time and space. It was about an average Joe or plain Jane, stuck in a humdrum life, who runs away with a mad man in a blue box; and along the way, they find their own self-greatness. Moreover, that was one of “Doctor Who’s” greatest appeals: unapologetic escapism and hope. The character of Rose Tyler—one of The Doctor’s most beloved companions—said it best in “The Day of the Doctor”: “You know the sound the TARDIS makes? That wheezing, groaning. That sound brings hope, wherever it goes.” Well, not anymore, Rose. Now it brings darkness and death.
“Doctor Who” has been a British institution since its conception in the mid 60’s. Originally a kids’ show, clever writing and brilliant, sci-fi storylines helped it transcend into the mainstream culture. Sure, the production values and special effects were Ed-Wood-ish; nonetheless, fans were willing to suspend their disbelief because they loved this wondrous show that opened their minds and brought them such joy.
After a fifteen-year hiatus, and a mediocre TV movie, it took a wonderfully mad Welshman named Russell T Davies (“Queer as Folk”) to bring the show into the digital age. The year was 2005 and “Doctor Who” was back with a vengeance. Gone were the cheap, cardboard sets and low-res videotape. The new, action-packed “Doctor Who” was now an hour long and shot on film, like a proper television series. It had a slick, new look with first-rate CGI effects and a fresh, young cast.
The Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, looked like no other Doctor before him. He wore a leather jacket, spoke with a Northern accent and looked like he had just stepped out of “EastEnders.” The one thing that didn’t change was the brilliant storytelling and sense of adventure. Davies’ “Doctor Who” was witty and sometimes naughty, with lovable companions and their hilariously eccentric families. The underrated and underappreciated Eccleston left the show after only one year, making room for my favorite Doctor, David Tennant.
Tennant quickly made the part his own, infusing the Tenth Doctor with his own depth and charisma. I think that the Tennant years were the very best. But all good things must come to an end. After creating the popular “Doctor Who” spin-offs, “Torchwood” and “The Sarah Jane Adventures,” Davies moved on to other endeavors when Series 4 came to an end. Tennant was out of there too.
Enter Steven Moffat, a delightful Scotsman with great wit and imagination. He’d written some of the show’s best episodes, like “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” and “Blink,” thus Moffat was the perfect choice for the showrunner/executive producer of Series 5. He cast the effervescent Matt Smith as The Eleventh Doctor and the show became more popular than ever worldwide. Moffat’s droll writing and Smith’s pitch-perfect timing made them a superb team. Smith’s Doctor was absentminded and brash, yet he could be boyishly vulnerable with just one look. Add to that the Ponds, Amelia and Rory, and “Doctor Who” was in high gear again. Then darkness hit after the Doctor lost the Ponds forever.
Along came Clara, the impossible girl, born to save the doctor. Actress Jenna Coleman was absolutely adorable as Clara, and she had great chemistry with Matt Smith. Although the shows became increasingly darker and unimaginative—not to mention, the science facts became more fallacious than ever—Matt Smith was charmingly adept enough to make it all work. Unfortunately, after five wonderful years as The Doctor, it was time for Smith to move on as well.
Enter the prolific character actor Peter Capaldi as the Twelve (or is it Thirteenth?) Doctor. Capaldi is a mature throwback to some of the classic Doctors. He was the perfect choice to portray a character he grew up with and always wanted to play. Capaldi was quite promising as The Doctor in the Series 8 premiere, “Deep Breath.” His comedy timing was impeccable, his eyebrows were intense, and his Scottish accent was irresistible. Then something went terribly wrong—and I’m not talking about the bad magician costume.
Capaldi and Jenna Coleman had a weird, awkward chemistry that got progressively worse instead of better. As written, Clara wasn’t the wide-eyed human (us) escaping her boring life to have adventures with the doctor. It was almost as if she didn’t want to be there. Like it was her duty to keep the old man company out of compassion. Perhaps, with the great success of his other show “Sherlock,” Moffat may have been sharing the same feelings as Clara…And it showed in the hack writing. The scripts just kept getting more and more unimaginative and uninspired. They just didn’t know what to do with these characters. Diehard Whovians like me kept hoping that Series 8 would get better with time. Alas, the two-part finale crushed all our hopes. Which brings us to this question:
What the hell was that Series 8 finale about?! I had to watch the Series 4 finale (“The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End”) on Netflix right afterwards just to cleanse my palate. The finale episodes of Series 8, “Dark Water/Death In Heaven,” should be renamed “Doctor Who Meets The Walking Dead.” The best way to describe it is, it was like a nightmare you have after eating too much Mexican food. In a desperate attempt to reinvent the show, Moffat has decided to go as dark as they will allow him to go. He is hell-bent on taking the show in a direction it has never gone before, just for the sake of taking the show in a direction it has never gone before. There is nothing wrong with the show being dark; however, this was contrived darkness just for effect.
The greatest sin of the finale, and there were many, was when Moffat unceremoniously killed Osgood (Kate Stewart’s assistant), a.k.a. Scarf Girl. Why??? The only reason I could think of for killing a fan-favorite character in such a meaningless death is due to convenience: he was too lazy to think of a clever way to get her off that crashing plane.
The lugubrious way that Series 8 ended makes me ponder this. What are they going to do for the Christmas Special—behead Santa Claus just for a cheap effect?
In conclusion, I can only think of one way to fix the show. Clara is clearly not going to make it through the Christmas episode, so that problem will take care of itself. Capaldi could be brilliant with better writing, so he’s not the problem. That leaves Steven Moffat. He is clearly bored with the show. Instead of keeping himself amused by clumsily deconstructing a TV classic, he should just leave. Hey, he had a great run. Well done, mate! We wish you luck.