The Doctor Falls No More
This short text is partially a response to recently befallen YouTube video called “The Fall of Doctor Who”, which details how the latest couple of Doctor Who series apparently is destroying the show through what seems to me to be business as usual. The title, like presumably the video’s title, is a weak pun on the title of the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who.
Edit (clarification): It astonishes me that people have read parts of this answer as Nazi apologism. I’m basically saying that the Nazis were more insidious and subtle than you think, and people read it as me saying that the Nazis were more benevolent than you think. FWIW, I’m personally disgusted by the Nazi ideology and culture, and have been deeply committed to opposing them since my early youth over 40 years ago.
It’s also worth noting that a significant amount of the show’s appeal lies in its remarkable ability to veer between being a genuine masterpiece of British television to being some of the most ridiculous buffoonery ever put onto BBC airwaves — oftentimes within the same episode.
Doctor Who is a comedy-horror-fantasy-drama-educational television show that has been going on from 1963 to date, with some intervals when only independent productions happened. It features a thousands-year-old humanoid alien, the Doctor, who uses a time ship disguised as a British Police Call Box to visit worlds all over the universe during any time period. With his knowledge, tools, and time ship, the Doctor is very powerful, and this power often twists and tangles the plotlines.
The show has never had a budget to fit its story theme: non-terrestrial planets are typically quarries filmed in suitable light, and at least one monster was an extra dressed in painted bubble wrap. Its main character has fourteen distinct personalities, each within its own era, and the main cast numbers in the thousands (almost). It’s plots are condensed, its continuity collapsed into a neutron star, and in the end there is nothing the Doctor can’t do, except in those instances when there is nothing the Doctor can do.
This is an example of the show in all its melodramatic glory.
Doctor Who writing is based in 1960s science fiction, which means that it has things like (off the top of my head): sapient robots, aliens in rubber suits, aliens in hoods, ambiguously human aliens, <colour> skinned space babes/dudes, devoted plucky girl companions, memory resets, Nazis in space, plural apocalypses, exceptions from scientific reality, belligerent sexual tension (mostly in New Who), miraculous gadgets, transcendental dimensionality, bizarre biology, eldritch horrors (which are aliens), and most of the other things too.
The show has been accused of being Woke lately. Arguably “wokeness” is the point of the show from the beginning. The Doctor has been e.g. a vegetarian and pacifist (adherence depends on the writer) in the past, and the conflict in an episode very often derives from injustice or inequality. The concept of equality extended to “we are all the same” pervades the show. Remember, though, that the Doctor is a Time Lord. Time Lords are, canonically, peaceful non-interventionists and genocidal maniacs. The main difference is that the Doctor can’t bear to not intervene. Killing, however, is something he can find frighteningly easy to do, and the maniac is always close under the surface.
Now, the video. I’m responding to it via a brief outline of the points it makes (the original video is over five hours long). The bolded phrases are points the video makes against series 11 and 12 to show that those two series go against what Doctor Who stands for and are inferior to the material in earlier series. My counterpoint is that they are instead characteristic of Doctor Who as a whole. I will use examples mostly from Blink (3.10), an episode which is usually pointed to as an example of good Doctor Who writing.
Logic — consistency: the Angels are blindingly fast, except when one is approaching Larry and he looks away twice. The Angels (in the first iteration) displace a victim in time and consume time energy from the victim’s lost potential life. However, the victim goes on living, just in another era, so there is no actual energy to consume.
Consistency in the Doctor’s timeline… isn’t something that the writers ever have worried much about before. No example from Blink, though.
(Dyspraxia doesn’t work the way you think: I have dyspraxia. I’ve also practiced shooting as a hobby, and was a marksman in the military.)
The Doctor being (seemingly) heartless: letting Billy Shipton go back to 2007 one second per second instead of leaving the documentation in the house and bringing Billy back, oh, and just for the sake of sending Sally a four-word message he burdens Billy with knowing when he will die. We know why he does this, but from Billy’s POV the Doctor is making jokes about chickens while his life falls apart.
We don’t know much about the other characters: we know next to nothing about Kathy, Larry, Malcolm, Ben, Banto; a little more about Billy, at the end; slightly more about Sally.
Plot contrivances, lack of characterisation and no consistency: welcome to Doctor Who, Plot Contrivances Я Us. There is so much to establish in a regular episode of DW that there is no room for a normal plot development. You will find plot contrivances in every episode. Same thing with characterisation: episodes generally have many characters, and most of them are paper cut-outs. Consistency within an episode is nice, and occasionally we get it.
An Indian man and Nazis: (this example can’t be transplanted from the episode Spyfall.) while the Nazis weren’t always consistent with their race ideas, they weren’t simply White Supremacists either. One formation within the Waffen-SS was the “Indian Legion”, consisting of mostly Indian servicemen who had been taken as POWs. There has been some outrage over this episode: it would seem that Chris Chibnall overestimated the audience’s education here.
To me, it seems that the material in this video has been compiled by someone who hasn’t had very much experience with Doctor Who, and who doesn’t understand what makes the show work. It also seems that there is some inspiration from the extreme right-wing influencers, like the misguided “Indian man and Nazis” point, and the misogyny that is implied in singling out the series that have had a female actor playing the Doctor.
The show can manage without the “criticism” in this video. If, on the other hand, the ideas in the video were allowed to infect the writing in the future, Doctor Who will be impossible to produce. At best, the video wants Doctor Who to be more like those shows that fizzle out after no more than four or five years. At worst, the video strives to make the show more fascist, and that would be a shame.
Bonus: are the Moffatlings ok?
I have left all online Doctor Who communities now, but this was just too funny to leave uncommented:
There is a theme, or themes? All the rest of us could see was a big mess where Moffat tried to stuff in as many references he could, in, out of, and contrary to canon. Where Gallifrey, which was good and lost, then regained in the 50th anniversary, and the finding of which became a joyous future quest for the Doctor, is now found. But it’s the cray-cray variant of Gallifrey, with Rassilon made into a clown, and there is a “live”-action Pacman game with the ghosts of Time Lords as… ghosts. And the Doctor picks up a gun and shoots someone just like that. Nice.
Ok, Donna, maybe. Not Davies’ best moment. Who else? Anyone?
Oh, like Amy… who becomes utterly special by growing up in a room with a mysterious crack in the wall. Or Clara, who is the Impossible Girl, who has shared the Doctor’s life in short moments ever since he was leaving Gallifrey. Bill didn’t really have anything that made her special from the start, granted. But all of these women became important and made a difference… by fiat. Every time Amy, Clara, or Bill became desperately important, it had nothing to do with what they were good at or what they did: they become important because they stood beside the Doctor. This is of course not a radical departure from the rest of DW, but it is very nearly the opposite of what it is being lauded for.
Yes, Chibnall has walked that message back by having companions who aren’t born with inherited advantages, but choose a path in life and become important because of what they do.
The level of doublethink you seem to have to engage in to worship Moffat!
Throughout all of it, Moffat was a good writer and a mostly ok showrunner who doesn’t really deserve to be besmirched with these heavy-handed and misguided attempts to elevate him. He told the story of the Doctor as a very special hero and of the lives that were enchanted by his presence. It was nice, a while, but the excessive saccharine and most especially the contortions he went into to eat it and still have it became very tiresome in the end, and Chibnall’s tenure was a much-needed relief from it.