This’ll be a quick post with not a lot of structure. I’m trying to turn these “Let’s Talk About” pieces into looser articles where I don’t have to have a central point or something.
Anyway this morning it hit me that my experience watching Steven Moffat’s three seasons of Doctor Who has been largely defined by questions. What do I mean by that? Well, when watching a Moffat episode (especially ones he writes himself), my wife and I end up pausing the show every few minutes because we’re asking questions.
“Wait… How does that make sense?”
“If he did this thing now, then how could he do that in the past?” (or some other time-travel related question)
“Does this mean he changed the future?”
“I’m confused. How could that happen?”
Over and over. And I really don’t think being confused should be the core feeling one gets while watching Doctor Who. But it’s not that we’re stupid (in my opinion) or not paying attention. I’d like to think that as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I’m pretty good at keeping up with sci-fi shows. Same thing for my wife. She’s not a writer but she gets hyperfocused when she’s watching something she loves, and Doctor Who definitely falls under that category.
So I think this comes down to Moffat’s fundamental flaw as the showrunner: he tries so damn hard to impress the viewer with how clever he is.
Sometimes it creates “ah-ha” moments, but for the past few episodes–the end of season 7 and this year’s Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” in particular–those moments never came. Instead the episodes were marked by either me or Erin calling out “Pause! So wait, what…?”
The emphasis on plots, timey-wimey twists and turns, and clever surprises can sap an episode of its emotional, character-driven moments. I really enjoyed Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor, but I was more sad to see David Tennant go than I was last night. Instead of feeling sad last night, my mind was occupied with trying to untangle years of plotlines (exploding TARDIS, the Silence, warrior priest soldier people, crack in the wall, etc.) rather than savoring Matt Smith’s final goodbye. (Okay his last couple of lines about changing from moment to moment were real good)
So another chapter of Doctor Who is over and a new one begins. I’m excited to see how Peter Capaldi will play the character. I just hope that I can start watching the show again without having to ask “How does that make sense?” every few minutes.
Side bar: I think having Matt Smith’s last episode be the Christmas episode was a mistake. The show tried to mix normal Christmas-special stuff with Regeneration-stuff plus tying up Moffat’s loose ends. That’s way too much disparate stuff to cram in a single episode.