Fixing Doctor Who - Season Five Edition

Fixing Doctor Who – Season Five Edition

Let’s make this past season make sense, shall we?

UPDATE: The comments section is now open.  Sorry for inconvenience.  Overthink away, Overthinkers!

[ATTENTION AMERICANS: This article covers all of season five of Doctor Who.  That means there be SPOILERSCome back in two weeks and read this after you see “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang.”  We’ll leave the comment thread open so you can praise/complain about Moffat as you see fit.]

“Nobody does themes. It’s a lie. Who have your heard say ‘I’ve thought of a good theme?’ They happen accidentally. You repeat yourself once too often and so it becomes a theme. We tell stories – that’s what people talk about, not themes.”
Steven Moffat

Yeah, yeah, I know.  Themes suck.  If you want to send I message, write a pamphlet, or send a telegram.  I know.  I know.

Except I love themes.  I was an English major.  I write for  My list of favorite books include 1984 and The Grapes of Wrath.  Give me an allegory or a good, obvious satire and let me sink my teeth into that baby.  Mmm.  Anvilicious!

Many modern folk disagree.  Why should art have themes?  In this postmodern age, all art is considered equal.  Who’s to say that The Wire, with its well-developed, honest themes, is any better than Transformers, which features Megan Fox in short-shorts?  No one, that’s who.  The Wire and Transformers are both diverting entertainments, so they must be equal.

I used to agree with this critical relativism.  Nowadays, I’m a snob.  My snobbery comes down to this belief: All things being equal, a work of art that speaks to the way real human beings live—or, even better, a work of art that changes the way someone lives—is always better than a work of art that simply entertains. In other words, art with coherent, human themes is better than art without such themes.

Feel free to disagree with me.  You’re wrong, of course.  Look, I love Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade as much as any of you, but it’s no IkiruIkiru, in a little way, changed my life.  Indiana Jones?  Did not.  Breaking Bad is objectively better than Burn Notice.  You guys know how much I love Burn Notice.  Even if every episode of Burn Notice had Michael Westen blowing up a floor safe with a toaster, Breaking Bad would still be better.  Objectively.

So.  Back to Doctor Who.

Say what you will about Russell T. Davies.  Mention what he did to Donna in the end.  Bring up “Love & Monsters.”  (Actually, don’t.  I love “Love & Monsters.”)  Talk about “angst,” or the “wangst,” or, yes, “emo-ness.”  Bring up the farting aliens, if you must.

But, dear lord, the man knew how to do some themes.  Each of his seasons had clear thematic, plot, and character arcs.  They were about something.  And that shit moved me.  It really did.

Series five?  It was okay.  I like Matt Smith, especially when he’s in the shower.  I laughed at “The Lodger.”  “Vincent & the Doctor,” for all of its mawkishness and manipulation, made me mist up in the eyeballs.  Also, I like Matt Smith in the shower.

But overall, this season was missing something, and that something was thematic coherence.  Notice what I didn’t say.  I didn’t say series five lacked themes.  As Moffat himself admitted in the quotation at the top of this page, themes come out in literature whether the writer puts them there consciously or not.  If Moffat was being honest when he spouted that quotation, then he went out of his way not to include themes in this season of Doctor Who.  That’s a problem.  It seems to me, that, by not focusing on themes, he accidentally wrote something thematically incoherent and, to be honest, a little bit sexist.

Let me break down the season, episode-by-episode, so you see what I mean.

The Thematic Incoherence of Doctor Who’s Season Five

Even though Moffat is apparently anti-theme, you can see certain themes being brought up in this season, only to be tossed aside, only to be picked up yet again, only to be tossed aside once more.  Even io9’s Charlie Jane Anders, who loved this season of Who, admitted that the supposedly anti-theme Moffat compulsively harps on the same themes (and plot points, and character types) over and over again.  To wit:

  • “The Eleventh Hour” (Moffat): Childhood vs. Adulthood; Identity & Disguise; Orphaned Children
  • “The Beast Below” (Moffat): Memory & Forgetting; Orphaned Children (and Starwhales); Stasis vs. Change
  • “Victory of the Daleks” (Gatiss): Can Robots Love?; Identity & Disguise; How Far Do We Go to Win?; Memory & Forgetting
  • “The Time of the Angels”/”Flesh & Stone” (Moffat): Identity & Disguise; Memory & Forgetting; Images/Stories Becoming Real
  • “The Vampires of Venice” (Whithouse): Identity & Disguise; Orphaned Children; Adulthood vs. Childhood; Women Are Shrews Who Need to Get Married/Men Are Noble But Weak
  • “Amy’s Choice” (Nye): Adulthood (and Old Age) vs. Childhood; Women Are Shrews Who Need to Get Married/Men Are Noble But Weak; Memory
  • “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” (Chibnall): Women Are Shrews/Men Are Noble But Weak; The Roots of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict; Guns Are Bad
  • “Vincent & the Doctor” (Curtis): Happy Endings Are Good Even If They Aren’t Realistic; The Real Becoming Images/Stories
  • “The Lodger” (Roberts): Identity & Disguise; Change vs. Stasis
  • “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang” (Moffat): Memory & Forgetting; Can Robots Love?; Images/Stories Becoming Real and vice-versa

Okay, so in this season we have at least eight repeated themes:

  • Can Robots Love? (x 2)
  • Childhood vs. Adulthood (x 3)
  • Identity & Disguise (x 5)
  • Images/Stories Becoming Real (x 3)
  • Memory & Forgetting (x 5)
  • Orphaned Children (x 3)
  • Stasis vs. Change (x 2)
  • Women Are Shrews Who Need to Marry Noble But Weak Men (x 3)

Some of these themes are related: “Childhood vs. Adulthood” and “Stasis vs. Change” are similar enough, and “Images Becoming Real” and “Identity” could work nicely together.  Others seem to have nothing to do with one another.  Does the big theme of “Memory and Forgetting” have anything to with the big theme of “Women Are Shrews Who Need to Get Married”?  Does the theme of “Orphaned Children” really have anything to do with the issue of robot love?

My problem isn’t only that there were too many themes but also that these themes were completely separate from the emotional arcs of the main characters.  Consider the theme of “Identity & Disguise.”  Great!  I love that theme.  It seems Moffat and co. love that one, too, because about half the episodes this season made use of perception filters, shapeshifters, or robots disguised as humans.  Good.  Identity & Disguise.  I like it.

But, uh, what does it have to do with the Eleventh Doctor?  Sure, he regenerated—you can say his new body is a “disguise”—but Eleven never mentions his regeneration after the season premiere.  His identity doesn’t change much over the course of the season; the Doctor in “The Eleventh Hour” is basically the same Doctor we see in “The Big Bang.”  And it’s not like the Doctor seems to have any problem with his identity that he needs to get over.  The only time he mentions his identity is when he’s bragging about himself.  That’s not really what you would call a “character arc.”  I don’t get it.  What’s the point of having this theme of “Identity & Disguise” if the Doctor doesn’t actually have an identity crisis?

Same goes for the big theme of  “Memory & Forgetting.”  What does this theme have to do with the Doctor?  Has he forgotten something?  No, not as far as I could tell.  Is he repressing or actively remembering his past?  Only in “Amy’s Choice,” and then that character beat is dropped, never to be seen again.  As for Amy… well, she certainly forgot a lot, but although her forgetting affected the plot of the season, it didn’t seem to affect her character in any meaningful way.  The Amy who forgot her parents and the Amy who remembered her parents were exactly the same person with the same one-note personality.  Likewise, the Amy who forgot the Doctor and the Amy who ultimately remembered the Doctor were the same, personality-wise.  Again, what’s the point of having themes if they don’t have a real effect on the development of the main characters?

Although who needs character development when you can just wear really short skirts?

I’m not the only one having trouble untangling season five’s themes.  OTI fan Josh wrote, “there’s definitely some sort of commentary being made about the fairy tale genre… In the last episode we got Sleeping Beauty and literally a knight in shining armor.  [Amy] grows much less than the other Companions and her narrative isn’t at all about her association with the Doctor bringing out her inner undiscovered strengths and capabilities or balancing him in any way… She only seems to love Rory when he demonstrates totally self-abnegating sacrifice on her behalf, and loves the Doctor because…well, because he’s a rockstar with a magic wand?  Maybe Moffat is saying something interesting about this and not just being a clod?”  And finally: “Please make sense of all this.  It’s a mess.”

I can’t make sense of it.  It IS a mess.  I’ve seen a few articles recently about how season five is all about fairy tales, but that’s clearly not true.  If you look at my above episode breakdown, you’ll see that only four of the thirteen episodes made references to fairy tales or storytelling.  Even in the season finale, it’s unclear what, exactly, Moffat has to say about fairy tales, except that we like them and it’s good to remember them.  As nice as that theme is, I’m not sure it illuminated anything interesting about any of the show’s characters, or if it meshes well with the other seven themes listed above.  (Also, what’s the point of feeding that moral to Doctor Who’s audience?  If we didn’t already appreciate children’s stories, would we be watching this show in the first place?)

Look: I agree with Moffat to a certain extent.  If you’re a writer, you don’t absolutely have to map out them themes before you start writing.  (Although the guys who wrote The Wire did, and look how that turned out.)  As Moffat himself said, themes will out, naturally—but you can’t just have a dozen writers write a bunch of semi-related stories and call it a day.  Not if you want a coherent season of television.  Not if you want Shana Mlawski as a fan.

No, at some point in the editing process, you need read over your work, say, “Oh, apparently I’m interested in these themes today,” and then rewrite the whole season so those themes actually affect and reflect the emotional stories of the main characters.  In short, if you want to have a theme about what the word “identity” means, then your main characters actually have to go through an identity crisis.  It’s kind of like writing 101.  It seems to me that Moffat didn’t take this extra step, which is why series five seems like a first draft to me.  For a first draft, it’s pretty good, but I don’t watch TV to watch first drafts.  We’re living in a post-Sopranos world, people.  I want art!

Luckily, I’m here to help.  Enough complaining and deconstructing.  Let’s  rewrite this season.  Read on, Macduff!

24 Comments on “Fixing Doctor Who – Season Five Edition”

  1. Timothy J Swann #

    (So everyone can read it):
    Wow, what an endeavour – you ought to send it in to the BBC, get yourself a job over here just kind of poking Moffat to get him on the straight and narrow. (Not sure why the comments are closed on this one) Also, if you find the time, do see if it’s possible to find his show Jekyll, which I think holds themes together a fair deal better. Was going to counterpoint that I liked Amy’s Choice as foreshadowing, but then you hit me with the Valeyard (whom I’d been insisting was in the Pandorica – at least so much as it would be the Doctor himself). Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard for your Cold Earth rewrite that Moffat intends to have a purely Tardis-based episode next season. I only wish I had some Overthinking to offer, except to say a) wow and b) I knew the themes of the novel far before I’d made sense of the plot, and I had to make the plot fit those themes, which slowed me down often, but hopefully it was worth it, by which I mean, there must be writers out there who intentionalise themes and make them work and happen, right?


  2. Count Spatula #

    Brilliant! I especially like your moving the Lodger nearer the beginning and introducing the Valeyard. I was convinced that guy was some old school baddie, but nope he was just a hallucination. Damn.

    If I was writing it I’d have had the little girl as the companion, with the main theme of Children vs. Adulthood. Never Grow Up would be the point of the series. Amelia was interesting and funny and she complimented the Doctor brilliantly in the fish custard scene, and “Never Grow Up” is a great theme for Doctor Who, especially with all the “The Doctor’s seen too much suffering” thing going on. Also it would have been different: the little girl and the ancient Lord of Time. The Doctor would have shown her how the Universe can be more terrible and more incredible than she could ever imagine, and she would have shown him how to be a child again. I might write up a list of how I’d change each episode a bit later on, but for now this is just the jist of my season.

    I’d have made it so the stories Amelia told people weren’t dreams she had waiting for the Doctor to come back, they all happened that night but nobody believed her because how could anything like that be real? And at the end the Doctor leaves her back at her house the same night they left, forgets something or makes a promise to see her again or whatever, and then turns up years later on her wedding day and older Amy gets to be his companion for season 6, like a brand new Amy Pond. The Amy we got for real didn’t have a personality I felt jumped from the screen and shouted “This is who I am! These are my quirks and nuances! This how I make a difference to the Doctor!” But I loved little Amelia from the get-go.

    And at the wedding when the Doctor turns up, a huge smile lights up her face, or she raises an eyebrow or something and turns around to everyone and goes, “Here he is, my Raggedy Doctor, only [however many] years later!” I’d have loved that scene to happen to me when I was a kid – I’d love it now. When I was little, I was always annoyed by that adult cynicism that those amazing people on TV were “just fictional characters”. So I think the wedding scene fits in with my idea of “Never Grow Up”. The last big triumph: “See, I told you my imaginary friend was real!”


  3. Rob #

    Nice. Very Nice. I think you have an excellent series there and have picked on why series five – whilst enjoyable when being watched – felt a little flat as a whole.

    To play devil’s advocate, however, I think there are two points to be made

    Firstly, the story from the last series isn’t over yet. It will probably be put on hiatus for the Christmas special – Christmas Day stuffed with turkey and wine is not the best time for intricate science fiction plotting – but the final episode implied that some of the open questions, most notably who was piloting the Tardis and controlling the alliance, will be answered. Here, then, I think Moffatt has extended the season-long plot arcs of the RTD era and replaced them with an even longer-term story. Some of the episodes which at the moment seem rather throwaway and unconnected might yet be retrofitted into a bigger arc. Your arc, whilst excellent, wraps the whole series into itself (character development excluded).

    Secondly, too, its easy at the end of a series to look back and wish for a complete narrative. But that’s not the way that episodic television is told. Each episode is a stand alone narrative and there’s no harm in having episodes which don’t, in retrospect, fit. One of my bugbears with a lot of sci-fi/fantasy series is that they begin with a rough premise and plot arcs which allow for stand alone episodes early/mid-season. By their latter series, they’ve created such complex set-ups that every episode is a ‘we must save the world and defeat the big bad’ story, which means they often loose the aspects that made them fun (Tru Blood seems to be going this way).

    So an interesting re-write, but I wonder if what you’ve actually produced is a film/three part-television special rather than an episodic series.

    PS Actually then – wouldn’t this storyline have worked brilliantly for the David Tennant 2009 specials?


  4. vegie #

    I’m with Rob to me this season felt more like a first act, the beginning of a larger story. There is no real enemy or at least no confrontation with one. The season rather revolves around a disaster that the doctor has to fix that may or may not have been caused by a mysterious foe.
    The first time I watched the final I thought rivers last line about everything changing was a bit wanky, but the second time around it occurred to me that large changes in the next season would give the fifth season allot more purpose. From that angle It looks to me like setup of charters specifically the doctor and river to provide starting points for the next seasons arc’s or ending points in rivers case as well as possible future villains and the beginnings of future themes .
    This season had a lot of left overs from the RTD seasons and I think after the end of the tenth doctor moffat needed to recreate the baseline to start a story where everything changes from.


  5. Brimstone #

    i thought i liked the last season, but i was wrong

    you’re a genius


  6. Nexxus9 #

    Finally watched the rest of the season last night so I could read this. Good stuff. I like a lot of your ideas… especially bringing back the Valeyard.

    I think you missed a recurring theme, though. The Doctor being “dangerous”. The big reveal with the Pandorica being the obvious example, but there were other instances. Rory outright states it in the Vampires of Venice, but in many episodes the Doctor is a catalyst for bad things happening. It wasn’t mentioned after Rory disappeared. I feel like the Valeyard would have fit in well with such a theme.


  7. Hana S-Smith #

    I agree with you on a lot of points here (especially the relative worth of creativity, but that wasn’t the main objective admittedly) however I’m inclined to state the obvious a little here.
    Not to be too on-the-nose but surely the key theme tying together this season (and every season) of Doctor Who is, well, time? Your past catches up to you (River Song, The Pandorica, The Doctor, Amy), Memories are our link to the past (Amy, River, Rory, The Doctor…) The future is a formidable thing (The Lodger, Van Gogh, The terrible Silurian bit). I know it’s the central device, but I keep feeling like every other theme ties centrally and derives centrally from that point. What happens when we look at Time a bunch of different ways? Moffat loves messing around with time.

    Also, just a nit-pick, but the whole ‘can robots feel love?’ theme doesn’t really exist. Ostensibly that was what was happening in the episode but that doesn’t make it the theme. It came up again with the whole Roryisanautomaton thing. It’s just identity/memories again. Both are replicate of a real person, who has memories of that person that define their identity. As soon as you start denying their personhood/identity they are dangerous. Memories are the connection to a human past and to a human life. I’d argue that theme doesn’t exist at all. Although I agree it is completely unnecessary.

    I personally like this season’s arc extending beyond a season, it doesn’t make it feel so… capsuled. There’s plenty of time to make the themes tie together.

    Either way, it’s definately a fun take on the series (done in 2 hours?!) that I would have rather watched, but I don’t mind it as it stands.


  8. toasterhedgehog #

    Here, I fixed the basis for your thesis so it more accurately reflects the TV show we both watched:

    “The Eleventh Hour” (Moffat): We are our connections to other people.
    • “The Beast Below” (Moffat): ignorance is consent; Moral courage vs status quo
    • “Victory of the Daleks” (Gatiss): You are your connections with other people. (I’ll elaborate, the Daleks are defined by their relationship to the Doctor, as the Doctor is defined by them, Amy is defined by her relationship to the Doctor and in absentee Rory, and Paisley is defined as a man by his love. Choosing to be a man in his mind makes it so, and saves the world.) who you want to be effects who you are.
    • “The Time of the Angels”/”Flesh & Stone” (Moffat): faith vs. reality; the limits of trust; and secrets
    • “The Vampires of Venice” (Whithouse): Genocide; how far do you go to survive; sacrifice for those you love; Fantasy Vs. Reality (that means Doctor Vs. Rory)
    • “Amy’s Choice” (Nye): Fantasy Vs. Reality (Doctor Vs. Rory), You are your connections to other people, aging, What will you do to stay youthful (The doctor carts around young humans to keep from feeling old?) self deception, childishness vs. maturity
    • “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” (Chibnall): Violence begets violence; We are our connections to other people.
    • “Vincent & the Doctor” (Curtis): The relationship between madness and genius; We are our connections with other people. (Vincent realized how he affected people, and was changed by that knowledge)
    • “The Lodger” (Roberts): stasis vs. progress; how low self esteem effects our relationships and lives; the power of love (I know, blech); who you want to be effects who you are
    • “The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang” (Moffat): We are our connections with other people (literally); who you want to be effects who you are; the power of love (blech)

    The sexual politics you brought in as themes have nothing to do with the actual story as presented, and are more about your baggage than what actually happened. You shouldn’t run around accusing people of sexism without cause. It’s no better than calling everyone a racist or a homo-phobe, and is fairly insulting to any moderately evolved person.


  9. josh #

    See? You DID make sense of it! I knew that would happen.


  10. life 'n things #

    This was a nice reworking of a season that felt hastily cobbled together. I for one would have liked to see 11’s Raggedy Doctor identity more firmly established before Matt Smith threw it off so vocally.
    The theory that Moffat plans to tie together this season’s themes sometime next year is a bit ridiculous; this is television where the next season is never a given thing. And while every episode doesn’t need to tie directly into the overarching season theme, there at least needs to be a point at the end of the season where the obvious loose ends are tied together.


  11. mlawski OTI Staff #

    @toasterhedgehog: I’ve been thinking about how to respond to you for a while, and I think I’m just going to quote Roger Ebert:

    “[Steven] Boone’s review [of Inception] fits my definition of usefulness. It doesn’t matter whether I agree with him. He helps me see things … There’s a human tendency to resent anyone who disagrees with our pleasures. The less mature interpret that as a personal attack on themselves. They’re looking for support and vindication.”

    I am not calling you immature, don’t get me wrong. But please know that I did not mean this article to be an attack on any fans of the past season, and I hope in the future you will avoid attacking others by saying they have “baggage” and lack “evolution.” We’re just talking about Doctor Who here. No need to bring out the ad hominem attacks. We can disagree and still consider each other intellectual equals, right?

    Just to be clear, I do not believe that Doctor Who is sexist in general. In fact, you folks can read my ode to earlier seasons’ progessive gender dynamics here.


  12. Dr. Bob #

    Ok, short and sweet. If you look at the series finales since the beginning of the NEW Dr. Who they have been one upping each season, more at stake, more to lose, bigger solution. I was wondering how the writers were going to one up towing the Earth back how through hyperspace. Well they did with the Big Bang 2.0.

    They have jumped the shark I am afraid. Where do you go after you reboot the universe and no one notices. They would have done better to go with the “I stole the Tardis” theme, and had the current Doctor Reboot and become the First Doctor. Time Lords are alive. Whats a Dalek? Cyber-who? I don’t like what they did.


  13. toasterhedgehog #

    I apologize for attacking you. I should have chosen my words more carefully.

    I would like to clarify, if I had read that a work of mine’s theme was ‘women are shrews’ I would feel as if I had been called sexist. By ‘evolved’ I meant that any ‘evolved’ person would be offended by being called sexist.

    Rereading my post, I can see how I might have seemed angry. I was just writing quickly, and I was a bit excited.

    I enjoyed reading this post, and your blog.



  14. oldskool138 #

    It’s “Hopelessness” that Pandora traps inside the box not “Hope” itself. If the only thing left in the box was Hope then there would be no Hope in the world.


  15. manwhoneverwould #

    I really enjoyed your post. I agree with just about everything you said. However, though your take on Eleven’s character’s development is a brilliant idea, I think that Moffat would never have Eleven reference Ten to that degree as it would be tantamount to Moffat linking himself to something RTD-related, as he seems determined not to do with his desire to distance himself with new titles, Tardis (interior AND exterior – because the Tardis needed a new coat of paint?) and Sonic. From my perspective, Moffat seems to be saying that the older seasons were rubbish and that he would like to shed the franchise of that mess before he can tell the story that he wants to tell. Which to me seems unnecessary as a clear point of demarcation can clearly be drawn with just the new Doctor and new stories. Improving on what came before doesn’t have to mean erasing as many traces of your predecessor as possible…in my humble opinion…


  16. Claire #

    Absolutely fantastic. I want to rewrite time and space to make this the real season 5.


  17. Gab #

    Alright, I don’t have a lot of overthinking to do in re: your new episodes, because, frankly, I think you did a bang-up job. Many, many props to ya.

    But to overthink the reasons *for* your rewrites, *that* is something I can do, I think. I find a lot of the relationships in this season to be harmful or unhealthy, or at least abnormal or unbalanced. Not just between the Doctor and Amy or Amy and Rory, but even minor characters that show up for their lone episode. And the Doctor doesn’t always fix them, nor does he even notice them a lot. The Ninth Doctor usually picked up on that sort of thing and acknowledged it, but I feel as though this one, even if he does see them, doesn’t speak up enough. So this means two things for me. First, the politics nerd in me wants to postulate that RTD is a federalist/Big Government-type (because his Doctor tends to get more deeply involved and invested in what’s going on around him, meddling in peoples’ personal lives beyond what is necessary to get the job done), while Moffat is an anti-federalist/Small Government-type (because his Doctor tends to do the opposite); and second (which is a separate theory and not to be equated with government at all), that the Tenth Doctor has lost some of his humanity this time around. I believe the latter has been tossed about or alluded to on other comments pages here before, but suffice to say that he’s much more cynical, dark, distant, and callous than before. I have lost a lot of faith in the Doctor’s hearts (not abilities), to the point where when he made the remarks about Amy to test botRory in “The Big Bang,” I believed he meant them- and thought, “Holy shit, the Doctor would NEVER have said that when he was played by David Tennant!” and when he got up after being punched and stuff, I still had trouble believing he hadn’t meant it and wasn’t covering up for what he realized was a very hurtful thing to say (so as to avoid apologizing). The first little theory would probably be a lot harder to work and feel more contrived if hashed out in more detail, but I like leaving it vague so as not to spoil the fun for myself. The second wouldn’t be as hard, I don’t think.


  18. Freshly Squeezed Cynic #

    The theory that Moffat plans to tie together this season’s themes sometime next year is a bit ridiculous; this is television where the next season is never a given thing.

    The next series was a given thing. It was commissioned before this series was even aired. The BBC would have to be absolutely mental to cancel their biggest money-spinning cash cow. So Moffat knows that unless he fucks up, badly, he’s probably got a lot of time to play with. It’s not ridiculous at all that he’d want a multi-series-long arc.

    From my perspective, Moffat seems to be saying that the older seasons were rubbish and that he would like to shed the franchise of that mess before he can tell the story that he wants to tell.

    “Holy shit, the Doctor would NEVER have said that when he was played by David Tennant!”

    Both of these comments are somewhat Missing The Point, as it were. Above all, Doctor Who is (or at the very least, has become) about change. The passage of time. The inevitability of aging versus the flux of the choices we make. Everything ends, but that is only so things can begin anew. Moffat, by starting afresh is not devaluing the RTD seasons any more than NuWho devalued Andrew Cartmel’s attempts to put the series back on track in the late Eighties, or Jon Pertwee’s action-and-gadgets focus devalued the whimsical cosmic fool of the Patrick Troughton years. They complement each other, different spins on similar characters.

    The Doctor is an archetype. I’m not sure entirely what of, but he is. A trickster god, a lonely wanderer, an anti-authoritarian? But within this (or these) archetype(s) a myriad of personality types can be expressed. He becomes, literally, a different person from time to time.

    People change. The Doctor changes more than most. Welcome it.


    • Gab #

      About the change. I could “accept” it if it was shown as a progression, but it was done too abruptly for me to be comfortable with it. I understand he went through a lot in losing Rose, but there was absolutely no time to see any sort of development when the actual personality change happened- there was no path from point A to point B, he teleported (or Tardised himself, heh) over, and it has no cohesion. See, the series with Martha wasn’t enough to create said cohesion- he was kind of transitional then, still grieving, and even so, he still wouldn’t have said something like what I was referencing during that series, either (or at least not in a way nearly so cold or callous or flippant- it would have been in the middle of a serious heart-to-hearts (get it, hearts, with an ‘s’? (which, by the way, is something this Doctor does not do, or at least not very well, and this is, again, an example of a change in personality I’m troubled by!). And the way he ended up regenerating before Amy was not enough of an explanation for the drastic upheaval of his personality. Again, it jumps too suddenly, and even the change between Eccelston and Tennant made more sense and felt more like a drive to the lower level as opposed to a fall off the cliff. If it’s supposed to be the same character, I’d like to see the change and not just be expected to accept it. Maybe this is because I’m viewing the show on that aspect of writing the same way I view others: I need reasons for actions and personality traits, otherwise it feels cheap and lazy to me. And having already seen a good transition between Doctors, I’m disappointed I didn’t see one this time, which makes accepting this Doctor’s personality a lot more difficult.

      So yeah, I’m kind of petulant about it, but I think it’s bad writing, even for a Dr. Who series, and I simply just can’t sit back and “accept” bad writing on a show I loved previously. I get indignant. So it’s not you, it’s the writing. To me, it’s not about the fact that he’s different so much as how and why. Admittedly, I haven’t seen more than a few random episodes from the pre-Eccelston eras, so if the transitions were jerky back then, I’ll concede that my problem is completely my own because I’m holding the show to a standard it can never fit if evaluating the arc of its entire run. However, like I said, Eccelston to Tennant felt smoother, so I’m basing my assumptions on that versus the newest regeneration; and thus, I admit I could be focusing too much on an anomaly of the series.

      But (and I realize I’m rambling) in today’s television-viewing world, is it really acceptable to have a character become so different so suddenly anymore? If they’re trying to make it new and for a modern audience, it should adhere to what modern audiences tend to want- and I don’t think I’m all alone in wanting my characters to make sense when I’m watching TV or a movie. Since the change in his personality doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t like it.

      Yup, I think I sort of made a point.


      • Freshly Squeezed Cynic #

        I could “accept” it if it was shown as a progression, but it was done too abruptly for me to be comfortable with it.

        Are you meant to be comfortable with it? Regeneration is one of the more fundamentally alien aspects of The Doctor, so I’m not surprised if some people get, well, alienated by it; maybe I’m just looking at this in the context of the old series, as you say, but I see this transition as a lot smoother than the infamous regeneration into the Sixth Doctor (first line: “Change! And not a moment too soon.”), where (spoilers?) he goes into a bit of a post-regeneration fugue and attempts to strangle his companion. Yes, you read that right. Thankfully, he gets better, but initially he’s written as an arrogant, self-satisfied coward (with a terrible suit). It was meant to be a redemptive arc as he slowly regains his more heroic nature, but the writing in that period was never good enough to pull that off (people complain about the writing now have… The Sixth Doctor’s Big Finish Audio stories are much better, though.)

        So there’s certainly meant to be a continuity of traits there, but focused through the prism of a different (sometimes radically) individual. You can see Six’s egoism dialled down somewhat in Ten, especially in The Waters of Mars, or Eleven’s deceptively goofy, disarming persona in Two and Four. Or Nine’s irascible nature and slight condescension of humanity paralleled in One and Six.

        Eleven’s not callous or cruel, I don’t think; you have to set aside a lot of things (the spacewhale, for all that was a bit of a messy episode, did show Eleven burning with righteous, compassionate anger). He’s less inclined to take humanity’s side automatically, like Ten seemed to be, and he’s a lot less empathetic and sometimes blunt when making observations. But cruelty? I’m not seeing it, to be honest.

        I’m also confused by who you’re talking about here; you mention Eleven by talking about this season, but you’re calling back to events of Ten’s, as if the personality change from Ten to Eleven should have been foreshadowed (forgive me if I’m misreading you, but that’s how it seems to me). Eleven never regenerated before Amy, for one thing… In any case, I get that traits should be shown, not told, but I’m honestly perplexed by why you think that’s not been the case in general with Eleven, unless it’s more to do with the nature of regeneration sort of jumbling up the personality of the Doctor in one fell swoop. To me, that’s not a problem; regeneration for the Doctor has been shown to be traumatic. Why wouldn’t that affect the way he thinks and acts, in sometimes drastic ways? Not all personality traits are earned in slow, fulfilling character arcs.

        Looking back, to me, Ten is a lot different from Nine, from the very start. He’s established right out of the gate as a different man, but with the same drives and impulses. What he becomes three series and three specials later was even more different, and special, but then, Eleven hasn’t had three series and three specials under his belt, yet.

        As for this season’s writing, at times it was patchy, definitely, but I don’t remember anything as singularly awful or pointless in terms of the arc, in this series, as say Fear Her or the god-awful Daleks In Manhattan. Or The End of Time, for that matter…


        • Gab #

          Sigh, I need to convey myself better. No, I realize I’m not necessarily *meant* to be “comfortable” with the change in itself; however, the difference I see is this: if the progression had been shown and I was uncomfortable with it, I could still accept it. Got it? Please, stop being hung up on my dislike of the personality because that’s not where the beef I have comes from: it comes from what I consider to be poor writing. If it had not been jerky, even if I hadn’t liked it, I could have accepted it. I mean, I absolutely couldn’t stand Kate in Lost, but I accepted that her character was so annoying and selfish because she was written that way and written well– it made sense, or was at least shown as how she always was, all the time, no matter what, so I didn’t question it. I question this Doctor because he doesn’t make sense. Even between/among episodes within this series, his personality jumps around, and I do not know what Doctor to expect each time a new one starts. I could totally go with a plot like the older one you described where he strangles his companion at first- if it is shown right, but whatever Moffat wants the Doctor to “be” this time around, or whatever personal, introspective journey the Doctor is supposed to go on, it’s very, very unclear to me, so it makes me uncomfortable. Am I being clear this time? I’m sorry, I guess I either can’t say it in terms someone else can understand, or you’re arguing side details instead of my main point.

          And speaking of side details, though (sorry), I didn’t mean Eleven is always cruel, but that I felt what he said and how he said it at that particular moment was delivered cruelly and callously- whether that was Rory or not, he/it was at least programmed to love Amy more than him-/itself, so to be so flippant about her life’s value to him/it was a cruel thing to do.

          Looking back, to me, Ten is a lot different from Nine, from the very start. He’s established right out of the gate as a different man, but with the same drives and impulses. What he becomes three series and three specials later was even more different, and special…

          Exactly! And as you imply, it’s shown gradually, not abruptly and jarringly, these overall changes. Ten started out different, yes, but there was still Nine in him- and that Nine slowly faded away until Ten became his own. Eleven hasn’t had as much screen time, as you say, but, as such, his screen time hasn’t been enough to justify how different he is. And again, he changes from episode to episode, so… well… yeah. I’m still not convinced it’s done well, even if I ignore any comparisons to Ten or Nine because Eleven sea-saws so much between episodes in this series- one he’s happy, the next he’s chaotic, the next he’s brooding, the next he’s chaotic, the next he’s close to dull, etc. The writing is too inconsistent.

          Bottom line: I’m not disliking the Doctor for his traits this time around in themselves, but for how inconsistent they are and because they are a reflection of the sloppy writing for this series.


          • Caroline #

            I do understand why you’re saying about the transition, but I feel like Ten alluded to the potential for dramatic change in his last special. When he was explaining regeneration to Wilf, he said something along the lines of “It really is like dying. I’m gone and a new man walks away.” Nine, as a very different personality, was not hesitant about dying and eased the transition for Rose (and the audience) by downplaying the change. But Ten REALLY didn’t want to die, which I feel contributed to the jarring nature.

            Also, I felt there was a good flavor of Ten in Eleven’s first couple of episodes. The first seen between Eleven and Amelia felt strongly like Ten to me, as did a lot of his interactions in The Beast Below. After that, he definitely went in his own direction. But that’s what the Doctor’s always done, and it’s what Ten told us would happen. With that in mind, it seems unfair to hold it against the series too much.

  19. Freshly Squeezed Cynic #

    Also, token nerdery, The Valeyard is not the Twelfth Doctor, but a possible future incarnation of the Doctor somewhere between his Twelfth and Thirteenth selves. A sort of avatar of possibility, much like The Watcher between the Fourth and Fifth Doctor, only an expression of malice and hatred, given a semblance of self by the Time Lords.

    You could (and I do) easily argue that that was The Valeyard, since the psychic pollen awoke that aspect of the Doctor and gave him voice, made him as real as he ever was. Why shouldn’t he be The Valeyard just because he called himself by a different name? The Doctor wasn’t always called The Doctor…


  20. Quin #

    That was outstanding. Steven Moffat would be wise to take you on his staff. And P.S., you’re not the only one who smelled a faint whiff of sexism this season.


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