I don’t want to write this entry. The main reason being it makes me one of those people who watches a TV show simply so they can moan about it on the internet afterwards. To sit with keyboard in hand and rail against a programme you profess to love, sticking the knife in because it didn’t turn out how you wanted it. Know this before you read on, I want Doctor Who to succeed and as a result of the show being with me from a very young age I’ll allow it a lot of leeway towards that. Also, as any reader of this blog knows, I’m just a guy living in the South of Scotland who works in an opticians during the day. Essentially my ranting opinion counts for nothing in the grand scheme of things. In the words of Mark Kermode, as a critic I have nothing to lose and am therefore probably more part of the problem than the solution.
I didn’t like the most recent Christmas special. ‘Time Of The Doctor’ was always building up to one thing, Matt Smith’s departure and Peter Capaldi’s introduction to the title role. In the last five minutes of the broadcast on Christmas Day BBC One’s audience jumped to 10.2 million, the highest of the festive period. The regeneration was the main draw obviously but the setting and the lead up to that event should have been a grand send off for Smith and a blazing introduction for Capaldi. The strange thing is, it really wasn’t.
Many Christmas episodes since 2005 have always linked to the season in some way. The first one had an alien attack on Christmas Day, we’ve had snowy Victorian streets and we’ve had a Scrooge character coming good in the end. In the eight years since the show returned pretty much every marker of British Christmas has been shown. Furthermore this year we’re only a month gone from the 50th anniversary episode, a tour de force featuring three Doctors and plugging the gap of The Time War, a plot point mentioned frequently since Eccelstone first stepped out of the blue box.
So Christmas episodes of Doctor Who now need to shoehorn the celebration in somehow, as we opened this year with Clara Oswald cooking a turkey for the visit of her parents. I’m still not convinced with Clara as a character, maybe a harsh judgement seeing as she’s had half a season as a regular character but she’s rapidly falling into one of the two traps female assistants do. Either they’re completely terrified of everything and run screaming or they find themselves falling in love with The Doctor. Clara is starting to set her stall firmly in the latter camp as she gazes at The Doctor with doe eyes across the Tardis console. It’s a problem they seem to always have with female assistants. Billie Piper just about got away with it because she was the first when the show returned and her desire to protect ‘her Doctor’ was a major part of her ‘Bad Wolf’ persona for the finale of Season One. Martha spent the entire of Season Three doing nothing else but lust after The Doctor which became a problem when the entire of that season’s ending rested on her shoulders. Donna was the polar opposite but her constant gabbing got irritating towards the end. Amy just about held it together as she’d met The Doctor when she was young and he was more of an old friend than a possible lover. I’ve always held a theory that it’s hard for assistants to come in halfway through a Doctor’s time at the helm, they feel too much like an interloper who shouldn’t be there. It’s almost seen as their responsibility alone for the dynamic changing. Maybe Clara will be able to make more of a mark on the show now Matt Smith is gone and Peter Capaldi can be ‘her Doctor’.
We’ve been led into this episode with the question of ‘Doctor Who?’ being a question ‘hidden for years in plain sight’. The end of last season saw The Doctor visit his own tomb on Trenzalore with Clara jumping into his own time line. The 50th Anniversary show went right back to the time war and attempted to fill in the gaps between the series original cancellation in the late 80’s to the 2005 return. This Christmas special began with a feeling of ‘where the hell were we again?’.
And that’s the problem I sometimes have with Doctor Who under the guidance of Stephen Moffat. When Moffat first took over from Russell T Davies we had a shift in tone. Gone were RTD’s more comic strip moments and in came something with a darker edge. I was all for it, not only had Moffat written some of the best episodes (Silence In The Library, The Empty Child) but he’d also done some brilliant stuff outside Who including the Jekyll mini series starring James Nesbitt. Who needed to change and change it did. It’s frustrating therefore that so much of Doctor Who led by Moffat seems so bogged down in its own ideas, many of which are introduced, only some of which seem to be resolved.
As is the custom now before regeneration, we have as many loose ends tied up from that particular incarnation’s journey. For David Tennant’s last hurrah in 2010 he somehow managed to delay regenerating for long enough to visit all the supporting cast individually before exploding and taking the Tardis interior with him. For Matt Smith we went back to the crack in time, first seen in the bedroom of Amy Pond. We learn this is actually The Time Lords sending out a repeating signal trying to find The Doctor. Quite why they want to find him is not made clear but they’ve set up a truth bubble and everything so they must be gagging to get in touch with a man who ended the Time War by stuffing Galifrey away in a different dimension.
But then there’s a church containing data banks which you have to visit naked (giving Matt Smith the chance to show just enough skin for your Gran to spill her sherry over). For the sake of a teatime audience The Doctor applies a clothing filter but it’s only in the story for a one time joke. Quite why you have to visit this place in the buff is never explained. The rest of the episode is The Doctor forced into a deadlock of defending a town called Christmas from every enemy he has faced knowing that The Time War will begin again if the residents of Gallifrey find him there. Rather than resolve this plot point, they choose to leave it there hanging. There wasn’t much drama in this deadlock. The Doctor grows old, he knows he’ll die here so seems to just accept it. Clara flits back and forth to see him age.
A couple of years ago, during an episode of kid’s TV spin off The Sarah Jane Adventures, The Doctor had one line in which threw years worth of series lore into chaos. Up until that point it was known The Doctor was limited to twelve regenerations, suddenly this became more than five hundred. The internet fandom imploded and everybody got confused. Obviously in 1966, when regeneration was first mentioned, they thought the show would never go through twelve actors.
For this though we’re limited to twelve again which, seeing as John Hurt is now considered the ninth, means Smith is the last. We know otherwise, we know Capaldi is coming so there had to be a reason why this wasn’t the end. Just as the final Dalek ship descends on the town, Clara whispers into the void about The Doctor needing help, the crack vanishes and he is granted another regeneration just like that as a favour for saving his home land in there first place. But regenerations must take place in the Tardis. It would be impossible to film anything on location without every single newspaper in the land printing pictures. The Doctor manages to make it back to his ship and then transforms in front of her. Enter Capaldi, apparently not knowing how to fly the Tardis.
I’m excited by Peter Capaldi in the main role. With Tennant and Smith we’ve had our fill of ‘goofy’. I want a Doctor with steel who solves problems without simply waving his Sonic Screwdriver at them or having his assistant talk them away. I also want a show that uses a small amount of ideas well rather than throw everything at the wall to see what sticks. The Christmas special this year felt like an after thought after the 50th anniversary show the month before. It seemed to be desperately tripping over itself to mention everything notable from Smith’s years in the Tardis to close that chapter.
There’s plenty for the show to work with going forward and a new Timelord is always a good time for an overhaul. I wish every success for Doctor Who and I’ve defended it to the hilt on many a previous occasion. The sad thing is that it’s become much harder recently to defend the show from the doomsayers. I now struggle to explain what’s going on to my seven year old son and as a result he’s lost interest in watching it. If we can’t get new fans on board then we’re on a steady course to a slow decline before cancellation which is something Doctor Who fans have already seen and aren’t in a hurry to repeat.