Facebook and Twitter were full of much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth yesterday, when the (long-rumoured) news broke that Doctor Who will be missing from our screens during 2016, only returning as a Christmas Special, before Stephen Moffat oversees his final series in 2017 and then handing over the show-runner reins to another writer (Chris Chibnail, the writer behind the hugely popular ‘Broadchurch’ series – well, the first series was hugely popular, the second one was a bit of a damp squid* but there are high hopes for series 3).
Regular readers of this blog will be aware of what a HUGE fan of the show I am, so was I weeping and wailing too?
To be honest, no. No, I wasn’t. To my own surprise my first reaction was a rather shocking “Good…”
It pains me to say this, but Doctor Who really really needs this rest. And it needs a new show runner too.
Why does it need a rest? Well, I haven’t fallen out of love with Doctor Who, far from it. It’s probably still my favourite thing on TV. But… I have to be honest… watching it this past year or so has been hard work, sometimes really hard work. Not because of Peter Capaldi – he’s an excellent Doctor, and is clearly comfortable in the role – but because the show has got itself a bit lost. It has become too dark, too epic, too complicated and clever for its own good.
Now, I’m not saying TV shouldn’t be challenging, or brain-taxing, and a its best Doctor Who is definitely that, but this past year or so it has become just too complicated and clever for its own good and has stopped being entertaining for anyone but the most loyal and most knowledgeable fans. The story arcs have been so long and labyrinthine that following them has needed a spreadsheet, map and compass.
(And seriously, some of the stories have been so dark, so cruel and so gloomy that it really is time the BBC stopped pretending Who is a child-friendly programme, but of course they won’t because they need to sell toy Daleks and sonic screwdrivers to the kiddies).
The show needs a rest because it looks, and feels, tired. Some of the writing over the past couple of years has been fantastic, absolutely stunning (the arrival and then return of Missy were THE high points I think), but some of it has been dire, and dull and lazy. It just looks weary, too. There was SO much gloom, doom and darkness over the past couple of series watching it felt sometimes like physically hard work. Clara went from being an interesting, deep character into an over the top control freak, and became more powerful and more dynamic than the Doctor himself, and that drained some of the life out of the show, for me anyway.
And I think the main problem is that the showrunner Stephen Moffat has been so busy doing Who AND Sherlock that they’ve become a bit blurred in his head, and on his word processor too. And the same goes for Mark Gatiss, who I usually love as a writer but is definitely in need of a rest from writing for Who. Some of the Who stories this past year were so labyrinthine and head-scratchingly difficult to follow that they felt like Sherlock stories set in space. Suddenly the Doctor has started speaking like Sherlock, started problem-solving like Sherlock, even started treating people like Sherlock. The line between the two shows has become very, very blurred indeed, so much so that when I watched the time-travelling Christmas Sherlock special, “The Abominable Bride” I found myself expecting the TARDIS to materialise in Sherlock’s apartment, the Doctor to open the door and bound out wearing a dear stalker.
I am not going to follow the Whovian fans’ fashion of attacking “The Moff” for “what he has done” to Doctor Who because I think he has been fantastic. He is an exceptionally gifted and talented writer, superbly creative and inventive, with a brain the size of a planet. He breathed new life into the series, and the character, after Russell T Davies left, and brought the show back from the brink of becoming too fluffy and bubble-gummy and made it more epic and dark, as it needed to be at that time. But it has become TOO epic and dark now, and needs to back away from that, or it will become the BBC’s Game of Thrones, but with less blood and naughtiness.
Moffatt made some mistakes, it’s true. The brightly-coloured, fat-arsed “Power Rangers” Daleks were an absolute dogs dinner of an idea, and have rightly vanished from the Who universe. Likewise the “sonic shades” were ridiculous… but hang on, was that a mistake? Maybe it was just Moffatt having a mischievious dig at the rabid Who fans who detest even the smallest change to the show? Maybe he sat down with his notepad, tapped his pencil against his teeth and thought “Hmmm… What could I change to REALLY p**s them off?” He decided that changing the TARDIS design or colour would have been a step too far – someone would have taken out a hitman’s contract on him! – so he did the next best thing and tossed the sonic in the bin. Fans were aghast, as he no doubt expected, and wanted, then rejoiced when it returned. So, either was was a stoopid mistake, or it was very clever meddling there. If so, Mr M, well done!
Other mistakes tho were pretty bad… Clara’s death was unnecessarily graphic and horrible. Osgood was thrown away then brought back as a ridiculously unconvincing Zygon clone… thing… which left all her fans wondering what the hell she was and tossing away all the goodwill felt towards her. The dreams episode was a mish-mash of several ideas which were rubbish enough on their own, but stank like year-old Brie when combined.
But I can forgive him those mistakes, easily, for the countless good things he did. Firstly and most importantly, he gave us Matt Smith as the Doctor, and he is STILL “my” Doctor and still, I believe, one of the best Doctors ever. He gave us a Doctor blessed with wonderful comic timing and physicality, and reduced me to tears on many occasions with his brilliant angst-ridden performances.
…and he gave us the Weeping Angels… and the Silence… and took us inside a brain-damaged Dalek… brought the Doctor into a medieval hall ON A TANK AND PLAYING A GUITAR….
And he gave the world Missy – an absolute GENIUS move! At first, I’ll admit, I hated the character – no, I LOATHED her, I thought every moment she was on screen was one wasted… but when she was revealed to be The Master it all slotted into place perfectly and I could only sigh “Ahhhhhh!!!! Now I get it!”, nod my head in appreciation and think “Oh Moffatt, you clever, clever boy…” She owned the screen every time she was on it.
“So DAVROS is your arch enemy? I’ll scratch his eye out…”
“Get your own stick…”
Genius. Thank you Mr M for those.
But it is time for a change. Doctor Who is tired, is rehashing old stories, and a rest will do it, and us, the world of good. It will come back – as it always does – refreshed and, yes, regenerated. I hope Peter Capaldi stays around for another couple of series, but that’s unlikely; I think he will leave at the end of Moffat’s final series, regenerating in the 2017 Christmas Special into the new showrunner’s first Doctor, passing the torch and all that. Which will be a great shame, because as soon as Doctor Who returns to our screens the media will be looking for Capaldi’s successor and asking “Who’s next?” which will be a huge distraction.
So. Time for a break, everyone. Yes, I’ll miss watching the show, but I think viewers will benefit from a break as we were starting to take it for granted again. It will give Moffat time to put his Whovian affairs in order and carefully plot out Capaldi’s no doubt emotional and epic exit, and it will let him concentrate on Sherlock too, which he obviously loves.
I saw a joke on Twitter the other day which summed things up perfectly for me:
Haha! How true! But it’s change that keeps the show fresh and vital, and makes it different to every other show. It’s the thrill of change that keeps us watching Doctor Who, and I’m sure these changes will breathe new life into it. I knew the show was in trouble when watching it stopped becoming entertaining for me, and more like an endurance test or an exam. It was as if viewers were being tested to see if they were worthy to watch it.
Enough. Time to take time out, re-group, and regenerate into something amazing again. Until then, relax everyone, chill. The Doctor isn’t leaving us, he’s just taking a break, which he deserves.
* IT CROWD joke. But you knew that, I’m sure.
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