TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,
We, the undersigned, write to express our outrage with the outcome of the “Doctor Who” season composed of episodes 214 to 223.
There were those who held out hope that show-runner Steven Moffat had a nifty and satisfying plan to resolve the season’s primary opening gambit, which was the killing of the Doctor himself. There was wide-spread appreciation at first for opening a season so audaciously. And along the way, Moffat did himself a service with a strong secondary through-line (though it was somewhat abbreviated and telegraphed, as one can fairly expect in a 13-episode season), by setting to rest the mystery of River Song. Too many mysteries makes a show go blind.
Hopes, as they often will be as a season rounds its two-thirds mark, were high! All the crueler then. In the end, this overall winning premise was settled solely by means of someone writing “INSERT SPACE-TIME GIBBERISH HERE” in the final pages of the book.
The resolution, the jam-packed season finale, was beyond nonsensical. To worm out of its responsibilities, the show made use of the most hackneyed — and then also mismanaged! — techniques imaginable.
The struggle of narrative fiction to entertain and engage viewers isn’t that terribly complicated. Television, mostly, is about heroes. The most-common device of this particular sort of narrative is to engage a hero who must discover the answer to a mystery; the audience is on his or her side as we all seek to solve a problem. (This is a standard practice in “Doctor Who.”) When this cannot be straightforwardly achieved, the trick is often then that the narrative, the program itself, by means of the hero, withholds from the viewer — the poor misguided viewer, who then must operate from a false set of principles to be kept in a state of suspense or concern. This is something Moffat performed successfully in his recent “Sherlock Holmes” for the BBC — because, in that case, the viewer identifies with John Watson, not Holmes, and when sneaky, kooky Holmes lies or obscures or manipulates, as he is already expected to, the viewer is betrayed along with Holmes, who registers that betrayal. In this manner of revelation, the viewer’s sense of being cheated must be outweighed by a thrill, or a relief, or a giddiness — or they must at least have their mind blown.
Otherwise, the narrative unfolding is nothing but a cheap trick, upon which, looking backwards, the entire relation of the action is not only manipulative but revealed as meaningless. Lengthy misdirection is literally a waste of time. The season itself begins to collapse in retrospect — for the events of episode one as we know it transpire “after” the events of the final episodes, and, as is the case with time, what is done is already done. At the risk of sounding very much like Comic Book Guy of “The Simpsons,” we believe that the end of “Doctor Who,” with its “death of time” (by what specific mechanism? It is implied that time is held hostage by conflicting timelines, which any reasonable viewer of the show should realize that the plot of nearly every episode would cause such an event — not least of which, say, the end of last season where the entire universe died and was “rebooted”?) and its substituted switcheroo victim (if TIME actually STOPS to punish The Doctor for not dying (which, ahem), is it really not the case that an automaton wouldn’t be recognized as an impostor?) and its hoo-ha about people touching and time-lines joining and reverting and such (which seems a silly elaboration of the conventional and convenient trope of the troubles of meeting oneself in time travel). And, of course, everyone moping about and pulling a long face so as to deceive these watching powers-that-be, right along with the audience. (And then! The added insult to injury: the old “camera behind a window” trick, while the main characters have a revelation before the viewer.) But there’s more! The worst of it all is that then the menace that created this crisis, The Silence — which is repeatedly referred to as a “religious order” and not a race, although they’re all identical is quite specific and lurid physical affect — is then held over for another season.
No wait, there’s more “worst.” For the whole season is resolved in a way to instill an advanced narcissism disorder in The Doctor. Now he is cast as literally the most important creature in the universe, and the “oldest question in time” is apparently about the nature or identity of The Doctor, and some aspect of his history (perhaps his blameless or not blameless role in the sort-of extinction of his own “race” and the apparently perpetually occurring murder of millions). Just what we needed: more self-regard, more tortured moping from the saddest soul in the universe. God, get off the cross already!
The cruelness to the watcher is one thing, to be expected from a writer’s room that needs to weasel its way through a high-stakes season finale. And the stepping-up of the God complex of the hero is an unfortunate by-product that can and will safely be ignored, likely, in the long view.
But then there’s the ultimate insult: the actual “science fiction” of the enterprise. Of the rules that make a world go round, there are clearly absolutely none. Every season finale ends with a fresh universe, that no one remembers. When anything can happen, and be undone and then done again, nothing matters. This show is now, in a phrase, entirely bound by the non-rules of TIMEY-WIMEY BULLSHIT.
This is a dark moment for the BBC in Cardiff. We hereby demand that Steven Moffat be locked in a lightless, soundless box until the end of the universe. Which could come at any time apparently so maybe he won’t suffer long!
Very truly yours,