A year of broken promises staggers to its end
Frustratingly I expect that Moffat's going to turn around later and make it all about timey bs where at least one of the Doctors/other characters we saw were crossing their own timeline and therefore had information the audience wasn't privy to that justifies all of this. That's a bad way to tell a story Moffat. This is a clusterfuck.
[...] Moffat's a great writer to have on your team and a terrible one to have as Captain. Because he's a dude who cannot forget that the Doctor has a time machine. Not in a 'oh shit that's a plot-breaker better shrink it/get it stolen/have the Doctor stranded on Earth for a few years' way but in a 'ISN'T THAT FRICKIN' AWESOME!?!?' way. Which is great to play with once or twice a season? But not so fun to twist your entire season up in. Twice. And most eps you've written. And your Christmas Special. And that Seven short story. And even Curse of Fatal Death. Moffat really really needs to get his priorities in order, or this is not going anywhere pretty. And it's not going there fast. — Alex-E-Smith presciently discusses Day of the Moon and the long road ahead on May 6, 2011.
|Cyber-conversion got nothin' on the Awesome Power of Father-Love!|
If Steven Moffat's first series finale was essentially a cheat ("re-booting" the entire cosmos) that "resolved" its plot through a feat to put Lance O'Neill's mighty leap to shame, nearly half of this year's series has been a cheat of another kind.
I say cheat because, as I suggested in my review of The God Complex, we were led to expect an ongoing story, an "arc", concerning the full truth about the relationship between the Doctor and River Song, along with answers to various threads that (seem to) have been dropped over the last 25 episodes.
To put it bluntly, that is not what we've been given.
By my count, fully six of the 13 episodes this year had no significant connection to the supposed arc. You could quibble that both The God Complex and the episode under discussion do, but only via awkwardly-appended codas. In The God Complex the Doctor suddenly pensions Rory and Amy off with a house and a car; in Closing Time, we just cut to River Song, a couple of Silents and an emoting Eye-Patch Lady brandishing a space-suit and spouting dialogue that begs for her to have a moustache to twirl.
If The Big Bang's cheat was a sign that all was not well in Moffat-land, the morally appalling and idiot-plotted Christmas special should have told us things were only likely to get worse. This was not a program under control of a man who knew what he was doing, but of a little boy thrilled to bits by the "awesomeness" of having a time machine to play with.
Set up as both a partial conclusion and a cliff-hanger, A Good Man Goes to War worked poorly on the former front, and not at all on the latter. The big revelation, that River Song is Amy's daughter, made no emotional sense (someone needs to teach Steven Moffat about foreshadowing), and the Doctor's promise to Amy, that he would find her daughter, proved to be as empty dramatically as it was in-story.
Let's Kill Hitler then "resolved" the supposed cliff-hanger with the deus ex utero "revelation" that Rory and Amy's best (though "psychotic") childhood friend was ... actually their very own daughter — whom we had never met or even heard of before!
The idea probably sounded funky when Moffat was selling the series' outline, but it was delivered stillborn, and was then simply ignored, as if Moffat was embarrassed by the whole thing in retrospect. (Similarly ignored was the question of how a child managed to make her way — presumably with some sort of parental substitutes in tow — from the United States to Great Britain.)
Nevertheless, and despite Let's Kill Hitler's structural insistence the Melody question was closed, fans continued to expect some kind of emotional fall-out. We had been promised a long-form story, so surely at least Amy would have some kind of reaction.
But no. What we got was four stand-alone adventures in a row — some bad, a couple very good — none of which even touched on the traumatic events just passed. Even the questions about the fate of the adult River Song and the Doctor's own looming death were set aside.
Which finally brings us to Closing Time, another episode that really serves as a stand-alone adventure, but for its unrelated coda.
As before, I'l spare you the synopsis and just lunge for the jugular.
Closing Time suffers — badly — from not one, not two, but from three familiar ailments. Lousy characterization and resulting juvenile humour that might have been funny in 1963; (presumably) unthinking racism and sexism; and a monster that doesn't thrill or chill and that is defeated by a trite device that is impossible to credit in the Doctor Who universe.
Let's start with the last point, because it's of little import except insofar as it might serve as a warning to beginning screen-writers everywhere.
The Cybermen simply don't pose a credible threat in Closing Time for more than about five seconds after the first one lurches out of a shadow. (Let's not even mention the frankly giggle-inducing attack of the "Cybermat".)
And when Craig saves the day through the Awesome Power of a Father's Love for His Son, one wishes for a Cybermat of one's own to throw at the screen. Are we really supposed to believe the Cybermen have never before encountered a loving father?
The lousy characterization comes in two flavours, Doctor and Craig, the latter last seen in the pleasant but forgettable Series Five episode, The Lodger.
The Doctor spends most of the first 15 minutes poncing around like a third-rate Hamlet bemoaning his upcoming death. (To Moffat's considerable credit, there is a tangible difference between his "usual" Doctor and this, two hundred year older, model; it's a shame his performance goes completely to waste.) In what was supposed to be an amusing moment, he sends both Craig and the baby to sleep, but the humour turned to irony when I nearly joined them.
As for Craig, the big joke is that he's rubbish at taking care of his son when his wife goes out of town! Ha ha ha, men can't change diapers or deal when the baby cries.
Never-mind 1963, let's talk about 1913. Let's talk about the racism and sexism lurking in the margins of this program like refugees from a minstrel show.
Closing Time has an awfully low body-count for a Cyberman episode — the silver devils claim precisely two (count 'em, two!) victims this time around, a couple of redshirts.
Or should I be blunt and call them blackskins? (Have I mentioned how many characters there are in this episode whose skin are not white? No prize for guessing "two".)
I'm not the first to notice that being non-white is pretty close to an automatic death sentence on this year's Who, but is nobody at the BBC paying attention?
Take, in a sort of distaff parallel to the antediluvian presumption that a man can't handle a squalling babe in arms, the case of Amy Pond (please!).
Yes, our erstwhile companion takes a cameo turn in Closing Time, during which we (and the Doctor) learn that Amy, having been forcibly retired from travelling through time and space, has found nothing better to do with her renewed life on earth than to rent out her pretty face to sell perfume.
Really? Really? That's the best Moffat and company could come up with? She started off as a kiss-o-gram girl, why wouldn't she go into modelling?
I guess feminism in the Whoniverse died with the passing of Elizabeth Sladen.
|No feminism, please, this is a Steven Moffat production! Newly-minted celebrity Amy Pond signs autograph for young fan while 2,000 year-old husband suffers in the background.|
Aw, fuck it. Not onwards.
Remember that heart-breaking look of disappointment on David Tennant's face in the final scene of Doomsday, when Rose told the Doctor she'd gone back to working in a shop? Remember his relieved joy, when she laughed at him through her tears and said, in essence, No you idiot, I was joking! I'm still defending the earth, of course!
There was no such disappointment on this Doctor's face, only Matt Smith's best try at a kind of wistful nostalgic sadness.
Now, we've been told again and again that Amy is special, but we've almost never been shown that she is even real, let alone special.
This latest insult is lazy writing that serves only to underline Moffat's fundamental lack of interest in and respect for the craft of character-building. And it is a perfect example of why, after nearly two full series, I know less about Amy Pond than I knew about Rose Tyler after a single episode.
It is also a powerful indication that those who have called out Steven Moffat as a fundamentally sexist thinker were right to do so. As with his propensity to treat people of colour as cannon-fodder, it takes an almost wilful blindness to assume a woman becoming a model is the next best thing to saving the universe.
There ain't much left but fun with a time machine, is there, folks?
But even the time machine has run out of gas. Why else a half-season of filler in place of the grand arc we were promised?
Whatever happened last night in The Wedding of River Song, Moffat dropped his story-teller's ball this year. There have been some diverting moments, indeed a couple of near-classic episodes — and a segment of fandom can take remembered pleasure in uncovering such tricks as the jacket/no jacket Doctors — but as long-form drama, Steven Moffat's second series has been a bigger failure than his first.
A cluster-fuck? Not quite, unless we find a new term to describe Torchwood: Miracle Day. But two years of broken promises and too many neglected scripts mean that the few jewels among them sit like a scattering of real teeth in a mouthful of wooden pegs.