The Time of the Doctor
The Time of the Doctor:
Stories yesterday, stories tomorrow
Never a story today
|Sorry Matt Smith, and sorry fellow fans, that's about as good as it gets. Screenshot from 'The Time of the Doctor'. Doctor Who Copyright © 2013 BBC.|
Here we go again. Like some alcoholic but silver-tongued Lothario, Steven Moffat has promised much, but delivered only drunken groping as foreplay and achieved no orgasm at all.
Yes, another Special Episode of Steven Moffat's occasional television series, Doctor Who, has come and gone. Not very special and not much of an episode, not if you want plots that make sense or characters you can believe in.
How do I loathe thee, o "Time of the Doctor"? Let me number the ways!
(But first, a confession: as is so often the case with Moffat's scripts, on first viewing, despite the evident flaws, I was drawn in and carried along. Moffat still knows how to pace a scene and is nearly Spielbergian in his ability to milk cheap pathos from the faces of small dirty children or dying robots. If you claim my cheeks were not wholly dry during that first watch, I won't deny it.)
If familiarity breeds contempt, I'm at the point where I would slap a Cyberman if it knocked down my door; leap on the back of a Dalek and shout, "Giddyap!"; and sneer at a Weeping Angel: "I'll give you something to cry about!"
Seriously, folks: Steven Moffat gathered together Cybermen, Daleks, Sontarans and Weeping Angels (and Silents! Lots of Silents! About which — honestly! though I recognize the irony — I had completely forgotten until I went looking for screen-shots) and, like some crazed veterinarian hopped-up on a cocaine/crystal meth cocktail, gleefully gelded each and every one of them.
Hide behind the sofa? Fall asleep on it is more likely.
Yes, a few things worked in "The Time of the Doctor." And almost every one of them is called Matt Smith. He has his limitations, but he gave his swan-song everything he's got; it's a shame the effort is wasted on such nonsense.
The rest of what works comes from us. As I've suggested before (to considerable offence, so fair-warning), the reason Moffat can get away with his slovenly plotting, his construction-paper characterizations and his non-existent world-building, arises from a hard truth about us, about fans.
On some weird and primal level, I secretly believe that, just maybe, I might one night awaken to that vorp-vorp-vorp and spy the old blue box below my bedroom window. Admit it! Deep down, you believe it could happen too. We believe and so we love. Or maybe it's the other way around, it doesn't really matter.
Viewers watch a program, enjoy it or don't, then go on with their lives. Fans create back-stories and strive mightily to fill in plot-holes (ETA: Alasdair Wilkins of AVClub.com provides a well-written and very coherent (though still completely wrong-headed to my mind) example of this tendency); they write fictions to provide character to blank slates in short skirts; and yes, fans write bitter reviews excoriating the whole mess when they're unhappy with what they've seen.
We love the blue box and we love the Doctor, and so we forgive Doctor Who a great deal. It has delivered great joy in the past, it promises to do so again, because the Doctor is one of those creations that, somehow, has achieved a mythic force.
Which is a very good thing for the franchise, because after three years and 45 or so episodes, Steven Moffat has created much that needs forgiving.
For all the hype surrounding "The Time of the Doctor" and the transition from Matt Smith's Doctor to Peter Capaldi's, at the episode's heart lies only Moffat's fanboy wish to justify a throw-away line from 35 year old story — and "to tie up his own loose ends", as the Livejournal blogger Brass-Cojones put it, adding, the episode was "The ultimate Deus ex Fuck You All. Moffat bringing the Gods back long enough to impart a new cycle of 12 Regenerations to the Doctor before sealing them away in a parallel universe [...] it was obvious he didn't give a shit about doing anything except answering all the shit he left out thus far."
Which sounds about right to me, so this time 'round I'm going to dispense with much in the way of a synopsis. If you haven't seen the episode
why are you reading this? you know how to look it up on Wikipedia. Or just glance at the graphic I found on Twitter at right.
All we need remember is that the Time Lords are behind the Crack in the Universe and that they want to return, but fear re-igniting the Time War. They need to find out if it's safe for them to come back.
Do they place a phone call to the TARDIS and ask the Doctor if the dust has settled back in the 'hood?
Er, no. They do not.
Do they broadcast a message Across All of Time and Space to make their discreet enquiry?
Why yes. Yes, they do. And just for the hell of it, they plant their loudspeaker smack-dab in the middle of a quaint farming village called Christmas (on a planet whose day lasts about 45 seconds — don't ask, it makes no sense).
Though indecipherable to all, said message is nevertheless terrifying and yet also extremely alluring, like discovering your ex-lover on the cover of a porn video, so that the planet in question, Trenzalore (yes, that Trenzalore: the Doctor's grave! Oh noes!) is soon surrounded by flocks of (chorus!) Cybermen, Daleks, Sontarans and Weeping Angels.
With the help of Handles, a decapitated Cyberman the Doctor finds more user-friendly than an iPad (if less compact), he decrypts the message which has so baffled the rest of universe. The message is a simple one, first heard on another Big Pointless "climax" a series or two back: "Doctor Who?"
For reasons opaque to this reporter, the Doctor determines he Must Not answer the question, but instead declares that Trenzalor in general and Christmas in particular "Is defended!" and settles in for a long, Pyrrhic siege he knows ('cause he saw his own grave, remember?) must end in his own death. And après mois le retour de la guerre des temps? That's opaque to me too, but onwards.
As subsequent events will show, he could probably have just asked the Time Lords nicely to stay away — but then, no story.
Lest we doubt the Nobility of his sacrifice on behalf of the hapless
peasants people of Christmas, the Doctor uses the ol' "Could you baste the turkey in the TARDIS?" trick to send Amy — sorry, Clara — back to Earth. Off-screen, our plucky short-skirted non-entity clings to the outside of the blue box (or something) and returns, only to find out that decades have passed and that the Doctor has aged horribly.
|"Alas, Poor Handles! I knew it, Clara: a Cyberman of limited jest, of mediocre fancy: I hath borne him on my back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at it. Here still is that grill I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your sparks now? your gambols? your prosthetics? your flashes of tongue, that were wont to set my loins on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen? Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, though it was but retarded machine, with wit an inch thick, to this truth you must come; as human was it as you." Screenshot from 'The Time of the Doctor'. Doctor Who Copyright © 2013 BBC.|
Amazingly, though he's been stuck in one tiny village for so long, the Doctor has made no friends at all among his charges, instead spending his time talking at Handles, only emerging to dispatch the latest monster come testing the perimeter.
Anyway, Clara shouts at him (Why did you send me away?), he shouts at her (Why did you come back?) then, quite unaccountably, they laugh and hug each other, and then he reminds her she still hasn't basted that danged turkey. Trusting simp, she goes back into the TARDIS and ... you guessed it! Home again, home again.
Not completely stupid, Clara doesn't catch the TARDIS this time, and so is forced to endure Christmas with her family of cheap stereotypes, not excluding a dirty-minded old granny.
Fortunately, before Clara overdoses on the cliches at the table, she hears that ol' vorp-vorp-vorp! one more time. But it's not the Doctor at the wheel! Instead, it's the Pope of the Church of the Eternal Mainframe driving the bus and she's got bad news. The Doc is in a terminal way. "No one should die alone," she advises. Would Clara mind terribly popping by to die with the old bugger?
Why not? Clara decides, preferring death to another minute with her tediously underdeveloped family.
The Doctor is dying all right, apparently suffocating beneath a drying lather of latex which has swollen his head to twice it's normal size.
Clara doesn't mind though, and she stoops to hug him like a maiden aunt, at which point the Doctor announces he's out of tricks and that this Dalek stand-off will be his final ballet — er, battle. He tells Clara to stay behind and
die later with everyone else keep an eye on the crack in the universe until he's gone. And then die later with everyone else.
|In Time Lords we trust. Clara performs her woman's work, praying for a miracle. Screenshot from 'The Time of the Doctor'. Doctor Who copyright © 2013 BBC.|
But Clara's no fool! As soon as the Doctor is out of sight our plucky girl hero sets down to pray!
Oh please, great Time Lords! Please don't let my Doctor die! I love him so much! Oh, and the universe needs him too, so please won't you give him another dozen or so regenerations? And if it wouldn't be too much bother, would you fix the crack and, y'know, go away? Amen.
And lo! So it was that the Time Lords did give to the Doctor another set of regenerations and yea they did repair the Crack in Space and Time and then bugger off until the next time a show-runner needeth a Deus a Tempore Domini.
And the Doctor in regeneration mode did shoot CGI balls of fire from his fists and smite all the Daleks and save the good peasants of Christmas-land before his Regeneration!
And the viewers wept, for though they knew in their hearts they did watch crap, yea! they did rejoice they had nearly a full year to forget just how awful was the journey from crack-open to crack-close.
So much for avoiding the synopsis, eh? Sorry about that.
Let's talk instead about people, about characters, just for a bit.
That's actually kind of a hard task on the face of it, since there aren't any characters in Moffat's Who, but only stereotypes (the Innocent Child, the Plucky Mother, the Brash Career Woman Who Secretly Needs a Good Man and a Life In Prison) when we're lucky, and pure stick-figure abstractions when we're not.
Which goes some ways towards explaining why, in more than 300 years, the Doctor made no friends in Christmas: there are no people in Christmas, so how could he make friends with them? To Steven Moffat, the denizens of Christmas-town are only story elements, background, like grass-skirted natives in old Christian fantasies of bucolic Polynesian desert isles.
Does that mean that Clara is a real character, then? After all, when she pops out of the TARDIS after the Doctor's been alone for 300 years, it seems she is as fresh in his memory as he is in hers.
Or that's what the plot says, anyway. But we viewers have never known Clara Oswald, any more than we ever knew Amy Pond (there's a reason I confused the two earlier; it wasn't just for cheap laughs).
Don't believe me? Think of Rose Tyler. Of Martha Jones. Of Donna Noble. Or even of Jackie Tyler (not to mention Mickey Smith).
Who was Rose Tyler? A bright and very brave working-class girl raised with working-class expectations, never properly challenged or inspired. A young woman with a puckish sense of humour, an inchoate concern for justice and the spirit of born leader.
Who was Martha Jones? A driven child, as an adult still struggling with the bourgeois aspirations of social-climbing mother. Emotionally repressed, self-confident but one who has probably never stopped to examine her own self.
Who was Donna Noble? Emotionally abused, aggressively over-compensating and only vaguely intuiting that she had been robbed of her own intelligence and imagination. Hers was a wasted life, until the Doctor happened along to wake her up.
As with real people, other interpretations are not only possible, but inevitable. Yet these women were individuals, full-blooded characters with back-stories, motivations and quirks entirely their own. They were people, whom no one could ever confuse one for the other.
On the other hand, who was Amy Pond?
Er ... she was hot?
And who is Clara Oswald? Well, she's hot, too, but in a more coquettish sort of way. And, er ... that's it.
Take any of the Moffat-era stories, swap Amy for Clara, Clara for Amy, and what changes? Nothing, nothing at all.
To paraphrase somebody or other, there's no there there. This void holds for Moffat's men too, but it's especially true of his women.
One final note. In this episode, though she is far from a fully-fleshed character, the (female) Pope is at least an active figure in the drama. I think it's instructive that she is (a) flirtatious (in a way strikingly reminiscent of River Song; flirtatious seems to be a Sign indicating free-spirited in the world according to Steven Moffat) and (b) is punished for her active role, dying as a Dalek. Heroic maybe, but dead.
And a Deus ex fuck you for Christmas, indeed.
Okay. Oh truly final note, this one of a visual nature. Is it just me, or am I alone in seeing a very Christian cross lurking near the lower right-hand corner of the screen-shot below?