Thursday, 26 December 2013

Dr Who Christmas Special - Time to sack Stephen Moffat?

Dr Who - The way we were
As Barnets leading entertainment and gossip blog, we like to catch the zietgeist of the times and discuss the really important questions which are troubling people performing their suburban Christmas dance routine. Yesterday at the Tichborne household, 20 of us assembled at 7:30pm to watch the Doctor Who Christmas special. This has become part of the Xmas routine.

When the Doctor first returned to our screens, my little boy was just out of nappies. When Christopher Ecclestone died and was regenerated, he burst into tears and demanded "the real doctor" be returned. He soon got used to David Tennant and forgave the writers, realising that regenerations are part of the Doctor story.

Now a thirteen year old, his love affair with the Doctor has somewhat waned. His view is that Stephen Moffat has made the show boring, the plot is too hard to follow, there is not enough action and it isn't scary. I've been watching Doctor Who since the early 1960's. I have vague recollections of the first Doctor, William Hartnell and even some of the early monsters such as the Chumblies and the Zarbi. I think this was because my elder Brothers always made sure I watched the show, in the certain knowledge it would scare the crap out of me and give me nightmares.

When satellite TV first arrived in our household, to coincide with the launch of the Premiership, UK gold started to repeat the Early Doctor Who series that the BBC hadn't erased. It was on at midnight and I found that the schedule was ideal, allowing me to get home from the pub just in time to get the next installment. I reacquainted myself with William Hartnell. I soon realised that despite the poor effects and production quality, it was actually quite scary. Without the luxury of CGI, the script writers had to rely on the plot to do the work. The early sets were claustrophobic and the action was intense. I soon realised that the secret to the early doctor's scaryness was the fact that the scriptwriters were completely ruthless. New assistants and companions would be brought in. You would get to know them and find them likeable and sympathetic characters. Then they would get exterminated, often unexpectedly. Even more scary was the fact that Hartnell never shed a tear. As to the Daleks, we got to know their personality. Terry Nation wrote them as the logical endpoint for the Nazi ideology. The ultimate "masterrace" transformed into killing machines, set on making the rest of the Universe subservient, exterminating "inferior" races. Daleks had no feelings, no morality beyond furthering the ambitions of the Daleks. They would lay planets to waste, enslave entire races. They were technological killing machines. Yet the Doctor always won. Why did he always win? Because he simply happened to be cleverer than the Daleks. Although it was sometimes ambiguous, he was the good guy. He was a Time Lord. He could be more powerful than anyone, but he simply chose to tour the Multiverse as an observer, stepping in when things got too out of hand. He didn't look for fights, but when there was one, he'd do just enough to ensure the right thing happened. He was however oddly devoid of feelings for his companions. He wasn't given to self doubt either. That was back in the 1960's.

When the Doctor first returned, Ecclestone and Tennant captured the best elements of Hartnell era, adding improved effects and more budget. The show was scary, with occasional lighter moments. Perhaps the scariest monster of the new generation was the "weeping angels". These exploited our own weakness, our need to blink, to destroy us. The creator of these was Stephen Moffat, so when Russell T Davies chose to stand down as chief writer, who else could possibly step up to the mark?

Well I am sorry to say the consensus in our house is that it is all starting to go wrong. For last nights screening we had nine teenagers in the room. These were the new Doctor Who generation and the consensus was that last nights show didn't cut the mustard. Comments such as there was "no action" and "no story" were the biggest beef. When The Doctor arrived on the snow covered planet and was attacked by weeping angels, it seemed it was going to be a belter. How would the Doctor get out of that scrape? He simply beamed up to the Tardis. When he found that Church of the Papal mainframe had been overtaken by Daleks and its leader "Dalekified", he simply persuaded her to suppress the Dalek in her and let him escape. When a huge Dalek battlefleet arrived to destroy the planet, his assistant simply asked the Timelords to help him out, giving him special powers that allowed him to Smite the Daleks off the face of the world he was on. Everyone lived happily ever after. The tension never built, the plot never developed. Moffat hasn't quite twigged that if one monster can sustain an episode and keep the tension going, having every monster the Doctor has ever faced in One episode simply dilutes any tension.

If the whole episode had have simply been the Doctor outwitting the Weeping Angels on the planet, whilst the rest of his enemies hang around, isolated from the planet, it could have been cracking. When the Church of the Papal mainframe sent him down to the Surface for one hour, I thought Moffat had pulled a masterstroke. In my favourite western of all time, High Noon, Gary Cooper has one hour to save the town from a bunch of baddies. The film is shot in real time and the tension builds towards High Noon. I thought Moffat was going to deploy the same trick. A realtime battle with the angels, culminating with his victory and then getting knifed by one of the people he'd saved would have been a better ending. He could have been carried to the Tower, where the crack in time appeared and as he died, the Timelords could have regenerated him. At that point, he could have been beamed back up to face the Daleks on the Papal Mainframe mothership, leaving a great plotline for the new series. As it is, we had the almost annual spectacle of the Doctor completely destroying the entire Dalek fleet. This is now more predictable than the annual Status Quo last ever reunion tour. Perhaps the most telling point in the whole show was the appearance of a wooden Cyberman, this was completely in keeping with a completely wooden plot.

At the end of the show I was left with the feeling that it wasn't the Doctor Who needed to be regenerated, but the whole team of writers, who seem hell bent on making the show completely bland, boring and sterile.

I've no idea if Stephen Moffat lives in Barnet or reads this blog, but if he does, I suggest he watches a few of the early Hartnell episodes and reminds himself of the core features of the show, which have made it the longest surviving Sci Fi show. Don't get me wrong, I love the show and I want it to succeed. It's just that in its present form it is bloated and dull. I wonder if we'll see Sherlock Holmes granted magic powers to beat his enemies for the New Years Special. The point with the Doctor is he's never needed "powers". He uses his brain, which makes him far more powerful.


Richard said...

This post is fantastic! It sums up everything I've felt since Moffat took over. Matt Smith was a fantastic Doctor, but his stories have been terrible. I'm in my 20s, and I can barely follow the convoluted story arcs, I dread to think how children fare. He's drained a lot of the fun and excitement out of Doctor Who, I now feel like I'm watching out of habit rather than enjoyment.

Matt Smith deserved better, the audience deserved better.

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