Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Death of Doctor Who (As Engineered by Steven Moffat)

An excellent Doctor in need of a decent producer.
The Death of Doctor Who

(As Engineered by Steven Moffat)

After viewing Doctor Who’s final episode of the season, Death in Heaven, my husband said he could write a review of it in two words: Train wreck. I told him I could use only one:


Okay, okay I’ll explain myself: After eight months of anticipation brewing, we, the venerable sci-fi/fantasy show’s fans, eagerly looked forward to spectacularly talented actor Peter Capaldi gracing our television screens in the title role. Alas, many of us found ourselves rather disappointed in the twelfth Doctor’s rather weak presentation to the world in his debut episode (read my I Got the Doctor Who Let Down Blues). We didn’t lay the blame for its failure to inspire on the great actor or our beloved series’ basic premise, however. It was all too obvious the weak script poor Peter and company had been given to work with was to blame. I felt that the actors and craftspersons involved honestly did the best they could do with the material, but you could sense they were struggling at times. 

One of the better episodes not written by Moffat.
Holding our breath (some might say our noses), we, the long-suffering fans, continued watching the remaining episodes of the season hoping the quality of scripts would improve. After a few rare glorious moments, many fans felt we had caught glimpses of the magic from the earlier Doctor Who era—particularly in strongly-written episodes such as Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline, and In the Forest of the Night. Huzzah! So, you could well imagine the crushing feeling fans like my husband and I experienced when we turned on the series’ two part finale… ugh. Not only had the beauty and strengths of the original source material and cherished characters been denigrated, but our hopes for a long run of the revived Doctor Who series have flagged.

Once again, my husband is right in saying our disappointment can be summed up in only two words: Steven Moffat.

Mr. Moffat is the show’s producer, to put it in American terms, or “show runner” to use the Beeb’s vernacular, and that makes him the person responsible for making editorial decisions. As a published author and editor myself, I know that responsibility for the success or failure of a creative venture rests with the person in charge of its editorial content. It’s up to the editor/producer to put his or her foot down sometimes and say, “We’re not going there.” Intelligently choosing scripts and hiring good scriptwriters to produce story lines is a big part of the job, in other words. It’s not a task to take lightly, especially when producing the fifty-plus year television milestone which is Doctor Who.

Alternate title: Mary Poppins Flies Again!
I’m not really the type of fan who has either the time or inclination to go around the Internet griping about the producers of Doctor Who (I’ve encountered fans who do), but I have to agree with quite a few of my fellow Whovians this year. We’ve been let down by Mr. Moffat. There’s not much positive one can say about the situation. There aren’t words enough to express how sad one feels watching what was promised to be a revival of the series’ special something, that je ne sais quoi, being flushed down the drain. And yes, it’s emboldened me to speak out before it’s too late.

For there is one other word that springs to mind apart from ugh to describe my reaction to Moffat’s Death in Heaven:


There’s a niggling sense of fan disrespectfulness in many Moffat-written or co-written episodes of Doctor Who, but perhaps they’re not all fully realized until this season’s finale. The fans’ sensibilities are once again taken for granted as the Cybermen’s genesis and motivations are co-opted in order to do a remake of Marvel’s Iron Man. Throw some very poor science into the science fiction—the part human/part cyborgs can now “grow” out of “pollen” that is “planted” into dead bodies—and one gets the feeling that Mr. Moffat doesn’t take the genre seriously at all. Zombies are all the rage now? Throw them into the mish-mash along with Iron Man!
“Look they can fly like Tony Stark can!”

You can almost hear Mr. Moffat laughing in the background… “Research? Bah humbug! Those silly Doctor Who fans don’t care about well-crafted sci-fi/fantasy. I mean, if they’ll believe a newborn space dragon can lay an egg the size of the moon a few minutes after it hatches (the premise of Kill the Moon) then they’ll believe anything. They’re all thick! They’re adults watching a kid’s show! We can do whatever we want and they’ll buy it.”

It’s a disrespectful attitude and insulting. Yes, another one word review: Insulting.

Whatever the failings of classic era producers and scriptwriters at least fans didn’t feel as if they were being talked down to, belittled or openly scorned for loving a family-friendly, sci-fi/fantasy television show. Yet Death in Heaven goes on to new heights of insulting fan sensibilities by turning the Doctor’s archenemy the Master into childhood icon Mary Poppins complete with the big hat and flying umbrella—because somehow ripping off recent zombie hits and Iron Man wasn’t enough. For the record, I’m not against the Master changing genders at all, but I am against a non-original and sexist interpretation of the beloved villain from the classic series. Which leads me to another one word charge that many, many female fans have leveled at Mr. Moffat:


"Love me--please?" (Or co-dependency is cool.)

There’s a great scholarly article on Sexism in Doctor Who ( that I won’t reiterate here, but the author makes a very strong argument that many of the Moffat-written scripts fail the Bechdel Test—and fail it miserably. For the most part women in the classic series (1963 – 1989) were presented as strong, intelligent, reasoning individuals with distinct personalities, equal in ego-integrity to the Doctor. In other words, worthy companions. Sure, some female companions screamed at a monster now and then, but so did quite a few of the Doctor’s male companions. Nasty things jumping out from the shadows or dark alleyways can do that to a person of either gender.

Rest assured, the Moffat era of Doctor Who has put women in sci-fi firmly in their place—right where they belong beneath the men! Young, good-looking females are depicted as simply “girlfriends” who suffer from hormonal fluctuations of emotions which make them constantly fret about whether the Doctor is still their boyfriend or not (if he ever was) and occasionally even slap him. Careers? For women? Get real! It’s not deemed important to show the current crop of female companions as successful career women. The female companion’s career takes a backseat to all the worrying and fretting about the Doctor and her human lovers she is forced to do because of her inferior biology, just like it does for most twenty-first century women, right?

Angst-riddled dialogue and silly arguments abound among the romantic couples in Moffat’s Doctor Who, bringing back memories of the good ol’ days of seventh grade crushes and break-ups in the junior high cafeteria. Female companions need never mature to an emotional age of beyond twelve or thirteen it seems in Moffat’s fictional world. Ditto for their male lovers. The new era of Doctor Who has become an adolescent packed space opera—or is it simply a soap opera? Original Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert had it all wrong! (She was only a woman, you know.) Who needs intelligent characters working on solving problems intelligently using the scientific method?

A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down...and down...

This is particularly true if you’re a brilliant male scientist and you find yourself regenerated into the body of a woman. The Master, formerly depicted on screen as a capable, dedicated and determined evil genius, once converted over to the female gender gives himself a girlie nickname like “Missy” and dresses up like every little girl’s favorite Edwardian nanny, Mary Poppins. He/she still wants to take over the world, but now she does it while wearing bright red lipstick and trying to stick her tongue down the back of the Doctor’s throat. How grown up!

Moffat seems to be giving a wink and a nudge to all the sexist male fans, intimating that once a mad scientist has lost his masculinity he certainly wouldn’t want to impress people that he was still an evil genius by acting like…well, like an actual genius. A person with a brain and intelligence and a plan...but hey! Once you’re wearing a dress and lipstick you can’t act any smarter than a seventh grader, right? Must be those girlie hormones!

Sarah Jane's bravery and intelligence--awesome to watch.

No wonder fans of the classic series of Doctor Who despair. Where are ace scientist Liz Shaw, investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith, and master teacher Barbara Wright when you need them? Thank heavens for those of us who can receive the Retro-TV channel in the U.S. Episodes of the classic series are broadcast five nights a week, and you can see these strong feminist role models there, a breath of fresh air compared to the twelve year old antics of Moffat’s female companions.

Thank heaven indeed—which leads me to another word that describes Death in Heaven: Tacky.

Perhaps tasteless would work as well as tacky. At one point in the story, the Doctor tells the U.N.I.T. team that they don’t want Americans involved with dealing with the Cybermen crisis because all Americans do is “drop bombs and pray.” Asking for Divine Guidance is a big no-no apparently since only stupid people (women?) would ever think it was a good idea. And perhaps attracting and maintaining American viewers isn’t at the top of the BBC America’s list of profitable things to do, either? 

Tacky jokes cracked about the vast majority of TV viewers’ faith in a Supreme Being shows rather poor judgement on Moffat’s part. Sure, he can be atheist and anti-American, but he doesn’t have to be mean-spirited about it, does he? Didn’t political rhetoric, which insulted the conservative-minded BBC chairman, get the original series cancelled back in the 1980s? 

R.I.P. Brigadier

My husband found the idea of “resurrecting” the late Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart in the graveyard to be in extremely poor taste. Even if you don’t believe in an afterlife or heaven, why would you condemn a righteous and moral character such as the Brigadier to become a mindless cyborgs puppet for all eternity? There’s that ugh factor creeping in… Tasteless and tacky shouldn’t be words associated with a family-friendly show, but in this day and age of nasty trolling and snarky musings, I guess it was bound to happen to Doctor Who, too. So sad that Mr. Moffat couldn’t rise above it for the good of the series.

Because, in the end, it appears that Mr. Moffat wants out of Doctor Who. Why else would he risk insulting folks with tacky and tasteless quips, repeatedly show female characters in a stereotypically sexist light, and show outright contempt of the classic series and disrespect for the intelligence of the sci-fi fan base as a whole? Why would he do any of these rash and insipid things unless deep-down he wants the program to be canceled? Moffat’s production of Sherlock has done well in the ratings, and perhaps that’s where his heart lies. Certainly writing for a character such as his version of Sherlock Holmes, an autistic, emotionally-stunted savant, seems to fit better with Moffat’s outlook on life. He can express himself creatively there.

Disrespectful, insulting, sexist, tacky… ugh. I won’t even bother to point out plot holes, heavily-telegraphed plot points, and others inconsistencies in Death in Heaven. Nick Frost as Santa Claus—or should I say Father Christmas?--will probably fill them all in in the holiday special and tie things up with a nice big bow in a neat little package, right? For an atheist like Mr. Moffat to put so much faith in a saint (St. Nicholas) to perform such a miracle of scriptwriting during the one the holiest seasons of the Christian calendar is too bizarre to contemplate.

Time to move along, Steven.

Steven Moffat should depart Doctor Who and move on to pastures green, and he should do so now before the show loses any more support from the fans. Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the Doctor deserves a chance to shine away from the dross of the Moffat era. Doctor Who deserves fresh air, fresh ideas, and maybe even some female writers and producers this next time out?

Are you listening, BBC?


Alexx Momcat said...

Wow. Well said.

Cynthianna said...

Thanks, Alexx. I just had to say it--it bugged me all night long to come out on the screen. ;)

I just can't stand the idea that the show could be cancelled after it was resurrected ten years ago. It deserves better--and so do the fans.

A J said...

Agreed, wholeheartedly!

Here's a quote from another disgruntled viewer that mirrors my own thoughts on these last two episodes.

“So true that many of the original Doctor Who episodes were nothing to write home about but they had at least a semblance of internal logic.

For me the relationship between The Doctor and Clara made no sense at all given their previous history, and the relationship between Danny and Clara was so underdeveloped and unconvincing as to make the last episode wholly unbelievable. Seriously, Danny Pink, Mr rufty-tufty soldier boy, is so heartbroken that he'd rather be a Cyberman than lose the woman who's consistently lied to him, ignored him and run off with another "man" ... we haven't seen enough of that relationship for that to be believable. If he was a pre-pubescent twelve year old maybe it would be believable.

Three excellent actors doing a damn fine job despite being given sod all to work with by way of plot or script!

As before, please, please, please can we stop upgrading old monsters and have some new ones. If every third episode features the Daleks or the Cybermen then Dr Who becomes a story of temporal whack-a-mole! Why give Cybermen the ability to fly (leave that to Iron Man) lets have a new enemy who can fly from the off. Ditto levitating Daleks to be honest.”

Yes, I found the whole of this two-parter bloody awful. The 'revenant Brigadier" was tasteless in the extreme, a serious lapse of taste and respect to a fine actor who portrayed a beloved character. I shall give serious consideration to watching any future episodes of Doctor Who if they're written by Moffatt!

Cynthianna said...

Yes, you really feel for the actors and others working with a Moffat script. They're doing the best that they can with drivel at times. Watching Peter's performance in Mummy on the Orient Express, I could see the animation and enthusiasm in his eyes--a great performance! That was definitely missing in the finale episodes. He wasn't able to "sell" the emotion because I think he was floundering with the weak script. Same goes for the other actors--not their best performances and you know they've got the abilities to shine.

It's all very sad, really. A decent editorial board could have possibly saved fans from this bunch of cobblers.

Charlie Kenmore said...

On the up side, I'll sleep better knowing that my season of discontent was not mine alone.

Mietek Padowicz said...

Cyntia I was wondering what you thought, as a sci fi fan, of the concept of Love conquering all so often it makes you think even a coven of witches would be amazed a the magic?

docbill said...

I can't disagree with what you wrote, but I have a bit of different spin the season finally. This was the most obvious example of jumping the shark since Happy Days. Almost everything that was in the finally could have worked if carefully scripted and produced. But putting it all into one finally just smelled of desperation for ratings. There is one other season of Doctor who that had the Dead Rising, the master changing to something radically different, and the Brigadier added to a bad script in a desperate plead for ratings. That was the final season of Classic Doctor Who. Even then, there was a the good sense not to throw it all into one episode. So in the end, I can say I liked that final season of classic Doctor Who, but I can understand why it was cancelled. I can't say nearly as much about Series 8 of the current Doctor Who series. I will be very surprised if there is still a Series 9, and find it very unlikely there will be a series 10.

Cynthianna said...

I hope you'll sleep better, Charlie, but I think most fans would sleep better knowing the Doctor and his companions were in safer hands--or at least in the hands of people who care about their integrity as beloved characters.

I'd go for love conquering all, Mietek, in any story as long as it's well written and keeps the audience's sensibilities in mind, I think that's the enduring power of the Doctor as a character, in that he LOVES HUMANITY and will do whatever it takes to protect and save it. When the Doctor starts spouting off snarky comments like "who needs the Americans all they do is drop bombs and pray" then it sounds like the Doctor does NOT love humanity anymore, since he's actively prejudiced against a group of human beings just because of their nationality or belief in God. That to me is just plain nasty writing that should be edited out. Let's keep the character of the Doctor as a GOOD MAN who LOVES HUMANITY, not as a snarky guy who can't wait to make a nasty put down joke at other's expense.

Above all else, whenever you're writing a story you need to have RESPECT for your characters and source materials. The Doctor as a character deserves more respect--and he needs to demonstrate respect as well in a script. That's where this script in particular "jumped the shark" as docbill states.

I sure hope we see a series 9 and 10, but if the show starts to lose ratings or popularity because of the snarkiness and general contempt for the source material express by its current producers, then I won't be surprised to hear the BBC has pulled the plug on it again. What a shame--and entirely avoidable. I'd like to see better judgement exercised next time out along with a genuine sense of love for all humanity in the scripts rather than the "we gotta make ratings by being snarky and copying other big time SF movies/shows!" attitude.

Anonymous said...

I really can't comment on the finale since I haven't watched it yet, however, it is telling that while life has recently put me behind in watching many programs that I follow, this season's Dr.Who episodes seem to be falling further down the priority list.
That is not good. I used to watch them first.

Matt Ebbs said...

I have to say I couldn't disagree more. Whilst I understand wholeheartely what you're saying, I, in fact, found Missy to be the sociopathic genius previous incarnations of the Master have been. She may well have "stuck her tongue down the Doctor's throat", however in that and in all of her actions, to me she seemed completely in control up until the point that she was shot. She seemed to be more in control of fabricating situations than John Simm's incarnation (which was fantastic). Even to the last she seemed to take some sort of glee in corrupting the Doctor, which seemed to be her aim from the start.
As for the "anti-American" sentiment; I honestly think it was just a harmless jibe intended to tease American fans. I don't think there was anything deeper than that. I'm a huge fan of America; I just completed a 3 year undergraduate in American Studies and I'm the first to jump on anyone for Anti-American sentiment, however this did just seem like teasing.
I completely appreciate you opinion, however I really enjoyed the finale and didn't find it insulting, patronising or disrespectful.
(That said, the series could certainly do with a fresh face as far as the show runner is concerned. On that I cannot argue)

Cynthianna said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cynthianna said...

I sympathize with you, Anon. Doctor Who is becoming less a "must-see" TV show for me and my husband and more of a "Oh, is that all that's on?" type of show. Sad really, as my British husband has been watching Doctor Who since its earliest days and has been a big fan throughout its history. I've been a big fan since it debuted on our PBS station back in 1985. We both were thrilled when it came back on the air in 2005, but ten years later? Not so much.

I'm glad you enjoyed the season finale episodes, Matt. Maybe males found the Master/Missy to be a worthy villain and didn't see the parody of womanhood I and other fans saw in the portrayal and found insult in it, However,when you're producing a show that has gained quite a large female following in recent years, perhaps the Missy portrayal wasn't the smartest thing to do (risking losing the feminist male and female viewers).

I find it interesting that while you say you liked the season finale you do see a need for a new show runner for the series. Is there something in your subconscious prodding you to say that bothers you deep-down, or do you see an overall lessening in quality of the scripts and feel that new blood is needed to save the show from becoming stale?

Kate Elmer said...

Completely and totally agree with this. My husband and I nearly smashed the TV over that Moon is an egg garbage. Go home, Moffatt. You're drunk.

Cynthianna said...

LOL! I don't know if Moffat is drunk or not, Kate, but he does need to exercise better judgement in running the show. You should not insult your fans of any persuasion. If they stop watching Doctor Who and tell their friends to stop watching it... well, there goes your ratings. That's just common sense.

I can certainly sympathize about wanting to smash the TV after watching "Kill the Moon". My husband and I just looked at each other and said--"That's supposed to be SCIENCE fiction?" It was a weak attempt at the genre, IMO. Perhaps they stuck it in the middle of the season to hide it between the better written episodes by Jamie Mathieson thinking we'd forget about it? I hate to say it, but the decent and halfway decent episodes didn't erase my memories of the poor finale episodes. If you want to end a show with a big bang and not a whimper of "WTF?", I'd use my stronger writers to pen the finale, wouldn't you?

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