Pop-Culture Catch-Up: Doctor Who — “The Day of the Doctor” (spoilers!)

Is Steven Moffat the Devil?

On the flip side, though, there have been several well-written critiques of “Day of the Doctor,” and they bring up very valid points.

Feminist blogger Sarah Siegel’s piece on her WordPress site and at the groupthink section of Jezebel.com examined why she felt that the special episode completely negated and/or invalidated the Doctor’s story and character progression:

The mass genocide that the Doctor committed — all the people he killed and all of the times he wrestled with that decision and was forced to come to the conclusion that it was for the best — simply never happened now. All of the amazing episodes in which the Doctor, overcome with grief, spoke about the tragic necessity of his decision are rendered meaningless by this newly-invented War Doctor who allegedly “didn’t count” until now. Now he counts. Maybe. Because of the magic of love and Bad Wolf.

Now of course you can argue that the show plays with time constantly, and that it’s possible that this is a new time stream in which it didn’t happen, and that’s all well and good. But the fact of the matter is that from this point on, the Doctor is no longer complicated by this event. Moffat, who has never had the best track record with character development as it is, has actively written a plot which removes an enormous amount of change and progression from the show’s lead character.

But more importantly than that, when you have no death, when nothing truly has weight or scale, when decisions don’t stick and nobody feels the consequences… it’s hard to care about anything. The stakes on the show feel so low at this point that a once addictive program is unengaging, dull and hollow. Even the 50th special had no real gravitas because we were basically watching a plot be un-done, rather than made. We were watching a character be un-banished, rather than created. For a celebration of 50 years of a television show, it felt awfully like a celebration of a writer who’s only been running it for 4 years. And, perhaps most irritatingly for a [former showrunner Russell T. Davies] fan, the complete erasure of everything that was developed during that previous era.

At the same time on the Lorem Ipsum Fandom Tumblr, the writer examined the episode from an in-universe perspective and an out-of-universe perspective and the two didn’t add up:

The choices [Steven Moffat] made in writing backwards made the Doctor into the in-universe liar I discussed above. And he did that in order to alter the viewer’s perceptions of the Time War from what it had been previously to something more black-and-white and easy to conclude “the Doctor would never” about. Gone is the suffering of countless other civilizations. Gone are the unthinkable, horrific weapons of mass destruction unleashed on the multiverse by both sides. Gone are the power-mad god-like Time Lords who will stop at nothing, including universal destruction. Added are adorable children clutching adorable stuffed animals dancing around idyllic may poles. Added is a Dalek invasion of a seemingly innocent, happy Gallifrey.  These are changes made by an author choosing to reframe the story of the Time War so the viewer is on board with his conception of how it really should have ended. Of course we are on the side of Clara when she begs the Doctors to not do it. We’re on her side because the whole story has been written with the express purpose of putting us on her side. And in order to do that, whereas the viewer of S1-4 had previously been on the side of the Doctor give the descriptions of events that we’re given, the story had to be altered.

Just as I originally was irked by the “Why are there no Asians in Firefly” question in the first panel of this XKCD strip, and have since come to accept it as a legitimate critique and criticism of a series I enjoy, I’ve read both of these essays several times and have come to see that these are completely valid critiques of the show and Moffat’s tenure as its executive producer and showrunner. They haven’t completely changed my general opinion of the episode, but it definitely will color how I view some of Moffat’s work to come.

Final Thoughts

As an anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor” did everything it was supposed to do. It was filled with subtle and overt references to the show’s history through the usage of archive clips of the previous Doctors (and a cameo by Tom Baker, the longest-running Doctor), an alien race which hadn’t made an appearance since 1975, props such as scientist Osgood’s voluminous Fourth Doctor-ish scarf and photographs of previous Doctors with their companions. It had clever call-out lines that recalled previous characters, an opening scene that transitioned from black and white to color in the same way the series did over time, and a suitably impressive plot which would call for that unusual sort of event of more than one Doctor being present in the same time, at the same time.

As a regular episode leading into the next phase of the series and the Twelfth Doctor’s run, though, there are some flaws which Moffat, his team of script and storywriters, and Peter Capaldi will have to overcome and need to address. For fans like me, it won’t be enough that the Time War’s bloody conclusion has been retconned out of existence. We’re going to need some additional closure in order for the Doctor’s character arc to make sense again.

I hope we won’t have to wait for another high-water anniversary mark for that to happen.