As The Doctor faced up to fifty years in the spotlight and the end of his regeneration cycle, the BBC went on an all-out Who binge. Ricky Young picks the bones out of the buffet.
Timelords, eh? You can’t live with them, and you can’t have them trapped in another universe for all eternity. More’s the pity.
They appeared on our tellies even before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and they’ve been sticking their big patrician noses into everything the Doctor did ever since. Do this for us, Doctor. Go on that mission, Doctor. Perform genocide for us, Doctor – they’ve been a thorn in our hero’s side for decades now. Until the 2005 relaunch of the show, that is, when in a universally-acknowledged genius move, Executive Producer Russell T. Davies decided to wipe them from the Doctor’s universe, in order to concentrate on things that actually mattered instead.
You see, the more we found out about the Doctor’s people, the less we liked them. Every time they showed up, they were prissy, self-obsessed dicks, convinced of their own genius and expecting everyone else to be deeply impressed with the importance of their fairly arbitrary rules, even when they broke them, which was a lot.
Sound like anyone we know?
It’s been a big year for Doctor Who! There’s been a whole flurry of activity to celebrate its 50th anniversary, which would be pretty great if there weren’t huge yawning chasms of fuck-all on either side of it – it’ll be two entire years between the premieres of series seven and eight, you might be interested to realise. Sherlock fans might be able to put up with that shit, but they’re all easily-pleased idiots anyway.
Here at MostlyFilm we’ve been saddened by the plummeting quality of the Moffat era, especially as it started off pretty damn great. So let’s take a look at what the Beeb served up for what is rightly regarded as a milestone in television history – and everyone likes a party, right?
I’ve always been a sucker for the BBC4 docudramas that looked at famous telly people from the past and told us exactly how horrible they were. So Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure In Space And Time was always going to be a treat. Gatiss’ genre work usually has a likability problem – you can see what he’s trying to do, and everything’s clearly a labour of love for the guy, but as the end results are usually underwhelming at best, you can’t help wondering if his respect for the source material ends up strangling the life out of it. Happily, this effect was muted here.
Dramatising the very earliest days of the show’s creation, when kids’ educational romp Doctor Who was intended to fill a teatime slot and little more, great performances and an unashamed Television Centre fetish meant that familiar tropes of the Look How Awful They Were! recreation (“No, no, leave that everyday error in, despite it being the totally wrong thing to do! I think it will end up working and perhaps being extremely notable…… somehow!”) slipped by in a haze of fan-pleasure. Indeed, David Bradley’s portrayal of crabby old bruiser William Hartnell was one of the year’s best, and it heralded the start of the celebration in a quiet, fuzzy, 405-lined sort of a way.
But now to the meat of the matter – the 50th anniversary show, ‘The Day Of The Doctor’. As we’ve mentioned before, Executive Producer Steven Moffat appears to be chronically unable to avoid sucking the joy out his production by issuing spoilers, false spoilers, warnings against spoilers, crying about spoilers, ranting about spoilers and flouncing about spoilers. He obviously thinks this makes him a trickster-like storytelling pixie, jumping around the media and depositing shiny little jewels of story-dust, each one waiting to be whipped up into a big excitement-pie!
Nobody has told him he’s just ruining everything for everyone, including himself. Well, MostlyFilm did, but he just got angry and cried. Again.
Hence the genuine shock when an eight-minute prequel to the anniversary show, ‘The Night Of The Doctor’, just turned up on the internet with no fanfare and gave an impressive Paul McGann the regeneration he’d always missed out on, and actually filled in a big bit of story that everyone had been gasping to see for years. More things like this, please!
Never has a show made more out of – or been so hamstrung by – its own continuity than Doctor Who. Moffat clearly runs hot and cold on the issue, either tying his creation up in huge nets of ‘Ah, But That Means…!’, or, as we’ll see, essentially telling people who care about these things to take a moment to go fuck themselves. And so ‘The Day Of The Doctor’ was an incredibly tricky brief, having to be a) a big celebratory party, b) something for everyone, including your gran c) something for the normal fans, d) something for the obsessive fans and e) audacious enough to pull off the ticking continuity-bomb he dropped at the end of the last series i.e. who the bloody hell is John Hurt and what’s he doing on our show?
Me, I think he pulled it off.
We’ll always be left wondering if the whole War Doctor issue (if you’re coming to this cold, by the way, it seems that there’s always been another incarnation of the Doctor that’s never been mentioned, between the 8th and the previously supposed 9th, and was a kick-ass tough-guy with the balls to fight properly and kill all the Daleks, until he got sick of it all and killed all the Timelords too) was due to Christopher Eccleston refusing to come back for the multi-Doctor anniversary, or if it was a honest-to-god original idea, but I’m not sure that matters now. What it did mean is that the Eleventh Doctor’s slightly woozy world of fairy-tales, legends and never-ending stories got a much-needed wake-up call from an old man with a face like a fractured bollock.
A fun enough caper then – although a reading of the plot on Wikipedia still has me slightly baffled – with Matt Smith, John Hurt and the returning David Tennant exchanging Moffat’s trademark ‘sparky’ barbs and witticisms like they’d been doing it for years. Jenna Coleman still chirruped on the edges of things to woundingly little effect, of course, but every box was ticked – plus, the Tom Baker cameo was too crazy not to succeed – and I went away relatively happy and entertained, as opposed to fizzing with irritation like after nearly every other recent episode. The only thing we needed to take from it, plot-wise, was that the Timelords are no longer all dead, they’re just sealed off in another universe – a bit like Ruprecht in the attic, only with slightly more ludicrous headwear.
We were also given the chance to turn over to BBC3 for another live Zoe Ball Doctor Who spectacular (remember the last one?) which was of course a huge embarrassment for all concerned, but it did feature something deeply memorable – a transatlantic link-up to noted haircut/penis chimera One Direction including a delay-enabled feedback loop that threatened to become some sort of time-vortex of ineptness all of its own. Happily, Steven Moffat, fresh from the all-round success of his much-loved programme’s biggest episode ever, reacted to this minor technical hitch with all the grace and class of a badly-clubbed seal.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man. The endless telegraphing of What Is Going To Happen meant that we all knew that Matt Smith’s time was up, and that Peter Capaldi was going to take over the role in Xmas Day’s ‘The Time Of The Doctor’ – we knew why, where, when, what and whom. And so, yet again, when all that we’re left with is the ‘how’, it had better be a great ‘how’.
It wasn’t a very good ‘how’.
It turns out that Smith is, at this point, the last Doctor, so he sits on a planet to stop a war for some reason and grows old and it’s all both rushed and boring and it never gets interesting and that was clearly meant to be River Song but what, she was in a play somewhere and couldn’t do it or something?, and there was a kid involved and Matt’s old make-up was terrible, but he was good, like he always is, but everything got fixed because Clara asked the Timelords to fix it and the Timelords said TOTES WE FIXIN! and did you like how it was all fixed, and did you like how Amy Pond turned up despite the Doctor forensically ditching her and never looking back, what do you mean, no? well tough shit BANG! here’s an angry middle-aged Scotsman to threaten you, personally.
It’s at this point I have to wonder whether I really do genuinely admire Steven Moffat’s balls. Not his actual balls, although I imagine they’re as downy and luscious as any his country has produced – but I mean his incredible, some might say galling, chutzpah. Yes, it’s clear he wants a clean slate to move Doctor Who forward, and that’s understandable. Things got bogged down, homes. But does it really have to mean that season-long mysteries explained in single, tossed-off lines of exposition? It’s exciting, certainly, to be so cavalier with your plotting, and yes, it’s Christmas Day so we have to cut to the chase, but these mysteries were at the time promoted as epic, world-changing events for the Who universe, and now it turns out they were just, well, nothing. Why should anything of any supposed import ever be trusted to be as such ever again?
Do I admire the way the whole twelve-regenerations issue that has so mystifyingly dogged the show down the decades (I have a theory, as it happens, that Britain didn’t deal quite as well with the psychic shock of decimalisation as it might have, and thus latched onto another base-twelve issue it could refuse to change its mind over without, you know, starving through being unable to operate in shops) was fixed via the deus ex machina to end them all? I want to think I do, because I like it when awful people get annoyed, but it also comes so close to snide, chiselling contempt for the viewing audience that it makes no odds. Maybe I don’t like it very much at all, then.
So much effort was put into making the 50th Anniversary show an entertaining time that the Xmas show suffered appallingly in comparison – it had to tie up three years of Doctor Who without looking back, and if it couldn’t do it in a manner that satisfied, well, let’s just say it did, eh? Let’s just say it was brilliant, and the biggest, best thing ever, just like Moffat always does.
Because the Timelords are back! Well, they’re almost back – that’s the new quest, the new shiny bauble for the Doctor to chase because there always has to be one. That’s just how it is now. But the thing about the Timelords is that they famously stagnated due to their immense power and the burden of their responsibilities, their glory days being relegated to nothing but myth and legend.
Apropos of nothing, by the time the Doctor re-appears on our screens in the autumn, ‘Blink’ will be over seven years old.
Ricky posts on The Tweeter.