Ricky Young takes a belated rummage through Steven Moffat’s slightly whiffy leavings.
As MostlyFilm (long regarded as Europe’s Best Website) comes to the end of its existence with all the grace and elegance of an airliner plummeting into a French hillside, we thought we should have a stab at rounding off our Doctor Who coverage. Usually, we’d be on this fairly sharpish – and you can fill your boots with our opinions on previous series by clicking on these handy links – but it’s been two months since the Xmas special, and not a peep! What’s going on?
Well, we’re going to justify it by stating clearly and for the microphone: if Steven Moffat can hang around for far longer than his interest did and come up with something shoddy, half-assed and barely tolerable as his last hurrah, then so can we. In fact, if anything, we can be even more rubbish. Take that, Steve-O!
So join us, do, as we take a look at the 2017 Xmas episode of children’s programme Doctor Who, ‘Twice Upon A Time’, and wonder – probably not for the first time – why anyone lets us near an internet publishing platform.
All in all we liked a lot of series ten, even though it was absolutely clear that it was one set of shows too many for Mr. Moffat. Freed from the shackles of his own self-imposed narrative-engineering tasks (River, Clara etc), there was a bit of perk and sass to the programme that had been missing for a while, although how much of that was actually down to Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts we’ll continue to wonder. Although, having already got rid of one semi-dead character he was bored with by sending them off into space to have offscreen adventures, doing exactly the same thing with Bill was either impressively audacious or the biggest bit of money-for-old-rope the BBC have endured since that time a hungover Nick Knowles sent in his brother to host the lottery quiz.
Christmas episodes of Doctor Who come in one of two flavours – the inoffensive time-passer, like last year’s ‘The Return Of Doctor Mysterio’, where all it has to do is provide enough content to drown out your racist, sherry-enabled uncle; or ones with a specific job to do – say goodbye to one Doctor, and welcome another. This was one of the latter, not that anyone this side of Jupiter didn’t know that, given the surrounding brouhaha.
But for all that brouhaha, as regeneration episodes go it was remarkably quiet and low-key, without much of a story, villain, or reason to exist outside the confines of the job it had to do, i.e. fill an hour and then flick the switch on all that glittery fire.
It is quite sad that Capaldi won’t ever be thought of as one of the great Doctors. God knows he was up for it, and we liked him a whole bunch. But we have to admit to ourselves that the Twelfth Doctor’s personality never quite gelled, be it the dangerous nut-job who first plopped into view, the mooning, Clara-obsessed grumpoid of his middle-years, or the chattery-uncle-you’d-avoid-at-a-wedding of late. And come on, if the whole sunglasses-and-guitar bit wasn’t a loud, irony-free declaration from Moffat that yes, his dick still works amazingly despite hitting the wrong side of fifty, then what was it?
Fucked if any of us can tell.
But even if the bigger picture wasn’t great, on an episodic basis, Capaldi brought the goods, as in ‘Twice Upon A Time’. Even if it was never made exactly clear why the Doctor didn’t want to regenerate, few actors could sell the entire shebang with quite the same level of breathless brio. Don’t worry, Peter, you’ll always be in our top five.
And so the Twelfth Doctor spent his Christmas Day with the First Doctor (we will, of course, try your patience by insisting that at that point in his life he was no such thing) for reasons that weren’t clear then, aren’t clear now, and having sat through it again last night just to make sure, definitely weren’t clear then. It was something to do just because you could, of course, but now that he’s gone and we can speak freely without Twitter hissy-fits being directed at us by the man himself, the thing that irritated us most about Moffat’s tenure on Doctor Who was his self-applied, rather grasping ownership of it all. Treat the history of the show like your own personal sandbox? Fine. Summon up incarnations past and lean on the hard work of the actors and writers by using their creation like a puppet? Sure. Can’t hire who you want for the big anniversary show, so just invent a new Doctor and slot him in there like a book on a shelf, daring anyone to object? Fuck, why not?
Yes, this might seem extraordinarily petty (it is, of course, extraordinarily petty), but previous producers never owned the show, they were only ever lent it, and it always got handed on to the next one more-or-less intact, rather than forever permanently reshaped by the big tacketty boots of a middle-aged Scotch egotist.
And so while David Bradley’s William Hartnell impression could be admired well enough, we were all left wondering, really, why he was there, other than to squirt a bit of Steven’s territory-claiming piss back almost as far as it was possible to go.
The episode passed the time, then, with semi-pointless visits from a few old faces and the guest-star being a sexist twat for reasons that only Moffat knows – was it an ‘I’m Not As Bad As This, Right?’ feint? Yes, that line about the smacked bottom was a direct quote from the mid-sixties, but did the show ever get so squirmingly and context-freely icky as the line about Clara being an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s a little bit too tight? We’ll answer that – no.
And thus after a valedictory speech that went on too long and was quite frankly needlessly pear-ist in its outlook, on came the fire and fury, and the thing that should have happened ages ago – happened. Given the show-runner is now Chris Chibnall, a man who’s never met a line of dialogue he couldn’t tweak to be more thudding and tone-deaf, good luck to everyone involved.
But it’s goodbye from all of us at MostlyFilm to Mr Steven William Moffat OBE. We’ve been extraordinarily rude to you over the years, but look closely and you’ll see we have taken the time to be quite tender too.
Sure, we moaned about this and that – it’s all there, on file – and god knows we turned your slippery grasp of the details into semi-regular outbursts of desperate snark that nearly always ended up saying more about us than you. We just need the yuks, you know, we’re awful that way.
You got the show made, though, when it very nearly would have ended if you hadn’t taken up the reins. You defended it against some of Europe’s Worst People, and you lavished a decade of your life on it, sacrificing god knows how much time and effort to produce a silly programme for children.
But to misquote you, and the Doctor, by way of stealing some of the outrageous brass-neck and hubris you’re both famous for:
It’s been a long time coming, but: Steven – we let you go.
Ricky can be avoided on The Tweeter.