I was asked a short while back if I’d penned an ‘I hate Steven Moffat’ post of the now-familiar kind. Having seen ‘The Day of the Doctor’, this is it.
I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
I hated it.
[Major spoilers follow.]
I didn’t hate everything about it. A few aspects of it had me grinning brightly.
- John Hurt is the Doctor! Now entirely and officially. (How’s the numbering affected by this, incidentally?)
- Peter Capaldi! (And, to a lesser extent, Christopher Eccleston!)
- Gemma Redgrave’s face twisting slimily into a Zygon: nightmarish. Good luck sleeping tonight, children. (On top of this, a sterling mention of the Brig.)
- The Hartnell opening titles, and the I.M. Foreman sign!
- The round things.
- ‘I may have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but at the time, so did the Zygon.’
- Clara being a teacher (getting much needed character development). More so, Clara on the motorcycle.
- Eleven. People argue whether Smith or Tennant’s better. As far as I’m concerned, the argument’s over.
Speaking of which, though… things I didn’t like were legion.
- Ten. I know you probably love him. I don’t. And this episode showed him at his babbling, abrasive worst. The Elizabethan scenes, especially early on, were an enormous weak spot. Oh, and… about that:
- SO MUCH WASTED TIME. An hour in, I was still waiting for plot developments I cared about. 75 minutes is a long episode, but a painfully short feature film, which apparently was what this aspired to be, cinema showings and all. You do not have time to mess around with screwdrivers, fezzes, rabbits, picnics, helicopters or royal weddings. (Regarding the helicopter in particular, the lampshading ’Why didn’t you just knock?’ did nothing to aid plausibility. It backfired, in fact.) Clara’s door-opening payoff made me laugh, but not enough to make up for the precious minutes wasted on its set-up, and all this is especially frustrating from a writer singularly skilled at prologues where lots happens rapidly (c.f. ‘The Pandorica Opens‘, ‘The Name of the Doctor‘). To specify what I think was a core problem…
- TOO MANY PLOTS, only one of which I cared about. Zygons hiding in the National Gallery could have been a strong mid-series episode – the statues scene was inspired, even if it a little too reminiscent of the clock-smashing in ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ – but I struggled to give a damn about it here, especially with all the complicated shapeshifting. I know I can’t have been the only one who found Ten romancing Queen Elizabeth a wholesale come-down after Daleks laying waste to Arcadia. Just because Moffat can spin several plates at once doesn’t mean he should, and in fact this made the whole thing rather joyless in my eyes.
- I am sick of the overly self-referential nudge-nudge-wink-winking of Moffat’s scripts – the War Doctor bristling about lip-locking being a prime example, on top of the recurrent ‘timey wimey’ lines, which I’ve never found as funny as he seems to think they are. In moderation, this sort of thing is nice. Used as much as it’s used currently, it makes everything feel like a Children in Need sketch. (Remember those ‘Space‘ and ‘Time‘ clips? No? I’m sorry I reminded you.)
- On the point of lip-locking, I’m no prude, but does anyone else feel the raunch is just over the top now? The Ten/Elizabeth smooching felt out of character even for an exceptionally romantic Doctor, and the ‘compensation’ line was frankly awkward on a teatime family series. (Eleven’s ‘tight skirts’ moment in ‘Nightmare in Silver’, which has ‘Moffat insert’ written all over it, remains the all time low.) Relatedly:
- Steven Moffat can’t write women. I know this is blunt – I’m sorry – it’s just true.Rose/Bad Wolf/the Moment’s flirting with John Hurt’s Doctor early on was just out of character (see above), even accepting this wasn’t actually Rose (see below). It felt like Billie Piper was reading Irene Adler’s lines from Sherlock… or River Song’s from Doctor Who. Or Amy’s, early on. Or Oswin’s. Or indeed Elizabeth’s in the same episode, who felt (as Ten did, actually) like a panto character. Osgood meanwhile, bespectacled and with a hopeless, geek girl hero-worship crush, was Molly Hooper in a scarf.It’s not that writing women requires some special or distinct approach. Moffat’s women, with the odd exception, are just tropes rather than characters, and often repetitions of the same tropes. His habit of cavalier sexism in dialogue (‘She’s been brainwashed, it all makes sense to her. Plus, she’s a woman… shut up, I’m dying!’) doesn’t help: the ‘prettier sister’ line was just uncomfortable, and Elizabeth’s ‘Men!’ comment cements her status alongside River and Irene in the ‘sexy man-haters to be conquered’ camp. Further, the gags about Ten repeatedly insulting the woman he was seeing simply felt cruel.
- Switching back to Bad RoMents (I heard it’s a song), why bother casting Billie Piper if not as Rose? I realise this is a rock-and-a-hard-place problem: if we’d had the vintage ’06 Rose-Ten drippery most expected, I’d also be complaining. In fact, I thought the character succeeded, but thanks to Piper’s performance and despite the script. Via the witches in Macbeth and Tina Turner in Mad Max, she gives a great mystery-desert-sorceress, and has more to work with than she ever did as a companion, but her actual casting felt perfunctory.
- Similarly, and with no need of further verbiage: what the fuck was going on with that 79-year-old-Tom-Baker cameo?
- The way the Doctors turned on an apparent sixpence from destroying Gallifrey to saving it felt wildly odd. It took nine lives, one death and assurance of the physical cosmos being destroyed for this to happen. One would think the War Doctor had slightly more resolve, having exhausted other options, than to be swayed at this point by a tear from Clara.
- Likewise, saving Gallifrey should not have been that easy. We’ve been told Time Lords were the inventors of black holes, able to hop lightly between universes and eradicate, if need be, all material existence: it seems just possible that prior to opting for the latter, as The End of Time told us they did (and surely this would be worth mentioning as a decision-making factor?), they’d have considered ways to save their planet – not least ones based on apparently everyday technology. Paintings, for God’s sake. Seriously, no one thought of this?
- How did those paintings, by the way, even reach Elizabethan England?
- In more abstract terms, I’m sick of Moffat’s tendency to have his cake and eat it, saving everyone or bringing back the dead, handing the Doctor victories through ‘timey wimey’ paradox on paradox, thinking third options up at every turn. A tradition of the series has been that someone (nearly) always dies, that moral compromises have to be faced and hands are sometimes forced by universal laws.Especially considering how many of its audience are children, this is brave, mature, important storytelling. I liked, for this reason, the comment to Hurt’s Doctor by Tennant’s and Smith’s, ’You were the Doctor more than anybody else: you were the Doctor on the day it wasn’t possible to get it right.’Like JK Rowling’s Snape, he’s a man whose heroism stems from the courage to take necessary steps with no alternative when others are unwilling. Should there be an alternative, then, provided by the writer? We shouldn’t forget either in all of this that The End of Time made the (inventive) point Time Lord society no longer deserved saving; that war had made it as monstrous as the Dalek enemy. This point was reprised as recently as ‘The Night of the Doctor‘, so it seems odd that it wasn’t in play here. I sensed briefly, wrongly as it turned out, that the Doctors would somehow mitigate Gallifrey’s annihilation – saving its billions of children, perhaps. This still seems more compelling than the contrived, too-easy resolution of the episode.
- I’d looked forward to seeing the Doctors arrange to meet in a fantastic way, a little like series five’s invitations across time from River to the Doctor. The Christmas Carol style ‘Here’s your future – now make a decision’ gambit? It played as hackneyed and dull, especially only three years after Who adapted Dickens’ plot.
- I confess I wasn’t living for the stock footage of past Doctors. It convinced in ‘The Name of the Doctor’, where it was used creatively. It didn’t here. (Why, more to the point and excellent though it was, were all thirteen Doctors involved in saving Gallifrey? How did they know about this plan? And if they all remember doing it, why does the War Doctor – body number nine – still try to use the Moment, embarking on a plan his past selves all averted?)
- It seemed very strange to show a single planetary battle as the decider of the War, conflicting with what I felt previous dialogue implied. I’d always imagined a conflict spanning all of time and space, not just isolated physical battlegrounds, like Enterprise‘s Temporal Cold War but better and less cold. (‘Ten million ships’, the Ninth Doctor told us in Dalek, burned – a bit many even for Gallifrey, surely?)
- Especially with all those people dying nearby, what did the War Doctor hope to achieve by writing ‘NO MORE’ on a wall in gunfire?
- Why regenerate John Hurt at the episode’s conclusion? I’d hoped, especially after his arc this story, that the character might turn up again. He might still, I suppose, snatched from between his birth and this episode, but that bitter early self is less interesting than one reconciled to being the Doctor. On the off-chance Eccleston ever did say yes to coming back, it’d be nice too to have had Hurt on hold for a regeneration proper.
- Also, ‘wearing a bit thin’?! Time Lords don’t just spontaneously die. (Fine, William Hartnell did. But he regenerated his bloody costume.) And how exactly wasn’t he wearing thin during the Last Great Time War?
These are only my initial thoughts, of course. On repeat viewings, they might change – and I’ll certainly be rewatching. Come to think of it…