From “Steven Moffat: A Case for the Prosecution,” by Jack Graham.
This is probably, from my storytelling point of view, the most annoying thing Moffat did to Doctor Who. Yes, I know, sexism and classism and racism and many more -isms and -normatives that have been and will be discussed over and over again, because these are discussions that we should be having about one of the most famous, long-running and influential tv shows of all time. But the dumbing down of the Time War into something that belongs at the start of Revenge of the Sith is something that really really ticked me off.
I genuinely thought, watching the Time War segments of Day of the Doctor at 5am on a cold Australian morning, that LucasArts must have had a hand in this shit. Laser robots fighting Dalek ships? Gallifreyan footsoldiers against Daleks? Later on, the Dalek fleet somehow annihilating itself in its own crossfire? There’s Hollywood tactics and then there’s idiocy.
By making the Time War and the Doctor’s trauma from the war an influential part of the Doctor’s story arc and how other characters viewed ‘the Last of the Time Lords,’ RTD at first simplified the Doctor’s character and then complicated it. First, he painted himself as a mere survivor of the war, a random lucky (unlucky) fragment of solar driftwood who’d watched genocides. Then he revealed he was a soldier of the war, and perhaps had even destroyed the Daleks. The Time Lords were merely caught in the crossfire. Painted again as a wandering warrior who had no one left to fight for but what he chose to be loyal to.
And then the revelation: The Doctor had deliberately, willfully, destroyed the Time Lords and Gallifrey. The implication was that it was the *Daleks* who were caught in the crossfire, when the Doctor had been aiming squarely at Rassilon and his plans for universal destruction.
What a complex concept to add to a character who was already played as the reluctant survivor of an unsurvivable war. No wonder he was reluctant. He watched it happen. He made it happen. He killed his own race to save the rest of the universe. It applied complexity retrospectively - the Master’s return wasn’t just traumatic due to the Doctor and his worst enemy being the only survivors. It meant the Doctor was responsible for Professor Yana waking up, and so unleashing Saxon on the world. It meant the Doctor had created the Time Lord-free universe he had re-entered. It meant when the Master implied the Doctor was once a great warrior, that the Doctor was the only one who could end it, we could choose to believe that the Master knew that the Doctor had committed double-genocide.
Question: How do you have your hero commit deliberate genocide and still remain a hero?
Question: How do you show a war between two races that can travel through time, regenerate, rebuild their bodies? Have all of time and space to wage a war in? How do you do it?
RTD himself understood this complexity and also understood they could not. Hence, why the scenes on Gallifrey in the End of Time take place in black void rooms and CGI parliament chambers, with airy references to “billions dying every second.” Sometimes the line delivery failed, but references are easier on the budget than trying to render a CGI version of “The Could Have Been King” and still have enough money to get Timothy Dalton.
RTD understood that a hero could do awful things in awful times (choiceless choices), that a race of Time Lords could do awful things despite also being the culture that spawned the Doctor and that sometimes Daleks seem more sensible than Time Lords. He understood that a war that would end the universe wouldn’t merely be Daleks vs Time Lords, and that Time Lords could be evil, or self-serving, or good, or selfless or God forbid, complex.
Moffat forgot. He lacks that understanding and complexity. And so, the Doctor(s) save Gallifrey and the Daleks are so fucking dumb they shoot themselves. The Daleks fire on “innocent” (innocent because they are Gallifreyan) ground troops and cute children cower under the ruins of Arcadia, interspersed with shots of them dancing round a maypole because if there’s one thing a planet with two suns and a non-Earth based culture is going to have, it’s a fucking maypole.
He’s afraid that by killing millions to save billions, the Doctor isn’t a flawless hero-God, who makes impossible choices but isn’t forced to face consequences. By reversing the Time War, he takes away the Doctor’s greatest failure. By reducing the Time War to lasers and robots and NO MORE and innocent dead kiddies, he takes away the incredible complexity the Doctor Who universe is capable of, instead having two time-travelling races duking it out with pistols on the street. RTD left the horrors of the Time War in the shadows and let the trauma play out over the Doctor’s face. He left the horrors to the realm of fanfic and veiled references to Lovecraftian weapons.
Let’s not even get started on the complete reversal of the destruction of Gallifrey. It’s not like that was vital to the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s characters anyway.