Time to admit the sad truth: Moffat’s Doctor Who jumped the shark long ago, probably around the time River Song was revealed to be Melody Pond. Everything since has been a long, slow (though sometimes plummeting) descent into irritating preciousness, tone-deaf emotionalism, and truly idiotic plot-plunging. Culminating in this season and the tragic waste of Peter Capaldi’s potential to become one of the truly legendary Doctors.
It all just makes me ill.
Let’s start with the observation that whatever he may be, Stephan Moffat is not a writer equipped to plumb the depths of human emotion. He’s a talented quipster with a handful of neat plot tricks (ok, one plot trick) and absolutely no sense of how to develop either character or story.
I’ll discuss Moffat’s approach to characterization after I discuss his approach to story.
So, story first: Moffat’s best Doctor Who, “Blink,” is a fun puzzle piece that conceals its lack of dramatic depth with a clever plot twist and a smart horror premise. No characterization, no dramatic arc, no real story progression, just a nice series of scary moments that provide some chills and tension, and an “All You Zombies–” time travel plot gimmick that’s been done before (and is done again and again afterwards by Moffat himself, who apparently thinks all good plot twists should be repeated endlessly). “Silence In The Library” uses a variation of the time travel gimmick from “Blink,” as do most of the episodes featuring River Song, culminating in an entire season based on that same gimmick, inverted and replayed and run backward and forward, ad nauseam. It’s as if Moffat learned one thing about time travel (the Grandfather Paradox) and like the drunk who corners you at a party to elaborate on his insight into some quirk of politics, he will not stop talking about it, sure that he’s on to something Truly Profound And Original. He just won’t shut up. Please, God, make him shut up.
Now, characterization. I put characterization behind story because that’s what Moffat does. If you can call what he does writing characters. Moffat’s “characters” aren’t characters at all, in that they have no core personalities, only a series of quirks and twitches and provisional associations. Quick: who is Amy Pond when she isn’t a companion or Rory’s wife’s/girlfriend? What makes her tick (not just twitch)? What secret talent does she possess? What’s her opinion about football? Does she have a favorite band? A favorite color? Does she like animals? What gets under her skin? Why does she do what she does? Yes, yes, she’s The Girl Who Waited, just like Clara is The Impossible Girl. These are labels, not personalities. They neither identify nor justify character. They’re plot gimmicks, not people.
And the Doctor? Who is The Doctor in Moffat’s view? What really drives him? Curiosity? A deep-held sense of responsibility to look out for naive younger species? A raging self-contempt? What? What ties together the ticks and twitches and quirks and quips and run-on sentences of Moffat’s Doctor, what makes him more than an assemblage of mannerisms– what makes him a bleak and tragic and yet somehow hopeful figure? Anything? Is there anything consistent in Moffat’s version of The Doctor that tracks from the beginning of the Matt Smith era to the present day? Other than a deliberately contradictory series of quirky platitudes and an over-reliance on the insistence that The Doctor cannot be understood by Mere Mortals?
Matt Smith and Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill had sufficient charisma to obscure Moffat’s weaknesses for most of the fifth series, but even they struggled to give weight to the increasingly light-weight and pointless episodes that culminated in the disastrously confusing sixth series. Once Gillan and Darvill left the scene halfway through the seventh series, Moffat’s inability to create compelling characters or story arcs became painfully obvious with the introduction of Clara Oswald, the aptly-named Impossible Girl. More properly known as Clara Oswald, the Human Plot Device.
I don’t have the time or any interest in discussing the ridiculous second half of Series 7, other than to point out its main plot element (the Doctor needs to be Remembered somehow by the Impossible Girl in order to save him, like the audience at a performance of “Peter Pan” being urged to assert that they do believe in fairies to revive Tinkerbell) is a replay of the close of Series 5 (Amy remembers the Doctor at her wedding, bringing him back to life/reality), which was itself a replay of the close of Series 3 (Martha spreads the story of the Doctor among earth’s millions, and their belief in him revives the Doctor, etc.).
The present series, however, represents a crushingly new low, even for Moffat. Clara Oswald, the Impossible Girl, is now Clara Oswald, the Impossibly Boring Teacher who manages a double life adventuring with a Doctor she apparently doesn’t know and doesn’t particularly like and doesn’t seem to have much fun with, while also pursuing a completely unbelievable and uninteresting “relationship” with a fellow teacher with whom she has absolutely no chemistry, and who is himself a moral, intellectual and emotional cipher. Meanwhile we have Capaldi’s Doctor, who seems to have been plucked from a different decade of television entirely, appearing both clueless and arrogant in a way that makes me yearn desperately for Smith’s wacky quirky physicality. Not that Smith’s Doctor was any more consistent or inherently more interesting than Capaldi’s as written– he was just more fun to watch. The Twelfth Doctor (Thirteenth?) is simultaneously socially dense and intellectually shallow, depending more than ever on Moffat’s Patented Deus Ex Machinations to solve each week’s “puzzle” plot while doing little to further any growing sense of Who this particular Doctor is. Capaldi, a talented actor, is completely wasted by Moffat’s sparse characterization. There is literally no there there.
At this point, I’ve lost all interest in Moffat’s Doctor Who. I watch the episodes with the fascination of a bystander at a spectacular train wreck. I’m saddened by the waste of human potential and astounded by the hubris and stupidity that has brought such a wonderful character and story-universe to such an ugly end. Because I truly think this is the end of Doctor Who for this go-around. Even if the series continues beyond Series 8, if Moffat remains at the helm, it’s got nowhere to go.
I’m hoping that Moffat will leave for Bigger And Better Things, or be kicked out on his ass, whichever comes first. Let the Doctor sit on a shelf for a year or two, then have someone with both talent and a story to tell take him down and dust him off and do something timey-whimmy wibbly-wobbly to make the last few years disappear into an alternate reality. Bring us back to the Who of Series 3, or even 4, or at the least, the Who who wandered alone and grieving through three movies. Then start over.
Regeneration is a wonderful thing.