What's That, You Say? Ferrett Has Thoughts On Doctor Who? Shocking.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

(Super-mild abstract spoilers.  Be warned.)
So I saw Peter Capaldi’s premiere last night, and I liked it by the low standards I’ve come to accept from Moffatt’s run.  I’m one of those Whovians who just gave up on Matt Smith, as I think Matt personally could probably have been a good Doctor, but the shows he was in seemed to have degenerated into a series of Moffatian tics – mysteries introduced with great flourish and little emotional conclusion, confusion presented by way of character development, compressed bursts of unearned emotion.
And what struck me the most about the season premiere is how absolutely terrified Moffatt is of staying with uncomfortable emotions.
Take the bed scene last night – no spoilers, really, every Doctor premiere lately has had the Doctor languishing somewhere whilst his companions fret over him.  But what that scene seemed to suggest was that perhaps the Doctor was weary, aged, powerless.  It could have been a potent scene, discussing the way the Doctor is so tired of struggling to fix the world, but he can’t…
…except who knows what it was trying to say, really, because ho hey! there’s big clunky SFX roaming the streets of London, and we’ve got to get to that.
What Moffat is increasingly reminding me of is that clever guy at parties, the one with all the interesting anecdotes.  He’s great if the party needs a laugh.  But eventually, you get to the point where someone goes, “So how are you, Phyllis?” “Not so good, my daughter just died”…
…and Moffat goes “Ho hey!  Change of topic, amiright?” and, pulling his collar to air out the sweat on his neck, tells everyone a rollicking story about coprophages whether they want to hear it or not.
Moffatt thinks fear is exciting.  He thinks action is exciting.  He thinks heroism is exciting.  But all of those quiet moments, the reflective ones that often make the action meaningful, well… He seems honestly scared by it.  He’ll put soft moments on that on screen just long enough to have the Doctor barrel past them, as if to say, “See?  Those dark nights of the soul?  Nothing to fear, it’s all a larf, come on, shit, let’s tiptoe past this fucking graveyard at top speed!”
Some, of course, love that, because that’s their philosophy.  But me?  I remember back to Genesis of the Daleks, with Tom Baker, where he has the power to destroy the Daleks forevermore – just two wires, touched – and they take a good solid scene as the Doctor wonders whether yes, he has the moral right to do that.  And that concern permeates the entire episode, that feeling that maybe destroying the Daleks isn’t morally justifiable, maybe the Doctor isn’t correct.  That whole friction is what gave the series a surprising amount of gravitas for a guy in a scarf fighting dustbins.
And Moffatt, well, I suspect if he did Genesis of the Daleks, there’s been one scene where they’d ask the question, but only so they could show the answer that of course The Doctor’s right, he’s always right, why would you ever doubt the Doctor?
Sure, they did a touch of moral ambiguity last night.  That I liked.  I in fact liked the premiere once they went out to eat and found the plot. But the idea that the Doctor might be wrong, or fallible, or even harmful seems to terrify Moffatt so much that I just stopped watching Smith.  I knew Smith would be right.  I knew that nobody I liked on the show would ever be wrong, even if they had to partake in contradictory moral contortions to arrive at this conclusion.  Even if half the time the answer to “Why is this man wrong?” turned out to be “Because he’s so awesome that even being awesome has problems!”  So why even watch the show, when I know the ending, if not to bask in the warmth of a moral fantasy where everyone I suspected to be nice would be proven ineffably wonderful?
Now.  Some have complained about the treatment of Clara, which I guess I can understand, but a) this is Moffatt, and see my low standards on Moffatt’s treatment of women, b) I don’t give a crap about Clara as a character and as such I can’t get outraged when she’s played inconsistently (even though she blatantly is), and c) alas, whether you like it or not, the show’s gotta hold hands.
What I find interesting is that some of the people who are complaining the most about the heavy-handed transition were some of the people who fucking adored the Rose-to-Tennant bridge in S1-to-S2, the one where they made it clear that Rose is the Doctor’s special-super-wonderful-lovey-dovey person and no change of personality will ever break their bond… which I, at the time, found pretty kludgy and sickening and an annoyingly explicit direct plea to the fans that yes, we know this Doctor’s different, but seriously, he still loves you.  But I endured it, because the Doctor was new to many people and yes, we need this claptrap to keep the fans going.
Now a lot of those folks who, jaded in Who fandom, are always like “Yes, we know the Doctor changes, we don’t need to have this explained to us, we don’t need to have this insultingly blatant essay on how the Doctor can be unattractive foisted upon us” have forgotten that yeah, for a lot of fans, the Doctor is their version of boy-band sexiness, and so they do need a very explicit transition to grizzled old Capaldi.  (Who is sexy in his own way, of course.)  And no, those fans won’t show up on your Tumblr page, because they’re newish fans and maybe not as obsessive about it as you are, but they are out there.
I suspect a lot of the annoyance is partially due to, yes, Moffatt’s inevitable buried sexism, but I think another part of that is that Doctor Who has, once again, become old enough that the fandom wants two separate things.  One has grown accustomed to the regenerations and doesn’t want all of the emotional fooferaw of your first breakup, we’ve done this, let’s just forget Smith and fucking get on with falling in love with New Guy, and those fans are annoyed by the fact that – just like your precious fucking Rose falling in lurve with Tennant – some newer fans aren’t quite as hip to the scene and need so much damn time to acclimatize.
Well, guys, I dealt with the Rosestravaganza of 2005, and you had to deal with the Claranation of 2014.  It’s tedious, if you’ve done this fandango before.  But I suspect, like me, that for every old vet out there going, “Do we really need this shit?” we have some new fan going, “Oh, thank God, this makes it work for me.”
It’s the definition of a broken fan base.  But hey.  I’m hoping, perhaps irrationally, that Capaldi doesn’t turn out to be yet another collection of Moffattish tics.  We’ll see.

3 Comments

  1. Rosemarie
    Aug 24, 2014

    I agree with a lot of your criticisms of the episode itself, but here’s what I came out of the episode thinking:
    Capaldi did a fantastic job.
    When he was announced as the next Doctor I was upset, mainly because he’s already played two recognizable characters in-universe. But when I was watching the new episode, I wasn’t thinking about them; I didn’t even remember they existed, at least, not that they were the same person underneath, because it was unquestionably the Doctor that I was looking at.
    Matt Smith… I’ve come to like him a lot (I think he worked well with what he was given), but I could not accept him as the Doctor until the end of his first season. Capaldi, I was thinking of as the Doctor by the end of his first episode.
    Against all my expectations, they cast an excellent Doctor. I hope he’s given writing that will do him justice.

  2. Vantigan
    Aug 24, 2014

    I didn’t enjoy this premiere as much as I wanted to. I thought the beginning was slow and I’m not sold on this doctor yet. I enjoyed Matt Smith from the first episode so this new one is a little foreign to me.
    I am excited to find out who the woman is. My first guess is she’s a timelord as well, but time will tell.
    I enjoy Moffatt’s writing so we can agree to disagree there, but this episode lacked something for me.

  3. Carmel J.
    Aug 24, 2014

    I wonder if this is any different if you binge watch the series the first time rather than waiting for each new episode. I ask because that’s what I’m doing. We just weathered the transition from Tennant to Smith and will see the Angels for the second time in the next episode.
    I’ve only really had two issues so far. 1) do the Daleks need to be defeated again every fifth episode? Is this a franchise trope, or a flaw? 2) the whole Rose+Doctor thing felt forced the entire time, and was hammered hard. I’m a pretty forgiving viewer, and I was tired of it by the end. I couldn’t understand why Rose was SO upset at Tennant’s fake regeneration- she was the only person in the room with experience with regenerations, who knew what was going on, and she’s the one freaking out? It didn’t compute.
    Does binge watching make you miss details because you have less time to obsess over details in the episodes? Does it help you catch themes and trends in shows to watch in longer chunks? Things to ponder as we work our way through Matt Smith (who had me at Fish Custard, though he is less intense so far than Tennant could be). Cipaldi will have to wait for Netflix!

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