So now watching “Dark Water”, the first part of the two-part eighth season finale.
“It wasn't terrible.”
“It was boring.”
“It was ordinary.”
Clara is a fascinating companion, in large part because she’s essentially riffing on the sense of entitlement that Rose felt.
“I don't deserve anything. Nobody deserves anything.”
“But I am owed better. I am owed.”
Clara is selfish and self-centred. But she’s aware of that, and the show is aware of that.
These traits are explored as developed. They make her human.
“Go to hell.”
“Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough.”
“Clara? You asked me what we're going to do. I told you: we're going to Hell.”
Some great Moffat dialogue there. Again, playing with words and meanings.
A lot of that is down to the vulnerability that Capaldi brings to the role, at odds with his gruffness.
He’s probably my favourite iteration of the character.
The irony being that in many cases the returning monster is revealed by the title of the story; “... of the Daleks”, “... of the Cybermen.”
The Daleks at the end of “Bad Wolf”, the Cybermen & the Daleks in “Doomsday”, the Master in “Utopia.”
“Dark Water” takes that idea to its extreme. You know it’s Cybermen. The episode knows it’s Cybermen.
But still, cliffhanger.
The Cybermen teaming up with another recurring enemy for an invasion of the contemporary United Kingdom, exploiting mankind’s fear of death.
And, as originally planned, a companion departure story.
Like the Angels in “Flesh and Stone”, the Cybermen are presented as a concept that manifests itself repeatedly across time and space in different forms.
They’re an infectious, contaminating, monstrous idea.
Moffat just literalises that idea and runs with it. Cybermen seem to be just an evolutionary possibility for countless world’s across time and space.
They lurk in the darkness.
Which is interesting.
He mocks them with varying degrees of scorn. He mocks the rape-revenge epic in “A Good Man Goes to War”, the “last regeneration story” in “Time of the Doctor.”
Those who think Moffat shouldn’t tell those sorts of familiar archetypal stories hate that he sets them up.
Those who want Moffat to tell those sorts of familiar archetypal stories hate that he subverts them.
I can see that.
More than that, it is a much more interesting approach to the tired old stock “Doctor Who” cliché than playing it straight.
Davies used that template three times in three years. It’s fair game.
He sets up and subverts a mystery around Clara, an epic last regeneration story, a search for Gallifrey saga.
And this drives certain fans bananas, perhaps even fairly.
The show ran fifty years. It can afford to have six seasons where it deconstructs with those tropes and ideas instead of playing them straight.
Besides, how long before Chris Chibnall or someone else plays a “classic monster reveal” cliffhanger straight?
I suspect some of that flowed from the fun that he had here.
Chris Addison, making a delightful supporting character.
As is the female version of the Master, crediting Jenna Coleman ahead of Peter Capaldi and putting her eyes in the credits.
It’s teasing the Cybermen with the idea that Clara is a riddle rather than a person, like “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Snowmen” did to the audience.
It is undoubtedly the most consistently that the character of the Master has worked since the Pertwee era.
In fact, there’s a credible argument that “Missy” is the best that the Master has ever worked.
“Death in Heaven” aired the day before Remembrance Day in 2014.
Which is a very charged, very nationalist, very militarist celebration.
In which the establishment buttresses itself with the dead.
Celebrities not wearing poppies get crucified in the press. Even those from, say, Northern Ireland whose relatives were killed by British troops.
Focusing on a British soldier suffering from PTSD after killing a child.
As I recall, it aired right before the BBC went straight to Remembrance Day celebrations. Gutsy.
“To know that you're just like me!”
The characterization of “Missy” benefits from riffing on the Batman/Joker dynamic in “The Dark Knight.”
It gives the duo a better hook than they’ve had in decades. If ever.
BBC One transitions from this to David Cameron celebrating Remembrance Day.
“Death in Heaven” is another example of Moffat’s recurring repudiation of the whole “Oncoming Storm” rhetoric of the Davies era, the idea of the Doctor as an omnicidal force tearing through the cosmos.
It keeps the prospect of Gallifrey’s return firm in the audience’s mind, while making it clear that there will be no epic “search for Gallifrey” saga.
Some of the best character work that “Doctor Who” has ever done.
Moffat started out as a sitcom writer, and “Death in Heaven” is the closest that “Doctor Who” has come to treating a companion departure as a break-up.
Like, an actual break-up, not a metaphor for one.
By the way, that sentence is an example of why I love “Doctor Who.”
It’s amazing that it took the series almost a decade to hit on the idea of doing a Christmas Special with Santa Claus.
The best (“A Christmas Carol”, “Time of the Doctor”, “Last Christmas”, “Husbands of River Song”) come from the era, as do the worst (“The Widow and the Wardrobe”, “Doctor Mysterio”).
(I have a great fondness for “Runaway Bride” and “Voyage of the Damned”, although they are a lot broader than many of the Moffat Era specials.)
“Till you looked at them too long. Till you thought about them. Sleeping. Probably been down there for centuries.”
“And it wakes up when you think about it?”
The Dream Crabs are a very Moffat monster, a monster that is indistinguishable from the idea of the monster.
A girl is a great great star.
“They're both ridiculous.”
Like data harvesting/consent themes of “Dark Water”, emphasis on the distortion of reality in “Last Christmas” has aged remarkably well.
Reality collapsing into itself.
As much as Moffat gets flack for his “timey wimey” plotting, so much of his era is defined by the idea of the passage of time.
We grow, we change. We lose people close to us. We move forward. We are never who we were.
“Last Christmas” argues that the Doctor is an idea that can make us better. Like Santa.
“I have watched over you all your lives. I've taken care of you from Christmas to Christmas.”
”But you're not real.”
“And that never stopped me.”
“A time-travelling scientist dressed as a magician.”
I love that “Last Christmas” operates by an internal logic that Santa Claus is precisely as real as the Doctor.
Right down to the whole “how’d we get here?” logic to catch it out.
It gives the episode a surprising emotional heft, much like “Husbands of River Song”, which is in its own way another story of a “Last Christmas.”
It plays into Moffat’s recurring suggestion of the Doctor learning to be a better man.
The real conclusion of Clara’s arc - that she “graduates” from what amounts to an apprenticeship under the Doctor - is much better.
At least part of that is down to a broad lack of interest. During the Moffat era, Dalek stories tend to be season premieres rather than season finales.
Moffat never writes a Dalek story as good as “Dalek” or “The Parting of the Ways”, or even “Journey’s End.”
A lot of that is down to how they approached the show as a whole.
They are defined in opposition to the Doctor. While the Doctor is mercurial and constantly evolving, the Daleks are (by definition) unchanging.
They exist in opposition to the Doctor. It makes them fantastic foils for epic narratives.
It’s telling that, for Davies, the Daleks tended to be the monsters lurking at the end of this particular book.
The Daleks were very much a part of that, something instantly recognisable as belonging to “Doctor Who.” And instant epic stakes.
Consider “Midnight”, for example. It’s wonderfully deconstructive.
However, Davies was very much trying to make “Doctor Who” a big, broad, iconic thing. And he succeeded.
However, the Daleks are so iconic and so fixed that you don’t really have any option but to play them straight. Making them an awkward fit.
The Cybermen are arguably only defined as “not the Daleks.” Meaning that Moffat can pick at them and can change them in a way that he can’t change the Daleks.
However, the Daleks are such an iconic force that neither of these changes actually sticks.
He decides to tell a Davros story rather than a Dalek story.
Although “The Magician’s Apprentice” is perhaps the MOST Davros centric story, with the exception perhaps of “Revelation of the Daleks.”
As derided as “sonic sunglasses” might be, a kid could be the Doctor without having to buy a branded screwdriver toy.
And then reveal the twist is that the Doctor could just leave a child to suffer, even Davros.
“Let’s Kill Hitler” satirised the idea of angsty Hitler time travel stories, suggesting the Doctor has better things to do than punish Hitler.
“The Day of the Doctor” revealed that the Doctor could never kill children, even for the greater good.
However, the hook in “The Magician’s Apprentice” is a rejection of the “would you kill Baby Hitler?” moral dilemma, seeing it as fundamentally lacking in imagination.
(See also: “Let’s Kill Hitler.”)
In reality, the trick (as with “The Impossible Girl”) is that there is no trick. It’s a playful misdirect.
“The Witch’s Familiar” is structured in such a way as to tease the audience with the prospect of an “oh-so-clever” solution, when the resolution is just simple humanism and compassion.
There is some “timey wimey” logic in “The Magician’s Apprentice”, the implication that Davros can’t remember being saved by the Doctor... until after he was saved by the Doctor.
“Time can be rewritten.”
However, a key theme of the Moffat era is the need to move forward and to continue progressing instead of fixating on the past.
It’s telling that “The Witch’s Familiar” ends with the Daleks being eaten alive by “the older generation”, their own history.
“Your sewers are revolting.”
That can’t happen to “Doctor Who.”
“The Witch’s Familiar” does a really great job comparing and contrasting the Doctor and Davros.
Pointedly, Davros saved Skaro the same way that the Doctor saved Gallifrey, by hiding it from the universe.
However, most tellingly, Davros is the kind of person interested in “the Hybrid”, perhaps Moffat’s biggest hint that’s not what this season is about.
It has to do with the Doctor being willing to year time and space apart in order to keep Clara safe, which is more important coming to the season finale.
Here, Missy suggests that she should team up with the Daleks at the climax of “The Magician’s Apprentice.” The Daleks respond... by vapourising her.
And, if I do watch some more Moffat era “Doctor Who”, I’ll likely skip “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood.”
But this was fun. Also, love this gag...
It’s amazing how, even in the less obviously great scripts how wonderful the dialogue is. “Doctor Who” is largely a show about people on sets, talking.
And I already miss that in the Chibnall era.
“If Clara Oswald is really dead, then you'd better be very, very careful how you tell me.”
(Extremely long pause before the Dalek Supreme answers.)
“Clara Oswald is not alive.”
It is a very neat and potatoes episode. It speaks to the quality of the Moffat era that these sorts of “back to basics” episodes were rare enough to be events of themselves.
Whithouse is a polarising writer among fandom. Love him or hate him.
So, naturally, I’m on the fence.
It’s no surprise that Whithouse writes the most traditional story of season nine.
I really like “A Town Called Mercy”, but it is the one of most Davies era story of the Moffat era, to the point that it feels completely out of place.
But he’s TOO old-fashioned. Even Gatiss is more willing to change with the times.
A small example, Whithouse was eager to cast another male lead.
“Under the Lake” is pure old-fashioned “Doctor Who” storytelling.
Although I do love various Hinchcliffe era “bases under siege”, “The Impossible Planet”/“The Satan Pit” and “Midnight.”
But I accept that this is part of what “Doctor Who” does, so I can live with it.
I welcome “Doctor Who that’s not for Darren.” It’s good to share. Everybody gets a slice.
I’m just glad that so much of the Moffat era was “Doctor Who, but just for Darren.”
The eighties hypercapitalist, like Burke from “Aliens.” The underwater siege like, of all things, “Warriors of the Deep.”
“Sure it’s terrible, but at least it’s something to remember!” is a VERY “Doctor Who” sentiment.
Like Dalek stories, there’s an argument to be made that the Moffat era was less good at “base under siege” narratives than the Davies era.
Because the Moffat era is more interested in being playful than archetypal.
“The Almost People” is a base under siege by its own inhabitants.
“The God Complex” is about worship.
“Into the Dalek” is a siege inside a Dalek, itself in a base under siege.
Which is why you trust it to Whithouse, and he mostly does a good job with it.
The genre originated in the Troughton era, which would have been about a year before Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech.
Despite its myriad problems, one of the most interesting aspects of “The Tsuranga Conundrum” was watching Chibnall try to build a non-xenophobic “base under siege.”
You absolutely cannot risk doing that in 2018 with “The Tsuranga Conundrum.” So Chibnall recognises an issue and tries to fix it.
Both are largely stand alone “base under siege” stories with a larger season arc subplot grafted in.
In “The Tsuranga Conundrum”, it’s the Graham/Ryan/Dad stuff; in “Under the Lake”, it’s Clara/death.
Neither really weds strongly to the a-plot of the episode itself.
Certainly, the Doctor’s excitement about ghosts seems odd for a character who has live through (for example) “The Unquiet Dead.”
But it sets up the idea of extending life that runs through the season as a whole, even if it doesn’t really tie in here.
This is obviously building to the idea of the Doctor finding a way to give Clara more life in “Hell Bent.”
It’s a season theme.
It is a moment that doesn’t really work in the context of the story where the audience knows (and the Doctor should know) that these aren’t really ghosts.
(Very telling is the Doctor’s suggestion she get herself “another relationship” and her insistence on doing the dangerous thing.)
It’s weird to think that such a heartbreaking moment is seeded in the season’s big throwaway traditional business as usual two-parter.
Was it a reshoot? A rewrite? A late addition outside the production block? A fill-in? An insert?
It wouldn’t surprise me if Moffat wrote this.
It’s a feature of the Moffat era that even a generic “base under siege” could still get a high concept “timey wimey” cliffhanger.
Although “Under the Lake” & “Before the Flood” are the most traditional story of the season, it’s ironically “The Zygon Invasion” & “The Zygon Inversion” that have the most traditional cliffhanger.
It’s never really discussed, but it reflects the writer’s joy at playing with structure.
It’s not the first time the series has done something like this (“The Ark”), but it’s still rare.
The season does something similar with Ashildr in “The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived.”
The use of two-parters in the ninth season allows for stories that emphasise the passage of time as something tangible.
Even in the most conventional story of the ninth season, there’s a bigger/bolder idea than we’ve seen in the first six episodes of Chibnall’s tenure.
Which is disheartening.
Here, the Doctor explains the narrative principle of the episode before playing the theme song.
No, really. The episode’s theme song is played by electric guitar.
I get why it might spoil “immersion” or “take you out of the show” or something like that.
That seems healthy way, to accept media as it is. Here, “Doctor Who” that knows it is “Doctor Who.”
And, I stress, this is all within the least ambitious episode of the ninth season of “Doctor Who.”
“Under the Lake” is modelled on “Warriors of the Deep”, perhaps the worst “base under siege” of the decade.
But it transitions to “Before the Flood” riffing on “Curse of Fenric”, perhaps the best.
He affectionately riffs on the climax of “Curse of Fenric” for “The God Complex.”
It is quite modern in how the story is told, quite mature in its themes, quite sophisticated in its storytelling. It’s very accessible.
The Seventh Doctor was consciously steeped in Arthurian lore. It was repeatedly implied that he was Merlin.
With the flooding, “Before the Flood” leans into Arthurian myth. A secret at the bottom of the lake.
Here, Moffat has the Doctor explicitly reject that sort of “preserve history at any cost” logic, arguing that doing the right thing is more important than preserving the status quo.
Moffat consciously rejects the idea that Clara has to be “punished” for her hubris or “killed off” for her arrogance because it is expected.
She deserves better.
Indeed, that idea is arguably what the two-parter communicates most clearly.
In particular, the strong emphasis on Moffat’s conception of the Doctor as a man with a “duty of care.”
She’s admittedly selfish and manipulative, but cannily aware of those attributes.
She repeatedly goads the Doctor to go further in saving people, using emotional leverage to motivate him.
I’d rank her with Amy and Rory, Donna, Jack, Ace, Romana II, Sarah Jane. Among the exceptional companions.
Clara is imperfect. She is abrasive at times. She is selfish. She understands how to get what she wants from others, but runs from herself.
In other words, she’s human.
In fact, the Doctor shares many of these traits and doesn’t need to be punished for having them.
A big takeaway from what Moffat does with Clara is a firm rebuke of the idea that a female supporting character should be “punished” for the “hubris” of presuming that she can be an equal of the male lead.
Luckily, the “bootstrap paradox” is a strong enough closing note to gloss over these flaws.
Immediately taken with the episode OPENING on Clara and the Doctor debating how much/little he intervenes.
“I’m not the police.”
Even playfully, more engagement with the question than the Chibnall era.
And it’s a recurring theme of the Moffat era, that the made-up rules of time travel in a fifty-year-old show aren’t good drama of themselves.
The morality of Moffat’s Doctor is quite clear. He helps where he can, where he lands.
It’s more important that the Doctor does the right thing whenever and wherever he can. (See also: “Extremis.”)
Jamie Mathieson is one of the best writers to work on the revived series, and it’s a shame that Chibnall didn’t bring him back for the eleventh season.
The question of what it means to be a good man, and how that masculinity manifests itself.
It’s all about archetypal, traditional masculinity. Most obvious in the way these hypermasculine figures under up staring down two women.
Another Moffat scripting trope, echoing...
“The abattoir is not a contradiction. No one loves cattle more than Burger King.”
Not overtly political, but undeniably so.
Moffat’s more interested in more fundamental issues, like masculinity and systems of oppression.
Even in a broad comedy episode.
And the Doctor finds a way for these emasculated men to defeat these monsters without recourse to violence or brutality.
Time and time again, Moffat returns to the question of what makes a real man.
And a lot of that is predicated on a rejection of archetypal stereotypical masculinity.
This is absurd. This is ridiculous. This is silly. It’s farce.
And yet it’s also a better expression of masculinity than force of arms; one that listens, one that cares.
Again, another recurring motif of the Moffat era, the idea that the Doctor is not a warrior or a soldier.
(See: “A Good Man Goes to War”, “The Day of the Doctor.”)
“Because if you make up the right story, then you think it’ll keep them safe.”
Again, an archetypal Moffat theme. The idea that if you don’t like the story in which you find yourself, write a better one.
The climax of “The Girl Who Died” hinges on the Doctor essentially writing his own episode of “Doctor Who” to entrap the murderous hypermasculine aliens.
“All it needed was the Benny Hill theme.”
Sincere, sensitive and creative masculinity always trumps its more toxic and suffocating alternative. You defeat this toxicity by mocking it.
It’s quite clever that realisation comes at about the midpoint of his tenure, neatly bisecting it.
Moffat begins the season on a recovered Skaro, Gallifrey’s twin. This lends the season a nice symmetry.
In “The Girl Who Died”, he explicitly invokes a higher power that might stop him meddling.
”Who could that possible be?” the season seems to tease.
An act of hubris in “Waters of Mars”, followed by the return of Gallifrey leading (however indirectly) to his regeneration in “End of Time.”
The Time Lords exist (narratively) to counterbalance the Doctor’s hubris.
They work best as symbols, hovering over or at the end of the story rather than within it.
I suspect Moffat sees it as part of healing the rift between the classic series and the revival, closing the wound.
Also, the Last of the Time Lords arguably became its own form of albatross, ironically.
However, it’s a red herring. Moffat isn’t interesting in punishing the Doctor for doing the right thing.
The “laws” of “time”, “the universe” and “nature” can go jump.
A nice melancholy piece of foreshadowing of the Twelfth Doctor’s ending is seeded here.
Again, a reminder that we’re at the halfway point of the era in “The Girl Who Died.” Looking both backwards and forward.
“You can go to hell,” the Doctor warns those unseen forces judging him in “The Girl Who Died”, forces which return in... “Hell Bent.”
Suggesting the fourth season episodes “The Fires of Pompeii” and “The Waters of Mars”, which consciously mirror one another in theme and structure.
Indeed, the Moffat era tends to consistently side with “Fires” (saving people is good) over “Waters” (saving people is bad).
As an aside, Clara spends a lot of time touching the Twelfth Doctor’s face, doesn’t she?
Moffat’s “Doctor Who” repeatedly argues that masculinity shouldn’t be defined by violence or force, but by compassion and emotional responsibility.
The Doctor accepting his “duty of care.”
The Eleventh Doctor was a much more cavalier adventurer. He was also repeatedly careless with the lives of the people around him.
It often seemed like Amy thrives in spite of her association with him, not because of it.
Her involvement with him later leads directly to her abduction and the loss of her child. And he does nothing to help her.
But the episode makes it clear how empty this is.
Amy even challenges him, “Then what is the point of you?”
The idea of the Doctor as an archetypally masculine man who does manly things like raising armies to defeat his foes in battle.
The Twelfth Doctor takes his “duty of care” to Clara seriously. Which is Moffat’s idealised masculinity.
This makes sense if you view Moffat’s work through the lens of his most vocal critics.
But three things.
It would be just as fair to argue that the Thirteenth Doctor has a duty of care to Graham/Yaz/Ryan.
But it’s a journey. Clara doesn’t start there.
It’s framed as emotional labour - caring. The world would be better if more men were so emotionally responsible.
“Well, can't we share it? Isn't that what robbery's all about?”
I miss the Davies/Moffat era banter, even in smaller innocuous beats like the teaser to “The Girl Who Lived.”
“Yes. I think I remember the village.”
“You loved that village.”
“If you say so.”
“The Woman Who Lived” reinforces the idea that the Doctor needs a companion as much as they need him.
“Me is who I am now. No one's mother, daughter, wife. My own companion.”
One of the most striking recurring guest stars of the Moffat era.
“I'm sick of losing people.”
“All these people here, they're like smoke, they blow away in a moment.”
However, he recognises it as just sorrow and despair, not freedom. It’s a weakness, not a strength.
The Doctor has just grown beyond Ashildr’s fantasy.
“People like us, we go on too long. We forget what matters. The last thing we need is each other.”
The big takeaway in “The Woman Who Lived” is that the Doctor cannot travel with his equal.
And Clara is fast becoming his equal.
“The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived” are two episodes from two writers telling one story, separated by centuries.
It is no longer about hubris or putting the companion in their place for their arrogance.
It’s reframed as the Doctor’s limitation, not theirs. They outgrow him, in the end.
It isn’t about putting companions in their place so much as keeping the Doctor in his.
Moffat very pointedly reverses the dynamic. “Journey’s End” robbed Donna’s memory and resets her personality without her consent.
In contrast, “Hell Bent” makes a point to wipe the Doctor’s instead.
It’s a story that is (in no small part) about the importance of the companion’s role that consciously marginalises the companion to make its point.
For all their flaws, and those flaws are sizable, a much more ambitious piece of science fiction allegory than anything the eleventh season has offered to date.
He’s very driven by symbolism and less concerned with logic. That appeals to certain fans and alienate others.
It makes him perhaps the most Moffat-y of writers.
The internal logic of these stories is... loose to say the least, but the big ideas are among the most interesting in the franchise’s fifty-plus year history.
And yet Moffat commissioned Harness once per season. That’s what makes a great showrunner, a willingness to take risks.
“The Zygon Invasion” lays Harness’ central allegorical and symbolic approach out quite early.
Because, of course, it doesn’t matter whether Osgood is human or Zygon. All that matters is that she is who she is.
In particular, the setting of a two-parter about the migrant crisis on the Mexican border, in an American town that tore itself apart.
At the time, I thought it a bit much. But now...?))
They aren’t necessarily fundamental. They seem more clumsy than anything else.
They certainly aren’t as terrible as unexamined issues with, say, “The Unquiet Dead” or the central theme of “Kerblam!”
Similar to the (also controversial) rough edges around abortion allegory in “Kill the Moon”, where three women reject literally the entire world’s attempts to dictate how they should deal with a problematic pregnancy.
“We want to live as ourselves. At any cost. We want a home.”
This is a pretty fair demand, to be entirely honest.
At a fundamental level, some small level of assimilation is necessary for co-existence.
Immigrants need to accept democracy, the rights of others, lawful authority, etc. Very basic stuff.
Not accepting that can cause friction.
And down to a need for verisimilitude in the series’ twenty-first century setting.
Zygons NEED to look human, or it breaks the internal world of the show.
This is a... less than ideal philosophical argument, to say the least.
Or other troubling racist nonsense.
I also admire that Harness built a charged two-parter about the migrant crisis around the joke that we should “let Zygons be Zygons.”
Building on “Death in Heaven”, “The Girl Who Lived”, etc.
“The Massacre”, “The Enemy of the World”, “Meglos”, “Nightmare in Silver.”
This may be because “The Girl Who Lived” made such a big deal of the Twelfth Doctor’s duplicate existing in “The Fires of Pompeii.”