The Sad Decline of Doctor Who

Horror novelist Stephen King has been quoted as saying that “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.” This, in a nutshell, seems to sum up the approach of the last two show runners.

Russell T Davies, who was in charge of the shows reboot in 2005 seemed to take the Harry Potter approach. His doctors were wise while, at the same time, childlike in their awe at the wonders of the universe. They were somewhat worn down by the horrors they had seen but still optimistic about mankind and its future. His companions were largely ordinary people who he took to see the universe. The Doctor(s) seemed to feed off their awe and wonder and they served as a second opinion on ethical and moral issues. (Assuming that at age 900 the large grey areas can muddle things a bit.) Together the Doctor and his companions have adventures in space and time, explore strange alien worlds, save William Shakespeare from witches, etc.

Stephen Moffat who took over from Davies in 2010 has a different vision for the show and it's characters. His vision is somewhat surprising given that he wrote some of the better known episodes of the Davies era such as "the Doctor Dances", "Blink" and "Silence in the Library". However, there is obviously a difference between writing one offs and two parters and running a show. In the Moffat era, everything is more dramatic. Each season is filled with promos stating that 'not everyone will survive' and 'nothing will ever be the same'. Neither of these statements generally turns out to be true making Moffat something like the Peter Molyneux of the BBC.

Moffat's Doctor seems to have the personality of an overly-emotive spoiled child. When things are going well he is whimsical, irreverent and fairly oblivious to others around him. When things are not going well he tends to sulk and not just sulk but go into a deep anti-social funk that lasts for months. When Davies character Rose Tyler, with whom the Doctor had a stronger bond than with any previous companion departed, Davies Doctor was sad and reluctant to take on a new companion. When Moffat characters Amy and Rory departed, Moffats Doctor quit, hid out in isolation and refused to save the world anymore.

Moffat's companions for the Doctor seem to have much larger roles in the series, with entire story arcs devoted to their characters. We've had Amy "the girl who waited", River "the Doctor's Wife" and "the Impossible Girl" ("the only mystery worth solving"), with the latter being something of a rehash of the "bad wolf" Rose Tyler story arc. However, while figuring more heavily into the story lines, the characters overall are weaker. The "awe at the wonder of space and time" is greatly diminished and replaced with an obsession with the Doctor, to the point of bringing about their own deaths if necessary (something all three have actually done in one way or another.) They are no longer moral compasses, simply adoring fans and willing minions.

Moffats episodes also tend to rely more on fantasy than science fiction. While Doctor Who has never been scientifically accurate there have at least been some underlying theories of physics that were being played with. Moffat seems oblivious to science and tends to rely more heavily on the magical, such as the bad guys being defeated because "A whole family cried on Christmas" in "the Snowmen" and a dried leaf which has saved the live of Clara Oswald twice.

All of this makes for a very different series, aimed at a very different audience (Harry Potter vs. Twilight). I was saddened to hear that Moffat (and Smith) are returning for season 8. The 50th Anniversary special in November (which has already lost points with me for being in 3D) seemed like a good point at which to have a changing of the guard. Hopefully Moffats tenure will not last much longer though and a show runner with a respect for the series and its history and a series about "confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity" can come back to life

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