Dear Steven Moffat: The Time of the Doctor


Dear Steven,

Christmas in Graubünden isn’t bad, even when you’re confined to a sanitarium for sci-fi victims and can only enjoy the winter wunderland through a three by two window covered in gauze. The orderlies are nice here, they let you pull a cracker, though the chemically impregnated card strip has been removed in case the bang triggers seizures. I got a great present too; my friend Hayley sent me a Starship Enterprise pizza cutter, though it was confiscated and destroyed in a controlled explosion on Christmas Eve.

Still, since November I’ve had hope. The discovery of a portal in my room, a wormhole that lead to Central London, gave me cause to believe that I’d get to see the final adventure of Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor after all. You and I have been on his journey together, Steven. Despite the risk to my recovery it felt right that we should be together at the end: you as writer, me as a web pest that insists on reviewing your work at interminable length, despite your earnest (but I feel sure, insincere) legal letters, begging me to stop.

So today I waited until we’d finished our dinner of Turkey feet and parsnip bulb, taken the beating we’re grateful to accept as dessert and been thrown into our rooms, lights out, then took my chance to use the gateway. In a flash I’d returned to London and just an hour and fifty minutes later I’d used the city’s peerless public transport network to travel the 1.8 miles to Saggy Membrane’s place in the demilitarised part of Bermondsey. He wasn’t there but I knew he wouldn’t mind me breaking in and using his TV to enjoy the broadcast. I later remembered I had a key.

Well Steven, I’ve now watched The Time of the Doctor, got over the shock of Matt Smith’s perfectly bald head and formed my impressions. First, kudos: you convinced the BBC to put the show on before Danny Dyer’s debut on EastEnders, knowing that viewers coming off that shock would be in a far more critical, embittered frame of mind. By getting in first and setting the episode in a town called Christmas where the days are short and the snow ever falling, you stood half a chance of investing Smith’s farewell with a bit of Yuletide spirit. Did a story that had cock all to do with the festive period really need those seasonal touches crowbarred in? No, but I suppose that’s one of the directives that comes from on high along with the requirement to cross promote BBC products. References to Strictly Come Dancing and the iPlayer really brought it up a notch though, so well done.

Okay, so to the plot, which tried and almost succeeded in tying every 11th Doctor arc together to give the impression that his was a single story that had been mapped from the outset. Perhaps too much lore turned up on Trenzalore, or maybe I was just too tired having spent half the episode trying to stop Saggy’s cat dangle his tail in front of the screen, but I confess to feeling disappointed that this was a tidying up exercise and not a story with a strong backbone of its own.

Like many of your stories it had the feel of a tale made up on the spot, like a sci-fi version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? At one point I’m sure I heard Clive Anderson’s voice shout “Doctor Who finale” but that could have been Saggy’s ginger wine. There was lots of expository patchwork, enough to make a quilt in fact, and a fair bit of retconing: the Silence’s attempt at killing The Doctor adjusted to include a forestalling of the Time Lords’ return, but I wasn’t quite convinced you knew about any of this before you sat down to belt out a first draft. Still, it just about worked (if you concentrated). Amy’s crack turned out to be a simulacrum of the one hiding Gallifrey, The Silence were just monks that feared another Time War so set out to kill the galaxy’s version of Gavrilo Princip (the so-called Destiny Paradox being an ontological by another name, you bastard), and despite the weight you’d attached it it, it turned out there’s nothing in a name after all, as The Doctor’s was, er, The Doctor: a moniker that explained who he was in essence. By that measure you’d be The Bullshitter.

As always, you took the risk that a story built on a swamp may sink if leant on too hard. For example we could just about accept The Doctor being oblivious to his 13th incarnation’s participation in the previous episode’s fight for Gallifrey; ignorance required to sell the scene in which he told Clara he was out of lives; but it was harder to believe that faced with perpetual stalemate and the prospect of being marooned in space-Berkshire until death, The Doctor wouldn’t simply whisper his name into the crack and summon his people to tip the odds his way, or that it didn’t occur to him to parlay for more lives using either Clara’s argument that he was basically a bloody nice bloke, or the more persuasive one, namely that anyone listening at the other end could only do so because our hero had saved them from oblivion.

So yes, it didn’t make much sense but there were nice touches. You borrowed from, of all things, the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, to build an unlikely friendship between The Doctor and a severed Cyber-head. Making Smith’s stay centuries long and ageing him was smart: it prepared the audience for the appalling psychic shock that awaited them; the insane, revolutionary, mind melting idea that the next Doctor could be an older man with a lived in face. Alright, the reset was a risk; it made the transition more stark for moist tweenies and semi-retarded viewers; and you made the regeneration lightning fast, as though sneaking it in, wrapping the episode up quick before the kids could process what had happened, but this was a swap well handled. The Doc’s got a fresh set of regenerations, which hopefully won’t be wasted by future Christopher Ecclestons, and we got one last sensuous look at Amy, whose appearance, although utterly contrived, made my loins’ Christmas dreams come true.

And with that the Smith era was over; three years of good jokes, paradoxical plotting, conceptual masturbation and intrusive contemporary idioms. Cometh 2014, cometh Capaldi and maybe hope that reminders of past missteps included in this episode like Clara’s libidinous urges toward The Doctor, references to “apps” and so forth, will be permanently consigned to the past.

I can’t see the craggy faced Scot filling in as the boyfriend at Clara’s 2014 family Christmas and I hope his reaction to any pop cultural nonsense would be curmudgeonly incredulity. I expect he’d like a little more drama too; plots built on strong foundations rather than sand and sleight of hand. Still, as Tom Baker recently pointed out, “who knows?” Only you, Steven, but get the 12th Doctor wrong and you’ll soon know a thing or two about a letter writer’s bloody revenge!

Merry Christmas.


The Matt Smith Years:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

One Comment

  1. The use of Whose Line to explain Moffat’s plotting is just perfect, and I shall use it from here on out to explain a quarter of my utter indifference to this stupid show.

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