Dear Steven Moffat: The Doctor Falls

Dear Steven,

Your last regular episode of Doctor Who will be remembered for many things, but I suggest two factors above all others. One, your brazen, conspicuous and, psychologists might argue, needy compulsion to leave stains on the series that no amount of retconning can remove, and two, your trademark snafus, plot cheats and audience-baiting irritants – known alternatively as your style. Some will cite it as the reason you won’t be missed. But I’ll miss you, Steven. In my own way.

As with many of your episodes, “The Doctor Falls” didn’t have a story per se, just pay offs to set ups in the previous episode. One might say your approach can be summed up as scenario-driven. You’ve never really been interested in developing a story robust enough to work sans gimmicks and the knowledge we, as an audience, bring to the characters. In that respect your mind works just like a fan fiction author’s, generating riffs on other people’s original storytelling, which you know will resonate with other fans; the kind bloated from all the lore they’ve retained over the years. Lucky we live in a post-modern society, else what the fuck would we do with it all, eh?

‘Fuck you, Ed,’ you’ll say, “The Doctor Falls” was a test of the Doctor’s values as he once again brushed up against his own mortality. Forced to take sanctuary on a solar farm about half way up the colony ship, which agonisingly for those who toiled daily was just one floor below the level of plenty, with its brothels and M & Ms world – he had to wrestle with Bill’s transformation into a Cyberman, two Masters and his failing health. All this, while the Mondasian murder droids, or rather the evolved versions that mystifyingly had skipped the intermediate stage of development between the 1960’s versions and 2000’s versions, worked to ascend to the same floor, en route to those brothels, and attack the colonists. I suppose the scenario needed to be simple, because if it wasn’t there wouldn’t have been time for every character to get a goodbye and/or work their way through an existential crisis.

Sure, the Doctor had only got this far because disorientated from Missy’s blow to the head he still had the nous and time to reprogramme, having been fortunate enough to fall onto a keyboard, the Cyberarmy to chase Time Lords not humans, thus forcing the Masters to break off murdering him and collaborate on an escape, but let’s not think too hard about that. You didn’t.

The least controversial of the introspections from characters who seemed to sense they were in a series finale, at least until the epilogue, was CyberBill, who understandably took the news she’d lost her humanity rather badly. You employed a smart conceit, that her mind’s eye still saw the flesh and blood original, a sort of mental rear guard action against the takeover, and thus, in grabs, with the aid of some good editing, so did we. This allowed Pearl Mackie to fulfil her contractual commitment to be in the 12th episode, while avoiding the inevitable guffaws that would result from watching the Doctor have several heart to hearts with a man in a suit outfitted with household appliances, who spoke like Stephen Hawking.

“We’re not going to get out of this one, are we?” said CyberBill at one point, but as this episode had your name on it, we knew some awful cop out was coming. Everybody lives, right? They’ve been cheating death since “The Empty Child” and they weren’t going to stop now. Unless they’re someone inconsequential like Danny Pink, of course. But who knew your big reset idea would be a variation on the exact same one used this time last year when saving Clara from oblivion.

Fucks, cunts and many other synonyms for you and your writer’s room could be heard across the nation as CyberBill, looming over the Doctor’s body following a climatic sonic shower (the Doc hates guns but is happy to use his screwdriver like one), saw the water girl from “The Pilot” reappear to conveniently reconstitute her into a space travelling biofluid entity like herself, who could return to human form at will, but more importantly, airlift the Doctor’s failing husk to the relative safety of the TARDIS. It wasn’t clear why Bill’s belle didn’t turn up to help earlier in the series, as she can cross space and time in an instant, perhaps before her body was destroyed, but fuck it, why not? Maybe you saw the phrase deus ex machina written down somewhere and thought that translated it was a great idea, rather a hackneyed storytelling device.

Still, you’re defiant to the end. Not for you any shame at repeating the cheap trick from the last series – ending with the Doctor’s companion being endowed with effective immortality and travelling the universe with a companion in tow (perhaps she can tag Clara’s TARDIS as she hurtles by). But as you’ve been around a bit too long and have no new ideas, I suppose you’d have been buggered whatever you did. The only alternative was to keep Bill as a Cyberman and have her die, which would have plagiarised the aforementioned Danny Pink’s fate in the series finale three years ago. So you opted to repeat your happy ending instead. In doing so, you’ve probably made it hard for me to enjoy a happy ending for some time.

Your worst hits continued with your treatment of the Master. Here, we had two versions of one of the series’ most iconic characters – a villain that’s managed to survive 54 years of adventures in various formats but was no match for your legacy imperative. Having re-written the Doctor’s backstory, that of the Cybermen and even that of the Time Lords, you completed your retcon project by having John Simm’s Master become his own character’s killer.

Yes, we’d barely got over Missy knifing the Master, thereby signalling that at long last her conscience had crowned, when an apoplectic Simm, outraged that his future self would ultimately abandon a lifetime’s battle and choose to stand with his oldest nemesis, shot his female incarnation with enough force to ensure she couldn’t regenerate. Suddenly, as the fading old Master descended to his TARDIS, manically cackling, holding the dematerialisation circuit that he only possessed because he’d reminded his older self to give it to him, making this your last use of the hated ontological paradox, we realised why you’d made such a big deal of establishing how bad a Time Lord’s memory could be.

Last week we were asked to accept that the Master, perhaps because of the intervening centuries, could forget he’d met himself on the colony ship. This was a stretch but we suspended disbelief, confident you’d dare not ask more of us. But this week you broke the audience. The nation was asked to believe that the Master would kill himself – actually bring a permanent end to his existence, because of a pang of conscience, but not remember it subsequently. Steven, you’re fucking kidding aren’t you?

One would think that even if Simm didn’t regenerate into Missy right away (we don’t know, we didn’t see it – perhaps to allow for a middle incarnation to surface in future episodes), his freshly minted self would make a serious mental note. Time Lords, we understand, have memory problems post-regeneration, but the mind usually settles, and when it does, wouldn’t the Master recall how he died, but more importantly, how he was going to die? I mean, really die?

Missy, if she is the next in line, would still be coming off the high of being Simm. “I loved being you,” she told him. And she’d be evil at this point. So perhaps it would have been prudent to whip out the old 5,000 year diary and make a capitalised entry warning against ANY RETURN TO THE MONDASIAN COLONY SHIP. After all, if she didn’t get involved with the Doctor when the time came – perhaps elected to stay in the vault, or took precautions to avoid being imprisoned in the first place, she could save herself from destruction at her own hand. But then if she didn’t visit the colony ship, she couldn’t give herself that dematerialisation circuit which she had on her, despite not initially remembering the encounter with her younger self – but, oh hang on, then she couldn’t escape and would probably die there as Simm, and then you’d have a paradox and – ah, why can’t you tell a linear story with proper cause and effect, you lazy fuck?

So you took it upon yourself to kill one of the series’ longest standing characters. A pity, as your predecessor presumed to murder all the Time Lords, leaving precisely none for Chris Chibnall to play with. And don’t talk to me about Gallifrey being safely tucked away in a pocket universe, I really can’t think about that right now. All I know is, the Rani, the Corsair – I’m never going to see them. Thanks a bastard.

Look, you had the right to murder the Master, but permanently? The get out clause of an intermediate incarnation aside, this seemed to me like Hitler issuing the order to blow up Paris. Didn’t you get the e-mail from Chibnall begging you not to tie his hands? The one that said, leave everything as you found it? Previous producers understood the Master was too good a character to end forever, so left the door open. You’ve presumed to write the final chapter of the character’s story. Still, you presumed to re-write the Doctor’s…and that of Davros…and the Cybermen…so why not the Master too? For the same reason that German general binned Hitler’s order. Let the future have something, will you?

This was all exasperating stuff, but we weren’t skinny dipping in this shit to learn the fate of Bill and the Master, rather what would happen to the Doctor? Last week you opened by teasing the regeneration of this version, but knowing you as we do, we cried bollocks, conscious that he couldn’t go until the Christmas Special. It said so in his contract.

Sure enough the Doctor did not regenerate, though both his body and the TARDIS desperately hoped he would. Apparently, he’s sick to the back bloody teeth of losing his identity and having to adjust to being a slightly different person, and with the imagined failure to redeem Missy fresh in his mind, one can understand why he’d come to the conclusion that renewal held no discernible purpose. It was just window dressing, right?

He wanted to carry on as he was for a bit, and why shouldn’t he? Well, biology that’s why, and the risk that if he kept holding back those bodily ejaculations of energy, he’d risk doing irreversible damage. When you have to go you have to go, so no wonder the cloister bell rang out as Capaldi’s stubborn Doctor stumbled out onto the ice, a location chosen by the TARDIS, only to be confronted by, holy living fuck, the First Doctor?!

This may not have been the regeneration story we wanted, Steven – you know, one brimming with intrigue, intricate plotting and a story that made sense, but it was undoubtedly the one the childhood Peter Capaldi would have liked to have been in. Capaldi, we realised, was the luckiest manchild who ever lived. He became his childhood hero, got to face his favourite childhood foe and, in these closing moments, meet his Doctor. Well, David Bradley’s version, sort of reprising his role from that anniversary special about the making of “An Unearthly Child”, but who gives a shit. It’s the First Doctor! For the first time since 1983! And the last Capaldi story will be a multi-Doctor story effectively spanning the show’s history. Talk about any requests!

The idea of the First Doctor reminding the Twelfth of regeneration’s benefits, though he hasn’t yet experienced it of course, unless your final fuck you, as discussed last week, is to establish otherwise, is a pretty exciting prospect. Not so much a hand over, but a hand up and hand off, with the new Doctor crowning following a considered reflection on his life to date and more importantly, what he’s yet to do. The nature of such a story amounts to more retconning of course, albeit in the best traditions of the series this time. If you can resist some of the shit we experienced in “The Doctor Falls” – cop outs, cock ups and cultural vandalism – it may yet be a swansong to be proud of. If not, I’ll try and make the response a swansong I can be proud of.

Until we lock bodies and plunge into the proverbial Reichenbach Falls.

Ed

P.S: No offence, but I hope the future isn’t female. I have a wang you see. Oh, I see, you were dropping another hint about the next Doctor. It better be Miriam Margolyes, Steven. I’m not kidding.

P.P.S: So goodbye, Nardole. You left him with a bunch of kids. I wouldn’t have.

P.P.P.S: “Without hope, without witness, without reward.” Sounds a lot like my experience of critiquing this show. I wonder if I’ll miss it.

The Old Man’s Last Stand

Christmas 2016:

Christmas 2015:

The Old Man and the C: 

The Clara Oswald Show:

Smith – The Dark Suit Jacket Years: 

Smith in his Pomp:

Deep Time:

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’d be less than thrilled at the possibility of regenerating into Kris Marshall, too.

    • It’s not going to happen, and not because Chris Chibnall has more sense, because he doesn’t, obviously. No, it’s because Steven employed his old trick of preparing the millennials for what he imagines is a controversial change. When Matt Smith bowed out, Moffat aged him several centuries so the transition to Capaldi, who’d now be young by comparison, wouldn’t traumatise the kids. He then spent/wasted Capaldi’s first episode using Clara as an audience proxy to hammer home the message that an old man who didn’t flirt with his companions was a positive and necessary change.

      In these last two episodes he partnered Missy with the Master so the mentally challenged amongst us could get used to the idea that the same Time Lord can be both sexes. Add in lines about a fluid gender identity, the future being female, and all the rest of it, and it’s pretty clear what’s coming. Thankfully Kris Marshall’s wang safely excludes him from the list of possibles. I predict that a female Doctor will be one of the many “risks” that Chibnall was talk up at the start of his run, which won’t really amount to innovations at all when you think about them for longer than 5 seconds. One break with the past would be drama and irreversible consequences, but I don’t know that Chibnall’s the man to deliver on that score.


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