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‘Doctor Who’ Christmas special was everything fans dislike about the Moffat era

Steven Moffat didn’t win any fans with this year’s Who Christmas special.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw


A couple of years ago, disliking showrunner Steven Moffat was a niche interest in Doctor Who fandom, mostly the realm of feminists who objected to seemingly misogynist themes in his writing, and die-hard fans of his predecessor Russell T. Davies. Now, it seems, Moffat’s anti-fans may be in the majority.

Reactions to this week’s Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” have been decidedly mixed. Along with the predictably tearful mourning for the departure of eleventh Doctor Matt Smith, the episode was widely criticized for being incoherent, confusing, and sexist. 

There’s a reason why this fake TV listing has been retweeted almost 500 times:

I had a quick look at the TV listings for tonight’s #doctorwho. It makes a lot more sense now.

— Tom Scott (@tomscott) December 25, 2013

The episode included (spoiler alert!) the Doctor spending 300 years in an isolated village called Christmas, which did not develop culturally or technologically during the entire time he was present. Essentially, the Doctor has now spent about a fifth of his current lifespan inside a Dickensian snowglobe. Another baffling detail was the fact that his companion Clara was touched by one of the previously notorious Weeping Angels but survived unscathed, despite the fact that a Weeping Angel directly caused the final disappearance of beloved companions Amy and Rory last season. This looked like yet another example of Moffat introducing a terrifying and intriguing new alien villain, only to have it watered down to toothless banality after multiple appearances. The same might be said of the Silence, who were previously heralded as one of Moffat’s finest Doctor Who creations, but in this episode were reduced to fighting alongside the Doctor with very little explanation. 

One possible plot hole was that the main storyline hinged upon the Doctor refusing to utter his real (secret) name, a kind of password that would unleash another intergalactic Time War. The problem was, most of the action took place inside a “Truth Field” that forced people to speak the uncomfortable truth when they were asked a direct question. This left many viewers wondering why didn’t this apply to the Doctor, who was repeatedly asked his name by a booming, ominous voice from another dimension. Not a serious issue, since Doctor Who has five decades of practise in explaining magical sci-fi shenanigans, but this still left some viewers feeling somewhat baffled because the Truth Field’s limits were never clarified onscreen. 

I read a recap of last night’s Doctor Who and I couldn’t even make it through that, what even happened to this show

— JoyeuxNoël Stevenson (@Gingerhazing) December 26, 2013

The episode also introduced a new female character who embodied many of the characteristics of a stereotypical “Moffat woman”: a sexy, powerful woman who flirts with the Doctor while he bobs around awkwardly like a confused child, before she is killed off, brought back to life, and then insulted by the Doctor for not being as good “a woman” as Clara—10 seconds after he kissed her without her consent. It was like a Greatest Hits montage of all the bizarre interactions between the Doctor and his various female companions and love-interests since Moffat took over as showrunner. And this was just a few minutes after Clara was forced by the Truth Field to admit that she first began travelling with the Doctor because she “fancied him.”

Do you think the guys that write Doctor Who even realise that women are people and not just plucky, sarcastic bouncy balls?

— Margaret Welsh (@MargaretLWelsh) December 25, 2013

It’s days like these that make me happy I am not heavily invested in what goes on with Doctor Who.

— John Scalzi (@scalzi) December 25, 2013

Tumblr blogger the-daughter-of-a-wolf represented the anger of many Whovians in this rant about Moffat’s treatment of female characters on the show, particularly this episode’s extended gag where the Doctor and Clara were naked for several scenes for no apparent reason:

“Would someone please tell Moffat that childish nudity jokes, penis jokes, erection jokes and the Doctor’s general oversexuality stopped being funny about forever ago? The Doctor being naked when Clara walked in? Not cool. The Doctor appearing naked in front of Clara’s family? Not cool. The whole running nudity gag? Not cool. THE DOCTOR ONCE AGAIN DIPPING A WOMAN AND KISSING HER WITHOUT CONSENT???? NOT. FUCKING. COOL. IT WAS NEVER COOL AND IT NEVER WILL BE, STOP. DOING. IT. We also got one more awfully written female character whose only personality trait was flirting with the Doctor and having a thing for the Doctor. Fuck everything.”

Many Whovians also noticed that Clara’s role in this episode was startlingly similar to the role of previous companion Rose Tyler in the finale of Season 1. In both episodes, the Doctor tricks his companion into staying in the TARDIS, which he programs to take her home to Earth in order to protect her from certain death. The primary difference was that while Rose did everything in her power to return in the TARDIS, save the Ninth Doctor and ultimately save the world, Clara’s main purpose in this episode was to provide emotional support to the Doctor while he did whatever he wanted, and to participate in comedy scenes where she introduced the Doctor (naked) as her boyfriend during Christmas dinner, or used the TARDIS’s Time Vortex engine to cook a turkey. As Tumblr user claudiaboleyn put it, “No character development here. No agency. No screen time for Clara. Nothing. Just the Doctor lying to his companion, and Clara being forced by the narrative to remain passive… until the story has use for her again.”

The actual regeneration scene from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor was one of the few aspects of the episode that wasn’t torn to shreds by fandom. While Steven Moffat has caused great divisions in the Doctor Who fan community since he took the helm in 2010, Matt Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor has never inspired such criticism or dislike. Although it’s obviously impossible to please everyone, Smith has become a beloved member of the Doctor Who pantheon, and his demise in this episode was as sad as the death of any other Doctor. 

“There is this thing about the Doctor regenerating,” writes Doctor Who fan notturnofelsineo. “You cry, every time, because you’ve grown to love that face, that voice, all those mannerism and the catchphrases and the way he flies the Tardis… And you’re there, with tears running down your face and it happens: the new Doctor comes to life and you smile.”

The overwhelming reaction to this Christmas Special seems to be one of confusion, with even longtime viewers not really managing to follow the plot. Even Matt Smith’s final, tearful farewell scene was not enough to overpower the rest of the episode. Still, many hope that Peter Capaldi’s new Doctor will revitalize the show, and since his first real episode will not be airing until Fall 2014, the disgruntled sections of Doctor Who fandom now have plenty of time to forget that “The Time of the Doctor” ever happened.

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