Sunday, 19 May 2013

Prelude - The Name of the Doctor

Some warnings: The review for this finale is going to contain spoilers. As a rule I have constantly made the point of avoiding severe spoilers and revelations in my reviews. I have continuously made the effort of trying to reveal only as much as is necessary for people to have context or things which were revealed in the next time trailer of the previous episode. I am, for the next review only, retracting that rule. This is an episode which is bad. While it has some merits, it manages to be the only installment of the series’ decades long history to be so mind-bendingly facepalming I stopped half-way through and broke out emergency booze.

Abandon all hope ye who enter here, Moffat reigns supreme.

Before we do look into The Name of the Doctor however, we need to discuss showrunner Steven Moffat. For both better and worse, the man has impacted upon the series like no other writer has. From greats like the Blink to The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe he has left his own distinct mark upon Doctor Who. Whether you like him or not this is a universal truth, but it’s hard to deny that there has been a steady decline in the quality of his scripts over the past few years.

Severe negative aspects which have become clear in his writing range from writing all female characters in the same way, apparently falling in love with his creation who embodies them the strongest - River Song, to a huge rise in the contrivances in his scripts. Things which would previously have been built towards or naturally evolve within the plot now occur just because Moffat needs them to. This was commented upon and analysed by MrTARDISReviews, another reliable opinion upon the series' current state when looking at The Snowmen

"Clara needs to escape the governess, so she just does. Clara needs to leave the carriage to follow the Doctor, she just does. Steven Moffat wanted Clara and the Doctor to kiss, so it just happens. Moffat wanted Clara to have the TARDIS key, so he just gives her it. Clara needs the Doctor to be reminded of the Ponds, so she just says the word 'Pond'. The villain is evil an horrible, just because. Clara needs to die, so she just does. The Doctor needs to learn the villain's plan, so they just tell him."

Watch his full review in the link for a more detailed analysis of this, but when you think back this happens in his scripts a great deal. With increasing frequently things will simply happen when they need to, whether logic makes sense or they contradict something previously established. If that means diminishing something the classic series or his previous episodes did, then so be it. If it's even outright stated to be impossible or requires the audience to simply accept a plot device without thinking or questioning how it even works, he will just do it.

You can probably guess this occurs a fair bit and he's gotten even worse with this latest story.

The other issue is that Moffat really is trying to have his cake and eat it here. In response to some criticism of the increasingly convoluted and DRAMATIC plotlines ending with universe destroying, Doctor killing conclusions the series took a surprising turn to trying to be more episodic again. Much as it had been during the Ninth Doctor's tenure and the Tenth Doctor's initial two series. Trying to give hints of something big but never trying to go too far with it.
The problem here is that Moffat seems to still think he can write a conclusion with all the drama, tensity and insanity he used to, but doesn't seem to realise it lacks the build-up or pacing his previous conclusions had. As a result what we get is a massive cluster-crap of convoluted, contrived crackpot conclusions which try to be fitted into forty-five minutes.

The story here severs as a conclusion to all the "Doctor Who?" questions which subtly... No, i'm sorry SUBTLY suggested how this latest series would end. The problem is that Moffat seems to think he can throw in barely established moments or rapid ideas which have little to no introduction. This is seriously showing because the few moments in which the episode actually works are when he tries to work with things established last series which have largely gone unmentioned until now.

The last problem is that someone desperately needs to explain to him what the difference between a secret and a retcon is. Something which is undobutably a core problem within this tale.

So join us again tomorrow, and see just how far a finale can fall.


  1. Do you think he wrote all the women in Coupling the same way? I've always felt he was better with them - although to a certain extent all six characters were like author mouthpieces for him fairly frequently in that series.

    1. To be honest I've not seen Coupling so i'm sticking purely to Doctor Who, but often it seems he keeps writing (at least with the companions) female characters in interchangeable ways.
      Watch how Oswin/Clara behaves and talks during The Snowmen and Asylum of the Daleks and stick purely to her dialogue. Much of it, at least to me, feels almost interchangeable with River and Amy. It's written to be very cocky, witty and flirty but lacks any specific distinctions to make it unique.

      Moffat was once extremely good at writing them and created some of the most three-dimensional ones the series has seen. Of late however, we just seem to have gotten into the habit of giving the most important ones either the same or very similar traits. The only exceptions these days seem to be either background characters or Vastra.

    2. Yes, thinking about it you could easily give Clara's lines to Amy and they'd feel the same. River probably too.

      The thing that annoys me the most about Clara is that this final episode is the only episode of the entire half-series where she was either important to the plot or had any meaningful interaction with the Doctor. The episode of this series in which she had the best interaction with him? Asylum of the Daleks! In which she was a guest star! She had some good bits in the Snowmen, but since joining the main cast it's felt more like Clara was just along for the ride and didn't have a major role to play. I know she wouldn't be the first but I only know post-2005 Doctor Who, in which Rose, Donna, Amy and even Martha were explored in more depth. Aside from Clara being the girl who saves the Doctor, 7 episodes in and we know NOTHING about her as a person. Her lack of characterisation in this half-series is one of the many reasons the entire show is starting to get old for me, so I don't know if I'll watch the next one for any reason other than having nothing to do while eating dinner on a Saturday night.

      Coupling didn't have this problem - focused as it was sitcom-style on six characters, their interactions drove every plot. Moffat characterised them all quite well, and that's why it works. I do recommend the series wholeheatedly if you like relationship and friendship focused comedy with a slightly silly tone - you can tell it's Moffat writing it. Here's a clip: