An open intervention letter to Doctor Who

Dear Doctor Who,

We need to talk.

I’m writing this now because the 50th anniversary is behind us, and we’ve begun the Doctor’s twelfth incarnation. The show is now free to start fresh and go in a new direction with this doctor, and I wish I could say I was thoroughly excited to see this. But… I’m not. I’m really not. More than anything, I’m just tired of watching you, thinking you’ll get better.

I first noticed some of the problems you were having in Asylum of the Daleks, but when I look back, I can see them going back all the way through Moffat’s run on the series. No, I’m not going to spend this letter bashing Moffat – that’s been done often enough on the internet, and Moffat is a good writer. I want to talk about some more systemic problems that run throughout the entire series. Now, I haven’t watched classic who, so this is purely the experience of someone new to the show.

My first actual episode of Doctor Who was the 11th hour, which was recommended to me since it was Matt Smith’s first episode (at the time he was a new doctor), and almost instantly I loved this series. I had looked up some wiki pages and stuff, seen some clips, gotten some general background on the series, but this was my first exposure to an actual episode. I loved Matt Smith’s Doctor with his whimsical behavior, unbridled confidence and sheer brilliance in equal measure. I loved that the episode changed direction at least twice in it’s run (three or four times, really, but who’s counting?) which kept me surprised and on my toes. I loved that it was funny, serious, dramatic, even scary when it had to be. And this continued when I watched the series onward.

When I hit a hiatus, I went back to the ninth doctor and started watching from there. Still loved it (though Rose’s constant presence in the series started to tick me off by the time we got to her THIRD comeback) but something about the villians in the series gave me pause. While their stories were often stupid and nonsensical, there was something about them I liked much more than the villians portrayed in the Moffat era. Exhibit A: The Daleks.

‘Dalek’ is one of the best episodes of New Who in my humble opinion, and anyone who’s seen it can tell you why. The modern update to the iconic monster in this story is incredible and horrifying in equal measure. It’s not easy to make a sliding trash can with a plunger on it scary, but this thing goes on an unstoppable rampage and murders so many so quickly and takes so little damage you can’t help but be intimidated. MrTardisReviews said it best, I think: “This is the Chuck Norris of Daleks.” And this wasn’t the last time they would show up, either. Throughout the RTD era, the Daleks were present at least once a season. And every time, their relationship with the Doctor – the one who wiped out their entire species, and whose species they tried to wipe out – is handled perfectly. They’re used repeatedly throughout the series – some say too much. Despite that, however, their presence always felt significant and important.

That last bit is something that really gets me. See, this is an aspect of the series that the Russel T. Davies era had in spades. While the Doctor is the main character (hence the title) the villains are just as important, if not moreso, in the same vein as Batman. Say what you like about the actual stories, but not once do I recall thinking ‘Why are the daleks even here?!’ or ‘Why is this a cybermen story?’ Not once do I remember an episode where the villains were completely unutilized.

And then we had Asylum of the Daleks. Hey kids, guess what this episode needed more of? THE FRIGGEN DALEKS! The idea of the human-sleeper-agent-daleks was admittedly a pretty cool update to the monsters, but the Daleks are only there at the beginning and end of the episode. And no, I don’t mean that they’re physically gone, I mean that they have no real presence in the story. The focus is entirely on Clara, the Doctor and Amy/Rory’s relationship. Imagine, if you will, a story where Darth Vader showed up only to give a brief bit of exposition at the end, when the story is titled ‘Vader’s Choice’ or something that implies Vader is an actual focus for the story.

This isn’t the first time a villian’s utilization has been poor either. The Cybermen story (whose name escapes me at the moment) that occurs right before 11 goes off to die at Lake Silencio, for instance. The Cybermen’s presence is almost negligible. There’s such little substance to them, I am honestly surprised this story even needed to be told. Sure, I didn’t hate the episode, but the Cybermen are so poorly utilized it actually shocked me. The story of the Daleks in WW2 London (i’m really bad with episode names, sorry) had a conclusion that I thought could probably have worked better as a Cybermen story.

You should never be able to think that about a story with villains as iconic as the Cybermen and Daleks.

The Weeping Angels, however, are by far the most egregious example. The Weeping Angels have had 3 stories which actually focus on them (and really only 1 was great all the way through) but appear in 6 or 7. Once as an illusion, granted, but why did they need to be the illusion in question? Or in the snow in the most recent christmas special?

Second, continuity. Moffat loves to play fast and loose with continuity, and sometimes that’s okay. Doctor Who’s version of A Christmas Carol (I really need to start looking these names up) is pretty good in my humble opinion, and it’s only even possible because of how loosely it plays with how time travel in Doctor Who is supposed to work. In other cases, however, the retcons become so blatant and pointless I have to wonder what the point of even trying to follow the story is if everything in it can be changed on a whim. The example I’m about to show you ties into the third point, however: the mystery box.

So, Clara. The impossible girl that dies twice in front of the Doctor’s eyes. Then he meets her again in modern times. We find out over the course of his time with her that the reason he’s met her twice is because she steps into his unravelled time stream/grave (not really clear on what exactly that was) at Trenzalore, a grave made for him there after his final battle. So, what’s wrong with this you ask? The Doctor lives when he goes to the aforementioned battle of Trenzalore. So his grave can’t be there. And before that, it was a fixed point that he would die at Lake Silencio. Except he lived through that. (this one, the audience actually got to see both times) The entire series is full of retcons and changes like that that utterly remove any tension. Everything is going to be alright, everything’s fine, no reprecussions for anything.

As for the mystery box… Moffat likes to put mystery boxes inside mystery boxes. You learn there’s a mystery, find the answer to the mystery, as well as a new mystery. Thing is, the new mysteries start to contradict the old ones. Okay. So Silence will fall when the Pandorica opens? Holy shit the universe just vanished, that’s-… Oh wait, the Silence are aliens invading the earth that have been manipulating us for millenia to get a speacsuit, what do they need it for?… oh wait, no, they’re a church run by humans (then why did they do millennia of manipulation?) that are waging war on the doctor… Now they’re a rogue sect within that church…

That’s one example, but it’s hardly the only one.

And then there’s the blockbuster format. I’ll be blunt: It’s not working. Doing one big episode just doesn’t work for every story. Some need to be longer than the 45 minutes or so allotted for each episode. So many stories since you began this format have just felt underdeveloped and in serious need of expansion. Sure, some work great for a single episode, but to do so for all your episodes… well, there’s a reason we have different size shirts: some need bigger, some need smaller.

Look, I love Doctor Who. But you’re really messed up right now, and you need help. This new series is a chance for you to start clean. Make it count, please. I’ll be here for ya.

-A concerned fan

PS. Sorry if this feels a little rambly. I think I got incoherent at the end there.

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