Why “The Day of the Doctor” made me forgive Steven Moffat for everything I didn’t like about his version of Doctor Who. Or: Good storytelling and how it can sneak up on you.


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(Spoilery, but not by much.)

So first things first: while I had no history of watching the classic Doctor Who as a young British child (yes, I’m well aware I never was quite such a British child) I flop-hearted nonsensical in love with Russell T. Davies’ reinterpretation of it. I watched it sporadically at first, more eavesdropping on my sister’s viewings than being willing to trust my heart to some wonky British show with latex and silicon aliens.

I guess you could say what I fell in love with, at first, was not the Doctor, but that young, fragile companion of his, Rose Tyler. She

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was fresh-faced and eager, wholeheartedly willing to experience everything and yet tumbling with the knowledge that the universe was so much more than she ever would have imagined.

I loved her.

And of course, the Doctor was wonderful. Funny. Madcap. Full of yearning, but not for anything nameable. And always, always impressive. I thought I would never love another Doctor the way I loved Nine. And then came Ten. And everything expanded and got better and hurt more and made me love it more. As much as I loved Rose Tyler? I wanted to BE Donna Noble. When they were both taken away from me (and of course by me, I mean the Doctor), I was heartsick, heartsick, heartsick. Satisfied in their storylines and loving the show for hurting me that much, but heartsick all the same.

endoftimeBut not as heartsick as when I heard that both David Tennant and Russell T. Davies would be leaving the show. That seemed like too much to bear. In fact, I put off watching Tennant’s last specials for a full year, totally unwilling to move on to Moffat and Matt Smith. I thought that that would be enough time to prepare myself, but I was wrong. Tennant’s last episode destroyed me.

And then there was Matt Smith. And… no one knew what Daleks were? Or any of the media-hey-day bits that Ten had gotten into? No one knew who the Doctor was?

I was thrust into confusion, and then skepticism, and then dislike. But I was a year behind by then, and I was assured by some that Smith would “grow on me.” He did not grow on me. Every episode I watched, rubbed me just a little wrong. Amy and Rory were fun,

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sure, but I felt distant from them. And where oh where was my Doctor?

Naturally, I blamed Steven Moffat, new helm of the show, for everything. I felt as if he wanted to distance himself from Davies’ Doctor Who as much as possible. I could understand that, in a way, but as a fan I also felt kicked in the gut. So, so much of what I’d loved in the show was gone, and Moffat seemed to refuse to even acknowledge Davies’ reign, though  he did reference the classic show what seemed to me a lot more (again, speaking as someone unfamiliar with the classic show, other than a viewing of The Curse of Fatal Death, which doesn’t really count). I saw this distance from the previous season as a slight betrayal to the fans of the more recent incarnation of the show, and as a big mistake on Moffat’s account.

Eleven’s first season of Doctor Who was darker and creepier than I wanted to see, to be frank about it. While I’d been deliciously chilled by Don’t Blink just like everyone, I did not watch Doctor Who to be creeped out. I watched it to feel wonder, celebration of humanity, and hope in the face of everything. Still, I don’t give up on shows easily, and there was just enough of a glimmer of the Doctor I was familiar with to make me wait it out.

karen-gillan-amy-pond-matt-smith-doctor-who-new-costume1Eventually, I’m not sure when or how, Matt Smith did grow on me a little bit. And bit by bit, it seemed like Moffat was willing to embrace the more recent history of Doctor Who. Rose Tyler’s name was even dropped out of the blue. It was great. The last couple of seasons, I admit, have been a lot of fun, and much more like what I fell in love with the show for. It seemed as if Moffat had learned from his earlier mistakes of distancing himself and was finally willing to embrace the feel of the show the way I had always hoped would happen. It didn’t quite make up for things in my heart, but I was happy to look  forward to the future.

And then, “The Day of the Doctor.” And all of my frustration and grievances against Moffat were swept away with two lines of dialogue that turned all of Moffat’s mistakes (or clever, long-held plans? I’m still going to go with mistakes) and swept away everything I hadn’t liked about the Eleventh Doctor.  Those two lines, both spoken by John Hurt’s “lost” Doctor, were these:

“You’re children, both of you” (okay, can’t remember the precise wording on that one)

and

“The one who regrets and the one who forgets.”

That sound you’re hearing? Is my brain bursting with applause. Because with two lines, Moffat justified everything that I had disliked about his first taking on as the head hauncho behind Doctor Who.

Oh, Doctor.

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I’d already been leaning towards this thinking myself, after reading a fan posting I wish I could find right now, about how Ten was so, so human that it hurt him immeasurably, and in response, Eleven more or less drew away from everything about that life and forced it into a drawer to collect dust.

But Moffat went further than that. If Christopher Eccleston had been involved in this special (though it would have had to have gone quite differently) I think that second line may have been “The one who rages, the one who regrets, and the one who forgets.”

Let me explain why I love this so, so much. We understand from this that John Hurt is the “Doctor” (though he doesn’t call himself Doctor) in between Eight and Nine. The one who destroyed Gallifrey. The one the Doctor does not want to remember being. He is the one that becomes Nine—the one Ten alludes to as having been “born of blood and anger and revenge.” As I said, the one who rages. Nine had a tendency towards anger, and was often fed up with humans (“stupid apes”) even though he would defend them to his last breath. If you look at this from the Doctor’s personal timeline, it’s likely he was angry at his own humanity—his ability to be at fault, or rather his inability to save his people in a way he could accept.

But then there was Rose. This young girl who trusted him openly and was fallible and imperfect but was willing to offer mercy when even the Doctor could not. And that humanity the Doctor had been suppressing? All came flooding back in with his new regeneration. Ten was impossibly human. Formed attachments even when he thought he was protecting himself. And was always so, so sorry.

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I had been so mad at Moffat for forgetting about all those people Ten loved, but then Ten lost more people than it was prudent to remember. A love, a best friend, a pseudo-family, a possible wife, even a daughter (though I’m still hoping Genny will show up again). Even his greatest enemy! The weight of all the people Ten lost is astounding. And even after all that, he was afraid of letting it go and changing.

So as Eleven, he forgot. Forgot his deeds on Gallifrey. Forgot Rose Tyler and Jackie Tyler and Martha Jones and Donna Noble and Mickey Smith and Captain Jack and every single person he could. Even forgot his current companions for long stretches of time. Ran further away than he ever had, only to run smack into himself.

And now with Peter Capaldi coming in, it seems as if the Doctor is willing to admit that he IS an adult. That he’s done running away and hiding from everything, done regressing.

Basically, storytelling genius. I won’t even go into how fantastic the uses of Billie Piper and Tom Baker were in the special, or how beautifully the story was resolved and set a new course for the show. That’s been said elsewhere, I’m sure. I still think Moffat made some mistakes when he first took on the show as Executive Producer, but like any really good storyteller, he’s taken those mistakes and put some sense to them, hiding that they were ever mistakes in the first place. There’s a lot to learn there, and I take my hat off to Moffat. I could not have been more pleased or impressed.

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