Who’s Right? Whose Wrong? Is My Doctor Who Back?
PLEASE BE AWARE THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE DEALS WITH ISSUES OF EMOTIONAL ABUSE. THIS CAN BE A TRIGGER ISSUE FOR SOME READERS. PLEASE TAKE CARE WITH THE FOLLOWING CONTENT
NB POSSIBLE SEASON 9 1st Episode Spoilers
Just before Christmas last year I published a blog about, my growing concerns about, Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who. Nothing against Capaldi who, in my opinion, is doing the best with some ill thought out writing and direction. However, the steady undertone of an abusive relationship between the Doctor and Clara Oswald was genuinely concerning me. It resulted in me boycotting the Christmas Special and having to stop watching the show.
Since then, I have been treated to classic episodes of Doctor Who, on an almost daily basis, courtesy of the Horror Channel, watched the Christmas Special, as well as the end of the last season. Now, with the new series starting on the BBC this weekend, and Jenna Coleman confirming that she’s leaving the show, I thought it an appropriate time to share my thoughts.
Key was finding that, after research on a variety of Whovian fansites, I was not alone. Writing the first article I was sure that I had misread something or that I was being paranoid. What I found was a wider debate, dubbed ‘Clara Who’, mostly concerned with the growing presence of the ‘impossible girl’ in the series; whether she should be taking screen time away from the Doctor. Admittedly Steven Moffat has stated that the first Capaldi season was about Clara, but in looking into the issues of abuse in the series I found two very striking points of view.
Firstly, that the Doctor has never been a nice guy. It’s a point that I have to concede and is well explored in the Whovian Cannon. The Doctor is capable of incredible arrogance and horror. From the original William Hartnell where the casual murder of a caveman is discussed, the machiavellian genius of Sylvester McCoy, and the darkness that stalks both David Tennant and Matt Smith. However, as much as the Doctor can be cruel, violent and arrogant he is generally gentle with his companions and deeply compassionate in his protection of the Earth, something that Capaldi, especially after episodes like Kill the Moon, Death in Heaven and even the Christmas Special, has yet to really display to the point of genuine reluctance.
Secondly, that Clara was to blame, usually citing the events of the Caretaker, because she’s mean to him. I’ve tended to dismiss this opinion on the basis that when someone you were almost romantically involved with turns up at your place of work and –
– Undermines your authority infront of a class you’re teaching
– Is constantly trying to set you up with someone who acts and looks like your ex
– Insults your current boyfriend
– Brings a battle with a killer robot into a school when there was a perfectly good disused warehouse available for the purpose
Under the circumstances, losing one’s temper with a Timelord with poor judgement is, frankly, more than justified and to say otherwise smacks of the victim blaming, which, as we will come to see, is entirely unfair.
So, having watched the end of the last series, the Christmas Special and the latest episode of the new season has anything changed?
As the end of the last season we find out that the Master/Missy had planted Clara in the Doctor’s life as their personalities should clash.
MISSY: Cos she’s perfect, innit? The control freak and the man who should never be controlled. You’d go to hell if she asked. And she would. The phone’s ringing, Doctor. Can you hear that? Now that is the sound of your chain being yanked. Heel, Doctor! (as Clara) Help me, Doctor. Help me. Help me, Doctor
Does this justify the constant negging throughout the last season, the determined interference in Clara’s life or the pointless psychological torture during Dark Water? Not even for a moment.
What we see during Death in Heaven is occasional racism from the Doctor:
(An Indian Army officer salutes the Doctor.)
DOCTOR: Oh, don’t do that. You look like you’re self-concussing, which would explain all of military history, now I think about it.
AHMED: Colonel Ahmed, sir. Privileged to meet you.
DOCTOR: Love your outfit, Colonel Ahmed. Are you in the Scouts? Are you a Man Scout? I didn’t know they had those.
Quickly followed by the unnecessary final death of Mr. Pink and the Doctor ducking responsibility left right and centre (Order the cybermen to self-destruct, recharge the bracelet from the unending powersource of the TARDIS, lay all the souls to rest, bring back Danny. Missy still loses, same win conditions, job done). Having seen the courage of John Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, hell even Colin Baker in recent re-runs to be presented with a Doctor who shuffles hard decisions to someone else was genuinely heartbreaking.
DOCTOR: I really didn’t know. I wasn’t sure. You lose sight sometimes. Thank you! I am not a good man! I am not a bad man. I am not a hero. And I’m definitely not a president. And no, I’m not an officer. Do you know what I am? I am an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. Just passing through, helping out, learning.
Consider that Matt Smith’s exit has him defending a planet for 300 years, John Hurt’s Doctor using pure genius to save Gallifrey from the Time War, David Tennant’s role suffering years torture and humiliation to defeat the Master. Just a few recent examples of the Doctor’s compassion and personal responsibility.
So, did the situation get any better with the Christmas episode? Frankly No. The Doctor runs around, the episode implies that Clara being in danger is the Doctor’s fault and he tries to duck out halfway through not giving a toss about the threat to the earth and the human race.
DOCTOR: Everyone all right? Good. Bye.
CLARA: Sorry, I’ll just go and
(They walk down the corridor.)
DOCTOR: No need for chatting, you’ll only get attached. This isn’t Facebook.
[Outside the base]
CLARA: Er, what about the Dream Crabs?
DOCTOR: Oh, they’re fine.
CLARA: And the people that they’re eating?
DOCTOR: Beyond help.
CLARA: Doctor, the others are still in danger.
DOCTOR: Only if they’re stupid. There are polar bears on this ice cap. Am I supposed to do something about that, too?
CLARA: We know Dream Crabs are still on Earth.
DOCTOR: There are lots of dangerous things on this funny little planet of yours, Clara, most of which you eat. I’m the Doctor, not your mam.
(He walks to the Tardis.)
So, with baited breath we come round to Season 9 and 5 star ratings from the Radio Times and other media outlets have we seen the end of the abuse and the moral bankruptcy?
I will say that things started well and it’s hard to judge as we’ve been left with a cliffhanger.
Possible Spoilers Look Away Now
The premise of the episode had genuine potential. A young boy in genuine peril, the Doctor is the hero! But Horror!? The boy is Davros! An entry to one of moral philosophy’s classic conundrums, ‘If you had the chance to kill Hitler/Pol Pot/Stalin before a massive historical atrocity would you?’ (Although we know from Kill Hitler that the Doctor wouldn’t plus issues around fixed points in history)
A brilliant start, and we could have been spellbound by Capaldi’s skill as an actor as the Doctor struggles with the decision to save a small boy or not and the effect on the universe and potentially on the fall of Gallifrey etc. I was energised, genuinely charged with excitement! Right up until they cut to Earth and brought Missy back having killed the character off at the end of the last series in Doctor Who cliché style. I can understand the feeling that Missy felt under used but why kill her only to bring her straight back?
Then the summons to a dying Davros. Yes, I thought a wonderful duking it out between two arch rivals! High drama as the Doctor stands by his principles. At which point the episode nosedived again, as we see the pointless deaths of Clara, the Master and the destruction of the TARDIS with the Doctor begging for their lives (note, not asking, demanding, or let her live or else). At series end this would have had REAL impact, but in a series opener simply heralds lazy writing and poor pacing as the Doctor flashes back to the young boy having worked out he’d made the wrong choice. Not entirely dissimilar to a Primary School Essay of “But it was all a dream”.
When I started this path I was worried I was alone, but with the BBC announcing the Doctor’s audience has dropped by a THIRD it would seem no longer.