Suspension of disbelief (or lack thereof)

It's coming to get you!

It’s coming to get you!

If you’re going to watch Doctor Who, one thing that you definitely have to do is suspend your disbelief. This is especially important when watching the classic series, because you will need to convince yourself that the actor swathed in a sheath of green-colored bubblewrap writhing on the floor is actually a scary slimy alien insectoid pupa (in “The Ark in Space,” which, despite the terrible bubblewrap pupa, is one of the best classic episodes). However, you also have to do this for the modern show, too.

There have been a few unbelievable special effects in the show. I remember watching “Aliens of London” for the first time and cringing at the Raxacoricofallapatorians. The alien costumes have gotten a lot better since then. However, there are other things you have to take with a grain of salt. Doctor Who exists in its own little world and as such, doesn’t have much affinity with the realities of our world. Other sci-fi shows stay as much within the realities of real-life physics as they can, but Doctor Who doesn’t. It doesn’t even try. It sacrifices “reality” for its story, and asks you to suspend your disbelief to enjoy that story. And, in most cases, for us fans, that’s ok. We’re willing to immerse ourselves in this completely alien universe. But sometimes it’s a bit difficult.

No one was hurt in the burning of this atmosphere.

No one was hurt in the burning of this atmosphere.

Here’s an example that had me ranting after the episode was over. In “The Poison Sky,” the entire Earth’s atmosphere is contaminated with Sontaran clone feed gas, and the Doctor has to get rid of it somehow before it kills everyone. He fires a ball of flame up into the atmosphere that ignites the gas, and the fire wave travels over the globe, purifying the air. Even though the Sontaran gas is down at ground level, the flame wave that starts and travels horizontally around 2000 feet up cleanses the air at ground level. There’s no problems with low oxygen levels after the fire is gone, and the sky is shown to have clouds in it, though you’d expect that a wave of flame would evaporate them off. Then, of course, you could point out that the Earth is a not a smooth sphere and the wave must have hit hills and mountains, but there’s no reports of any fires started by it. There are a lot more I could point out, but I think the point is clear: to enjoy the show, you just have to go with it. (Don’t get me started on the location of the moon after the Earth brought back from the Medusa Cascade in “Journey’s End.”)

The thing that Doctor Who must do, then, is stay faithful internally. It has a huge, varied history and there are a lot of things that can’t be reconciled (the UNIT dating controversy, referenced in “The Day of the Doctor,” is a good example), but when especially the modern show can’t stay faithful to itself, the viewer starts to question what he’s seeing and it can very much ruin the experience. A minor example of this comes from “The Beast Below.” Near the beginning of the episode, the Doctor tells Amy, “An important thing. In fact, Thing One. We are observers only. That’s the one rule I’ve always stuck to in all my travels. I never get involved in the affairs of other peoples or planets.” Now, this line turns out to be important to the narrative, because later Amy must have the idea of non-interference in mind for her to figure out that the Doctor, like the star whale, will choose to interfere for the sake of children, but it is completely out of character for the Doctor: he always interferes when he believes it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the reason he doesn’t get along with the rest of the Time Lords, throughout the fifty years of the show. There was no reason at that point for him to lie to Amy about it, other than the narrative reason. It never comes up again, and she never questions his interference. My reaction to the line when I first saw the episode was, “What?” and I missed the next part of the scene because my husband and I had stopped to discuss it. (Ok, we looked at each other and said, “Why the hell would he say that?”)

I’m able to approach the show with the ability to overlook / ignore some contradictions (like the one above) and enjoy the episodes as they are meant to be, but there’s one that completely ruins episodes for me: the Weeping Angels. We watched “Time of the Angels” / “Flesh and Stone” last night. I know this story is considered one of the best of the modern show and I tried so hard to enjoy it, but, like the first time I watched it, by the end I was angry and frustrated. I could tell that the story was good, but the Angels were so ruined in the episode that I simply could not suspend my disbelief.

The Weeping Angels were introduced in “Blink” and were very well-defined. Here are the rules they operated by, as stated by the Tenth Doctor.

  • “They are quantum-locked. They don’t exist when they’re being observed. The moment they are seen by any other living creature, they freeze into rock.”
  • “They can’t risk looking at each other. Their greatest asset is their greatest curse. They can never be seen. The loneliest creatures in the universe.”
  • “They are fast, faster than you can believe.”
  • “In the present they consume the energy of all the days you might have had. All your stolen moments. They’re creatures of the abstract. They live off potential energy.”
  • “There is a world of time energy in there they could feast on forever, but the damage they could do could switch off the sun.”

When I first watched “Blink,” I found the concept of the Weeping Angels hard to believe (how does a creature who gets frozen when anything looks at it get created in the first place?), but the magnitude of the disbelief was not large and the quality of the episode far overweighed any problems I had with them. Then they were re-used for “Time of the Angels” / “Flesh and Stone”. The brilliance of “Blink” came from the mixture of Sally Sparrow trying to pull together all of the pieces of the time puzzle and the stop-motion threat of the Angels, but Mr. Moffat couldn’t do that with these new episodes. You can’t just do the same thing and expect it to work again. This time, it had to be more of a traditional monster converging on the Doctor and his companions, so he gave the Angels more powers, and succeeded in retconning everything that was stated about them in “Blink.”

  • The Angels now kill by snapping your neck.
  • They fed off the energy of the Byzantium engines, not potential energy or time energy.
  • Eleventh Doctor to the Angels: “That’s pure time energy. You can’t feed on that.” – Contradicts the reason why they were trying to get into the TARDIS originally.
  • Anything that takes the image of an Angel becomes an Angel.
  • An army of Angels surrounding a victim somehow do not see and quantum lock each other.
  • Angels are stuck as rock if they think someone is looking at them, and don’t know that a human with her eyes closed can’t see them.
  • Angels that are not quantum locked (and therefore are not rock) move slowly and make stone-scraping noises when they turn their heads.
  • Angels are willing to grab characters, rather than killing them/sending them back into the past, so that they have enough time to discuss their imminent deaths with the Doctor.
No, really, Angels, you have to know?

No, really, Angels, you have to know?

After a certain amount of “that’s not how they work!” and “they’re really stuck because they think Amy can see them?” you lose track of the story. Are you able to suspend your disbelief? I couldn’t. The Angels felt so contrived, just to try to make exciting scenes. And once you start doubting what’s going on, you start doubting everything. Why did they leave Amy in the forest when Octavian could have simply carried her with them? Of course, it was a narrative thing – in addition to having someone observe the opening the big crack, they needed a moment when the Doctor and Amy weren’t together so that the future Doctor could come and talk to her – but the point is that once you’re no longer immersed in the story, you start to see other problems with the story that you wouldn’t notice otherwise.

While I’m particularly vocal about the Weeping Angels (and it only gets worse: you’re telling me that the Statue of Liberty can walk across Manhattan without a single New Yorker seeing it?), they aren’t the only things that are getting hard to stomach, but I won’t start on the Daleks today. I’m not saying that they can’t add to existing concepts, just that there’s a limit to what they can change about them without sacrificing believability.

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Propriety

I read an article this weekend that discussed an issue that the early Doctor Who showrunners had to deal with, the propriety of having a woman traveling alone with a man. It’s something that we don’t even think about nowadays. We had no problems with Rose, a 19-year-old girl, running off with the Doctor, who looked to be in his forties. Of course, early on in series one, there was no indication of a romantic relationship between the two characters, and by the end of series 1, we were comfortable with the two characters traveling together, so it wasn’t an issue. But back in 1963, this would have raised eyebrows. Considering that Doctor Who was considered a children’s show, that kind of thing was forbidden.

Susan and her chaperones

Susan and her chaperones

When the show was first conceived, Susan was created as a teenager but wasn’t the Doctor’s granddaughter, and even with the presence of Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright in the TARDIS to act as chaperones, the propriety was questionable enough that they changed the character to be his granddaughter. This way, no one could suggest that there was anything going on between the Doctor and his young companion. Of course, it worked out well for the show, since the familial relationship between the Doctor and Susan was such a big part of the show’s early days.

Since the article made me wonder how well they kept to this ideal, I plotted out the tenures of all of the companions to see how they overlapped, and someday I’ll convert it into an image to show it all comes out. But in the meantime, I’ll point out a few salient points.  Throughout the entire classic series, the Doctor has at least one female companion at all times, except during the Fourth Doctor episode “The Deadly Assassin,” which is set between the departure of Sarah Jane Smith and the arrival of Leela. Throughout the tenures of the First and Second Doctors, there was always at least one other male in the TARDIS with the Doctor and his female companion: first Ian and Barbara, then Steven Taylor, then Ben Jackson, and finally Jamie McCrimmon.

The Third Doctor never had a male companion: Liz Shaw, then Jo Grant, then Sarah Jane all were his sole companion, though Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and to a lesser extent Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates, also appeared during much of these episodes. I think that the reason the women were allowed to be alone here was that for much of the Third Doctor’s tenure, he was trapped on Earth and wasn’t actually traveling. Thus, though the women were companions, they didn’t live in the TARDIS and therefore didn’t live with the Doctor. By the time the Doctor gets his TARDIS back, two years had passed and the concept of the Doctor having a platonic relationship with a single companion was acceptable enough.

When the Fourth Doctor appeared, Sarah Jane had a chaperone in Harry Sullivan, but he left at the beginning of season 13, and from then on, the Doctor wasn’t forced to take on extra companions. Sarah Jane, Leela, and Romana didn’t have a chaperone for most of their time (I don’t consider K-9 to be an appropriate chaperone). The Fifth Doctor’s run gets a little interesting. For the first time since the Second Doctor, the Doctor had a full TARDIS – three companions – for almost two seasons (again, I’m not counting Kamelion because though he’s technically in the TARDIS and rounding out that third spot, he really only acts like a full companion in his first and last episodes). I know that it’s been mentioned that Peter Davison was forbidden from putting his arm around Nyssa’s or Tegan’s shoulders specifically to prevent people from thinking that the Doctor might have any familiarity with them, so the propriety ideal is still there. However, Peri was then introduced specifically for her sex appeal. Very interesting dichotomy of thought there.

From Peri on through Ace, the Doctor always only had one companion, so again it was ok for the Doctor to be traveling with a single female. And of course, in the new series, that’s not even an issue anymore – the issue of the Doctor’s relationship with his companion(s) is now dealt with through the story, rather than ignored, which is probably what caused the problem in the first place. If the show doesn’t tell the audience what’s happening, that’s when they start making up their own theories about it.

“The Caves of Androzani”

tcoa“The Caves of Androzani” (henceforth abbreviated TCoA) is the last episode of Peter Davison’s era of Doctor Who, and it’s considered the best episode of Doctor Who ever. That might be hard to believe for people who are primarily familiar with the modern series, that the best episode comes from the classic series (that it’s considered better than, say, “Blink”) and that it’s a Fifth Doctor episode (and not from Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, or William Hartnell), but it seems to be the general opinion among those who are fans of both the classic and modern eras that if “The Caves of Androzani” isn’t the #1 episode, it’s in the top three.

I watched it back in October or so with no idea that the episode rated so highly, with only the knowledge that it was the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration episode, and as such, I was mostly watching it to see the Doctor get embroiled in some situation, win the day, and sacrifice himself (I knew the circumstances of his death beforehand). As such, I was immensely disappointed and the episode didn’t make much of an impression on me at all. Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about the show and decided to give it another go.

Before I continue, here’s a link to an article that I’ll reference at least once. It’s from a blog called Classical Gallifrey, which did in-depth analysis of all Doctor Who classic episodes. Its treatment of TCoA is a little down the page, behind the “Read More” link at the bottom of the entry. The analysis is extremely long and I only skimmed it very lightly.

Classical Gallifrey

Now, onwards! Spoilers ahead.

I think my second viewing of TCoA was very well-informed by my recent viewing of “The Robots of Death.” I noticed during that episode that a major part of it had to do with the personalities and relationships of the people working on the mining vehicle. In the modern show, the episodes mostly focus on the Doctor and his companions, with the guest characters forming a backdrop against which they play, but in the classic show, it seems that often the guest characters are the meat of the story, with the Doctor and companions being almost completely incidental. This is the case with TCoA. The Doctor and Peri arrive on the planet Androzani Minor and get embroiled in a political war between multiple sides. The planet produces a substance called spectrox that prevents aging, making it “the most valuable substance in the universe,” and everyone wants to control it. The main players in the war at the start of the episode are

  • Morgus: The man who owns the spectrox mining operation and lives on Androzani Major
  • Sharaz Jek: A strange masked man who lives down in the caves and, with an army of androids, steals the spectrox and kills off the miners
  • The President: The president of the government on Androzani Major, who nominally has control but is beholden to Morgus to keep himself young and knows Morgus has bought most of the government
  • Chellak: The general of the army tasked  by Morgus with cleaning Sharaz Jek out of the caves
  • Stotz: A mercenary who supples Sharaz Jek with weapons, but is loyal to whoever pays him

This is just at the beginning of the episode, and only the most important people each faction; there are a couple of other characters that have major effects on the story as it goes along. When we first enter the caves, Sharaz Jek has established his operation in the caves and has been holding off Chellak’s forces for six months, pretty much running circles around the army. With the spectrox mining being hampered, Morgus is not making the profits he’s used to and is getting desperate to get rid of Sharaz Jek. The episode is a tale of political and military maneuvers, as different factions learn what’s going on, stage attacks and schemes, and change allegiances.

Where does the Doctor fit into all of this? He and Peri land on Androzani Minor and enter the caves to explore. They fall into a growth of raw spectrox before being found by Chellak’s men, who accuse them of being gun runners for Sharaz Jek. They spend most of the episodes bouncing back and forth between the different factions, who each believe they are spies for some other faction. Meanwhile, they discover that raw spectrox is toxic to humans (the sickness is called spectrox toxaemia) and that from their brief contact with it, they are both dying. There’s only one antidote for it, the milk of a queen bat that lives far down in the caves where there is no oxygen. None of the factions have the equipment to go down there, and are certainly willing to let the supposed spies die.

Thus, the episode is a complex web of intrigue, some of which is due to the already tense situation in the caves, and some of which is due to the introduction of the Doctor and his companion, as each faction who finds them assumes they’re enemies and adjusts their plans based on what they think the Doctor and Peri have learned and are going to do. Meanwhile, throughout the episode, the Doctor is completely powerless, at the mercies of whoever has captured him at the moment, but his only concern is to figure out how to save Peri. From the moment he finds out that Peri is sick, all he wants to do is cure her, and when he finds out the sickness is fatal, it becomes his driving force. This desire gives him the impetus to break out of his chains (while he’s in a spaceship and captured by the mercenaries) and commandeer the spacecraft to return to the planet and acquire the milk of the queen bat for the antidote.

There are a couple of other things worth mentioning about this episode. I will note that both of these I got both of these ideas from the Classical Gallifrey link I posted above. First, the direction. This was the first episode Graeme Harper directed for Doctor Who. If you don’t recognize his name, he directed ten episodes during David Tennant’s run as the Doctor, including “Army of Ghosts”/”Doomsday”, “Time Crash”, “Turn Left”, “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End”, and “The Waters of Mars”.

sharazperi2Now, I will tell you plainly that I don’t know a single thing about directing in a show. I can’t tell you if a specific director is good or bad. I can only tell you what I see when I watch something, and to me, it looks like in TCoA, Mr. Harper took Doctor Who in a completely different directorial direction. One of the things that I sometimes have a problem with while watching the classic episodes is the feeling of unreality: the cheap sets, the brightly-lit interiors, the stodgy characters standing in a row delivering their lines to each other, the long shots of slow monsters plodding across a desolate landscape, that kind of thing. Quarries looked like quarries, and caves looked like, well, cheap sets made of papier mache. Mr. Harper turned that on end for TCoA. He used the lighting to darken everything except the most important things in the scene. He positioned the actors in natural poses and arrangements. For some shots, especially the incredibly creepy scenes of Sharaz Jek with Peri, he positioned the camera low and intimate, to draw you closer to the characters. Sure, the sets were still cheap, but he focused you on the characters and the action, and thus you don’t notice the rest. He concentrated on depicting the story, rather than shooting the script, to considerable effect.

The second thing I wanted to mention was a very short bit (probably only two seconds) that has wider implications on the story and the lore of the show. I wouldn’t have noticed this if Classical Gallifrey hadn’t pointed it out. When the Doctor has commandeered the spaceship and is returning to Androzani Minor, he’s already well into the late phases of spectrox toxaemia and, like Peri, is going to die soon. He’s sitting in the pilot’s chair staring at the viewscreen and hallucinates for a moment, seeing vertical lines covering the viewscreen screen. He concentrates and they go away. As it only lasts for a second or two, it just looks like something that was thrown in to emphasize that he’s really sick.

What Classical Gallifrey points out is that the vertical lines weren’t on the screen – they were over his entire field of vision, and if you pay attention to them and to the end of the episode, you’ll see that they’re exactly the same lines that appear in his vision when he starts to regenerate. The point of the scene was not that he was sick, but that he was dying at that moment and willed himself to delay his regeneration until he could save Peri. Up until this point, I had thought that the concept that the Doctor could delay regeneration was invented for the Tenth Doctor’s story in The End of Time, but no, the Fifth Doctor did it first. Also, his stopping his regeneration in order to continue trying to save Peri only underscores his tenacity and his devotion to this companion who he barely knows. (Read Classical Gallifrey’s discussion of this point: it’s far better than anything I could ever write about it.)

I have to admit, on second viewing, I’m still not sure about everything that happened in those caves. There were so many tricks and turnarounds that I’m not sure who ended up on top. But I was completely engaged in the story – all of the characters were intricately designed and interesting to watch, even the ones you end up hating – and I do think that this was a fantastic episode. #1? Not sure. I’d have to watch it a few more times to really grok it. But top 20, at least. I’d put this episode up against the best that the modern show has to offer, and it’ll beat out a lot of them.

Valentine’s day

I’d say something about Valentine’s Day being no fun when you’re sick, but then I really have never celebrated Valentine’s Day, so being sick would really just be ruining a normal day for me. It’s not that I hate the holiday or anything; it’s just never been that important. So, here I am rambling again. Blame the cold meds.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism on the Internet of the Tenth Doctor and his romantic ways. Beyond the whole Rose storyline, it’s been said that he gets involved with too many women. I was thinking about that the other day, and while a lot of women fall for him, he really doesn’t show that much emotion for any of them.  From the audience’s viewpoint, he obviously falls for Reinette, but he doesn’t show it to her. Martha, of course, doesn’t get any reciprocation from him. Astrid falls for him, but it’s unclear if he loves her back. If you look at all of the kisses the Tenth Doctor has had, only one of them was initiated by him and it was a genetic transfer (Martha). The rest were all initiated by other characters (Cassandra/Rose, Reinette, Astrid, Donna, Lady Christina, and I think a couple of others that I can’t remember). The only kiss that he initiated was to astral Astrid, and I’m not sure that counts. (You might also count the Meta-Crisis Doctor kissing Rose, but I don’t – the MCTD is a different person, and being human, he is willing to demonstrate his love for Rose.) The Tenth Doctor seems less a romantic person than a character that has romance forced on him.

Ok, back to the haze of the cold meds. Have a great Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Cold-med infused ramblings

I finally caught the bloody plague that’s been sweeping through the office, so I’m at home, trying to do work, succeeding a little, but mostly just staring at my computer screen blankly. It doesn’t help that the software I’m working with is refusing to work correctly, so even if I did try hard to work, I wouldn’t be able to do anything anyway.

Benedick trying to be stealthy.

Benedick trying to be stealthy.

Last night, I did something I’d been meaning to do for a while: buy and watch Much Ado about Nothing from Digital Theatre. I find that when I’m sick, sitting and watching shows is pretty therapeutic. It was a fantastic performance, and if you like Shakespeare, I recommend taking a look at it. Actually, I recommend it even if you don’t have much exposure to Shakespeare. At first, I had a difficult time understanding the dialogue, because even though the production is modern (as in, the costumes and interpretation are modern), the language is still archaic. However, after about a half an hour, I got used to the language and cadence and could understand everything just fine. Some of the comic scenes (especially when Benedick is behind the columns listening to his friends discussing how Beatrice is in love with him) are priceless.

So how does this relate to Doctor Who (except for the obvious, of course)? Well, I was just thinking about how happy I was after the show was over, being so well-entertained for nearly three hours that I didn’t even realize how long it had run for. As a complete non-artist (I’m definitely a techie with no aesthetic sense), I can’t begin to fathom what it’s like to be a part of something that brings so much happiness and wonder to others. Much Ado about Nothing was performed on a stage, so there’s an audience right there to enjoy it, and then the performance was filmed so that millions more could enjoy it. That’s a fantastic legacy.

Today, Doctor Who: Legacy is releasing the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, and this sparked more of the same thoughts. How wonderful it must be to be a part of something that’s meant so much to so many people. All these people – actors, writers, directors, cameramen, special effects people, costumers, make-up artists, and so many more – come together and put together this great show for us. We love the show, and we’ll always remember them for it. We may only really know the names of the actors, writers, and directors for the most part, but through the show, all of these people have been immortalized.

Like I said, I’m pretty med-addled right now, so this is really not making much sense. I just hope that they all realize how much we love them, how much we appreciate what they do, especially the behind-the-scenes people, who rarely get any kudos but without them, the shows we love couldn’t be made. Thanks to all of you!

Things I’ve learned from watching Doctor Who

I’ll probably add to this list from time to time.

  1. The polarity of the neutron flow is always in the exact opposite direction of what you want it to be.
  2. The problem with getting things done while time traveling is that one never seems to find the time.
  3. Rule #1 is “don’t wander off,” but wandering off is where the fun is.
  4. Talking is the best solution. Your enemies will stop trying to kill you to listen to you talk.
    • Corollary: Your enemies will stop trying to kill you if you yell, “Wait!”
  5. Confidence and charisma can make any outfit look good.
    • Corollary: Not many men can carry off a decorative vegetable.
    • Corollary: Never walk past a fez.
  6. Intelligence is sexy. (Ok, I already knew this one.)
    • Corollary: Nerdy glasses are really sexy.
  7. If you want to meet the Doctor, London is the best city to live in.
    • Corollary: If you live in London, always watch the skies.
  8. If you value longevity, London is the worst city to live in.
    • Corollary: If you live in London, always watch the skies.
  9. Don’t wait until the last moment to tell someone you love them.
Rockin' it, Doctor! Still my favorite of all of the outfits.

Rockin’ it, Doctor! Still my favorite of all of the outfits.

My take on Moffat

Benedict Cumberbatch, Steven Moffat, and Matt Smith

Benedict Cumberbatch, Steven Moffat, and Matt Smith

I’ve spent the morning doing a bit of thought about Steven Moffat as the showrunner of Doctor Who, and it’s been somewhat disturbing. This was sparked by a blog post a friend of mine shared on Facebook, about sexism in Doctor Who and Sherlock. The post links to a couple of other interesting articles, so I’ve linked them below.

Now, I’m not going to address the question of sexism in Doctor Who. I think that accusing anyone of sexism – or any other form of discrimination – is a very serious charge and requires a lot of research and analysis that I have not done, and so I don’t feel qualified to make any such judgment. However, these authors make very good cases for their accusations and these articles are food for thought.

The thing that is bothering me are the mentions in these articles that people are starting to dislike the show, and I look back on my thoughts in this blog and have to agree, in a way. If you’re familiar at all with what I’ve written, you’ll see that I’m very entranced by the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, and I’m having a blast watching the classic Doctors. My history with the Eleventh Doctor is far shakier. I started out disliking him, but my last post about my feelings towards him stated that I like the Eleventh Doctor, but I don’t like his stories. I’ve seen most of his stories once only, and I find it difficult to watch them again. The ones I remember liking (for example, “The Eleventh Hour,” “Vincent and the Doctor,” “The Doctor’s Wife,” “The Lodger”) I’ve seen multiple times, but it’s hard to convince myself to watch the ones I didn’t like the first time. I watched “Time of the Angels” this weekend and have yet to feel compelled to watch the second episode in that story (“Flesh and Stone”). And so many episodes in the second half of season seven (Clara’s season) was so horrible, it so felt like a waste of time the first time, that I’m not sure I’ll ever watch them again.

Why is this? Mr. Moffat has proven himself to be a good writer: the episodes that are generally considered to be the best in the modern show are predominantly his. Here’s an article that ranks all 83 of the modern episodes from worst to best, and while this list is simply one man’s opinion, we can use it as a guide. Four of the top 10, and eight of the top 20, are written by Mr. Moffat. Russell T. Davies, the previous showrunner and the other most prolific episode writer, doesn’t have as good a track record, with only six in the top 20. However, I think it’s important to look at exactly which of Mr. Moffat’s episodes are highly regarded.

  • “Blink”
  • “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances”
  • “The Girl in the Fireplace”
  • “The Time of the Angels” / “Flesh and Stone”
  • “The Pandorica Opens” / “Big Bang”
  • “The Impossible Astronaut” / “Day of the Moon”
  • “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead”
  • “Eleventh Hour”

Four of the episodes are from the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s time, and the top three of those are usually considered among the best five episodes of the modern show. Of the rest, one is the Eleventh Doctor’s introduction episode, and two are timey-wimey episodes that either open or close their season’s story arc. The last one, well, I can’t really comment on because, as I noted above, I don’t like it, but the list author notes that it’s heavily marred by its destruction of what made the Weeping Angels so terrifying in the first place and its preoccupation with the crack.

Looking at this list, it’s very clear to me why series 5 through 7 are nowhere near as interesting to me as series 1-4 or the classic series. First, I think that Mr. Moffat excels at constructing plots that involve complicated time-travel and universal concepts, but when he applies them to season-long story arcs, they don’t translate well and the individual episodes suffer from having to keep the arc going while also dealing with their own stories. His best episodes tend to be season openers or enders, and not the ones in-between. He has stated before that the idea of the cracks being something introduced in the Eleventh Doctor’s very first episode and resolved in the very last episode, with story arcs for each season tying into that, was pretty much an experiment. If that’s true, then I have hope for series 8 to not be so epic and, well, confusing. (It might also be that he’s best when he’s writing for only one episode, when his scope is very constrained.)

Second, I think that Mr. Moffat is a fantastic writer when he’s using someone else’s characters and are constrained by the world they’ve already built, but he is weak when having to create his own characters and his own rules. His first four episodes written for Doctor Who were with Mr. Davies’ Doctors and companions, who had defined personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and all of those episodes are excellent. The last one of those, “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead,” introduced his own recurring character, and while River was strong and interesting in that episode, there has been plenty of debate about the merits of the character in her subsequent appearances. When he became the showrunner, he had to create the Eleventh Doctor and all of the companions, and suddenly the episodes are not nearly as good. I’m not going to comment on Amy, because I don’t feel like I have enough of a feel for her to make any argument for or against her, but Clara is a simply walking plot point, with little personality or purpose other than to exist. Except in her origin episode (“The Bells of St. John”), she seems to follow the Doctor around like a puppy and then suddenly save the day or prompt the Doctor to try again when the Doctor’s best attempts fail (especially in “The Rings of Akhaten,” “The Name of the Doctor,” and “The Day of the Doctor”).

I do have hope for the next season, reasoning that if the Twelfth Doctor is going to be more dynamic and less personable and considerate than his predecessors, Clara will have to develop into a stronger character to realistically be able to stay with him (or, perhaps, she won’t work out with him and be replaced), and it looks like they won’t be doing such convoluted story arcs. And meanwhile, I’m going to try to keep an open mind while rewatching the Eleventh Doctor’s seasons, to find the good stuff, because I know they’re there.