Is Doctor Who really in trouble?

News James T 31 Jul 2011 - 13:21

James takes a look at the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who to date, and wonders quite why it's getting so much criticism...

We're just over a year into Steven Moffat's reign as Doctor Who's head writer, and both the tabloids and a small group of so-called fans are still complaining about how he's driven Doctor Who into the ground, and making stuff up about the programme's future being in jeopardy.

Generally, these opinions usually contain phrases similar to 'bring back David Tennant and Russell T. Davies', or complain about things of no consequence, like 'Matt Smith is wrong' and 'they changed the Tardis'.

Since I absolutely love Moffat's era of Doctor Who so far, I'm going to fight his corner and address some of the criticisms of series 5 and part one of series 6...

It's changed too much.

What you have to bear in mind is that change is the essence of the programme. From the First Doctor's regeneration in 1966 to the series' revival in 2005, Doctor Who has never clung to a particular lead actor, tone, or production team for too long.

In 1970, Doctor Who was given a radical overhaul. It was in colour, the producers and script editors had changed, and the Doctor was stuck on Earth helping UNIT. From then on, the series went from strength to strength.

Doctor Who's success is rooted in how freely it can change. One of the things that did Doctor Who serious harm in its 1980s' decline was producer John Nathan Turner's decision to stay on for as long as possible.

One of the best things about Doctor Who is that it changes before it becomes stale. And in my opinion, Russell T Davies had certainly begun to wear out his time a little by the time he left.

Viewing figures have decreased.

This argument carries no weight whatsoever. Times have changed and so have people's television viewing habits. People now have cheaper and wider access to the Internet, and cheaper recording machinery is now available, meaning that people are no longer dependant on watching a programme's original broadcast. Especially since every episode of Doctor Who is available on BBC iPlayer until a week after the broadcast of the current series' final episode.

If you look at the final viewing figures released ten days after the episode's broadcast, you'll see that the overall viewing figures have barely changed from the Russell T Davies years. And anyway, this argument is a moot point, as viewing figures are not indicative of quality.

Journey's End had a final viewing figure of around thirteen million, but I can't say I was a fan. And The Jeremy Kyle Show is regularly getting viewing figures of two million, while the brilliant Psychoville ended its second series with viewing figures of less than one million.

The programme is no longer winning awards.

See my above argument. The amount of awards a programme wins does not necessarily mean it's of good quality. For example, The Only Way Is Essex recently won a BAFTA, competing against Sherlock, The Killing, and Downton Abbey. And I'd like to point out that Matt Smith is, in fact, the first actor to be nominated for a BAFTA for his role as the Doctor.

Doctor Who has become too sexual.

Another weapon in the arsenal of the anti-Moffat brigade is the view that, under Moffat, Doctor Who has become too sexual, referencing, in particular, Amy's attempted seduction of the Doctor in Flesh And Stone, the fact that she is a kissogram worker, and that she wears short skirts.

There's been a pseudo-sexual element to Doctor Who since the 1960s. It's there to keep the dads and teenage boys watching. Why else do you think the costume designers put Wendy Padbury (the Second Doctor's companion, Zoe) in such short skirts?

In addition to that, the Fourth Doctor's companion, Leela, wore a skimpy animal skin outfit, and the Fifth and Sixth Doctors' companion, Peri (Nicola Bryant), spent most of her debut story Planet Of Fire in a bikini and was frequently seen in hot pants or figure-hugging costumes.

Also, there was a lot of snogging during the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who, not to mention the oral sex joke at the end of Love And Monsters.

So, if you are going to accuse Doctor Who of being overtly sexual, you'll have to level that accusation at the entire programme, and not just the Moffat era.

Doctor Who has become too dark.

Another flimsy criticism is that the series has become too dark. Doctor Who has always had a dark streak running through it, right from the very first episode.

In Genesis Of The Daleks we saw Davros commit genocide on his own people. At the end of The Waters Of Mars, Adelaide Brooke commits suicide. Terminus largely took place on an intergalactic leper colony. In The Daleks' Masterplan, Sara Kingdom was aged by the Daleks' Time Destructor until she turned to dust. And The Two Doctors sees an alien chef start eating a rat, and later tenderising the Second Doctor's companion, Jamie, in preparation to eat him. Not to mention the Master's penchant for eating the homeless in The End Of Time.

And if you don't think Midnight is dark, then you're made of sterner stuff than most people.

Matt Smith is a bad actor.

This is all down to opinion. Personally, I think that, like all ten of his predecessors, he's put his own stamp on the role, being delightfully quirky (such as his first scene in A Christmas Carol) and brilliantly emotional (his goodbye to Amelia in The Big Bang).

And when needed, Matt Smith can pull off the Doctor's flashes of anger with aplomb. (His "Colonel Runaway" speech in A Good Man Goes To War springs to mind.)

And, as previously mentioned, he's the first Doctor to be nominated for a BAFTA, which speaks volumes about his acting ability.

The writing is bad.

Again, this is a matter of opinion, but I'd argue that Steven Moffat has been working as a television writer for twenty-two years and has written a number of hugely successful series such as Press Gang, Coupling, and Sherlock. He's also written some of Doctor Who's most acclaimed episodes since its revival, including The Empty Child, The Girl In The Fireplace, and Blink.

His plots are consistently inventive and he doesn't fall back on the soap opera-esque stuff that dragged down some of the earlier years. Also he never fails to use the writers that are best for the job, such as Mark Gatiss, Neil Gaiman, and Richard Curtis.

And to those who complain that his stories make no sense and are full of plot holes, I suggest you pay more attention, as nine times out of ten, all of the details you need are there.

It's boring.

This is something else that is subjective, but a more cerebral plot doesn't make the programme boring. Doctor Who is about so much more than guns, aliens and screaming. The crux of it is an intelligent plot.

The Big Bang may not have been as overblown as the finales of previous years, but it had a good story at its core, rather than being all style and no substance. Also, some of these more sedate episodes are there to develop the characters, such as Amy's Choice and Vincent And The Doctor. Although the monster in Vincent And The Doctor was a bit naff, the episode was primarily a character study, delving deep into Van Gogh's psyche, as well as re-establishing Amy's character since Rory had been erased from time.

I couldn't write this without commenting on the recent press reports about Doctor Who, claiming that there are budget problems, behind the scenes difficulties, and that Steven Moffat has overreached himself by overseeing both Doctor Who and Sherlock.

I think I can safely say that the past one and a half series have shown that Doctor Who is in safe hands. And it's not as if production problems are something unprecedented for Doctor Who. The 2009 Easter episode Planet Of The Dead experienced some significant production problems, such as the double decker bus used for filming in Dubai being damaged when it was being unloaded at the harbour. Other problems led to the final cut of this episode being finished less than a week before it was broadcast.

So, I say ignore Private Eye and the tabloids and have a little faith in the production team. And as for the announcement about a diminished episode count next year, for now, I'm assuming that it's to let the cast and crew gear up for the 2013 series, which will, hopefully, be something very special, indeed.

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