Why Was The Doctor Who Christmas Special So Bad?

The-Time-Of-The-DoctorAh, Doctor Who. The only television show really worth watching. Doctor Who has taken his TARDIS right into the hearts of multiple generations. Fans go nutty over it (myself included)! Fans argue over techno-babble and who plays the best Doctor and whether or not there should be a female Doctor regeneration (In case you are wondering, despite being a feminist I don’t think there should be a female Doctor just because a bunch of people say there should be. I am extremely loyal to stories and believe there should be good reasons for a change like that, not just pressure from outsiders.). Becoming a fan of Doctor Who is not for the faint of heart.

One aspect of the Doctor Who reboot that has become beloved is the Christmas Special. Fans lucky enough to live in Great Britain get to watch it Christmas Day while the rest of us record it, rent it via iTunes, or fanatically scan for a free and quality viewing on Google. It’s a big deal.

Unfortunately, 2013’s Christmas Special was, in short, really terrible.

The reasons for the altogether horribleness of this year’s special, for me, begin with Steven Moffat. He is extraordinarily overrated as a head writer. I can’t quite figure out why he is so lauded because Doctor Who post-Moffat becoming head writer just isn’t as good.

It’s true Moffat brought us the Weeping Angels and River Song. He wrote some great episodes such as “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.” But as a head writer he just doesn’t have it. For example: It took two full seasons, a 50th Anniversary Episode, AND a Christmas Special to resolve a glaring hole from season five, the season in which he took over as head writer. And it was resolved in a single sentence that could easily have been overlooked if you’d sneezed or breathed loudly. All that build up and to what? A lickity-split resolution that had no further bearing on the rest of the episode? It seemed like Moffat realized one day, “Oh, yes. I seem to have left this giant gaping hole. Well, I’m writing the Christmas Special so…. Done. A little sentence there and it’s all fixed.”

I’ll get to more about the Christmas Special, but first I must build my case for why instead of feeling excited and enthused at the end of the episode I felt exasperated and wished I had my own TARDIS so I could go back to Doctor Who pre-Moffat. (Sometimes known as Netflix.)

Let’s discuss River for a bit. Despite my railings against Moffat, he did write River who is one of my favorite characters. She’s sassy. She loves the Doctor but doesn’t need to be constantly at his side in order to live a fulfilling life. She’s clever–more clever than the Doctor. She has great hair that I can relate to. Like Donna Noble, her character arc is more multi-dimensional and interesting than that of other companions. She’s simply great.

So. We have this understanding of River as a smart, independent, loving, funny but wounded character who marries the Doctor but isn’t dependent on him to save or live her life. And what does Moffat do? He writes her off without even a proper send off. Sure, in series seven’s finale the Doctor says goodbye and tells her how much he loves her and it makes me cry. But… BUT that same episode opens with River having been dead for who knows how long and you really have no idea what’s happening so you’re trying to play catch up but there is no explaining and you’re just mad because River is the best and you didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye.

We all knew how River’s life would end. She’d be “saved” by Tennant’s Doctor in the “Forest of the Dead” episode. But we also knew how the Doctor would say farewell because River already outlined her last encounter with “her” Doctor. But there was no correlating episode! For years I’ve been expecting a proper River’s Farewell episode featuring, even if only a few short scenes, the Doctor’s goodbye to River. But, no. Moffat didn’t seem to think River warranted such a goodbye. (Insert a few perfect British swear words here.)

Now, let’s discuss “The Angels Take Manhattan.” Once again, we know that River is a fierce, independent, brilliant character. I just have to ask, why would someone who drives a stolen car through a field while being chased by the police and takes the TARDIS by gun-point to go kill Hitler need to hide her broken wrist from her husband? Why would someone who continuously escapes from prison and checks herself back in go on about how you can’t show the Doctor your age (and need we be reminded that the Doctor is about 1,000 years old at this point?)? Why would someone who shoots the Doctor’s cowboy hat off his head need to pander to his darker whims? I just don’t see the River I know doing that. Sure, she loves the Doctor and is devoted to him. We see that time and again. But she is the character who tells the Doctor what he doesn’t want to hear. She is the character who makes the Doctor face the darker realities that he would prefer to ignore. But Moffat apparently couldn’t let that continue. Instead, he wrote her to finally bend to his weird darkness and couldn’t even admit to a broken wrist. Really, Moffat? Really?

This is getting longer than expected, but bear with me. We also need to address Clara. When I first saw Clara in “The Asylum of the Daleks,” I thought she would be a great companion, a suitable replacement for our beloved Ponds. But when she finally became a regular companion, I was fraught with annoyance. I couldn’t stand her episodes.

For months I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t like Clara as a companion. But after watching the Christmas Special I think I’ve finally figured it out: Clara isn’t a character, she’s an accessory. A witness to the Doctor’s Doctor-ness. She could be absent and it wouldn’t matter.

And for that you have to blame the writer. Matt Smith is a great actor. Jenna Louise-Coleman is a fine actress. It is not for lack of acting talent that Clara falls flat. It is because she is written to be merely the Doctor’s errand-child. She hardly if ever challenges the Doctor. She is comparable to a magician’s assistant–she sort of helps out, but the real show is the Doctor.

Many will argue different purposes for the presence of companions (I choose to ignore the sexist, they’re-only-for-eye-candy-and-being-rescued arguments lest I fall into deeper frustration). But I think the companion is less an assistant and more of, you know, a companion. She or he travels with the Doctor but isn’t his servant. The companion grounds the Doctor and humanizes (I know, he’s an alien) him but doesn’t (or shouldn’t) treat him like a god. That’s one of the reasons River was so great. She called him on his crap all the time.

Clara is kind of like an arm. She helps, but if she were cut off the Doctor could go on.

Writing Clara like that–especially after her brilliant entrance as Oswin Oswald in “The Asylum of the Daleks”–is a huge disservice to the role of companions, as well as to the female presence in Doctor Who (yep, I’m waxing feministically on this). I have to say, “Really Moffat? You took a character with a will strong enough to convince herself she was still human after being turned into a Dalek and made her a mere appendage and witness??? What the Hell is wrong with you??? No wonder people are calling you sexist!”

I guess I can move onto the actual Christmas Special now.

In short, the Christmas Special was terrible because the story lacked anything interesting and the regeneration at the end was awkward and unfulfilling.

In more depth, the Christmas Special was terrible because instead of relying on a well-thought out story with an adequate ending and farewell to Matt Smith, it relied on the repetition of old ideas that worked the first time and cliches. In this episode we have:

-All of the Doctor’s enemies in one episode

-The Doctor’s continued attempts to send his companion back to earth/the present with his TARDIS (I’m thinking Nine and Rose in “Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways”)

-All female characters falling into weird fascination/love with the Doctor (the Doctor is great and all, but why the shameless perpetuation of the notion that all women are helpless before him?)

-The Doctor’s need to dictate what his companion does or doesn’t do

-A drawn out problem that had a sudden, quick solution that didn’t make much sense and seemed like desperate attempt to merely end the episode

-The worst goodbye and regeneration in Doctor Who history

The Doctor’s enemies in this episode included the Weeping Angels–for a moment. Then they aren’t heard from again and presented no further danger. Why? There is no why. It’s a cheap shot including the Angels simply because fans love the Angels. But in this case they offer no plot development. No challenge. No twist. Just a quick, cheap thrill. Thumbs way down, Moffat.

While I watched this episode, I thought, “This is remarkably similar in some ways to when the Doctor sent Rose back to earth when he wanted to save her from a grisly death by Dalek but she found a way to go back to him and save the day because she’s cool like that.” Except…

…Except the Doctor sent Clara back TWICE! Why? Who knows? She found her way back twice, but when she made her return she didn’t do anything except tell the Time Lords how awesome the Doctor is so they would imbue him with more regenerations. Question: if the Time Lords are locked in another universe how can they give the Doctor more regenerations without actually appearing? They can give him more regenerations across universes but can’t pull themselves across? Huh?

Uggghh. This episode. It seems like a patchwork of recycled scenes from episodes past that worked but don’t anymore because they are no longer original and the context is different and times are different. “The Time of the Doctor” is the icky, rotten cherry on top of a muck-filled Moffat-perverted series. (And can I just point out the ridiculousness of recent episode titles? The Name of the Doctor. The Night of the Doctor. The Day of the Doctor. The Time of the Doctor. What’s next season’s premier going to be called? The Regeneration of the Doctor? The Week’s Jaunt of the Doctor?)

And that regeneration! In what seemed an attempt to make it as heartrending as David Tennant’s departure, Matt Smith’s final scene was saccharine, awkward, and involved the odd appearance (hallucination?) of Amy Pond, leaving Clara alone and confused. And when Matt Smith actually changed into Peter Capaldi, the camera did not stay on the Doctor. Instead there was a short burst of light and suddenly Capaldi appeared, all slightly off shot. In every prior regeneration, except of course that of War Doctor into (presumably) Nine/Christopher Eccleston, the viewer has seen the transition from old Doctor to new–even in the classic series. But not this time. For all we know Matt Smith could be running around the TARDIS somewhere because of a twisted Moffat trick. Why deny people the fountain of light transition we have come to love, set by Nine’s regeneration into Ten? Why??????

I was honestly so distracted by the awkward and sudden transition that I could not enjoy Peter Capaldi’s first moments as the Doctor. I wanted to. I have even re-watched those first few moments but I still can’t hang onto his entrance, despite his acting skill. This regeneration is just pitiful.

And all this isn’t to say that Matt Smith wasn’t a great Doctor. Though I could easily nitpick some characteristics I found unlikeable (again, writing!) overall Smith has been a spectacular Doctor to watch and he will be missed. But while watching the Christmas Special of Doctor Who, all I could do was shake my fist and yell, “Moffat!!!!”

So, here’s to you Moffat: You made an episode that feels like a betrayal to fans. Way. To. Go.

3 thoughts on “Why Was The Doctor Who Christmas Special So Bad?

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