Saturday, January 23, 2016

Thank You, Steven Moffat

Steven Moffat is leaving Doctor Who. I can’t--and don’t want to--deny that I’ve been looking forward to this day for a while. It would be one thing if Moffat were merely making a show I didn’t like, but he’s gone so far out of his way to undo the things I liked about Russell T. Davies’ show that it’s hard for me to take a live-and-let-live approach. I do not like Moffat’s Doctor Who. I’m glad he’s leaving. I’m looking forward to seeing what Chris Chibnall does with the thing.

That said, I try not to be relentlessly negative, when it comes to stories. Nearly every story is loved by someone. Nearly every story has something in it I can love. I would much prefer to find the one thing I love about a show than list everything I hate. Obviously, I don’t mind giving criticism--that’s kind of the point of this blog--but I want my criticism to come from a place of affection, from a love of stories in general and this story in particular. I want my criticism to be driven by a desire to fortify the positive potential of a story, rather than to tear anything down. That’s why I eventually stopped watching Doctor Who. I was starting to root for it to fail, and that’s not fun, or informative, or constructive.

But now, with Moffat’s tenure coming to an end, I find myself wanting to see what good I can find in his years. Moffat’s Who is built on the shoulders of--and sometimes in the ruins of--a show I love like few others. Surely, in all of that, there’s a thing or two I’d rather keep than forget. Surely, there’s something I can love.

So, against all odds, this is a post to express my gratitude.

Thank you, Steven Moffat, for the first and best versions of your favorite stories. The themes and tropes you first examined in “The Empty Child”/“The Doctor Dances,” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” and “Blink”--the love story out of order, the closed time loop, the waiting woman, the monster that changes when you look away, the terrifying killer that’s only trying to follow its well-meaning programming, the last-minute realization that everyone will survive after all--would go on to define your run on Doctor Who, and I often had very little patience for them. But the stories themselves are not bad stories. There is a raw and lovely power to them, a magnetic pull that makes them hard to look away from. And in your first four Doctor Who episodes, you told those stories to the hilt. You gave Davies-era Who an atmosphere and mythicism that it desperately needed. I wouldn’t give up the original Weeping Angels, Madame du Pompadour who wanted to see the stars, or Nine’s desperate determination that “Just this once, everybody lives,” for the world.

Thank you, Steven Moffat, for Proper Dave and Other Dave, who I still think of, eight years on, every time I’m in a group where two people have the same name.

Thank you, Steven Moffat, for “Vincent and the Doctor.” The whole damn thing.

Thank you, Steven Moffat, for Rory Williams, who never stopped being a nurse no matter where he was. And thank you for Rory’s father.

Thank you, Steven Moffat, for “A Town Called Mercy.” I never could say no to a good moral dilemma, or to a good Doctor parallel. Ben Browder as a Wild West sheriff was just icing.

Thank you, Steven Moffat, for River Song. I didn’t love everything you did with her. In fact, many of the things you did with her, I absolutely hated. But the idea of her story was captivating. On the occasions when it worked, it worked beautifully--and when it failed, it at least failed with wild ambition.

Thank you, Steven Moffat, for erasing the Doctor’s memories of Clara, rather than vice-versa. I’ve never seen series 9, nor do I have any real plans to, and the descriptions I’ve read of it are confusing, to say the least. Perhaps if I actually watched the episodes, there would be elements of the execution I would hate. But I love the idea of the send-off you gave Clara. I love that you gave her adventures. I love that, at the end, she got to have a story of her own.

Thank you, Steven Moffat, for your ideas. If there’s a theme to what I’ve written--and I didn’t expect there to be, but it seems there is--it’s that. Your time on Doctor Who was riddled with shiny, fiddly, funny ideas. Not profound ideas about human nature, not subtle ideas about philosophy, not even necessarily good ideas. But for six years as a showrunner, and six years as a writer, you consistently churned out stories full of what ifs. What if there was a love story where the lovers lived in opposite directions? What if the Doctor kept running into the same girl in every time he visited? What if the Doctor was the biggest, baddest, most terrifying creature in the universe? What if there was an impossible astronaut? A hungry earth? A rebel flesh? An almost person? What if the Doctor had a name, a day, a time, a wife?

In many cases, the answer was nothing more than, “Wouldn’t that be cool?” But if your stories were often lacking, Steven Moffat, then at least the ideas running them were always fun to think about. So thank you for excellent episode titles, that diagram I drew plotting out where River and the Doctor’s timelines intersect, and for a hundred arguments with my sister about how the cracks in the universe are meant to actually work.

You’ve put in 12 years on Doctor Who, Steven Moffat. Thanks for the work. Have fun on Sherlock.

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