Stephen Moffat’s Women Who Waited

“Wait for me” said the Doctor. “Wait for me”.
First there was La Pompadour, sitting by her fireplace as the years passed by. Then there was little Amelia Pond who perched on her suitcase in the backgarden, waiting for twelve years. The same Amy waited thirty-six years in a fast-forwarded time zone. Then there was Bill, ten years at the bottom of a spaceship. It begins to sound like a litany of life sentences. “Wait for me”, says the Doctor. The story plays out like the old fairytale – the princess in the tower waiting for her saviour – and Stephen Moffat’s women in waiting keep getting blander. At least La Pompadour carried on with her life, dreaming of the Doctor inbetween court intrigues (The Girl in the Fireplace). Amelia grew into Amy (The Eleventh Hour). The grown-up Amy Pond found a loophole in the Two Rivers system, built herself a companionable Rory-bot and DIY armour (The Girl Who Waited). Bill just waited. Granted, she had a hole in her chest and a robot heart but for a perpetually curious character who is perceptive, daring and often irrepressible – surely she could have had at least one idea in ten years?
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Not only is Moffat reusing storylines (Oswin Oswald was converted into a Dalek but perceived herself as human in Asylum of the Daleks) but his stories are getting worse. Asylum of the Daleks revealed Oswin’s Dalek form in a gut-wrenching twist but in The Doctor Falls, shots flicker between Pearl Mackie and Bill the Mondasian Cyberman. The writers clearly felt that the audience would lose patience with Bill’s Cyberman voice and cloth face without feelings. The split-perspective approach was barely any better. SPOILER ALERT It’s all okay in the end – Bill runs off with her water molecule date from the first episode and the Doctor’s regeneration is triggered with a tear. That’s the same plot as Disney’s Tangled, by the way, and every other sentimental film where a tear is the kiss of life. “Where there’s tears, there’s hope” says Bill, and zooms off into the universe.
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It’s a trite ending to an episode that is overblown, confused and choppy. We jump from Cyberman city to farmland on floor 502, from Nardole and a love interest to exploding apples. You can’t help but feel the apple is only present for the gag “the first ever apple upgrade!” There is a falsity to the episode, the price of not allowing the audience to get to know the characters, to feel their anguish and indecision. John Simm and Michelle Gomez, both terrific actors, did not reach their full potential. Their final self-destructive scene happens too fast and ends in hysterical laugter. There are no nuances here. One can’t help but recall Russell T. Davies’ The End of Time, the episodes that signalled the end of his, and Tennant’s, Doctor Who careers. Rewatching it now, the filmography is dated and visibly low-budget. Yet the episodes themselves are terrfic, hair-raising and comedic by turns. One unforgettable moment is the Master in a pink dress; John Simm thoroughly enjoying himself playing almost every human in the world. There are points where the Doctor seems lost and clueless, he is angry and bitter when confronted with death.
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During Steven Moffat’s time directing the show, he has stripped back the humanity of Doctor Who. The current iteration is flashy and ambitious. Everybody lives. Even in his mid-series contributions, Stephen Moffat can’t bear to kill. The gas-mask children of The Empty Child heal every injured body in the vicinity, in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead River Song is saved onto the computer hard-drive. There is nothing wrong with this. These episodes provided lightness and hope when the Doctor seemed at his bleakest. Yet when survival becomes matter-of-fact and uncomplicated, we can’t help but lose interest. When Donna exits the TARDIS she loses all her memories. The person that she became vanishes and, in a tragic ending, she loses all the heart and compassion she has gained over the series. Rose ends up in an alternate universe, her heart broken forever while Martha leaves full of unrequited love and the need to rebuild her shattered family. Stephen Moffat refuses to dwell on the grief and loss of parting. In her final episode, Clara is caught in the second between life and death to roam the galaxies in a borrowed Tardis, Bill steps out of her Cyberman body and drips tears. “I can make you human again” says her lover, “it’s only a matter of atoms”.
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The Doctor’s companions are also curiously suffering from a paradox of intelligence. On paper, they’re getting smarter. Rose Tyler definitely didn’t write physics essays or grasp half of the space-time logic that Bill can. Yet Moffat’s latest creations, Clara and Bill, despite being almost always on the same page as the Doctor, rarely venture an independent action. Donna – the temp from Chiswick – solved problems by looking in the filing cabinet or noticing odd number combinations on spaceships. Martha used her junior doctor training on aliens. In short, they worked with the skills they had; not all of us can be geniuses after all. Moffat seems to endow his female characters with reams of knowledge while refusing to let them use it. Paradoxically, the more the Doctor’s companions seem to know, the less independently they behave. They might make a grand gesture, or pass an observation but mostly, they’re spewing words and waiting. “Wait for me”, says the Doctor.
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The Doctor is now always right. He has become infallible. In The God Complex (an episode by Toby Whithouse) the Doctor tells his companions to find something, anything to believe in. In the end, it is this belief that kills his friends. The Doctor is agonised by his inadvertent hand in their deaths and the audience is reminded that the only living Time Lord is scarred by the choices he’s made. What happened to the old mantra, the Doctor lies? Audiences learnt to trust him despite his faults, not because the Doctor is omnipotent or ever-benevolent. In this last season, there has barely been a moment where Capaldi’s Doctor is not firmly in control. He allows a cowardly commander (in the Empress of Mars) to offer himself up for execution but don’t worry – the Doctor knew this would never happen.  In the final episode of The Monks Trilogy the Doctor seems to be on the side of the evil, conquering Monks. Bill works herself up in horrified despair then WHAM, got you! The Doctor and his military men fall about laughing. Of course the Doctor knows what he’s doing, he’s in control. They bust out of the omnipotent Monks stronghold with never a by-your-leave and breeze their way towards revolution. When the Doctor becomes infallible we are given a god, not a hero. The Time Lord loses his humanity- his frailty and fallibility – to become a shiny market commodity – sold with sunglasses and light-up screwdriver.
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Doctor Who was never just about the aliens. Through the prism of distant galaxies, stars and unexplored worlds, it tests and pushes what it means to be human. The Doctor runs through space and time and everywhere he goes, people die. He saves lives time and time again. He is a wise, kind, mad man in a blue box and we’ll follow him to the end of the universe.

 

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