Tuesday, January 8, 2013

An Open Letter to Steven Moffat

WARNING!!! This post contains spoilers for "The Snowmen," as well as previous episodes of Doctor Who. I don't care if River Song would disapprove.

Dear Mr. Moffat,

I say this with all the respect in the world, but still, it must be said: you're doing it wrong.

Now, I know that you are a many times BAFTA winning television person, and I am just a writer who hasn't yet finished her undergrad degree, but the point still stands. The last season and a half, at least, of Doctor Who has derailed a bit. And it makes my nerdy heart incredibly sad.

I was introduced to Doctor Who while I was in high school. And I loved it. I loved how zany it was. I fell in love with the Tenth Doctor a little bit (okay fine maybe a lot). I loved that it could be both funny and sad in the same episode. And I loved that it was thoughtful. Yeah, it was silly, and in the Russel T. Davies era I despaired wildly of the overly dramatic series finales, but there were so many episodes with something more at the heart of them. The idea that humanity is imperfect and yet wonderful, that no one is unimportant, really struck me. The episodes were cohesive, they were imaginative, and I loved them.

And then something happened. I was initially super psyched that you were taking over as the head writer for the show. Your one-off episodes in the Eccleston and Tennant eras remain some of my favorites - the "Empty Child/Doctor Dances" episodes are sheer brilliance, and "The Girl in the Fireplace" is probably part of the reason I am now obsessed with French history. But for the past season and a half or so, so many of the episodes have lacked that spark of something more. After watching - well, all right, sitting on the sofa - not behind it - and shouting at the television while it played - "The Snowmen," I asked my friend Sarah (side note: her name is Sarah Jane. She was named after Sarah Jane Smith. Seriously) what she thought of the episode. She said that it was "cute" and that she had learned not to expect anything more out of Doctor Who any more.


I don't know what exactly happened - and as a writer myself, I know just how hard it is to turn out quality things time and time again when the pressure's on (and pleasing a fandom must be some pressure). But it seems to me that the problem is that everything has gotten BIGGER in the last few seasons. That same ridiculous over-dramatic quality that I'd come to hate in the RTD series finales? It's seeped into the whole of the series, with the arcs hammered home repeatedly, sometimes for more than one series (The Silence, anyone? Why was it necessary to spread that arc out so long?). I think another thing that happened was that American television discovered this British phenomenon - after all, the characters have visited America what, four times in two seasons now? I get the sense that the show is now pandering to the American audience. Well, this American does not like being pandered to, thanks very much. Isn't the point of liking a British show is that it's, well, British? We don't want it to be like American television. We want it to be cleverer than that.

The other thing that has derailed is a sense of continuity. You, Mr. Moffat, enjoy making the rules and then changing them. Sometimes within the same episode. And it is infuriating.

The thing about writing science fiction and fantasy is that, essentially, there are no rules. That's the fun part. You don't have to stay within the established bounds of reality. You can do WHATEVER YOU WANT and it's fine. That's the point! You create the world.

Except it's not exactly that simple. Yes, you can do whatever you want. Yes, you create the world. But in creating that world, you also create the RULES of that world. And the one and only rule of writing science fiction and fantasy is this: create the laws of your world, and then abide by them. Otherwise the entire premise falls apart.

For example, I have a novel that puts werewolves in Revolutionary Paris. Obviously this did not really happen, but in my version of events, it did. That's cool. I can do that - that's the point of fantasy, to do things that aren't real. If, however, I suddenly added in a random dragon on page 200 of my book, without setting up any precedent for this dragon's existence, that would make absolutely no sense and would destroy the credibility of the rest of my book. If one random thing like that could happen, well, why can't there be unicorns and people who can fly too? If that random dragon appears just to ravage a town, why can't an equally random sorcerer magic the dragon away?

It turns into a ridiculous, weird mess.

I understand that Doctor Who is a little bit different - you're dealing with an entire universe, where there very well may be random dragons on different planets. Okay. I'll buy the idea that there's psychic snow if you want me to. But it's the other stuff that doesn't follow.

For example: when can you and can't you take the TARDIS across its own timeline? If the idea is that you can't move the TARDIS once you are part of events, then why is it that the TARDIS keeps crossing its timeline? If, in "The Angels Take Manhattan," Amy wants to take the TARDIS back at the end to rescue Rory (again) why can't she? They have already, within that episode, taken it somewhere the time stream didn't really want it to go, and everything was fine! It didn't explode. Besides, the paradox they set up wiped out everything that had just happened. If it never happened, why would going back in time again be crossing that timeline?

And in "The Snowmen," why did Clara fall to her death? It has been shown before that the Doctor can catch people with the TARDIS (River Song in "Day of the Moon," for example), so why in heaven's name can he not catch Clara? Also, if you establish that it is highly unusual for a character to die multiple times (Rory Williams), that is fine. It irked me a bit that Rory died all the time, but that was kind of what happened to Rory (my favorite part of "The Angels Take Manhattan" was that he acknowledged that he always came back to life, miraculously). To have that miraculous regeneration happen to another character, however, smacks of nothing more than a lack of creativity. I want to like Clara, I really do. I think given a good storyline she could be really interesting. But right now, she just strikes me as more of the same. She's young and cute and in love with the Doctor (see also: Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Amy Pond, any number of one-off companions); she talks a mile a minute and can outwit the Doctor sometimes, and banter right back at him (see also: River Song, Captain Jack Harkness); she can die once per episode and still manage to come back and keep going (see also: Rory Williams, Captain Jack). I was SO EXCITED for Clara to be a person from the 1800s traveling in the TARDIS - that would have been new and different and really cool. But then she died, again, in what seems to me to be nothing more than an overly dramatic and unnecessary push for people on tumblr to make sad gifs and tag them with "MY FEELS," and came back as a young woman from the present day. Sigh.

I love Doctor Who. I love what it can be. I love that it's a chance to explore what humanity is capable of on a landscape that stretches across the stars.

But the most important part of storytelling is, of course, the story. The greatest premise in the world, Mr. Moffat, doesn't make up for a story that's patched together, or that simply doesn't make sense. Fancy sets or locations or special effects don't make up for it either. Continuity matters in order to keep that story held together. Characters who can hold their own and hold our interest matter, because they drive that story.

The story is the most important thing, Mr. Moffat. Everything else falls away.

Best wishes,

Caitlin, a sad and disappointed fan who may have to stick to just the Neil Gaiman episodes for now

1 comment:

  1. THIS. OMG THIS. When I started watching Doctor Who, it was an addiction like no other. Now…I’m not so sure anymore. Yeah, I still adore the show. Yeah, I’m still counting down the days until April. But I can sense that the end could be near and I hate that feeling.

    I didn’t mind the drama in the series finales before, but I completely agree with you about the drama being too much throughout the whole series right now. There are episodes of series six that I haven’t even seen and I don’t care. It hurts that me that it doesn’t bother me that I’ve missed episodes and don’t feel like remedying that.

    I told my mom the other day that I’m scared for my British shows because they’re getting really popular in America and I’m worried that they’ll change the show in an attempt to appeal to an American audience. My mom’s reply: “They’ll never do that.” But you know what? They are. You’re right about the episodes of Doctor Who being set in America. It worries me that that’s just the beginning. I don’t want my British shows to try to appeal to American audiences. I hate the normal American audience.

    I LOVE Clara, but I have to admit that I was also a little turned off when she died for the same reasons. By the time Rory left, I was so sick of him dying all the time and if that’s going to happen to another character I don’t know if I can handle that.

    There was also something I realized watching “The Snowmen.” When the Doctor kissed Clara, I got scared. Because the last time the Doctor kissed a potential companion in a Christmas special, she also died. It was Astrid in “Voyage of the Damned.” I was surprised (and maybe a little disappointed) when my fears came true. Sure, Clara was able to come back in the future somehow, but still. It felt like I’d already seen this before.