The key word is ‘Dark’.
Oh, it is. You know what I mean. The Twelfth Doctor is ‘Dark’ to Clara’s ‘Feisty’. His descent into darkness and presumed moral ambiguity (no doubt personified by lingering close-ups accompanied by the low strings from the ever-too-loud Murray Gold) is part of every sodding press conference and interview this side of Gallifrey. In layman’s terms, this is preparing us for another Colin Baker. Which makes ‘Deep Breath’ this year’s ‘Twin Dilemma’, so that’s all good.
That trailer, then.
Dinosaurs in London. Multiple occurrences of Daleks. And oh look, there’s Vastra declaring “Here we go again”.
Seriously, could this be any more Third Doctorish? We’ve already talked about the costume. Vastra has pinched the Brigadier’s final observation at the end of ‘Planet of the Spiders’, which is presumably meant to solidify the Paternoster Gang (“Why did you give them such a silly name?” said Gareth, whereupon I pointed out that I didn’t) as some sort of replacement U.N.I.T. This would make Vastra the new Brigadier, only marginally better looking, while Strax is presumably supposed to be Benton. (Coming soon: Dan Starkey in cabaret: “You say tomay-to and I say tomah-to / You say potay-to, and I say I WILL DESTROY YOU FOR THAT INSULT, WRETCHED HUMAN SCUM!”.)
The U.N.I.T. analogy has absolutely no foundation, but that doesn’t really matter, because the basic point still stands: it’s supposed to mean some sort of continuity across regenerations. It doesn’t really work, of course, given that the first thing the Fourth Doctor did, right after wrapping the scarf around his neck, was bugger off in the TARDIS with Sarah Jane and Harry and run up and down an awful lot of corridors. Nonetheless, Moffat has gone on record (in a newspaper article I can’t find, but trust me, it’s there somewhere) as saying that this Doctor is going to be difficult, at least at first, but that Clara manages to connect with him through Vastra, Jenny and Strax.
More amusing / infuriating, we have Capaldi’s declaration that “I’ve lived for over two thousand years”, which has presumably got the internet in a frenzy as people who gave up watching after ‘The Eleventh Hour’ say “I thought he was only nine hundred and six!”, at which point the others bring up the fact that the Doctor declared himself to be eleven hundred at the beginning of ‘The Impossible Astronaut’, and that a further century has passed by the time of ‘A Town Called Mercy’, and that another three hundred years pass in ‘The Time of the Doctor’ before he’s in his cane-wielding, shuffly Doctor phase. There is then an indeterminate amount of time before he reaches the geriatric, get-off-my-lawn Doctor with Brian May’s haircut and a colostomy bag that’s bigger on the inside.
The obvious question to ask at this point – apart from “Why the hell hasn’t BBC Worldwide capitalised on this and released two Old Doctor figures, when we got a Bearded Doctor from ‘Day of the Moon’?” – is why such an age jump? I used to believe that it was Big Finish related – the hundreds of years allows for a myriad extra adventures and a multitude of new companions when Nicholas Briggs finally gets the rights to use Matt Smith in a couple of decades. (Predicted: a tough, feisty girl called Jas, a robot called Kleenex, and a gay morris dancer called Cyril.)
But I’m not convinced that Moffat actually cares that much about Big Finish, and instead I think this whole thing is about redefining the character, Simply Because He Can. It would be nice to say that it allowed us to think of an older, more experienced Doctor as is befitting someone of Capaldi’s stature, but really it smacks of egotism on the part of the chief writer. Think about something: the Doctor’s lived for two millennia and over half of that has been spent in his final incarnation. Over half. That’s like saying that Daniel Craig has had more field experience than Sean Connery, which is tantamount to blasphemy. (And yes, I know that those films are supposed to be prequels. Let it go. And you didn’t say that, you sang it.)
Because when you think about it, so much of New Who – particularly in the last three years – has been about redefining everything we thought we knew. Only someone of Moffat’s arrogance would have the flippancy to change an unseen event which has been fundamental to the tone of the show since 2005 and get away with it through the use of the standard memory loss technique that is central to multi-Doctor stories. Only someone with Moffat’s arrogance would have the audacity to reveal the reason why the Doctor stole that particular TARDIS. Only someone with Moffat’s arrogance would have the sheer audacity to bring in an entirely new Doctor that dates from before the period when he had anything to do with the show, and the fact that he gets away with it is in no small part down to the casting of and performance of John Hurt.
Now we’re told that he knows the ending of series 9, or at least the penultimate episode. “Ohh,” he says. “I don’t think you’ll see this coming!”. No, Steven, we never see it coming because IT’S ALWAYS SO BLOODY OBSCURE. What are you going to do? Reveal that the Time Lords have plugged all of humanity into bath tubs and stored them in a huge cavern? Have the entire cast sing an Aimee Mann song just before it rains frogs? Or have Capaldi wake up in bed next to Anna Frobisher, muttering “Darling, you’ll never believe the dream I’ve just had…”?
I’m ranting. And perhaps it’s not fair to turn Moffat into the sole target for this sort of abuse. We might level the same criticism at Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks, who gave the Doctor’s people a name and a voice, or Robert Holmes, who made them a laughing stock (receiving hate mail in the process). But the difference is in the quality of writing. If I were in a particular frame of mind I might call ‘The Ark In Space’ the finest single contained drama ever to grace our TV screens. The anniversary special aside, Steven Moffat hasn’t written a single decent episode of Doctor Who since ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’.
Ultimately if you take this stuff too seriously it destroys you. Continuity never used to exist in Doctor Who, and then it did, and it’s impossible to really maintain it properly, but it still matters, and as a result the fans are obsessive about seeing patterns in things that aren’t there. That’s why there are arguments about whether Clara’s grandmother is actually an elderly Amy (despite being too short, the wrong nationality, and about twenty years too young): people are desperate to make connections. Perhaps it’s all about making sense of an increasingly senseless world. Or perhaps we’re just bored these days.
For example, when I Googled ‘The Greatest Show In The Galaxy’ after watching it again with Thomas (verdict: quite fun, but don’t get me started on Whizz Kid), I found that the TARDIS Wikia paints the gods as Great Old Ones (a la Lovecraft), who existed before the time of this universe (and may have aided in the destruction of the old one). It then talks about other Great Old Ones including Fenric, the G.I., and the Celestial Toymaker. The impression you got was that various prose and audio writers have taken several unconnected stories and decided that the antagonists therein are all similar enough to be the same race.
“There’s no need!” was Gareth’s response when I told him about this. “There are often threads on the BF forum suggesting that BF should make stories involving random characters meeting up, or having histories. A recent one had Turlough’s school on Earth actually being a sort of stopping-place for lots of alien children who were orphaned or isolated from their home planets, and most of the pupils were aliens. Bleargh, I say to that.”
But here’s the thing. Moffat’s clearly putting a stamp on the age thing for the sake of doing what he likes with the character – but if you really take your continuity seriously (as it seems, in these days of in-jokes and old references, we must) then the Doctor goes way beyond the two millennia mark. He was over nine hundred when Colin Baker was still stomping around the TARDIS in his technicolor dreamcoat. And Paul McGann? Well, he spent five hundred years (give or take) marooned on Orbis. Then we jump back to Pertwee, the very era that Moffat seems to be aping, whether he wanted to or not. And we get this -
“If I were a scientist? Let me tell you, sir, that I am a scientist, and I have been for several thousand years.”
(‘The Mind of Evil’)
“You know, I’m beginning to lose confidence for the first time in my life — and that covers several thousand years.”
(‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’)
But this is generally interpreted, Gareth assures me, “to mean that he has seen things in several different millennia of times on Earth”. To which I say ‘Blibble’.
The canonicity (is that a word? It should be) of Big Finish is debatable, of course – but in the end, it doesn’t matter. The stamp of authority will easily be undone by the next chief writer. I may object to the implications behind such changes, and what they mean for the way the show is produced, but that doesn’t mean I object to the changes themselves, so long as they mean quality television. Suffice to say I bolted into the study when I discovered the trailer was on YouTube (“I’ve never seen you move so fast,” remarked Emily) but if you’d measured my level of excitement you’d see a curve roughly the shape of a very tall and very pointy mountain – up and then immediately down again. Because aside from cryptic remarks from a stately Capaldi (who still looks like he’s nursing a hangover, but whatever floats your boat, Peter) there was relatively little of interest, except for a few monsters that we’ve already seen in publicity shots.
So: yes. We know he’s dark. We know that series eight is going to be dark. We know that there will be painful comic relief and too many “Doctor Who?” jokes. There will be at least one point of view shot through a Dalek’s eyestalk (come back Christopher Barry, your country needs you). And there will be a lot of unnecessary brooding over the past, because if the future is an undiscovered country, the past is an assured cash cow – something that worked before can work again if you change a few things around. And I can’t help cringing when Capaldi says “I’ve made lots of mistakes. Don’t you think it’s time I did something about that?” Because while it’s fun to speculate on what those might be, my overriding answer is “No”. If you’re changing your entire outlook, I’m in, because that might be interesting to watch for a while. If you’re retreading old ground and visiting people that didn’t interest us the first time, this is going to be a long three months. Just move on. The past is the past. Let it go.
(And you sang that as well.)