The other day, the new series of Doctor Who aired on the BBC and in cinemas across the world. I would be lying if I said I didn’t go into the episode without any reservations whatsoever, but I did try my best to keep an open mind.
There were many eye rolls to be had. At times I wanted to punch the screen. And yet other times I wanted to punch something else, like the screenwriter himself perhaps.
Obligatory spoiler warning: do not read on if you haven’t watched the episode yet or care about being spoilered.
Let’s start with something dear to my heart, but easily dismissible: dinosaurs!
Easy enough to get that right, after all there have been dinosaurs on the show before, having one now should not be something they can really mess up, right? Wrong.
The T-Rex lady was about 90 metres too big.
For your viewing pleasure, I added a nifty graphic to illustrate my point: click here
Oh, but I didn’t listen to what Salamander Holmes, erm, I mean, Madame Vastra told her human servant, erm, I mean, wife, huh?
Jenny: Big fella, isn’t he?
Madame Vastra: Dinosaurs were mostly this size. I do believe it’s a she.
Jenny: No they weren’t, I’ve seen fossils.
Madame Vastra: I was there!
Oh, okay then, my mistake. Let’s discredit history so it fits our pretty storyline better, and be absolved of all criticism by having our ancient reptile claim the fossils are lying. Let’s throw in 3-4 mentions of a “giant dinosaur” in and we’re fine.
Which would be almost okay (well, plausible) if the show didn’t discredit itself as well: the ceratopsid in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” that they rode on was actually realistically sized.
No wonder dinosaurs went extinct, if the carnivores couldn’t find food bigger than toothpicks. But no, I bet the ones on the spaceship were just turned into manageable sizes by a minimisation ray.
I’m a screenwriter. I point and laugh at archaeologists.
Honorary mention to the Doctor flirting with the T-Rex. Is that why you had to make it a female dinosaur? So you could have the Doctor flirting with it without being “gay”? Because flirting with a male dinosaur would obviously be much more disturbing than generally flirting (or rather “NOT FLIRTING!!!11”) with a giant reptile.
“My lady friend!/Big, sexy woman! No homo, errr, no dino.”
But I’ll move on to the relationships in Doctor Who I find incredibly troubling, starting with Madame Vastra and Jenny. To be honest, I’ve had beef with these characters and how they are treated ever since they were introduced, mainly because it was such a clumsy exposition for them.
They popped up in A Good Man Goes to War without much emotional connection; we are just told that Vastra owes the Doctor a debt for intervening when she killed several Underground workers. Okay cool. It would have been nice to actually see this in an episode, and then returning to that character later, instead of basically having a character introduction and/or development off-screen? But that’s a thing Moffat likes to do. A lot. See Amy and Rory, see Clara, see Eleven, see Vastra & Jenny. To name a couple.
The Paternoster crew then somehow moved into the ranks of “people the Doctor trusts most, more than his current or former companions” and it’s still not explicable to me why or how that happened. Again, off-screen character/relationship development. It continues in a similar fashion, so that I personally still have no connection to them although they have been in quite a few episodes now.
I think one really cringeworthy moment was Madame Vastra’s “People are apes. Men are monkeys” line, after consoling Jenny that this time, she wasn’t being racist towards humans, she was just making fun of men. Oh, everything’s okay then.
The power dynamic between Vastra and her wife is incredibly harmful. I mean, yeah of course, it’s great that we have a lesbian married couple, but Moffat’s idea of marriage makes me really pity his wife.
Although we have a marriage between two lesbians (and for the sake of the argument, and Moffat’s ignorance towards bisexuality, I don’t read them as anything else than exclusively homosexual), we see traditional straight gender roles and stereotypes enforced in this relationship; Vastra is the “man”, the dominant, smarter one, who knows everything better and keeps the other one in check. Jenny is the submissive (house-)wife (/maid), who complains about the state of their relationship constantly, but is never listened to, instead dismissed as an annoying, nagging, silly lovesick ape. She also felt the need to repeatedly remind herself, Vastra and the audience, that she and Vastra are, in fact, married and in love. Too bad we don’t see any of that love on screen – hell, even the one (!) kiss we get is basically just mouth-to-mouth.
It doesn’t do it any good that they are canonically the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories; in fact, their dynamic reminds me very much of BBC Sherlock’s Watson and Holmes, which is even more abusive than anything we’ve seen between Madame Vastra and Jenny.
What really took the cake for me about these two though was the scene in the drawing room, where Jenny poses for what would have been a really stunning painting, when in fact Vastra was just hashing out their plan. When Jenny (justifiably so) complains what she was posing for then, Vastra simply retorts “Well you brighten up the room tremendously.” Uhm, sorry. What.
I can’t stress how important it is for LGBTQ+ couples to be portrayed in a good light on television. An abusive, dysfunctional relationship does not serve that purpose. A lesbian relationship that you project heteronormative gender roles on does not serve that purpose.
Moving on to Clara. Oh, Clara. I don’t know what to make of you. It’s great that they finally gave you a personality this episode, but I’m not sure I like it. She’s supposed to be this magnificent, amazing, Impossible Girl, but she’s just wrapped up in so many plotholes, retcons and entangled storylines that I don’t really notice any of that. Instead, she has some brilliant moments and I’m trying to like her, but the story doesn’t let us. Whenever she’s standing up for herself, she’s an egomaniac and a control freak, she gets told what to do by Vastra and the Doctor and has to obey. Within that obedience she operates with a clever mind, but she has the kind of trust in the Doctor that a victim of abuse would have in their abuser, and she keeps on returning back to him. The Doctor ditches her so many times, leaving her with a pleading “but he’s coming back … right?”
And it’s really that, though. He ditches her. There were several times that the Doctor left his companion to his devices because they were seperated – but most of what he did was an attempt to get back to them. Now he just kind of strolls off to God knows where, Vastra tells Clara “let him, he knows what he’s doing, if you ever want to see him again we need to do the same”, so there you go, Clara is stranded in Victorian England and she better not complain about that.
I feel sorry for her. I want to feel sorry for her, but then things happen that frustrate me. She keeps going on about how she’s not into the Doctor, but had him play her “boyfriend” for her family for Christmas. And the sole reason she argues that she’s definitely “not into pretty young boys” is that the only poster she had on her wall was that of Marcus Aurelius? What? How does that prove anything?
Speaking of that same rant, she finished it offwith “Just because my pretty face has turned your head, do not assume that I am so easily distracted”. And just … wow. Yeah, She’s standing up for herself, go you, but … just because someone is attracted to women, doesn’t mean she’s got the hots for you, girl. Get over yourself. This is as bad as straight friends being “okay” with your sexuality, as long as you “don’t hit on them”. Get your face away from me.
Furthermore, I get that she would struggle with the regeneration. She has spent quite a bit of her time with the Doctor, so having your friend suddenly change into some old-looking dude must be a shock, but yeah, Vastra has a point. The Doctor has always been old. Thing is with Eleven you never noticed that, because he put childishness above everything. It was the one regeneration of the Doctor that seemed ashamed of the years he accumulated (unless there’s a scene where it’s fitting to boast about it). I don’t understand why Madame Vastra and the Doctor would give her SUCH a hard time, but Clara did get rather frustrating with the whole “But it’s a new face, why does it have wrinkles?” thing repeated over and over again … also … hasn’t Clara seen (although not interacted with) all of his regenerations? Wouldn’t she, more than anyone, be more comfortable with the new face? His twelth regeneration is hardly the oldest he has ever been.
And, coming back to the whole issue of abusive relationships – Clara made a choice to leave the TARDIS, saying “I’m sorry, I don’t think I know you anymore”. The person standing in front of her has forgotten her name, insulted her, abandoned her (NINE OR TEN WOULD NEVER HAVE LEFT HER TO DIE LIKE THAT, not if they could have done anything about it), and she wants to leave.
What changes her mind? A call from the past, literally, begging her to help the poor old Doctor, begging her to stay, because he needs her and no one else can help. If that’s not manipulative behaviour, I think you need to look up manipulation again.
The Doctor’s confrontation with the cyborg is interesting to say the least. Essentially, it establishes Twelve as a murderer. The Half-Face Man says self-destruction goes against his basic programming – the Doctor retorts killing goes against his. Thing is, we already know this isn’t true, especially not after Eleven committed genocide against the Silence. So naturally, I scoffed at this scene. Later on though, he says that one of them is lying about their basic programming – fair enough, I thought, at least he admits he’s willing to kill people. And robots. Anything, really. The thing is, this is not “Rather a coward than a killer”-Nine anymore. This is not “No second chances, so better use my generous first offer”-Ten anymore. This is genocide Eleven. This is “I’m gonna convince you to kill yourself or push you out myself” Twelve. And I’m not happy about it.
Moffat himself said that the new Doctor was going to be darker. But I don’t need any darker than Eleven, who would stop at nothing to get his way; the days of a Doctor who would fight for any kind of species, not just humans or Time Lords are long gone. I don’t exactly know what he wants to do with Twelve to make him even darker and scarier. I’m not sure I want to know.
That’s as far as character analysis goes, I think. But another point that is frustrating me to no end is Moffat’s recycling craze. It’s all fine and dandy to draw parallels, but to reuse whole (albeit short) dialogues, scenes, villains, puzzles and fight scenes, all in one episode? What, are we pretending that the RTD era doesn’t exist and all of this is new?
It started in the Christmas Special already, when Clara was taken home by the TARDIS exactly like Rose, but unlike Rose, who took it into her own hands to save the Doctor (and ultimately became the Bad Wolf), Clara doesn’t do anything. And hey, it’s fine to despair and become passive when you’ve lost all hope, but it’s not even and issue in the show. As soon as she gets picked up again, she has to be the functional Clara who just has to be there on demand when the Doctor needs her to take care of something again. Egh, pardon me, drifting into character analysis again. Hrm. I just can’t not analyse character dynamics.
The copying gets more blatantly obvious this time though.
Let’s compare something.
Mickey: “Who is he, where’s the Doctor?”
Rose: “That’s him, right in front of you. That’s the Doctor.”
(The Christmas Invasion, 2005)
Jenny: “Who is he, where’s the Doctor?”
Clara: “Right here, that’s him. That’s the Doctor.”
(Deep Breath, 2014)
Or another one:
Rose: “I want chips.”
Doctor: “Me too.”
Rose: “Right then, before you get me back in that box, chips it is, and you can pay.”
Doctor: “No money!”
Rose: “What sort of date are you? Go on then, tightwad, chips are on me.”
(The End of the World, 2005)
Doctor: “Do you wanna go get some coffee, or … chips, or something? Or chips and coffee?”
Clara: “Coffee. Coffee would be great. You’re buying!”
Doctor: “I don’t have any money!”
Clara: “You’re fetching, then.”
(Deep Breath, 2014)
Well, I thought the whole interaction after Clara came back was sort of cute (but ooohh, the bitter aftertaste after witnessing that phone call), but holy hell, how blatantly can you rip off your own bloody show? Can you even rip off your own show? I mean I think you can, because that’s what happened.
The villains, of course, were the same ones as in The Girl in the Fireplace, only that they’re now replacing themselves rather than parts of a spaceship. And what a convenient solution that the boss cyborg had a link with all the other ones and would disconnect them all. Reminds me of The Sign of Three, when all the cubes conveniently disappeared and everyone who died was suddenly alive again, with no repercussions or explanation (dude, your heart stopped for several … I forgot what it was, hours? Minutes? Either way you should be dead). It’s more lazy screenwriting, in my opinion.
Even the semi-fight scene on top of London reminded me of the Christmas Invasion. A friend of mine mentioned that even the nifty thing with the newspaper ad was nicked off a radio play with the Eighth Doctor.
And yet again, the villains were unable to detect the humans (and humanoids) if they controlled one of their automatic body functions (i.e. stopped breathing). Ahem. Blink, anyone?
The last scene features a set we’ve seen before, in The Girl Who Waited – makes me wonder if this was intentional or just more laziness (I wouldn’t be surprised with either). Annndd we meet another “mysterious” woman who claimes that the Doctor is her boyfriend. Now, two options: this is River (bad) or another woman (even worse). I’m getting tired of these “strong” female characters that are all the same type of cliché and all have the hots for the Doctor, because why wouldn’t you.
Phew. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s late, I’m tired, Moffat makes me sad and angry and frustrated.