Tuesday, June 14, 2011

True Confessions of a Serious Doctor Who Fan

I have been a Doctor Who fan since the Watergate era.

Truly.  This is not hyperbole.

I was a kid during the televised hearings and there was nothing on network TV except the hearings. These were the days of 3 networks, 1 public TV station, and a few local channels that replayed syndicated content.  That was it.  No cable, no interwebs, no on demand.  (Yes, I'm that old.)

So, there I was, a bored kid, channel flipping a hand-me-down black and white TV trying to get away from endless talking heads and I found this weird guy in an opera cloak flying around in a police box.  It was so bizarre and so unlike anything else I'd ever seen and I was hooked.

Jon Pertwee was my first doctor, but I grew up in the Tom Baker era.  (And yes, I wanted to grow up to be Sarah Jane Smith, sigh.)  I watched faithfully through the Peter Davidson era, and then got lost into other interests and pursuits, but I never lost my love for odd old episodes of the show that I would catch time to time.

Fast forward a bunch of years, and I had the great pleasure to introduce my kids to the Doctor Who reboot with Christopher Eccleston.  I hooked them too and we now watch as a family. I loved the interactions between Tennant and Simm and I love the complicated darkness they brought to the show's universe. And I enjoy Smith's incarnation of the Doctor as well.  He has this ability to be absolutely goofy and absolutely deadly serious at the same time.

But I have decided I am not a Steven Moffat fan.

While he is wonderful at creating snappy lines and dialogue, he spends too much of the show's energy on plot twists that exist simply to shock and surprise the viewer.  As a writer, I do not believe that is the way to raise the stakes.  The viewer wants to feel the characters' shock and surprise and often this is best accomplished when the viewer knows more than the characters. 

Think how much more suspenseful it is to see a character walk in a shadowy place when *we* know there is something lurking, stalking him in those shadows.  When we don't see that, and the monster jumps out, we are startled, we get a cheap thrill, but there is no essential connection with the character.

I also feel as if all the stories are rushed and for the sake of getting to the 'gotcha' moment at the end.  Slow down, Steven.  Build audience tension by cranking it a milimeter at a time.  Let us see our beloved heroes struggle as peril builds around them.  We should be heartbroken with our heroes, not blindsided.

I think back on what was possibly my favorite story of the new Who:  Tennant's "The Family of Blood" 2 parter.  It was heartbreaking to watch "John Smith" fall in love as a human because *we knew* what was going to happen.  That's what made it so heartbreaking, so absorbing and why I can watch that story over and over, seeing fresh nuance each time.

Please, Steven, less 'gotcha' and more heart.


  1. I recently got into watching Doctor Who. I started with the 2005 Eccleston (and I LOVED him) and I'm on Season 3 now with Tennant. What a show. How have I been missing this my whole life? When I catch up on all the episodes on Netflix, I plan to go back and watch the older ones.

    Thank you for this. Knowing there are other die hard fans out there makes me feel less alone in my geekdom.

  2. Hi Emily! Nice to meet another Doctor Who fan. :) The classic Who episodes are slower paced and tend to the somewhat cheesier, but I still think they have staying power.

    When I grow up I want to write Doctor Who scripts.