So there’s been a move on Tumblr over the last week or two called ‘Moffat Appreciation Day’, as it’s November 18th (his birthday), Whovians have been posting their favourite things that he’s been responsible for – characters, shows, story arcs and soon. Since I’m such a massive fan of his work, I’d like to weigh in on the subject.
Moffat has been instrumental as a writer for New Who, so many of his episodes have set the quintessential tone and atmosphere for the show to the point where people will often say that episodes like Blink or The Empty Child are what newcomers should start out watching to entice them to keep watching.
Some notes on Moffat’s writing style – he like to explore ideas fully, which leads to him covering them a number of times, but they are always explored in different ways. I spoke about this in my retro review for Asylum of the Daleks with the concept of nanobots transforming a person, they had previously been used in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances back in 2005 and were brought back (and made even more frightening) where they transform humans into Dalek puppets.
Moffat writes things cleverly. He is rare among TV writers in that he expects his audience not to take things at face value, but to look at them with a greater sense of depth and to think. You’re rarely going to get your hand held through things which is why some people may have found some of Series 5-7 a bit confusing.
When the title for Series 7B’s finale was announced, The Name of the Doctor, everybody immediately misinterpreted it to mean that we were going to find out his name in the episode when this wasn’t the case – it was a deconstruction what what the name of ‘the Doctor’ is and what it means which is going to be a huge focus of the 50th Anniversary special. He uses a wide array of symbolism, and many of his constructs have double-meanings.
This means that his story arcs take more than just one series to develop and unfold, they are constantly being added to and being turned on their heads. Moffat has said that the Christmas special, Matt’s regeneration episode, is going to be what closes the book on things that have been set up since Series 5 back in 2010. I think that’s a much better way to write, rather than rush things out over the course of a single series to move onto a new arc.
His portrayal of society in the Whoniverse is fascinating too because it’s steeped with the same kind of discrimination and sense of personal superiority as ours currently is, and he writes his characters as overcoming that kind of bias, but not being unaffected by it. His heroes are not always good, or even nice people – just look at the recently released minisode with Paul McGann where he knows he has to abandon the name and the promise of ‘the Doctor’ to become the Warrior, somebody who is devoid of all the Doctor’s own principles as he’s forged to fight in the Time War.
It’s interesting that his style is so divisive for the fanbase because it seems to me that these things are being twisted by people as being difficult to adjust to or unpleasant to watch in order to denounce Moffat as a bad writer, which I simply don’t think is the case. It’s totally fine if his writing style isn’t for you, it’s also fine if you do find it hard to adjust to (especially since the writing for Series 1 through to The End of Time was so different to Series 5-7), but the fact that his writing style doesn’t match up with what you want to see does not make somebody a “bad writer”. Moffat is (obviously) not perfect, but his ability to pace a complex arc has massively improved over the last three seasons, and his ability to construct an arc has always been top-notch. I was on the edge of my seat during The Impossible Astronaut where the Doctor was ‘killed’ right in front of our eyes, I absolutely loved the Series 6 arc because I was constantly wondering what’s going to happen next and very few episodes served as mere filler material.
Now let’s get down to the detail – favourite character, episode and monster of Moffat’s.
(Before anything, I’d like to personally thank and credit Floss Bucket for some truly fantastic insights into River’s character which I expand upon here.)
In a sentence, I’d describe River Song as being the “triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism”, not because intellect and romance proved more efficient or because she enjoys outsmarting people; she knows. She has “been a soldier too long to believe there are Gods watching over us” (as she states in The Pandorica Opens). She chose to resort to intellect rather than physical strength, only turning to violence when she has no choice and needs to prove a point or protect those around her – her mother and father, for instance, in Day of the Moon where she kills every single Silent aboard their ship (one of my favourite moments of Who as a whole).
River chose her field of study out of curiosity and carried on, enamoured with her discipline. To her, knowledge is romance. She became a professor, continued to learn and travel after being imprisoned, despite being a known criminal. Her life with the Doctor is not what defines her, she has a life outside of her involvement with him and is clearly comfortable with where she is and what she’s doing.
River never takes herself seriously, but rarely pushes fun to the point where you wonder who is starting to feel the need to take the situation in hand. There is no doubt that, even when the Doctor is around, she owns the stage, not by being the centre attraction but by serving her partners with the right lines.
She puts her family first and actually learns not to put her love for the Doctor before the Universe –compare The Big Bang to The Wedding of River Song (note, River in TWoRS is younger than the River we see in TBB, the more developed and complex character).
Because she doesn’t rely on the Doctor, or anyone, to see the Universe and have fun; he is not her life. She manages to engineer a means of getting hold of a Vortex Manipulator from Dorium using her own genius and clearly has her own adventures.
River is proof that every so often life goes horribly wrong and the people you love cannot be there for you and that you have only yourself to support you, and she does. That everything changes, and you cannot know what you are going to get. She goes on. And at the end, she is pretty content and happy with her life.
And River Song is a demi-goddess who lost her claim to immortality and worked to retrieve it by eventually becoming both writer, character, and narrator of her own life. From hero to Homer, she is the Minotaur, Perseus and Ariadne all at once. She’s that layered as a character and is proof that women in Who are not there only when the Doctor is lacking, be it emotional intelligence or common sense. She’s there because she knows her job and does it well: she opens vaults and tombs (even after her death), and leads expeditions underground, analyses what she is presented with to come up with backed up information. River actually rarely is shown picking information from her hat: she relies on her scanner readings, uses books and paper documents as reference – she’s a scholar who loves information because knowledge is power and she loves to be the most powerful person in the room.
Which leads to the fact that she doesn’t need to be sweet and smiling the whole time, she can be grating and camp – from “you’ve got a mouth that won’t shut” to “him indoors is being so useless, but good for her”. Women should not be asked to be nicer or more accommodating, or even smiling on account of being female (and it seems that a fair few people in the Who fanbase have forgotten that).
Finally, as I said before, knowledge is power and River probably knows every point I disclose above. Not only that, she is proud of that. She knows she’s good and wants you to know it, and that’s pretty refreshing for a female character.
One of my favourite scenes with River is in A Good Man Goes to War where she talks to Rory about what the Doctor did for her on her birthday, how they went ice skating on the Thames in 1814 and got Stevie Wonder to sing for her under London Bridge. This is such a sweet moment. Can you imagine The Doctor Ice skating? And he brought Stevie Wonder out of his own time just to sing for her. No chasing down Sontarans. No trying to save the universe. No drama. No tragedy. Just a cute romantic date with his wife.
I’d also like to point out that River knows who Rory is at this point, even if he doesn’t, and she’s telling him all about her date. River didn’t grow up properly with her parents, she didn’t get a mum or dad asking her about her day, and she didn’t get to gush to them about her petty troubles or love life. But she gets this moment. She comes back from a perfect birthday with her husband to find her father waiting. And for once, she gets to tell him all about it.
I like to think of this as River saying: “You don’t know who I am, but I want you to know that I’ve turned out fine. I’m happy. I’m very happy.”
So my favourite character basically had to be River, and I’m forever grateful to Moffat for creating her and developing her over the last half-a-decade. Her farewell in The Name of the Doctor was beautifully poignant, but I think I could certainly stand to see her again in the future (how her relationship could potentially change with Capaldi’s Doctor would be very interesting to see).
The Eleventh Hour
1) The atmospheric, tonal and artistic overhaul from RTD’s era felt incredibly refreshing.
2) It ushered in a whole new era of the show with Matt, Karen and Arthur – all of whom give absolutely stellar performances.
3) It set up my favourite arc of Moffat’s era, ‘Silence Will Fall’.
4) It was an hour long.
Everything about this episode felt different to the previous 5 years of the show. The music took on a completely different tone, Murray Gold’s musical genius with tracks like I Am The Doctor and Can I Come With You is simply unmatched by anything. The art style felt much more vibrant and warm as well, with a much greater emphasis on orange, green and blue.
I love the relationship between the Doctor and Amy as well, how there’s a greater effect on the psychological and mental issues associated with her relationship with other people and the Doctor. In The Eleventh Hour, we see that the young Amelia Pond has an adventurous and spontaneous streak to her character – she’s willing to give up everything on a whim and travel the stars with an eccentric and mysterious man she’s only just met. However, when he takes years to turn up again, breaking his promise to return to her five minutes later, she is traumatised. Not only that, but others regard her intense imagination as the reason for her belief in ‘The Raggedy Doctor’, she is treated with some measure of disdain by her family and her (four) psychiatrists. We see how they try to assert that her ‘fantasies’ are not real, and, as a result, this simply creates more trauma for Amelia which results in her biting them.
Throughout Series 5, we do see Amelia as quite an eccentric character who lacks maturity. Moffat makes it clear that this is the result of her insecurities, caused by traumatic events in her childhood. She has a romantic relationship with Rory, but she also has sexual fantasies about the Doctor and has never told Rory that she loved him because she’s afraid of commitment when she feels that nobody has committed to her. Despite their engagement, it takes her time to adjust and realise her true feelings for Rory – and when she commits suicide in the dream world for the small chance that she will be reunited with Rory, we see that she truly loves him.
There’s also the fact that her parents were wiped from history by the Crack on her bedroom wall – things like her parents were so personal to her, that she still retained some memories of them. When Rory and the Doctor were erased from existence, she still remembered, and would cry for reasons she was unaware of. This truly shows us that because there are such huge aspects missing from her life, and because she has been let down greatly during her childhood, she has become a traumatised individual with many inner conflicts (this retroactively links back to River’s character and how she was never properly raised by her mother and father). These inner conflicts are managed by defence mechanisms – taking out her frustration on the Doctor in The Eleventh Hour and denying his existence. But following the season finale, she finally has her parents back and her ‘Raggedy Man’ is here to stay, therefore her conflicts are resolved and her personality develops into that of a mature, romantically loyal and well-adjusted woman. Moffat’s beautifully written storyline shows the complexities of traumatic experiences and their after-effects in ways that convey the true distress that it has for some people, something which I’ve truly not seen before in Who’s history – or not done to the same extent.
The episode was also an hour long, 15 minutes longer than usual for those not in the know. This ensured that a lot of the problems that have plagued New Who’s pacing (and have sadly reared their ugly heads again in some episodes of Series 7) were gone, as there was time to focus on each aspect of the narrative with a lot of detail. There’s never a moment in Doctor Who where something is not happening, it’s all about how these things are paced and The Eleventh Hour’s additional 15 minutes gave a lot more breathing room for the period of denouement at the end of the episode and the exploration of Amelia Pond’s childhood.
I truly cannot fault this episode for what it is – an absolutely fantastic leap for the show that hit the ground running with Matt Smith at the helm.
Moffat has been responsible for some the best, most terrifying monsters in New Who. The Weeping Angles, the Gas Mask Zombies, the Smilers, the Clockwork Droids, the Vashta Nerada and so on have all become perceived as some of the scariest monsters in the show, as the Daleks sort of faded into some kind of comic limbo where their constant reappearance in Series 1-4 rendered them a bit of a joke in my opinion.
The Silents, on the other hand, are a threat that is truly terrifying. They can control your thoughts and actions through post-hypnotic suggestion and you forget ever seeing them once they move out of visual range, the only way to remember what they look like is to wear an Eye Drive which formed a neural link with your brain to constantly remind you of their existence.
They’ve inhabited the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, going back to the early Stone Age and have nurtured humanity’s growth across time into the 20th Century. They have a tendency to hang upside down while asleep, like bats, and have the ability to channel electricity through their bodies and discharge it from their hands as a weapon. Sort of like…
So that just about does it for my post for Moffat Appreciation Day. A very happy birthday to the man who has written what I think are some of the best arcs, characters and monsters in the show’s 50 long years. Did I mention that he brought back Paul McGann and made all of his Big Finish Adventures canon? He’s revolutionised aspects of the show and I can’t wait to see what he does in The Day of the Doctor, Matt’s regeneration episode and the highly-anticipated Series 8 with Peter Capaldi.
For more posts on the subject of Moffat Appreciation Day, check out the Tumblr page here.