I am not satisfied with Season 8 so far. However, I am OK with that. I have found Moffat to be a brilliant writer, clever, surprising and committed to the majesty of the Doctor Who mythology. In true Doctor fashion, I believe he has a plan. I am hoping he has a plan. He better have a plan, because I am really missing The Doctor right now.
We are 1/3 of the way into Season 8, the Twelfth incarnation of The Doctor, and we have far more question than answers. My hope is that this is exactly where Moffat wants us, asking more deeply and than ever before, “doctor who?” Let’s take a look at the heart of our four stories so far.
Deep Breath is a big episode, of course, with a big agenda. Moffat chose to lead with a Doctor who is cognitively impaired and a companion who is crushed and hopeless. Interesting choices that effectively wipe the story-line slate clean of previous intentions.
As with any first episode, Moffat has some very specific story points to hit. The new incarnation must start with behavior traits of the last incarnation and move into something different. The Doctor must encounter his new body, his new face. Most importantly, there is a new outfit to don. All typical regeneration themes. Distinctly missing this time around is the “I am the Doctor,” proclamation to the bad monsters, a defining moment in the modern reboot. Think the Tenth’s definitive declaration to the Sycorax and Eleven’s understated, “Run. Just run” to the Atraxi. In Deep Breath, we get a dialogue with the bad guy about who is the baddest guy and a question about the doctor’s real “programming.” By the end of the other 11 regeneration episodes, the doctor lands into his current personality and takes off without a lot of introverted soul searching. In psychobabble, his identity and personality are formed and demonstrated within his first episode. Not this time. Moffat seems to have taken that predictable “given” of Doctor lore and, as he does so well, turned it upside down.
With Into the Dalek, Moffat explored the light/dark morality of the Doctor’s soul. Rather than clearly defining The Doctor as the savior of Earth, each decision the Doctor made resulted in a morally ambiguous outcome. He wasn’t going to help the Dalek, then he does, which ultimately does not change the Dalek, which then becomes a bad thing. Ambiguity. Another of the Doctor’s iconic traits is his ability to see the big picture, and yet in this episode he has seemingly lost his perspective. It falls to Clara to remind him to see the forest through the trees. We encounter iconic Doctor personality characteristics of forcefulness and boldness, but The Doctor himself seems to be missing. The episode ends without clarity about The Doctor’s moral balance. We are left with The Doctor trying to be good. Since when does The Doctor only succeed in trying?
Moffat presents us with the heroic mythology of The Doctor in the Robot of Sherwood. Yet, there is a distinct lack of clarity, again, about The Doctor as hero. He must be reminded, yet again by Clara, who he has been and is supposed to be. Both Clara and Robin demonstrate far more heroic doctorishness than the doctor. While he makes a typically doctory choice in the end by returning Marion, it feels like he does this more because it is what is expected of him by Clara, than arising from an authentic impulse from within himself.
Listen was lovely and spooky, while exploring The Doctor’s relationship with fear. As a psychologist, coming to deeply understand a person pivots around understanding what makes that person feel afraid. In this episode, Moffat gives us a rare glimpse into what scares our believed Doctor. And, in true Moffat style, also leaves us questioning what scares The Doctor. What sent him into the barn to cry in the first place? How deeply did this experience with a hand under the bed influence his understanding of the world and his place in it? How much did fear create the kind man we knew and love. Clara’s soliloquy seems to beg The Doctor to understand his fear this way. (Fangirl alert! Gotta love Moffat’s timey-wimey moment as Clara speak The Doctor’s own words to him centuries before he spoke them.) Moffat pairs fear and hope via Clara’s speech to the child Doctor, propelling him into his future.
In these four episodes, it appears that Moffat is taking each of the beloved and cherished aspects of the mythical doctor and trying them on. A bold choice. With twelve episodes in this season, it is possible that Moffat’s season long story-arc is to have The Doctor visiting with the heart of each of his previous 11 incarnations, developing his unique personality through both rejecting and embracing aspects of his previous selves?
In Deep Breath, we explore is age, his grumpy fierceness, and his impaired cognitive state. All of which is very First Doctor. With Into the Dalek, his moral ambiguity and the internal yin yang of his light -dark self is explored, and we find a surprising amount of dark-very Sixth Doctor. In Robot of Sherwood, he explores his heroic chivalry, and we see aspects of The Tenth. If this is part of Moffat’s plan, it is clever and interesting. We get to subtly visit each previous incarnation and Twelve has the opportunity to differentiate himself and align himself at the same time with each of his previous incarnations in order to craft who he will be, truly embodying The Question, Doctor Who? Unfortunately, this may mean we have to wait until episode 12 before this doctor embraces himself and steps-forward into his new incarnation with the arrogance, confidence, and freedom we love.
This is brilliant or terrible. My hope is that we are in for a spellbinding moment (think of the Doctor’s speeches in The Christmas Invasion or The Rings of Akhaten) where this doctor, not so much discovers who he is (he’ll have already spent several episodes doing that) but rather embraces himself. And that moment will be all the sweeter because Moffat will have created a deep yearning for it within us, making it satisfying and powerful. And, we can hope, that the point of this strategy will pay off. We’ll fall in love with the doctor all over again. (For those who haven’t already.) This Doctor who is a scarier, and more alien doctor than we have seen in decades.
Our introduction to Matt Smith’s doctor was akin to sitting down to an enormous Christmas dinner buffet. Moffat is now asking us to take some time to slowly discover Peter Capaldi’s doctor. Think of a gourmet, multi-course, langorous evening meal in the countryside with our dearest friends. I believe Moffat is asking us to slow down and get to know the Twelfth incarnation, take small bites, and savor every moment, because we know, as all good things do, this too will end.
That’s my analysis. Keeping my fingers crossed.