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Why we should call time on Doctor Who

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This month the hit science fiction series Doctor Who returned for its ninth series, with Peter Capaldi now looking pretty comfortable as the Twelfth Doctor.

Upon being rewarded the prestigious part of the time-travelling Time Lord a few years ago, Capaldi confessed that he’d been a complete Who fanatic, or ‘Whovian’, when he was a child, but by 18 or 19 had moved onto other things.

Doctor Who

Now that I am of a similar age, and am forced to devote more of my time to tedious issues such as university exams, essays and driving licences, I look wistfully to Doctor Who in the hope of restoring some of the magic it brought to my childhood.

When it was revived in 2005, under the steady stewardship of writer Russell T. Davies and with Christopher Eccleston as the lead, I was eight-going-on-nine and completely captivated. Eccleston himself admitted that boys just under ten had been his target audience, but with its exciting and engaging storylines, creepy – if not always terrifying – monsters, tongue-in-cheek humour and interesting and well-rounded female companion, the show also appealed to those who could remember the days of William Hartnell or Jon Pertwee, or who were completely new to it altogether.

So it is with great difficulty that I now say the show should either be given a long rest, or be put down altogether.

In the intervening ten years, something has gone seriously awry. The show peaked during the era of David Tennant, but even before the immeasurably popular Tenth Doctor made his exit some episodes were already showing the strain of years’ worth of heavy plotlines on their shoulders.

As well as that, the Doctor’s more tiresome adversaries – the Cybermen or the Daleks, for example – were resurrected so frequently I’d groan upon their return; while former companions, such as Rose Tyler, who was thought to be lost forever, were brought back in order to milk the ‘goodbye scenes’ for all the kitsch emotion they would yield.

Now with a good few series under his belt, Steven Moffat, who took over as head writer from Davies in 2010, has led the show even further astray.

Just a few weeks ago I came across a petition on Change.org (a site usually devoted to campaigns against austerity of child poverty in Africa) demanding that Moffat be forcefully removed from his post. The argument was that under his reign ‘excessive liberties’ had been taken with both the show’s basic continuity and its own ‘universe’. What comes to mind here is the 50th anniversary special, shown in the autumn of 2013, which, as well as reuniting the two most recent ex-Doctors, introduced an entirely new and previously unknown incarnation of the Time Lord whose whole raison d’être was both lame and confusing.

Then there is the alarming way in which female characters, such as the Doctor’s current companion, Clara Oswald, were mere plot points rather than human beings, and fairly dire plot points at that. Moffat, it seems, has a penchant for spreading incomprehensibly grand storylines over two or three or even four series, leaving more than a few viewers uttering the most deadly words in all of film and television: I don’t care what happens anymore.

The ability to regenerate is the most luminous gift the Time Lords possess, but a television show’s ability to forever stave off the grave is a curse as much as it is a blessing.

While in theory a programme about a time-travelling, face-changing alien who has a machine that can take him literally anywhere could easily go on without strain to, well, the end of time itself, such a programme runs the risk of side-lining the important question of quality.

We can all think of television shows that have gone on too long only because their formats permitted them to. With Doctor Who we are perilously close to the stage where the characters and plots and aliens become parodies of themselves. This was what killed the original version of the series.

Presiding over all of this is a head writer who, rather like the Doctor himself, never quite knows when to call it a day. If Doctor Who goes on for another ten years, which seems likely, then Steven Moffat should retire soon. Perhaps instead he can devote more of his time to Sherlock, a show that is already far too self-satisfied and won’t be missed by me if it were never to return to our screens.

For anyone reading this who has never heard of the show and has no idea what I’m on about, you may be thinking that I’m some pathetic character who needs to grow up and realise it’s just a damn TV show and that, tragic though it may be, much of what we watch grows stale eventually.

You may be right. But that won’t stop me from reminiscing about the kinder, more simple times when Doctor Who was both the best thing on telly and the highlight of my weekend, and not the pale and laughable (and very nearly unwatchable) production that is found in its place today.




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