—–[“The Time of The Doctor” SPOILERS (Sweetie) Alert]—–
On the 25th December 2013, Doctor Who received 12 new lives. In the episode “The Time of The Doctor”, the current series showrunner, producer and lead writer Steven Moffat imbued the once-labelled as 11th [and now redubbed the 12th, or even 13th] Doctor a new regeneration cycle. In this episode filled with heavy-duty retconned plot threads, we see the New [old] Who emerge.
From a traditional Whovian perspective, there’s been substantial trouble with Moffat’s version of a character who, like his regenerations, has undergone substantial re-jigging as part of the entire franchise reboot, many of which have been largely controversial. When Moffat plucked the Doctor Who writing mantle from Russell T Davis, there was substantial concern that his [then] largely episodic inflected story style wouldn’t be able to adequately extend beyond flashy emotion-inducing viewer bait, complete with thrill laden plot segments and incomplete long arc shifts where foregrounding, consistent character development and plots worthy of the previous writers were/are [mostly] abandoned.
In this pivotal episode, Moffat attempts to disassemble and reassemble elements of the Who Canon in an effort to extend the longevity of the franchise beyond the Doctor’s accepted and restricted Regeneration cycle. The episode contains all the benchmarks we’ve come to expect from Moffat: companions posited as disposable tools or eye-candy mannequins, story gaps you could drive a TARDIS through and plot-hole-construction-gloss thrown about almost randomly by the shiny bucketful. The result creates a type of standard willing Suspension of Disbelief that only just lightly grips the edges of believability. Emotional key points fall cheaply and wantonly [like the death of his handy Cyberman-head-pal “Handles”, or the Doctor’s promise to Clara that he’ll never abandon her again]. The rushed passage-of-time markers rub the viewer in any manner of annoying ways, and flimsy self-referential exposition becomes paramount when the contrived CGI effects fail to impress.
And yet, given all of the failings of this crucial episode, the emotional reefing that Moffat does best still manages to evoke a type of stretched wonder-thrall. Moffat discards [and has now for many, many episodes] conventions that traditional Dr Who fans hold dear: Joseph Campbellesque hero variables and crucial sci-fi story elements are bypassed in order to cater for more incrementally-oriented audience members used to absorbing their story snippets through 2 minute YouTube blipverts or Tumblr-emulating focals. Moffat knits together these contemporary absorption points via a method that, instead of catering for narratives comprising sequential beginning, middle and ends, seeks to harness the power of discrete narrative units. These units merge techniques drawn from graphic novel variable truncation to story-board framing, resulting in staggered story-time acceleration and retconned plot explosions designed for nonlinear attention spans.
Moffat may not be the great grand hope for old-timey-whiney Whovians [ahem] who yearn for believable extensions to Who chronology beyond an established and pre-mapped regenerative timeline. But through the New Who incarnation, Moffat instead offers us an extension of a well-worn and much-loved character, one that at least utilises the very methods that a contemporary audience regularly deploys to maintain narratives beyond standard story knitting.