How many times have we known that we were witnessing the waning moments of the current Doctor’s term, regeneration was nigh, and that heartache was imminent, yet we were riveted to the screen? And in those moments, how much time was spent in the episode where the Doctor himself knew that time was at hand? With few exceptions, these exercises in loss (for both character and audience) have been graciously brief, relatively speaking. The quick-pull of the bandage, if you will.
When your showrunner is also a showman, however, and knows that the fiercest arrows in his quiver are named “drama”, “emotion”, “witness”, and “time”. Moffat will ensure that hearts are laid bare by the events to come, the reactions will be profound and cathartic, they will seek to shake the core of all who take part, and — as we now see — they will not be brief. We will linger.
This week, we draw the incredible tenth series of the renewed Doctor Who to a close (if you will) with “The Doctor Falls”. We scream for respite from the pain of Bill’s predicament, and get a most unexpected response. We beg for the resolution of a millennia-old struggle between Doctor and Master, and are handed an outcome that leaves us agape. We hope for a closure to the Twelfth Doctor’s struggle to rediscover himself, a ‘good man’, renewed as the champion of those who cry out for help, anywhere and at any time, and find the most unlikely guide steps forward to aid in that last journey. Christmas of 2017 is going to be one very melancholy holiday, indeed.
BONUS: We step through the many and various responses to our tweeted question about Capaldi possibly emerging as some listeners’ ‘official’ Doctor after Series 10.
Series Nine of Doctor Who was, in a word, groundbreaking. The broadcast format changed. The tone shifted dramatically (pun intended, of course). The stories grew in intensity and weight. The performances from both principal and supporting casts expanded exponentially. The series as a whole felt cohesive, focused, and full of the thrills, adventure, and emotion that marks a stellar season for the program.
Over and above all these accolades, and in many ways directly feeding into them, was the rising strength of women involved in the program. Like most viewers, we were astounded by the immediately apparent acting prowess of Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, Alex Kingston, Ingrid Oliver, and Jemma Redgrave; the directorial eye of Rachel Talalay and Hettie MacDonald; and the exceptional first episode contributions of Sarah Dollard and Catherine Tregenna. As we sit back and absorb all we’ve been given, the question is raised: in 2015, why are we still surprised to see these wonderful things happen?
Joined by brilliant blogger and Gallifreyan aficionado Alyssa of Whovian Feminism, we sit for a long session to discuss what has been a banner year for women in Doctor Who. We discuss the legacy of the program, accusations and confirmed instances of misogyny and chauvinism, the roles and representation of women both on camera and behind it. It becomes immediately clear that this is an ‘iceberg’ topic too large to address in one episode, so even with continued talk about the Bechdel test and other related issues in the “GPR After Dark” extended time that follows, we know for certain that we’ll be coming back to the subject — hopefully with news to celebrate about further advances for women’s equality in Series 10.
Emotions are complicated, often messy human traits — flaws, if you were to ask a Dalek or a Cyberman. They can inspire songs and uplift spirits, motivate heroes and move armies, weaken the stalwart and petrify the proud. We rely on them as much as we are hindered by them. In some fashion, we cherish the negative as much as the positive, for as every artist will attest, the light requires the shadow for contrast. What happens when those emotions are altered, muted, or wiped clean? Is it better to remember a lost one fondly, or not remember them at all, to avoid the pain? Have we not earned the right to carry both weights upon the scales of our lives?
The tumultuous, often quite dark Season Nine of Doctor Who comes to a close with “Hell Bent”, and with it, moments of controversy among fans of the program. Clara left us in “Face the Raven”, given an abrupt but heartbreaking farewell that succinctly encompassed all she meant to her Doctor, to us as viewers, and to the show’s legacy. She suddenly reappears, and we all have to find some way to handle mourning her all over — or perhaps not, as Steven Moffat once again entertains the idea that ‘Death on Doctor Who‘ is not a permanency. We have to ask a very simple, but surprisingly complex question that transcends more than just television program, and speaks to storytelling on a larger scale: does a beautifully crafted tale justify a story that risks upsetting the audience for what it does with its principal characters?
We are consumers of an entertainment industry bred to define “epics” as large scale, sweeping tales with casts of hundreds if not thousands, panoramic views of parapets, mountain ranges, or the front lines of a battlefield, and soul-baring performances between cinematic greats that ignite the screen and leave the audience exhausted for the experience. In a wild attempt to break down this convention, writer Steven Moffat and director Rachel Talalay saddled themselves, and their artist Peter Capaldi, with a formidable task: create an epic of one.
“If you think because she is dead, I am weak, then you understand very little. If you were any part of killing her, and you’re not afraid, then you understand nothing at all. So, for your own sake, understand this. I am the Doctor. I’m coming to find you, and I will never, ever stop.”
In the penultimate episode of Series 9, ‘Heaven Sent’, we find our Doctor alone in an ever-changing prison, chased by a veiled creature that silently demands his every confession, and leading him on a terrifying venture through his deepest fears, into his hyper-intelligent reasoning mind, and into the ghostly arms of his own grief. The demands upon a writer to create a compelling hour’s tale for one voice, upon a director to draw equally compelling performance from a single actor, and moreover, upon that actor to craft such a performance, is unfathomably complex and risky.
Our beloved program has taken another great gamble — and won the house.