Tag Archives: Steven Moffat

Doctor Why

...rather unlike a Hollywood movie, really.
Featuring an old man walking slowly away from an explosion…

Doctor Who is a funny phenomenon. (It’s often a funny TV show too, but let’s look at the phenomenon first.) Fifty years old as of this weekend, it’s enjoying a heavily promoted anniversary period, and while a lot of the current level of publicity has been driven by the BBC, it’s a show that inspires a degree of devotion from its adherents that’s unusual even in the world of science fiction.

Part of that is down to its two-part history: the original show, which ran for over three decades before petering out into low-budget irrelevance and a misguided attempt at a U.S.-led revival, and the new show, which launched in a blaze of glory in 2005 and is still going strong, despite sometimes iffy quality (something the show has always endured). Fans of the former are mostly fans of the latter, but fans of the latter aren’t always aware of the former.

Befitting its status as a celebration of all 50 years of the show, the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, does its damndest to bridge that gap.

When the show was relaunched, one key element was altered: rather than being one of a race of time travellers, the Doctor instead became the last of them. More than that, it was revealed that he was responsible for their doom, together with that of their archenemies. This had the double effect of making the Doctor unique and adding a melancholy tone to his character that quality actors like Christopher Ecclestone and David Tennant were able to mine to good effect.

So for writer Steven Moffat to not only reveal this hinted-at element of the Doctor’s history in detail but also to effectively rewrite it during The Day of the Doctor was suitably ambitious. For him to succeed so thoroughly was a delight. Inevitably for a show with as convoluted a timeline as Doctor Who, there are some very visible plot holes and seams, but on the whole it makes for a thrilling adventure.

If The Day of the Doctor manages to bridge the gap between old and new though, it does so using the materials of the new. There are plenty of hat-tips and Easter Eggs relating to the old show embedded in the episode, but with the exception of a rather odd cameo towards the end, none of the actors who played the role in the old series make a showing (they did, however, get a cameo-filled anniversary special of their own).

Despite the hopes of some of the old-time fans, this was clearly the best choice. The old actors look nothing like they did when they played the role, and Moffat makes the absolute most of the three Doctors he has to play with (Tennant, Matt Smith and a war-weary John Hurt), making their commonalities and differences central to the unfolding of the plot.

The result is a special that’s all about the show itself, and all the more satisfying for that. I was lucky enough to see it in the cinema, where I was able to enjoy some very decent 3D effects and the reaction of the crowd around me to every grace note of the script and special effects. So many people there were not only dressed for the event but also knew all the show lore, resulting in laughter and applause in all the right places.

Those cinema showings may have been a gift to those fans whose love of the show extended back beyond the 2005 revival, but they weren’t solely enjoyed by them. The show is now bigger and deeper than it used to be, and the fan base is global in a way that only the Internet could allow.

With The Day of the Doctor, Steven Moffat not only celebrates the first 50 years of the show, tying together all of its constituent parts, he also ties a bow on the show as it has been since the relaunch. With a new Doctor in the form of Peter Capaldi incoming at Christmas, The Day of the Doctor strikes the right note: a celebration of all that has come before together with an opportunity to enjoy something new.

The Case of the Problematic Woman

Irene Adler as seen in the BBC's "Sherlock"
Lara Pulver proves the more dangerous of the two recent Irene Adlers.

It’s Sherlock Season at the moment. The second installment in Guy Ritchie’s Downey Jr-&-Law driven comeback arrived on cinema screens over the Christmas period, and on New Year’s Day, the BBC debuted the second series of its modern-day updating of the Arthur Conan Doyle tales, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. As a long-time Sherlock fan (when it comes to the classic interpretations, I’m a Jeremy Brett man), this double header definitely added to my festive cheer. However, there was one feature of both offerings that raised a doubtful eyebrow.

Spoilers below for those of you who haven’t watched either slice of Holmes (and they’re both worth taking your time to see).

Irene Adler, like Professor Moriarty (with whom she’s associated in both the cinematic and televisual Holmes offerings), looms a lot larger in the Holmes mythos than her brief appearance in Conan Doyle’s tales would suggest. She appears in a single story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” and is referred to in just four others. Nonetheless, the idea of the woman who matched wits with Holmes and won has fascinated fans and writers of derivative works ever since.

Which makes it just a little odd that both the most recent Holmes offerings veer away from the idea of her being Holmes’ equal. The first Ritchie movie had her as Moriarty’s catspaw, and the second reduced her to a damsel in distress before swiftly killing her off for little reason other than to provide Holmes with an axe to grind against Moriarty himself. In the BBC version, she matches wits well with Holmes before being undone and reduced again to a damsel in distress, whom Holmes this time saves.

A feature of both the recent versions of Adler is that she is undone by her own affection for Holmes. This is a long way from the Conan Doyle story, where all the affection and admiration is on Holmes’ part, with Adler in love with and set to marry another man. The transition towards something closer to a genuine romance between the characters seems to do Adler a disservice, as Holmes ends up the dominant partner both times out.

This may be inevitable – Holmes is the central figure, after all – but there could be something else at work here. Both Ritchie and Steven Moffatt, the co-creator of the BBC series with Mark Gatiss, have made the relationship between Holmes and John Watson the central point of their versions. No mere foils for the mercurial and manic Holmes, the Watsons of Jude Law and Martin Freeman are close to equal partners, emotionally if not intellectually, avoiding the bumbling caricature that Watson often became in other adaptations. In both cases, the depiction of the relationship between Holmes and Watson is a major part of why these versions work so well.

What that seems to mean, though, is that there’s no room for a romance with Adler. To have her become a victim in both cases seems a shame to me, given that she’s a character with a lot of potential (and the only strong female in the Holmes canon). Ritchie’s casual disposal of her seems much more of a waste, and in somewhat poor taste, whereas Moffat’s decision to have her thoroughly defeated and then rescued seems more a result of confusion as to what to do with her.

Perhaps Conan Doyle had it right: Adler was notable because she won and because she entranced Holmes with her intelligence and honour. To try to bring her closer into the orbit of Holmes-Watson is to ruin her.