The true meaning of Christmas in this ever-weird 21st century.
The “death” of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was inevitably narcissistic as his last words seemed to emerge from both his mouth and Steven Moffat’s.
“Doctor, I let you go…”
Hearing the Moffat echo in my mind’s ear was horribly cringe-worthy but somewhat satisfying since it is long overdue.
Capaldi’s final episode as the Doctor was a roll call of Moffat’s sins – original Doctor fetishism, nonsensical templexity, wanky Tumblr-baiting monologues and melodrama over impotency. This mix in which Moffat has inadvertently managed to distill all of his own flaws made the abyssal meaninglessness of the last 4 or 5 seasons laughably potent.
It is fitting that nothing much happened in his final episode and, whilst Capaldi was not a bad Doctor, the continually bad writing that he has been lumped with – the less said about his rock’n’roll grandad quirks the better – has sealed his fate as an ultimately forgettable Doctor. Unfortunately, what should have nonetheless been an extended goodbye to Capaldi instead felt like Moffat writing his own funeral.
It was precisely because of this that the episode was something of a joy to watch.
So many of Doctor Who‘s seasons over the last 5 years (if not longer) have been overly preoccupied with death. They have tried to make the Doctor’s mortality more of a concern for him than it ever could be given his well-established, two-hearted thirteenth-regeneration-deep backstory… My memory of all the specials and finales over the last few years is that they have, in this way, been about death in the most meaningless of ways. Whilst the Doctor is irritatingly existential despite his troublesome and seemingly inescapable immortality, every other minor and under-developed character has been pointlessly disposable (whilst inevitably coming back for some sort of prescribed emotional cameo somewhere along the line – cue Clara Oswald in this finale).
The narrative arch of Bill Potts over the last season is a case in point. Whilst very likeable and bringing a welcome complexity to the often one-dimensional “companion” character, she wasn’t around long enough for me to care much about her role throughout the rest of the season as some confused self-haunting cybernetic spectre. For all her potential, she was reduced to little more than overcomplicated cannon fodder – another character that only the Doctor can mourn. Long, long, long gone are the days of genuinely affecting companion goodbyes.
What was joyful about the episode, in spite of all this, was the way that it reminded me repeatedly of Robin Mackay’s disclaimer for his Geopoetics class: “There are many dead white men on this course but it is ultimately about their disintegration.”
The fixation on the elderly Capaldi, Bradley and John Hurt in previous specials (the most haunted but also the most temporally impotent Doctor of all), has made Jodie Whitaker’s takeover inevitable. I’d argue the past few years of this show have precisely been about old white male disintegration but the show has lacked the necessary self-awareness to do anything meaningful with its own midlife crisis. The show has rather just spiralled out of control.
This downwards spiral was summarised beautifully and inadvertently by the sustained coupling in this episode of David-Bradley-as-William-Hartnell-as-the-First-Doctor and Peter Capaldi – the “first” and most recent male Doctor. Spiralling around each other, verbally sparring over their perspectives on the other’s irrelevance, whether due to retcon redundancy or a vague understanding of the other’s inept futurity. Both demonstrate little more than an impressive ability to onanistically prolong the inevitable.
This episode was not just the end of Capaldi and a reiteration of the end of Hartnell (whose original regeneration is replayed towards the episode’s end), it also felt like the disintegration of all the show’s fragile masculinity – from the brazen channelling of Hartnell’s explicitly sexist 60s to the implicit sexism of this generation’s Topman Doctors that are the virus of Moffat’s ingrown tenure. (The waste of Capaldi’s Doctor was that, even in his old age, he was crowbarred into this chipper young template despite his aptitude for darkness – and this was painfully obvious from the start).
Moffat has no doubt seen himself as the Great Moderniser, the Great Meta-Script Progressive, but his subconscious seemed to get the better of him throughout this episode. For instance, whether he meant it to or not, the set up for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, in light of Moffat’s hopefully subconscious but nonetheless ironically impotent mourning of masculinity, felt like a last hurrah for his special brand of wacky beta-male space-man. As Whittaker presses a single button on the TARDIS and is ejected into outer space, it was all too easy to read her exit-entrance as “lol the woman can’t drive the time machine”.
We can only hope that Whittaker is given the writing she deserves and this show is finally shaken up in the way it was by Christopher Eccleston’s working class reboot. (I also can’t help but be reminded and disappointed by how far this show has strayed from that series which showed so much promise, and how different it is from k-punk‘s original hopes and predictions.) Unfortunately, if that god-awful second series of Broadchurch is anything to go by, Chris Chibnall may only bring more of the same with a new but ultimately misused face…
So, the same as all Doctors since Tenant.
Whittaker is already living in Tenant’s shadow following her supporting role alongside him in Broadchurch. I really hope she manages to escape from under it here.