My Journey with Doctor Who Begins–Again: A Reflection

I first fell in love with Doctor Who when I saw reruns of series one with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. I was drawn to the adventure and to wonder, as well as to the emotional depth I found in the Doctor. Eccleston played him as bitter and angry, but slowly changing as a nineteen-year-old human taught him to see the good in people once again. David Tennant continued that emotional journey, adding even more complexity as audiences watched him struggle with the reality of making friends, only to lose them repeatedly. Was their loss all his fault? Was he a truly a hero or had he been the monster all along?

David Tennant is my favorite Doctor precisely because of the emotion intensity he brings to the role. Even though Doctor Who is a space and time travel adventure, at its heart, it has always been about the relationships. The Doctor finds travelling companions because he is lonely, but also because he is constantly surprised and impressed by how resilient, brave, and kind humanity can be at its best. His belief in humans is arguably what often brings out their best. They want to live up to the vision he has of them.

I am drawn to the hope inherent in the show by virtue of the Doctor’s belief in the best of the humanity. But I also am moved by how that hope is so often tempered by the Doctor’s self-doubt. He exults in the danger and the adventure of saving worlds, but he has to recognize, at the end of the day, that that same danger hurts people he cares about. People who would have never been in danger if he had not brought them there. The riddle of the Doctor is that he loves life-threatening situations and that he somehow makes other people love it, too. He delights in things that scare the average person.

Characters in Doctor Who often express anger and disgust that he seems to be enjoying their peril. But the Doctor never loves that people are in danger. He loves being in situations where he can discover new things–meet new life forms, witness an event never before seen. And he manages to share that joy and wonder not only with his companions, but also with audiences. Many sci-fi shows present aliens as the enemy. And there are plenty of dangerous, violent aliens in Doctor Who. But Doctor Who also suggests that there can be a world where humans and aliens live side-by-side learning from each other and sharing the stars.

When David Tennant left the show along with executive produce Russell T. Davies, I was sad. They had created a TV series that repeatedly urged viewers to think of life as a grand adventure, with something wonderful always to be discovered. I had hopes for Steven Moffat’s takeover, though. I had enjoyed his writing on episodes like “Blink” and “Silence in the Library” and thought he would make an excellent showrunner.

As time went on, however, Moffat’s writing made me lose interest in Doctor Who. The way he seemed to try to make the bulk of his female characters “sexy” bothered me, as did the fact that his Doctors seemed to chose his companions, not because they were ordinary individuals who could prove themselves extraordinary–think Donna the temp using her secretarial skills to solve mysteries and type at speed to save the world–but because they were “special.” The girl with a crack in her bedroom and the universe in her head. The Impossible Girl. You couldn’t be anyone travelling with the Doctor anymore. You had to be a girl with a mysterious past who was going to prove to be a major plot point.

Additionally, the female characters under Moffat’s reign so often seemed more like cardboard cut-outs written to suit the plot, more than they seemed like actual people with lives, families, and backgrounds. It was difficult for me to understand who they were as characters because that would change from episode to episode. And their sexuality was repeatedly emphasized in ways that were uncomfortable, like that was one of their main selling points as a character, rather than their bravery or their cleverness or their kindness.

I stopped watching Doctor Who sometime during series seven. I tried again when Peter Capaldi took over as the Doctor, but was disappointed by his apparent hatred of humanity, which seemed antithetical to everything the Doctor stands for. I haven’t really watched Doctor Who since, except for two episodes with Jodie Whittaker. Now I’m beginning the show again. But, as I finish watching David Tennant’s final episodes, I cannot help but wonder if I will still be disappointed with the same aspects of Moffat’s writing.

14 thoughts on “My Journey with Doctor Who Begins–Again: A Reflection

  1. Christopher says:

    Like you I found Moffatt’s era very disappointing. His storylines got too complex, too tangled, and, sometimes, too easily resolved. The stories also got too weirdly dark, even for me.
    I stuck with it because I’ve enjoyed Doctor Who since I was a teenager–I started watching when Peter Davison was the Doctor–and I feel that Jodie Whitaker’s joining, and Moffatt’s leaving, really signaled a turn back to what makes Doctor Who great.
    I suppose that’s also part of the show’s appeal, though. It’s as vast as the universe, and seeing it through the ups and downs is rewarding.

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes! I’m on series 7 now and it’s getting harder and harder to follow the episodes and keep track of the plot. Sometimes I’m pretty sure the plot doesn’t even make sense, but sometimes it’s so convoluted I start to wonder if it’s me or Moffat! I also dislike that series 6 got bogged down in River Song’s backstory. I don’t particularly like River Song and I didn’t need an entire season dedicated to her.

      It’s good to hear that Jodie Whitaker’s seasons are closer to what I loved about the show! I look forward to watching them!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jenna @ Falling Letters says:

    I had pretty much the same experience and thoughts on the show that you’ve described here. Moffat took Doctor Who in an uninteresting direction for me, discarding all the human and emotional aspects that made Davies’ series so strong. I don’t remember what series I stopped watching at but I remember it was around 2013 (after Amy and Rory departed?) because I started watching Orphan Black instead 😛 I completely skipped Capaldi’s episodes. I watched Jodi Whittaker’s first season with my mom. (I haven’t watched the latest season yet). I really enjoyed it. I think it did recapture the elements of the show that made it great when Davies was showrunner.

    Part of the reason I have so much appreciation for Davies’ writing is because of the book Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale, which chronicles how Davies developed series 4 and the following specials. It helped me understand just how much influence a showrunner has, even when an episode credits another writer. (Personally, I think Moffat’s episodes under Davies were so good because of Davies’ influence and that was lost when Davies stepped away.) If that sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend it.

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    • Krysta says:

      I like some aspects of Moffat’s work. He has created some iconic monsters and he’s very good with drama. But that wasn’t really why I started watching the show. I hadn’t realized there’s a book on Davies’ writing, but now I definitely want to see if I can find a copy! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Alexis Kristy Greaves (Kristy serves galaxy) says:

    When talking about “his” apparent hatred of humanity, were you refering to Peter, or tPhe Doctor? Because it reads Peter, which I believe he [Peter] would not aprecciate.

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    • Krysta says:

      I meant Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. I’m sure he would realize I don’t know him and can’t speak on his personal feelings towards humanity! XD

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    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I also thought Capaldi’s Doctor was frequently angry and made a point of saying he didn’t want to help people and didn’t care, so in context of the show I definitely read this as a remark about the character, especially as the whole post is about how the different characters were written/characterized by the writers.

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  4. Milliebot says:

    I stopped watching sometime during Doctor 11. I missed the magic and the like…feeling that Drs 9 and 10 gave. I agree with the companions too. I was getting frustrated with a lot of the conveniences that were suddenly being created to assist 11 whereas these things weren’t possible for 10. I can’t think of an example now cuz it’s so long since I stopped watching. I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Much like Sherlock…

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    • Krysta says:

      Yes, I think Moffat uses a lot of hand-waving to get his episodes to work. There’s a lot of “Time can be rewritten” to explain why 11 can do things that 9 and 10 couldn’t, for some reason. I also really disliked the finale of series 6 where they were all trapped with no escape. They solved that with “our future selves can to save us” but how did your future selves come to save you if you couldn’t escape? I don’t think that would have happened under 9 and 10. But all the rules of time travel suddenly changed here, usually for the convenience of the plot.

      Yeah, I got tired of Sherlock, too. The first season was great and then it went downhill.

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      • Milliebot says:

        Yeah I hate when it’s like “suddenly things can happen now that couldn’t before because reasons, just accept it”. Lol no thanks. And yeah Sherlock started so strong and then ugh. Moriarty was wasted and his death made zero sense and everything with the Holmes sister was complete bs

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Michael J. Miller says:

    First, YES TO EVERYTHING. Amen! Second, thank you! I’ve always struggled with Moffat’s episodes. They never resonated with me the way Davies’ did or Chibnall’s have been. I like some individual episodes, but the heart/narrative that pulls it all together didn’t work as well for me. While I’ve watched all of Jodie Whittaker’s episodes at least 2-3 times already and never tire of returning to David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston, I don’t rewatch the Moffat era often. So thank you for the solidarity and making me feel like I’m not alone in that :). Thank you for a gorgeous post about all the Doctor is and represents, too!

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    • Krysta says:

      I’m looking forward to watching the newer episodes some time since readers here seem to be generally recommending them as closer to the show under Davies. Sounds perfect for me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael J. Miller says:

        I’ll be excited to hear what you think when you watch them, too! I’d agree – the tone feels much closer to Davies’ run. It feels like the organic extension of those stories and of the Doctor’s character. The Doctor in Chibnall’s run fits with who the Doctor was in Davies’. But Jodie Whittaker’s not just a copy of David Tennant (because who could copy him??). She feels like the same Doctor who’s continued to grow from their past and to their future. It feels like it all fits. There’s not that weird inconsistency we were talking about in the other thread of the Doctor being this enthusastic, conquering warrior hero in Moffat’s run.

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