Doctor, who? — the enigma that we’ve seen in variant form flash across our screens countless times over the last fifty years, and still do on the scarce Saturdays that Doctor Who is in town these days. It’s the imperative of Moffat’s ongoing arc, and never more so than in his latest series.
Following the Doctor’s erasure of any and all records of his existence and interference in events throughout time and space, some indeterminate time after “The Wedding of River Song”, the ensuing resumption of his customarily ostentatious heroics this series has been slightly confounding.
Considering that “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”, and the rest of Series 7A for that matter, is contiguous to the Doctor instigating this requisite state of universal anonymity, how immoderately he behaves — e.g. blowing up a spaceship and being flung down to Earth like a little Time Lord meteorite; working in affiliation with governmental forces that are sure to keep a record of his involvement (the ISA); assisting UNIT whose prior accounts of him would surely have been deleted along with every other in the cosmos etc. — immediately renders the whole thing a rather perfunctory endeavour.
No amount of ‘Doctor, who?’ being shoehorned into various episodes disguises the fact that Moffat failed to follow through on this, for whatever reason. Of course, with Doctor Who, the mad escapades can’t be discarded entirely, as so much of the fanaticism it’s accrued depends on it, but the Doctor’s total insouciance about preserving his obscurity, when he went to such lengths to attain it in the first place, is a faineance on Moffat’s behalf that’s disposed of any opportunity for a satisfying closure to this arc.
Less exhibitionism from the Doctor, and more remembrance of the fact that he was supposed to be operating incognito, would have alleviated some of the discrepancies from the Doctor’s masquerade of inexistence. Little touches like him identifying himself as John Smith, or other likewise aliases (instead of basically announcing his extant every episode by introducing himself as the Doctor), and camouflaging his TARDIS upon landing it (we know he can do this — or at least River Song can — as it was done in “Day of the Moon”), would have lent an essential sense of legitimacy to the Doctor’s deception.
Where Moffat did succeed was in his maturation of the Pond duo over the course of the half series that made up the finality of their companionship. The Doctor’s scattered visitations during the undisclosed number of years from “Asylum of the Daleks” to “The Angels Take Manhattan”, and habitually disruptive compulsions, was visibly taking more of a toll on the pair of them, whilst rendering their futile efforts to sustain some degree of normality, without sacrificing that which was preventing it in the first place, an impossibility.
Their increasing desire for stability in their lives, as opposed to the madcap, wayward adventurism that life with the Doctor entails, began to progressively drive a wedge between them and the Time Lord as the series went on, culminating in the Doctor’s confrontation of this very fact in “The Power of Three”, acknowledging the attenuation of Amy’s reliance on him, as he raptly refutes that he is running *from* anything.
It was in “The Eleventh Hour”, when he was informed that little Amelia had grown up in the time between his visits, hence her reticence to step aboard his TARDIS, that the Doctor told her that was something she should never do. Indicative of his selfish inclinations, he meant it, because the Doctor knows all too well what his companions growing up means for him (“The old man prefers the company of the young, does he not?”), and indeed what it meant for his relationship with Amy and Rory. The innate wonderment of youth is intrinsic to how he entices most of those who accompany him on his travels.
“They’d say it was their choice, but offer a child a suitcase full of sweets and they’ll take it. Offer someone all of time and space and they’ll take that too. Which is why you shouldn’t. Which is why grown-ups were invented.” — The Doctor, The God Complex.
This theme of Amy’s idolisation of the Doctor being largely dependant on a small degree of immaturity, due to the impression he left on her as a child spurring an inhibition to properly grow up and relinquish her child-like reverence for him as a figure of guidance, has run the entire course of Amy’s time in the TARDIS. But with events in “The God Complex” seeing her inner child’s apotheosis of him purged, her maturity spawned naturally from that — burgeoning despite the Doctor’s tarrying insistences — and as such, she gradually began to realise that she no longer needed him.
It’s one of Moffat’s most satisfying and adeptly executed character arcs. Yes, his decision to insert the cursory divorce subplot of “Asylum of the Daleks” was extremely ill-advised, as it substantially conflicted with both characters’ conventions for them to go down such a route, what with how strenuously they’d fought for one another in the past. But considering the relative inconsequence of it in the grand scheme of things, it’s not overstating things to hail their respective stories as near faultless overall, with the conclusion being Amy’s final affirmation that Rory is no longer a substitution for the Doctor in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, embracing the forfeiture of her ‘Raggedy Man’ as the expense.
Eleven’s foreknowledge that the Ponds were beginning to slip from his grasp, as well as his isolated travels in between visiting them, had a debasing effect on his character. The Doctor’s moral decline was an inconsistent and ultimately aborted development, that saw him callously enact Solomon’s demise one week, attempt to do the same with a war criminal of similar ilk to himself the next, and nothing since.
Chris Chibnall’s “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” was the sole venture to push the boundaries (for my full thoughts on the episode, click here), with the Doctor’s amoral indulgence leading to him instigating Solomon’s fateful collision course, and tormenting him about the juxtaposing nature of his quietus circumstances — “Look Solomon. The missiles. See them shine, see how valuable they are? And they’re all yours.”
Whilst the Doctor has taken lives before, he’s never done so as joyously as in this instance, and Solomon is far from the worst foe he’s ever been confronted with in his travels. This was a monumental development of the Doctor’s moral character, but one that was sadly wasted as the series went on.