Thoughts On “Doctor Who” Season Nine
Series nine of “Doctor Who” is about to begin (this weekend), and I am getting ready by re-reading all of my over-thinky and badly edited recaps from last season. I wanted to get down some of my thoughts about the Doctor now that I’ve had a year to process.
I am not making predictions for the upcoming season because I am not good at predicting things. Rather, I am asking a lot of questions that I would love to see answered.
Looking at series eight as a whole, the Doctor is erratic, unpredictable, mean, selfish, arrogant and confused much of the time. Most people I talk to didn’t like the season and don’t like the writing at all—they basically wrote the season off as badly written and uninspiring. I can see their point. The Doctor’s wild swings from humanity’s savior to humanity’s enemy are confusing and frustrating. It is very hard to connect with him right now. I don’t understand half of what he chooses to do. He feels alien to me.
On the other hand, the Doctor is an alien. I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to figure out why he’s acting the way he is now. What happened to loveable 10 and 11? Where does this bitter, confusing old man come from? My argument is this: He’s an alien. He’s not one of us, and he doesn’t owe us anything. Also, we cannot forget what happened on Trenzalore.
I was thinking about Missy’s gift to the Doctor at the end of series eight. She cultivated an army for him. She traveled in time and collected every single dying soul on Earth, put them in the body of a Cyberman, and told the Doctor he was in charge. If we take the events on Trenzalore into account, this is possibly the cruelest gift she could have given him.
When 11 was on Trenzalore, he knew it was his last stand. He knew without a doubt he would die there—he’d seen his own grave for heaven’s sake, and he could count and knew he was on his last regeneration. Given that, he makes a choice to stay and fight for as long as it takes to protect the little town on Trenzalore called Christmas. That takes him a long, long time.
One flaw I will absolutely lay at Steven Moffat’s feet is the flaw of time skipping. I think he leaves gaps that are too large in his writing, gaps he understands but that the casual audience may not. We see Matt Smith begin to fight his war, and then a minute later in TV time we see him old and tired. He’s grown so lonely he’s using a Cyberman head for company. I think it’s somewhat tragic that we’re left to contemplate what happened in the intervening years. If we’d seen even a glimpse of that, I think the way 12 acts would make so much more sense.
The themes of series eight rotate around soldiers, wars, fighting, and what it means to be a good person. These themes come up over and over—when he’s told he’s a good Dalek, when he becomes angry at Danny Pink for being a soldier, when Danny Pink accuses him of being an officer (hands clean, leaving soldiers to do the dirty work), etc. Another thing we discover in series eight is the Doctor’s constant discomfort with emotion. He’s burned out; he cannot tolerate people becoming weepy or afraid. In a turnabout, we get a whole episode exploring the origins of fear and how good the Doctor can be at empathy (although this season he hardly shows it).
If we put the erratic, mean behavior in the context of Trenzalore, it starts to make more sense. He was supposed to die, so he fought a war so vicious that an entire movement was created to stop it (remember the eyepatch lady? Her entire sect existed solely to stop the massacre at Trenzalore). It wasn’t as epic as the Time Wars, surely, but to the people that the Doctor fought it was devastating. Imagine the things he must have done. He’d gone from a man who hated guns and wouldn’t touch them to a man who gave his life to protect one town from everything the universe could throw at it. I suspect he touched a gun or two. In fact, I think where he was headed was foreshadowed here:
(Ooooooh the line, “You’re both good men; you just forget it sometimes.” Doesn’t that sound like what 12 is struggling with?)
I think that living past Trenzalore wasn’t an option, so now that he has, he’s at a total loss. He’s done things he cannot forgive himself for—again—and is absolutely in the deep end of emotional confusion about it all. He’s reacting to things in unpredictable ways because he’s confused. He’s lost himself utterly. Who the hell is he now? He’s broken every principle he ever had, probably repeatedly. I think he was OK with it because he was dying and wanted to stand for something first. Instead, he lived, and now he has to deal with the moral ramifications of what he’s done. In that context, now think about Missy flouncing in with her umbrella and handing him the keys to his very own army. That’s what it took for the Doctor to realize he’s been lost in his moral ocean when really he’s just some guy. He isn’t the arbiter of good and evil or some kind of superhero. He’s just some rando with a stolen TARDIS and too much curiosity.
So where are we going from here?
The BBC released this prologue recently:
That’s the Doctor with a Sister of Karn. Remember them, from the mini-episode “Night of the Doctor”?
If he’s seeking them out again, he’s not in a good place, but he went to people he clearly trusts deeply. Sort of like a therapist, she pushed him into being the War Doctor because it was needed, not because it was what he wanted. In some ways, we could argue that she set us on the path we’re still on now, so it’s interesting he’s returned to her again.
If you haven’t seen the trailer for season nine yet, check it out:
We know that Missy is coming back, which is very exciting. She’s a rich, interesting character who has always needled the Doctor into his worst and best behaviors. So I can’t wait to see what she’s cooked up now. In that trailer we also catch a glimpse of a Zygon, a shape-shifter last seen (I think) in “Day of the Doctor” posing as Queen Elizabeth I. We know there are Daleks, and they go to a city that could easily be Skaro. We know Clara is back. That’s about it. I am looking forward to seeing where the writing actually goes. Will he be closer to the Doctor we have known, or will he morph into someone totally new?
Watch this spot for all my intense rantings on the matter starting next week with the first episode of season nine, “The Magician’s Apprentice.”
- I still think that was not a kid under that blanket; I don’t care what anyone says.
- I still think it’s weird that he woke up on some rocky planet in the Christmas episode that looked like the fake volcano planet, and I want to know if that was a thing.
- River Song is reportedly in this year’s Christmas episode, and Osgood is making a reported comeback (in Cardiff cough Torchwood cough)—so—permission to squee.