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Doctor Who? Premature Guessing Games on Stephen Moffat’s Season

The Tennant/Davies era of New Doctor Who is well-and-truly over. Despite fandom’s speculations about what a Doctor Who panel at Comic Con means (movie! movie! movie!), it seems that – for the moment at least – the most recent incarnation of the Timelord has made room for his replacement. Filming began yesterday on the first episodes produced by Stephen Moffat and starring Matt Smith as the lovable time traveler. Of course, the photos started showing up around noon. So, what do we make of the newest actor in the role? What do we expect from Moffat as a showrunner (as compared to Davies)? Do we know anything at all?

Who is he? He is Who...

Who is he? He is Who...

Note: This article contains spoilers. Lots and lots and lots of spoilers, based off rumours about Tennant’s departure and the set photos revealed yesterday.

Let’s start with the look. I’m not sure if I like it or not – I’ll have to see it in action. It certainly is a lot less “regular people” clothes than Tennant’s brown/blue suit and Eccleston’s leather jacket, and more traditional, particularly drawing up fond memories of Patrick Troughton and even William Hartnell, the first two actors in the role forty years ago. In fairness, the costume isn’t that big a shock. It looks like a conscious attempt to age the actor up – there was a lot of hubbub on the web when Smith was cast that he was two young. I don’t think the costume is reactionary based on those calls, but I see it harking back to the other youngest doctor. Moffat would have us believe that Peter Davison is his favourite actor in the character’s ten (and now eleven) incarnations. Davison was very young when he took the role but was similarly “aged” by his clothes, wearing cricket clothing – creating the impression of a character much older than the actor, or certainly more mature. Here Smith seems to channel a chemistry professor, or an educator of some sort, in a style that is vintage if not classic.

There are some rumours flying around (since it’s been all but confirmed that Tennant’s finale will reintroduce the Time Lords, led by Timothy Dalton – which explains a lot about James Bond) that Tennant’s transformation will be forced upon him by the Timelords in a manner similar to the transition from Patrick Troughton to Jon Pertwee. If so, it would explain why the doctor is dressing up – the face isn’t the one he would have wanted and is a punishment – and would also open up the possibility of a movie featuring Tennant – as it was speculated that Troughton’s Doctor had adventures after what we saw in The War Games. This is conjecture. Still, I remain unconvinced. No regeneration has ever been a carbon copy of another and I doubt that Davies and Moffat would undermine their attempt to put a unique stamp on the show to emulate an earlier transformation. But I could be wrong.

Other rumours flying around include the suggestion that the Doctor’s new sidekick, who has been named Amy Pond, is in fact River Song – a character from Moffat’s two-parter during the fourth season. Song was a character from the Doctor’s future, who knew him quite well. However, due to the Doctor’s time traveling ways, the first time he met her was on the day she ‘died’. There have been suggestions that the character would return, for the first time that she met the Doctor and those seem to be confirmed by the pictures – Alex Kingston was on set. There’s a further train of though developing that the names Pond and River are too similar to be a coincidence and that the companion is a younger version of the character. I doubt Moffat has made it that straightforward (as it’s a fairly obvious guess), but I suspect a link of some sort.

It should be noted that the episodes are typically filmed out of sequence, so Alex Kingston likely won’t be appearing in first episodes to air. The first four years followed a pattern (an introductory string of single-episode adventures, followed by a so-so two-parter, followed by a string of single-episode adventures, followed by a much stronger two-parter followed by a “Doctor-lite” episode and maybe another single-episode before a two- or three-part finale). I think it’s premature to assume that Moffat will stick so rigidly to the format, though I have nothing to base that on other than a vague rumour that went around earlier in the year that Moffat would open his era with a two-parter featuring the Daleks. I doubt he’ll trot out the character’s arch-foes so quickly (particularly since he has personally stressed the need for new aliens on the revitalised franchise), but I would love to see Moffat – who can make statues and shadows scary – handle the genocidal pepperpots. They will inevitably show up at least once in his run, but I doubt so early. Still, I’m curious about the format his opening season will take.

"The winodws are the wrong shape..."

"The windows are the wrong shape..."

I also wonder what his themes would be. Moffat stated very clearly in interviews early during the new show’s run that he felt the audience was more focused on the Doctor’s journeys through time rather than space. There’s ample evidence in his scripts that he is fascinated by the implications of time travel within the Whoniverse. Even his first script (the Comic Relief special The Curse of Fatal Death) featured an extended opening joke of traps-within-traps-within-traps set up by two time travelers. The Empty Child featured a time-traveling con man exploiting historical events to cover his tracks. The Girl in the Fireplace featured an exploration of the Doctor’s ability to skip across ‘the slower path’ that us mortals tread. Blink was focused on ‘timey whimey’ paradoxes and aliens that used time travel as a means of assassination. Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead looked at the impact of a relationship viewed “out of order”, where the two partners weren’t in sync with each other. It’s fairly obvious that Moffat as a writer is fascinated by the implications of the Doctor’s time traveling.

At a guess, I’d expect that to be the major over-arching theme of Moffat’s work, and certainly his first season. I think we might see a lot of events happening out of order. His predecessor, Russell T. Davies, did toy with the notion in the third season, where the Doctor unleashed a foe in the third-to-last episode who, it turned out, had been pursuing him since the middle of the previous year. I’ll do a more thorough retrospective on “The Davies Years” as we approach the last of Tennant’s episodes, but I think we’ll see a subtle tonal shift between the two, rather than a flat out divergence. Davies is fascinated with the Doctor’s impact on normality, and he seems to love the romantic nobility found in housing estates and the working class as a whole. Status and class are very strong theme in most of his scripts for the show. Moffat, from what we’ve seen, seems more fascinated on personal relationships with the Doctor (and certainly with female leads). I don’t see Moffat reducing the sexuality that has crept into the show, but I can see him handling it differently.

It’s fun to speculate when we know nothing. I’ll look back on this next April and I’ll probably laugh at how wrong it was. Still, it’s exciting to stand on the cusp of a new era of such a long-running show.

One Response

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