There’s a scene that is evidently supposed to justify the way Moffat’s version of the show has been talking the Doctor up as a powerful, scary, dangerous bad-ass. It supposedly justifies the Doctor’s own increasing tendency to appear decidedly impressed with himself, to see himself – and talk about himself – as Mr Scarypants. It justifies the decision to show him (especially in Moffat scripts) as being hubristic, bombastic, aware of his ability to strike terror into the monsters. Look me up, Vashta Nerada, and then run away. Look me up, Atraxi, and then run away. “There’s one thing you never put in a trap…” and “Don’t ever think you’re capable of playing games with me…” and all that pompous, I’m-so-hard, showoffish bum-gravy.
The scene in question is said, by some, to throw all this into relief, to undermine it, to pull the rug from under the Doctor’s feet, to be the reversal towards which all this was leading, a treacherous terminus that forces us to reassess our hero’s morality, and to make him reassess it too.
The scene is near the end of ‘A Good Man Goes to War’. It’s the scene where River rebukes the Doctor. He says “None of this is my fault!”, referring to the war waged by the anonymous military people and their anonymous Headless Monk friends, the war in which Amy and her baby have become unwilling pawns, in which other friends and allies of the Doctor have been killed. River snaps back at him that it’s all his fault. He brought it all upon them by allowing himself to become a figure of terror to the bad guys, a warrior… to the point where even his name – “Doctor” – has come to mean “mighty warrior” in the language of the anonymous military people.
You see, Doctor, what a pass this has come to? Ooooh, you have become what you were fighting.
Except that it doesn’t do or say or achieve anything of the kind. If that is the intended import of the scene, it fails miserably.
Firstly, how many times are we supposed to have seen the Doctor bitten-on-the arse by his own hubris now? And when has it ever changed his behaviour? He’s supposed to have been humbled at the end of Series 5… only to come back at Christmas, so arrogant, such a self-appointed puppet-master, such an unrepentant and moralising neoconservative of other people’s souls, that he inserts himself into a man’s past, his memories, his innermost self, and rewrites his life – as he watches.
It’s similar with the Doctor’s ‘lesson’ at the end of ‘A Good Man Goes to War’. Once River has finished lightly scolding him, and he’s finished looking faintly sheepish, he instantly snaps back into normal mode. River – the quintessential Moffat ‘strong female’… i.e. slavishly obsessed with her man – goes all gooey-eyed as she reveals her (entirely predictable) identity and the Doctor, grinning, announces to Amy and Rory that all is well. He knows that they’ve just lost their chance to raise their daughter, irrevocably, forever. But he doesn’t tell them that. He says he can fix it all and promptly buggers off, apparently believing that they’ll be okay to learn that their daughter is now a quip-engine stalker in the body of a woman older than they are.
|Two of those warriors we’re not supposed to admire.|
Secondly, why exactly should it shock or worry us viewers, or the Doctor, or anyone else, that the Doctor is now seen by some as a warrior? After all, hasn’t the entire episode, up to that point, been extolling the virtues of warriors? Rory, apparently at the Doctor’s arbitrary insistence, dresses as a Roman soldier. And we are reminded how wonderful he was in his Centurion guise by Amy’s silly narration at the start. The Doctor goes and picks up his (never before seen) friends. The Silurian female and her maid/girlfriend turn out to be sword-wielding ninjas (or something) and we’re evidently supposed to love them. Skrax is nominally a nurse but he’s also a Sontaran, complete with a Sontaran warrior ethic. The Sontarans in classic Who represented militarism as bluff, crude, vicious, arrogant, sadistic, bigoted… in Moffat Who they’ve become potentially likeable creatures, possessed of a noble soldier’s code. (Though we must be fair to Moffat and mention that they’d already started becoming TNG Klingon-esque under RTD’s regime.) Skrax dies in battle, and we’re evidently supposed to be moved by his noble warrior’s death. And then there’s the female soldier who only joined up to meet the Doctor again (once again, Moffat creates a female character who is slavishly obsessed with the Doctor… and we still haven’t met Mels yet). She dies a noble death, fighting, and we’re evidently supposed to be as moved as fuck by her anonymous passing as she sinks back into the bland mush from which she was just molded like a jelly. Wherefore, with all these noble warriors about the place, dying heroic and moving warrior’s deaths in the cause of friendship and justice, should our distaste for the idea of the Doctor as a warrior spring?
What we’re seeing here is the quintessential Moffat move. Show the audience one thing. Then inform them that they’re supposed to feel or think something about it that is entirely inconsistent and contradictory.
We are shown how wonderful warriors are. We are supposed to weep for the warriors. The good men and women who went to war. And then Moffat/River informs us that being a warrior is somehow shameful. That the Doctor should be ashamed of how much like a warrior he has become, by how many people now see him as a warrior.
Moreover, the bad faith inherent in this maneuver stretches even further. It stretches all the way back across the Moffat era up to this point. Because all those times when the Doctor talked tough, looked mean, made people scared, made people run away, got spoken of in hushed tones as a frightening enemy, turned up and acted like a ego-maniacal dick… we were so supposed to dig them. We were so supposed to wet our pants with fanboy glee as the bad-ass Doctor talks like a hard-nut and then pastes the baddies. We were so supposed to swell with pride and awe as people run away from him, talk about him like he’s a dark god and generally genuflect before his power, might and ruthlessness. Moffat is evidently in love with depicting the Doctor this way… just as he’s in love with making every ‘strong female character’ into a Doctor-stalker who follows him around like a devoted puppy, endlessly talking about how wonderful he is.
Show the audience one thing. Then inform them that they’re supposed to feel or think something about it that is entirely inconsistent and contradictory. ‘See the Doctor being a powerful bad-ass. Exciting isn’t it? But it’s also bad. Because I suddenly say so.’
And don’t try to tell me this is intentional. This isn’t double coding. This is double standards. This isn’t irony. This is the opposite of irony. This is a writer who is deaf to the ironies of his own bad faith.