I haven’t written about Doctor Who since before the eleventh regenerated at Christmas and nor have I wanted to. Why? Because the episode was an absolute shambles. It’s one of the few Dr Who episodes I never want to rewatch… EVER. And that is saying something. Ok… It had a select few nice bits and Capaldi’s debut was definitely a good moment… But that didn’t make up for the previous hour of handwaving, stuffed the gills nonsense that somehow managed to undo a whole wealth of future story ideas (The regeneration limit for one thing, waved away without the fanfare or explanation such a moment deserved.) In short, the episode was a mess. I won’t go into too many details about the episode in question but I will say that it was the worst denigration to a departing Doctor since they put a blonde wig on Sylvester McCoy. I mean… Matt Smith did his best with the dire script but no actor can make a bad script good. And the thing is it didn’t need to be this way. We didn’t need the cracks (which have now become a pointless retcon) We didn’t need the Daleks or the Weeping Angels or the Doctor uncharacteristically dieing of old age (remind me again how much the Doctor has aged since Smith’s debut and yet has never grown older or changed until now?). But quite recently I’ve worked out that there was another way, a simpler, missed (or perhaps even dropped) opportunity that goes right back to the beginning of the Eleventh Doctor. And it is an opportunity that would have saved us from most, if not all, of this tripe.
The obvious thing about this episode is that it was supposed to be about tieing up Matt Smith’s Doctor with a neat little bow tie, resolving the story arcs and dangling plot strands that have accumulated over the last few years. Now I have nothing against wrapping up plot strands… Wrapping up plot strands is good. It is a necessary attribute of story telling. What I have a problem with is when it is improperly done with a multitude of wafting hands, as was the case here. And if we recap for a moment I think we can pinpoint the precise moment where it all went tits up and this travesty of an episode had the opportunity to emerge. The Silence (for we always suspected it was they) blew up the Tardis in an attempt to kill the Doctor, which created the cracks in the universe. (Presumably the cracks were unintentional on their part.) All of the cracks were then closed by the Doctor (ALL OF THEM, which means no more cracks… ever), thus foiling the Silence for the moment. So they try again with River Song and again, it fails because she falls in love with him. And then we learn why The Silence are trying to kill the Doctor… To stop him reaching Trenzalore. And it is the reason why they are trying to stop him reaching Trenzalore which is where the whole arc starts to go belly up… It goes belly up because of ‘the first question.’ This was, in my opinion, a little unnecessary and it made everything too complicated. It necessitated a reason as to why the question was so dangerous. It necessitated further complications and additions to the story arc and that in turn led to this whole mess. Without it the episode that would have resulted would have worked much better.
If we go back to the very beginning of the silence arc, before things got out of hand, we can clearly see another, simpler avenue that would have worked much better with little need for adding any retcons, cracks or ridiculously aging Doctors. Back in Matt Smith’s first episode, The Eleventh Hour there is the noise of a silent during one scene in Amy’s house… (Once you know it’s there it’s very difficult to miss.) So obviously they were hiding in Amy’s house for one reason or another… Perhaps they instigated the alliance and the Pandorica as their initial plan to stop the Doctor reaching Trenzalore. And from there we can assume at some point (Perhaps during River’s later visit) one took the opportunity to sneak onto the Tardis and blow it up in as yet another attempt to destroy the Doctor. Maybe they even blew up the Tardis as a way of manipulating the alliance into trapping the Doctor. There is a multitude of possibilities as to what those Silents were doing there and any one of them is plausible.
Now go back to The Pandorica Opens and River’s scouting of Amy’s house… There were symbols on the grass as you will recall, symbols that were never explained. Now we already know the Silents were there so the symbols could have been made by them but then why? For what purpose? I don’t think they were made by the Silence… But what if they were made by something or somebody else… The enemy of the Silence perhaps? And again, the answer is clear- The church, or another faction at least. We had already seen Clerics working with the Doctor against The Weeping Angels and it wouldn’t make much sense, if they were his enemy, to let him live. They’d have handed him over to the Angels. And as the Silence were also revealed to be a religious order it sets up the idea of two different factions working against each other. And if they were both at Amy’s house (with the latter leaving the mark) then perhaps they were there (maybe at the Doctor’s behest) to hunt the Silents that were in the house… And it’s a fairly easy step to assume that one got away by hiding in the Tardis before blowing it up, perhaps thinking it was being piloted by the Doctor at the time.
And, if there were two church factions working against each other (I mean properly and not like the hand wavy break away faction that was actually mentioned,) you already have two hardcore enemies to stand against each other in one massive ‘Siege of Minas Tirith’ style battle at Trenzalore, with it being prophesised that the Silence faction will fall as the outcome. And quite obviously the Doctor would be instrumental in that fall which would offer an explanation as to why the Silence wanted to kill him and blow up the Tardis. And it’s not to hard to come up with a regeneration from there either. It could be that the Doctor is injured during the battle, goes back to the Tardis and then regenerates (without going near the regeneration limit… That one would be best left for Capaldi to work through properly, with ample time!).
The idea is, at it’s heart, very simple and it also ties up a whole multitude of plot strands that were either waved away or not resolved at all. Right up until the moment where ‘Silence will fall’ became ‘Silence will fall when the question is asked’ that was the way things looked to be going. But then the additions to the arc just made everything complicated and what eventually resulted was the nonsensical pile that we got. With the uncomplicated arc you have little need for all the handwaving. It’s simple enough to pack into one episode (which could even include the bit in Amy’s house in order to explain all the stuff with the Tardis blowing up). You just make the episode about the split in the church and the battle of Trenzalore, adding the regeneration at the end. You don’t even need to change much else, just the one episode and the whole ‘first question’ crap that kept cropping up. You can still have the Great Intelligence and ‘The Impossible Girl’ (naff as that was, it was still better than the rubbish that was to come) and the first visit to Trenzalore and the Doctor’s time stream. And to resolve that wouldn’t be hard… A little change to history instigated by someone who knew what was going to happen and planned ahead maybe?
And we can only wonder… Were things originally supposed to be as simple an idea as I have outlined or were they destined to end up in a pile of slurry? If the former we need to ask ourselves why things suddenly became so complicated, why was it necessary to add ‘the first question’ into the mix and overcomplicate matters? You could add that it was Karen Gillan’s departure but I can’t see how… I mean, Amy wasn’t there the night the Tardis blew up and if she was needed you could always just have her in cameo, like she appeared in anyway. And she wouldn’t be necessary for the Trenzalore stuff so. Could it have been Matt Smith’s departure that prompted it? Well no… If Trenzalore was how it was always destined to end then why should that matter? And besides, there was a whole series after ‘the first question’ came into play so there was plenty of time to finish things off (And there wasn’t really any deep arc related stuff after that anyway…) If it was the latter, if things were always destined to go wrong, if things were complicated from the start then why were bits missed? Why did we end up with all the handwaving? With all the water that has passed under the bridge since the arc began there has been more than enough time to make sure everything worked, to make sure that it didn’t end up as a sloppy mess. There was time and space to make it all work so there was no reason to end up with the sloppy, hand waving mess we got…
Or just maybe there was never any plan in the first place. Perhaps it was all made up on the fly and things were just thrown in and dropped on a whim… Although I do wonder how, if this were the case, the Silence noise came to be Amy’s house… A reused sound effect? Possibly. But if none of this was planned, if it was all just thrown together, (or even if the arc was conceived as being complicated from the start) then we have clear signs that Moffat, with whom ultimate responsibility for this debacle rests, is no longer (and maybe never has been) the right man to be in charge of Doctor Who. A competent writer has a strong idea of where a story is going… They know not to overcomplicate things and they know that a long story/ story arc needs to make sense and have a proper resolution. Even when unplanned, a good writer should at least have some sense of where they want to go with an idea. Now we know Moffat can write a decent story, the fiftieth special was damn good even if it had that little unresolved bit with the Zygons, but a single episode is easier to craft than an entire series or a long arc. There are less chances for gaping plot holes and there are less chances to overcomplicate things. Plus there would also be less chances for him to throw in his ridiculously childish techno babble (Seriously… If ‘Timey Wimey’ ‘Sciency Wiencey’ or anything similar crops up with Capaldi I’m going be sicky wicky all over Moffat’s car windscreen.) More and more people are saying that the writing isn’t what it used to be and I’m inclined to agree. Dr Who needs fresh blood and a whole team of new writers in order to bring new ideas and a fresh inventiveness to the series. Most of all it needs to learn from what has passed and to make sure it never happens again.
My only hope is that this episode is the absolute nadir of all Doctor Who and that we never experience anything of the like ever again. Even in the dark days of the eighties things were never this bad. This episode should have been better… And indeed, it could have been a lot better had things not got so convoluted earlier on, had the story arc not become so complicated. Alas, we can only wonder… wonder and hope.