Doctor Who?: Moffat’s asking the question


If you follow my Twitter feed or have ever discussed Doctor Who with me, you’ll know that I’m not a fan of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who, or more to the point, not a fan of the Moffat era of Doctor Who.

While all of the story ideas are excellent and in some cases far better than what Russell T. Davies gave us, the concepts are underdeveloped and as a consequence, lack the emotional punch they should deliver.

I think that if Moffat could figure out how to weave together a solid story and tie together these concepts, we could be watching one of the greatest stories ever told. But as I said, something just isn’t meshing. But instead of belaboring what I don’t like about these past few seasons, I thought I’d write about what is working for me, the overarching theme – The question hidden in plain sight. The question that must never be answered.

“Who is the Doctor?”

The answer isn’t “A bloke from Gallifrey,” the answer is much deeper than that.

Stetsons are cool

Stetsons are cool.

And although the question is asked by nearly everyone on the show, the most important person to ask this question is the Doctor himself. I think he’s been asking this question since Journey’s End.

We already know the Doctor does not believe himself to be a good man. This was spelled out for us in A Good Man Goes to War but I think it’s also been woven into the mythology of the series as a whole. I think that when the Doctor talks about being alone, he’s not referring to being the only Time Lord, he’s referring to all of the terrible things he has seen and all of the terrible things he has done.

Steven Moffat is trying to show us, though not particularly well, the internal struggle of someone who wants to be good but has done some very bad things.

The question that was asked last night in A Town Called Mercy, is whether or not those things were bad or if those things were the tragic consequences of doing the right thing. I think at one point, the Doctor believed the positive consequences of his actions would outweigh the negative. But throughout this series we have seen that belief wane. The Doctor’s world has become less insular. He has been introduced to more people who have been severely damaged by his actions and now fear him. The Doctor is often called ‘the Destroyer of Worlds’ or ‘the Bringer of Darkness’ and I believe he takes these things to heart. This is who he now believes he is.

In last night’s episode, the Doctor said he was 1200 years old. When you’ve lived that long and you’ve seen that much, you’re not going to always be nice and you’re not going to always have faith in yourself or in other people.

This is where the Doctor is now, jaded and without faith, asking the question we all ask ourselves, “Who the fuck am I?”

I don’t think it’s a question that can ever be answered because the Doctor, like all of us, is always evolving. He is different when he is around his friends, as are we all. His friends keep him from wallowing in his despair. Like all of us, he carries his own scars that only he can understand but the love of true friends keep him from collapsing inward. Like all of us, he believes he must constantly atone for his misdeeds – regardless of how necessary those ‘sins’ may have seemed at the time.

Granted, the Doctor has a heavier weight on his shoulders than most of us – unless you’ve been blowing up planets and slaughtering aliens. (Is anyone else dying to read some Doctor Who/Darth Vader fanfic right about now?)

The Doctor, like all of us, is full and complex. He is good and bad, dark and light.

I love this question and I love stories that explore who we are and how we deal with our darkness. It’s universal and timeless. I’m excited to see it explored in this way – with a timeless and universal creature who’s committed an infinite amount of sins but also done an infinite amount of good. I just hope that Moffat delivers a satisfying and layered resolution to this story arc.




  1. Kelli Shaver says:

    I love Matt Smith, and I like Moffat, and the idea he’s trying to explore is an interesting one, but you are right. There is something about it that’s just not coming together quite right. I feel like Moffat can write great character moments, but then he has a head full of ideas and just tries to do too much at once, so those get lost, dropped, or never fully explored. It’s like the show is being written by a creative with ADD. I appreciate and like what he’s trying to do, but it often falls short for the sake of [next big thing].

    His work on Sherlock is much more solid.

    At first, I thought everything would come down to the fact that people seem to be forgetting the Doctor left and right and Moffat’s stories have always placed a big emphasis on memories, going all the way back to Silence in the Library. It may still come down to that, but I feel like the question of “Doctor Who?” is equally, if not more so, a question of self-discovery.

    The Doctor’s not all sunshine and rainbows, but he’s not all fire and brimstone, either. In a lot of ways, he’s like everyone else, just in more super-concentrated amounts, since he’s had more time to pack it all in and go to extremes. I think he’s wrestling with the things he’s done vs. who he wants to be, and maybe even struggling a bit with the latter, as well.

    • I wonder what the difference is in regards to Sherlock being a more solid story. I don’t feel like it’s all over the map the way this era of Doctor Who seems to be.

      I felt very let down and underwhelmed by last season of Doctor Who but that feeling has ebbed a bit knowing that we’re still delving into ‘the question’ this season. I wonder if he’ll wrap this up when the Ponds leave or if it will continue to be relevant when the new companion comes on board.

      • Kelli Shaver says:

        Maybe it’s the sci-fi element. Doctor Who is pretty much anything goes if you can create a way to justify it. Sherlock has some very real-world constraints, despite Homles’ genius and sociopathic tendencies.

        I hope it gets wrapped up at Christmas and maybe the 2nd half of the season is just dealing with the aftermath. I feel like Matt’s Doctor is in some ways reverting back to the anger that Eccleston’s Doctor came in with, for a lot of the same reasons, and there are clearly issues going on there that the character needs to deal with. I hope it’s not glossed over, but I also hope it’s not dragged out too long.

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