Hello geeks, whovians, and assorted tumbl-folk! With only a few days left until the premier of the new season of Doctor Who… well, a few hours… oh, it’s over? Man, I gotta stop procrastinating! Anyways, I thought that I would take a look back at The Smith Era of Doctor Who, comprising series 5-7, and why it didn’t really work.
The Smith Era was marked both by a huge influx of new fans and the alienation of many of the older ones. It was heavily controlled by the new showrunner, Steven Moffat, a controversial figure both for his writing and his personal remarks (which will NOT be talked about here. That’s a whole different thing.)
Before I get into the review proper, I should note that, unlike my normal reviews, there will be MANY SPOILERS in this article.
I did enjoy the Smith Era. Even most 11th Doctor haters admit that Matt Smith did a fantastic job of portraying our favorite Time Lord, with a performance unsurpassed since… well, the last guy. It’s been a good few years, okay?
Additionally, as with most eras of Doctor Who, those who didn’t enjoy the running arc managed to get into the standalone episodes, which have only been improving with the inclusion of more writing talent and significantly higher production values. However, this has been easily the most arc-heavy era of Doctor Who, surpassing even the rubbish “Key to Time” episodes, and unfortunately, there were many things that made the arc hard to enjoy.
One of the big problems was in the tone: dark, but really not dark enough. The idea of the Doctor being a morally ambiguous character is hardly without precedent, going back to the manipulative 7th Doctor, or even the ethically apathetic 1st Doctor. “The Waters of Mars” is considered by many (including me) to be one of the better episodes of the show because it tries to look at the negative side effects that comes with immense, history-altering power. However, like that episode, the Smith Era doesn’t really go far enough.
The first real sin the Doctor is accused of is of putting his companions in danger, forcing them to put their faith in him and ultimately letting them down. The problem is… it really doesn’t hold up. The Doctor never forces people to join him, and is always shown as totally willing to drop them off at home should the danger to them become too great. Additionally, almost every companion joins the Doctor during some life-or-death adventure, so it’s not like they don’t know that there are risks that come with TARDIS trips. And hell, even when the Doctor straight up lies to his friends, it’s always to trick them OUT of harms way, never into it.
Later on we get “The Day of the Doctor”. Now for the record, I did enjoy this episode for being well-written, well-acted, really epic, and altogether fun. But I did not like what came out of it. With one wibbly-wobbly deus ex machina, Moffat managed to write out seven seasons worth of guilt. No longer was the Doctor the man who had to choose between killing his people and dooming the universe. All his angst and self-hate, as we discovered, was the result of time-travel induced amnesia. Even worse, it could have been totally avoided. Changing history is a staple of the show, so it could have been that he DID kill the Time Lords, but ended up changing his mind, going back in time, and stopping himself. But nope! It turns out the destruction of Gallifrey never even happened.
That’s not the only thing wrong with the Smith Era, sadly. Fact is, Moffat, as a writer, doesn’t care about logic. Don’t get me wrong, many of his stories make perfect sense. However, enough of his work on Doctor Who simply demonstrates that he’s more about making a spectacle than telling a good story. Whether it’s a giant Weeping Angel in Manhatten or the televised abomination that is Plastic Rory, Moffat does not think it’s important that things are explained, as long as they look cool and seem interesting.
There are more problems, of course, many of which were inherited from previous writers. RTD’s sexism, if anything, has increased under Moffat’s tenure, with the Doctor acting as some sort of intergalactic aphrodisiac for 21st century British women. I was sick of this crap by “Planet of the Dead”, and was literally yelling at the screen during “Time of the Doctor”. C’mon, Clara! I was really enjoying your platonic dynamic!
The whole trend of the universe being constantly imperiled and saved, something which started during the 4th Doctor era and only increases in frequency, is on full display here, with the Doctor saving all of creation at least three times in as many seasons. A word of advice: ramping up the stakes is not a good way to keep people interested, especially when the stakes literally cannot get any higher!
Overall, though, I still liked the Smith Era of Doctor Who. It was messy, half-baked, and illogical, but it was also epic, emotional, and had plenty of fun, creative episodes, both from Moffat and the others. It’s a good time for Moffat to hand the show over to someone else, but as that’s clearly not happening, I can only hope his writing will continue to improve.