So it’s probably fair to say I’m no longer as big a Doctor Who fan as I’ve been in recent years.
Here are some of my thoughts on The Snowmen.
Watching The Snowmen was a bit of a watershed moment for me in my life as a Doctor Who fan. It was the moment when I realised I’m no longer proud that Doctor Who is on telly. Previously, whenever there was a Love & Monsters, or a Cyberking, or yet another deus ex machina, I’d remind myself that, for all its faults, at least it’s on the air again, after the cancellation, and the wilderness years (and Dimensions in Time, and the TV movie.)
But now I’m indifferent to the show. Perhaps even averse.
I think this is because the Doctor has never before been such a blatant mouth-piece for the person running him. And I find some of the (apparent) views of the person who’s currently running him fairly dubious.
I’m just going to dive right in here…
One thing I’ve noticed Steven Moffat loves to do is to withhold his patriarchal, middle-class, liberal male characters, so we can see how terrible things would be if the patriarchal, middle-class, liberal man (St-Steven, is that you?) wasn’t around. Oh no, Sherlock’s dead; oh no, the Doctor’s trapped in the Pandorica forever; oh no, the Doctor’s hurtling towards his inevitable and inescapable doom on the shore of Lake Silencio; or in the case of this Christmas Special, oh no, the Doctor’s retired (and also, he seems to hate us now for some reason)!
All examples of Steven Moffat’s continual fetishising of his characters.
Both Sherlock and the Doctor are constantly presented as that man. That impossible man. He’ll stun us, he’ll impress us, he’s the centre of the/our universe, oh no, he’s gone, oh great, he’s back and everything’s cool, he might be cruel to us now and then, he might yell at us, or berate us, or make us feel unworthy of his precious time; he might make us feel guilty for something we had no control over, but we can forgive him because he’s that man. That impossible man.
"The Doctor is not kind. He stands above this world and doesn’t interfere in the affairs of its inhabitants. He is not your salvation nor your protector."
Yeah, I know the idea of the Doctor wanting some ‘alone time’ was introduced in this episode and routinely dispensed with about half an hour later (not that Moffat has ever been averse to introducing game changing ideas completely out of the blue, and quite often off-screen). But, like, yes, he’s lost two very close friends recently. But when has he ever been through something so traumatic that he’s wanted to retire? When Adric died? When Rose got sucked out of this universe? Nope, nope, nope. IMO, it’s just another plot point Moffat shoehorned into the story, this time so he can demonstrate how utterly horrible it would be if the Doctor was no longer around.
I’m not sure I agree with that though. “The Doctor is not kind,” asserts Madame Vastra. No, he’s not! In fact, if I had a friend like him who suddenly disappeared, I’d be glad the mopey, passive-aggressive sod was gone. He’s mean. He’s a bully. He treats Strax like an idiot - as if the Doctor is a smart arse kid who keeps a significantly less smart kid around so that he can constantly humiliate him to feel better about himself. When he has Clara trapped in the carriage, he treats her as if he owns her. In the early 1970s, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was condescending, uppity grouch, and even back then he wasn’t so painfully horrible to watch. He never treated Liz Shaw, or Jo Grant, or Sarah Jane Smith as if they were his property, whose minds he could wipe should the mood take him.
And what the heck was this (here paraphrased) bullsplat:
"After all I’ve done for the universe, don’t you think I deserve something in return, just this once!?"
The Doctor as Mr. Nice Guy TM - perfect! That’s exactly the message Doctor Who should embody؟ Quite literally, the message here is: do something nice for a person/a planet/a universe, and they will owe you something, and if it looks like things aren’t going to go your way, it’s totally OK to demand the person/planet/universe give you what you want, and/or berate the person/planet/universe for not giving it to you. This is Mr. Nice Guy syndrome. That is exactly what this is.
And the thing is, of course a character we’re supposed to root for can behave abhorrently. In any kind of story. But it’s the way their behaviour is handled in the context of the story which makes us root for them. Here, the Doctor is not called out in any way for his overbearing, unfair speech/actions. By the end, the Doctor’s got his groove back, and off he goes, into space and time, and all is right with the universe again. This suggests to me that Moffat doesn’t actually see that there’s anything wrong at all with the Doctor’s actions, and the audience is expected to put anything unfair, or bullying the Doctor did in this episode down to the fact he was sad.
Which equates in my mind to a potentially very disturbing trend of apologism which runs just under the narrative of Doctor Who these days.
We are supposed to excuse the man his outbursts because he’s done so much for us. Our saviour, the Doctor. (Same with Sherlock.) And his amazing group of friends will rally round him to enable him to be alone when people finally need him, and they’ll big him up with portentous speeches about how he’s not your saviour, don’t you dare go looking for him, he is not your saviour.
I’ll tell you one thing the Doctor shouldn’t (be written to) expect after years and years of saving the universe, after making himself so invaluable to us, after setting himself up as our man, [our] impossible man. He doesn’t get to do everything on his terms. He doesn’t get to alienate us, and make us feel rejected whenever he gets the hump, when he doesn’t feel like being that impossible man.
Because how many little boys want to be the Doctor? And how many little boys are being told by Doctor Who that they can have everything on their terms?
As for the story, it was messy and skeleton thin, presumably to make room for all the (IMO completely groundless) ‘character’ stuff that Moffat tried to fit in. As for Clara, she’s yet another Steven Moffat patented W.O.M.A.N. - sassy, sexy, confusing, duplicitous, and by this point, a totally worn out trope. As for the new TARDIS interior, I absolutely love it. Yes, I do, I love it. But as one of my favourite Doctor Who critical writers, Gary Gillat, wrote of series 7’s ever changing opening titles: “it’s like changing the curtains as the house burns down”.
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