Death and Doctor Who

While I disagree with some of the specifics,What Steven Moffat Doesn’t Understand About Grief, And Why It’s Killing Doctor Who illustrates the power of death in fiction and, arguably, why Doctor Who needs more of it.

When the new series started, the Doctor had been forced to kill two warring races before they consumed the universe with their Time War.  It was powerful.  It was emotional, and it was a great starting place from which a character could develop, a place where the heroic Doctor has to put aside his previous naive optimism, accept that even he can’t save everyone and acknowledge heroism requires sacrifice.

Gallifrey Falls No More

The 50th anniversary episode Day of the Doctor undid that tragedy…kind of.  Instead of killing off his own people, the Doctor is able to change history and lock them away frozen in a pocket universe.

I had my doubts about that conclusion.  It felt a bit like a do-over, like the main character wakes up and discover its all been a dream.  But I came to like it because while the angst will fade away, the new situation propels the plot forward, which the angst is no longer doing.  Now the Doctor is on a mission to figure out where the hell he put all the Time Lords.  (Have you checked beneath the couch cushions?)

Rory Williams

But the article is spot on about other issues.  When Rory, fiance of main companion Amy, is killed, it was painful and tragic.  But a couple of episodes later, he shows back up.  The Doctor just stares at him, as if to say “Well, what the hell are we going to do with this now?”  Then we learn this Rory is actually a robot, which kind of repairs the issue.  Then we change history and Rory is alive again, albeit with Robo-Rory’s memories, which makes no sense but allows for a few gags.

I didn’t care.  I love Rory as a character, but I could do nothing more than shrug at his return.

They proceed to kill him off or appear to kill him off several more times ( documents seven) in the series to the extent that it starts becoming its own gag.

It’s meaningless.

Deaths should not be punchlines.

In the end, Rory is captured by the Weeping Angels (twice) and is hurled back in time.  Amy follows.  It’s supposed to be tragic, as damage to the local timestream keeps the Doctor from traveling to their temporal destination.  But we learn Rory and Amy are happy in the past.  The main loss is the Doctor’s since he no longer has company.

Boo hoo.  He can pick up a new girl faster than Captain Kirk.

Clara Oswald

In Name of the Doctor, companion Clara throws herself into the Doctor’s timestream with the expectation it will kill her but also allow her to save the Doctor’s past.  Yet somehow the Doctor leaps after her, finds her and… well, they don’t actually tell us how they got out again, as the next episode has them both right as rain in modern-day Britain.

Rose Tyler

Rose is the first companion of the new series.  She exited by being sucked into a parallel universe.  Her parting with the Doctor, who she is in love with, was truly tragic.  Heroes have to sacrifice.  Except a year later the Doctor essentially ends up with a clone which needs to be tucked away, so it gets thrown into the parallel universe.  Rose gets her Doctor after all.

Apparently heroes don’t have to sacrifice after all.

This one has always really bothered me, in part because her original write-off was so good.


The notable exception to this trend is Adric, who appeared in the old series.  He sacrifices himself trying to save earth.  Fans were traumatized, sending letters of protest to the BBC to undo it.  But they didn’t.  Adric was dead and the TARDIS crew were going to have to deal with it.

No do-overs, not even in time travel shows.

Now, unlike the author of the original article that inspired me to write, I don’t think this trend is “killing” Doctor Who.  But it is a flaw.  Showrunner Steven Moffat likes unexpected twists (which often don’t make sense, but that’s a different issue).  But not everything needs a twist.  Sometimes the cliffhanger needs to be on an actual cliff.  Sometimes there needs to be the drama of dying.

The Next Regeneration

Up until now, current Doctor Matt Smith was understood to be Doctor #11.  In Night of the Doctor we learn he’s #12.  Now Moffat has said he’s actually #13, via regeneration hijinks.  Since a Doctor can only have 13 incarnations, when he dies in the Christmas episode they’re going to have to jump through hoops explaining Doctor #14, Peter Capaldi.

Why not wait for the next regeneration?  Why not let Capaldi be #13, which makes sense to everyone, and just deal with this as it naturally presents itself?   Then we could see Capaldi deal with his own impending mortality.  Instead, we get to see Smith deal with it for one episode, max.  Overacting will likely be involved.

Moffat is missing the point.  There’s a reason we lovingly joke about author R.R. Martin threatening to “kill another Stark” every time fans misbehave: because there was real gut-wrenching tragedy when he killed off Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, and subsequent deaths in the family and similarly gripped readers.

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