Doctor Who Psychology edited by Travis Langley

Disappointing. Most of the essays are too short to be rewarding, stopping just when they might be getting to something interesting. Several of them repeat the same answers to the same questions (what is the Doctor’s personality?).

However, a few of the essays stand out as offering interesting takes on the Doctor and his world:

  • The Doctor is a combination of id (easily bored, cravings for fish fingers and custard) and superego (this world is defended). No discernible ego, though: his companions fill that role for him (!)
  • The Doctor and the Cybermen represent opposed views of masculinity. The Cybermen are an emotionally stunted (but all too common) masculinity: closed off, suppressing emotion, stoic and expressionless. The Doctor is a healthier alternative: still paternal, still protective, but emotionally open and compassionate.
  • Weeping Angels are terrifying because they turn what should be a Great Mother archetype into the Shadow. From nurturers they become deepest evil; and worse, we cannot run and hide from this evil, we must look at it, must confront it, even though we don’t want to.

Making Peace with Doctor Who Season 8

There’s a moment in the first episode of Season 8 where The Doctor turns to Clara and says: “You can’t see me. You look at me, but you can’t see me.”

Re-watching the episode recently, along with the rest of the eighth season, I felt that line was delivered from Peter Capaldi to me, to the audience, a plea for us to give him a chance, to let go of anything we thought we knew about The Doctor and just see him, see his version of The Doctor, and judge him based solely on that.

I’m glad I gave him that chance, and watched Season 8 all the way through, because Capaldi’s Doctor is in many ways amazing, and very fun to watch.

He’s got the grumpiness I liked from the First Doctor, the alien perspective of the Fourth, and the arrogance of the Third. Those happen to be some of my favorite Doctors, and his blend of their characteristics, combined with his own no-nonsense take, is fantastic.

Capaldi’s no-frills, no apologies, no sentimental nonsense version of The Doctor is a refreshing change after Smith and Tennant. Gone are the dewy pauses and the hand-wringing. Instead, we get a Doctor that doesn’t waste time over the lives he can’t save, not when he can spend that time saving others.

The perfect expression of all this is in the Mummy on the Orient Express episode. The Doctor doesn’t hesitate to use the mummy’s victims to gather all the information he can, asking them question after question even as they’re dying, with no apology for not being able to save them and no comfort offered — save that their answers can help the others escape the same fate. He’s splendidly hard-nosed, which makes his last-minute gamble in directing the mummy away from its next victim and onto himself all the more powerful: you know this is a Doctor that would not put himself in danger lightly.

Granted, in order to enjoy Capaldi’s performance, I had to drop a lot of habits I’ve built up watching the new seasons of Doctor Who. I had to let go of any need for continuity, taking each episode as it came and forgetting anything that had gone before. I also had to drop my need for plausibility in plot and circumstance; most (ok, all) of the episodes contained elements that stretched beyond the merely fantastic and into the completely impossible or nonsensical.

In this, it helped that I’d just come off watching a lot of Classic Doctor Who episodes. The same approach let me enjoy them: don’t worry about continuity, don’t worry about the special effects, don’t worry about the setup making any sort of sense. Just watch The Doctor and his Companion having adventures, enjoy the dialogue, and let your imagination fill in the rest.

The Decline of Doctor Who

Earlier seasons had episodes that were standalone: the Doctor and his Companions having adventures.

Moffat’s tenure shifted the focus away from the Doctor, away from adventure, and toward drama: Amy and Rory’s relationship, Amy and the Doctor’s relationship, the Doctor and River Song’s relationship.

In the first four seasons, these sort of themes were subtext, part of the background fabric of the show. Moffat’s tenure brought these elements front and center, to the point where you can’t pull an episode out of the Sixth Season that doesn’t deal with some aspect of the Doctor’s death scene from the first episode. The entire season is basically setup for that one event, which means you can skip the entire season and be happier for it.

This leads me to the contradiction in my feelings about Smith’s time as the Doctor: I like Smith’s Doctor, but I hate the episodes he’s in. Smith’s ability to portray a younger, more quirky Doctor one minute and an older, more stern Doctor the next was and is amazing to me. His portrayal is still one of my favorites, and yet, because of the way they used him, I don’t enjoy watching his seasons nearly as much as I like watching Tenant and Eccleston’s.

It’s not until Season Seven that we start getting episodes that are fun to rewatch (“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, for example). And only once Clara joins the Doctor do we get consistently good episodes.

Even with Clara, though, we can’t escape the Moffat approach of wrapping the Companion up with the Big Bad of the season and defining her mostly by what she does for the Doctor (Impossible Girl? The Girl Who Waited?). Martha Jones used to be my least favorite companion, but compared with Amy or Clara she’s incredibly kick-ass: a doctor, a smart woman who kept her head when the hospital she worked in got transported to the Moon, who had a life beyond the Doctor and went on to be a hero in her own right.

I almost think Doctor Who needs a reboot. Not just a new Doctor (we got that, hooray), but a scratching-out of most of the Doctor’s history since Moffat took over. I mean at this point, the Doctor we have is pretty lame: he’s 2,000 years old but lived in one single town for half of that time, his grave at Trenzalore – where he must never go – is not really his grave, and he’s given up caring or acting in the world because he’s lost his confidence.

We need to wipe the Moffat years out, and start over.

We can do it by making the current Doctor not the real Doctor.

During the end of Season Five (“The Big Bang”) what Amy Pond remembered back into existence was not the real Doctor. It was the Raggedy Man, her Doctor, not the real one.

The real Doctor got shunted off to Gallifrey during the explosion to seal the rift (emergency temporal shift). He was trapped there, and regenerated into a new body.

We introduce this as a season closer, when Gallifrey comes back. The fake Doctor sacrifices himself, the Time Lords return, and the real Doctor emerges. We can drop all the history we don’t like from the last three seasons, and go forward with a revamped show. We can get a younger Doctor, a not-so-needy Doctor, and (if we’re lucky) a female Doctor.

How to Fix Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

This episode is irredeemable. From the bad acting, the heavy-handed rehash of ideas that have been explored in previous Doctor Who episodes, and how bored the Doctor seems at everything that happens (I swear, Capaldi takes deadpan to a whole new level), it’s one of the worst episodes I’ve ever seen. The only thing we really learn about the Doctor or Clara is confirmation that yes, Capaldi and Coleman have absolutely zero chemistry on screen.

Skip it. Watch episode “Dalek” from Season One instead. It’s the same theme, executed better, and without the Doctor-is-just-anti-Dalek retcon.

How to Fix Doctor Who: Deep Breath

(Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead)

This episode is so uneven, like a miniature version of Moffat’s tenure at Doctor Who. There are some brilliant ideas – having the Doctor bring a dinosaur along for the ride after it swallowed the Tardis – and some utterly daft ones – who wants to see an older man flail about in a nightgown? – all mixed together, but never congealing into something coherently enjoyable.

Of all the things that went wrong, though, there’s a huge missed opportunity that stands out.

Clara should have left at the end of the episode.

Imagine if she did. There’s no last-minute phone call from Matt Smith manipulating her into staying, no puppy-dog eyes from the current Doctor to beg her to stay. No. The Doctor touches down in Clara’s time, she asks if she’s home, and he says “Yes.”

He drops her off, and explains why: his past self made a mistake in thinking of her in a romantic way, and some unknown person is manipulating their relationship. Until he knows who that person is, and why they’re doing it, he’s not going to play into their plans and perpetuate his predecessor’s mistake. This is a different Doctor, a Doctor that’s not as needy, and he’s strong enough to let her go when he sees it’s best.

Making that the final scene would recast the episode as the breakup of the Doctor and Clara, giving it some emotional heft, and making his abandonment of her in the middle a kind of foreshadowing. It would also give the season a little more tension: will Clara and the Doctor ever travel together again? Will he find out who’s been manipulating them? Will he take on a new long-term companion, or will this Doctor be more independent than the past?

I feel like this approach is something an earlier Steven Moffat would have done. The writer of The Girl in the Fireplace and Forest of the Dead would have seen the opportunity for a defining, bittersweet moment, and taken it. Instead Moffat’s new Doctor, perhaps like Moffat himself, does not know when to let go.