Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Toby Haynes
In order to prevent a star liner from crashing, The Doctor must convince a cruel man to use his technology to open a path in the cloud cover.
“Halfway out of the dark.”
Let’s get the positives out of the way first (always a great way to start). I think the visuals of this episode are astounding. Quite beautiful, from the steam-punkish society to the fish flying in the clouds. And what a fun idea, flying fish. At least it is something different from a show that seems to spend way too much time on Earth. Michael Gambon is a great actor and he performs Kazran Sardik with an amazing amount of sympathy and cruelty. Through the strength of his performance, I truly believe the change. The music was good, and overall, I enjoyed a story that had a lot to say about human pain and selfishness, albeit a more general selfishness, not so much those Dickens was taking on when he wrote the story from which this episode takes its name. But the general idea of trying to see what brought a man to this point is still present. So in all, I enjoyed it.
But that doesn’t mean it is perfect and it doesn’t mean I liked everything about it.
Continuity Errors. I’m sure many people have already twigged the complete retelling of Steven Moffat’s first short story in the form of this Christmas special. Continuity Errors was a brilliant short story in which The Doctor needs to check out a book from a galactic library. The book will help in stop a war. Unfortunately, the book is in a restricted area and the librarian won’t let him through. While not written in first person, the narration follows the librarian, giving her perspective on everything that happens. She never leaves the library, and The Doctor repeatedly meddles in her past, attempting to change her personality to such a degree as to finally allow him to check out the book. A Christmas Carol is the same story, just with more urgency. Now, to a degree I don’t mind that Moffat would retell this story. It is a short story in a long out-of-print collection. Why not put a new spin on it and re-release it into a more permanent format? The only problem is that he has been mining this particular story for virtually everything he has written. This story has a line that declares monster are afraid of The Doctor, a great line, actually. This line has been repeated in The Girl in the Fire Place and The Eleventh Hour. A planetary library re-appears in Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead. In that same story we have the introduction of River Song, an smart-talking archaeologist who bears a slight resemblance to Bernice Summerfield, a companion originally created by Paul Cornell, who also appears in Continuity Errors. If you can track down the story, it is certainly worth a read because it fits with what the New Adventures line was doing with The Seventh Doctor at the time, and it is fascinating as an indicator for how Steven Moffat would approach Doctor Who when he began to write for it. Sadly, I think this is one of the more irritating aspects of the Moffat era, the recycling of material. A detailed analysis of Steven Moffat’s stories will make recurring elements glaringly obvious. The Doctor talks to children . . . a lot. This is somewhat new. Not only that, he has a tendency to talk to little girls and later meet them when they have grown up, only to find that they are in love with him (Girl in the Fireplace, The Eleventh Hour). We have Sally Sparrow helping a temporally displaced Doctor get back to his TARDIS (How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Blink). We have a dead character continuing to communicate to haunting effect (Silence in the Library, Time of the Angels). We also have a race of aliens who dress in suits, are bald, and exist just out of the vision of humans. These aliens follow us and feed off us in some way. (The Floof in Corner of the Eye, The Silence). Perhaps we could more accurately predict the outcomes of Steven Moffat stories if we study his back catalogue in greater detail. We shouldn’t even limit ourselves to Doctor Who. There is a scene in Jekyll where Thomas Jackman talks to Mr. Hyde via pre-recorded videotape. Quite similar to the Easter eggs on Sally Sparrow’s DVDs in Blink. So while I don’t begrudge Moffat drawing more heavily from his out-of-print story, doing so once more makes him look a bit like a one-trick pony.
Another issue that gives me serious pause is how cavalier The Doctor is at manipulating someone’s past for a specific result. This seems to fly in the face of certain “rules” of the show as established by David Whitaker and altered, but still largely upheld, by Denis Spooner (and other script editors of the show). It has always been a tenuous rule that The Doctor cannot meddle in established Earth history (read: our history) except to set right what went wrong, but he can meddle in Earth’s future and the histories of other planets. However, when he meddled in the future and histories of other planets, we are to never explicitly point out that this is what he is doing, changing history, just someone else’s history. In A Christmas Carol, and much of Series 5, we are told time can be re-written, and this episode goes a long way to illustrate it. In the pre-Deadly Assassins view of The Time Lords, preventing this type of meddling is one of the major functions of The Time Lords. Without The Time Lords, New Who has had to establish certain natural correctives for the universe. Thus, we have The Reapers in Father’s Day. We have Adelaide commit suicide in Waters of Mars. And while these episodes did create very small changes from the original timeline (as did The Aztecs, where the non-interference rule was first stated), these changes seem very personal and very inconsequential. But the general theme of not changing established events is upheld. No more. The rule looks to be dead. The only question I have: To what end has Moffat dispensed with the rule? Is he re-writing Doctor Who to suit his particular story-telling devices (with a large emphasis on time travel and manipulation) or is he setting The Eleventh Doctor up for a great, catastrophic fall. If the latter, I may find the journey worth it, if the former, I may look on The Moffat era as a collection of good stories that ultimately killed Doctor Who. Okay, so maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration, but a rule cannot be broken without consequences, and breaking a rule as big as this needs to have severe consequences. I don’t think we have seen that yet. At least when The Seventh Doctor would break the rule, we are given the impression that he took a lot of time and care to limit the damage. That he would follow the changes and alter other histories to establish the minimal amount of change to the overall timeline. While this is breaking the non-meddling rule, it is showing that there are distinct consequences to breaking it and that you must exercise a large amount of caution and put a great deal of work and thought into the change. You cannot be flippant about it, which The Eleventh Doctor is.
And just who is The Eleventh Doctor anyway? The reason I ask is because the scenes between The Doctor and old Kazran don’t seem terribly powerful except when old Kazran is caught in weakness (as when he almost hits a child). But when Kazran is strong, The Doctor has no authority over him and seems to have very little presence. This Doctor seems to relate more to children than adults, to the point that he can’t seem to command a room until he has made everyone aware of their weaknesses. You could probably win shouting matches with this Doctor. However, when The Doctor visits young Kazran, he becomes more of a big brother, an imaginary friend. He is not an authority figure, not someone you could go to for advice or strength. He is a buddy. This is most-strikingly played out when adult Kazran (the mid-twenties version) decides to not go to The Doctor for help. He goes with the stronger figure, which is his father. The stronger will bends Kazran, and it is sad to say that the stronger will is not The Doctor. This Doctor is a bit like Peter Pan, child-like, somewhat weak. And I don’t just mean that Matt Smith is a young actor. The Doctor himself is being written as child-like. There are moments of an adult shining through, but this Doctor seems to prefer the company of children. He is far enough out from The Time War to be a virtually new man (so to speak) and has an innocence that his previous two incarnations didn’t have. But this Doctor doesn’t seem to be growing up, and it makes me wonder what will happen. Steven Moffat is obviously building toward something. Will that something make The Doctor grow up?