DeFlip Side #142: The Timey Wimey Factor

DS142.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

Well, “The Day of Doctor” has come and gone, and of one of the biggest events in Whovian history I can say this: it almost—almost—renews my faith in show runner Steven Moffat’s ability to bring Doctor Who in interesting new directions.

I say almost, because you never really know what you’re going to get with Moffat. It all hinges on the timey wimey factor.

Fortunately, the 50th anniversary special turned out to be the perfect combination of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff, embodying everything that I simultaneously love and dislike about Moffat’s run on Doctor Who.

Before I elaborate, I should put my Doctor Who fandom into context.

I’m an extremely late convert to the Doctor—like 45 years late—and I came around somewhat reluctantly.

My first experience with the last of the Time Lords came almost two decades ago. My local PBS station was rerunning the series from the first episode, and I eagerly tuned in to finally see what everyone loved so much. But instead of a transformative sci-fi experience, I got a cheap, hokey kids’ show. After about three episodes I decided that the Doctor would get along just fine without me.

So when the 2005 reboot happened, I was almost studiously oblivious.  Then three things entered my time and relative dimension in space to change that: Netflix, BBC America, and a man named Captain Jack.

BBC America began airing first season Torchwood and I really enjoyed the characters—especially Jack. Thanks to Netflix, I quickly got up to speed. I knew that it was a Doctor Who spin-off, but the show seemed to avoid the Doctor almost as studiously as I had and didn’t seem to miss him. Still, the completest in me demanded to know more about Jack, how he became immortal and just what the rest of the story was.

And after watching Jack’s first appearance in Doctor Who’s “The Empty Child” there was no turning back—especially once I learned that I wouldn’t need to revisit decades worth of old shows to get on board. It wasn’t a mistake that Russell T. Davies centered his first episode on Rose. She was a cypher for everyone like me who didn’t know the Doctor from a Dalek.

But the real draw was Christopher Eccleston. His take on the Doctor was terrific—serious but not stodgy, friendly yet formidable. He had a gravity befitting the last of the Time Lords. And I still consider his Doctor the best—especially compared to the more broadly humorous David Tennant and the likable but sometimes irritatingly loony Matt Smith.

Which brings us back to my earlier comments about loving and disliking Moffat’s run in equal measure. Early Moffat episodes like “The Girl in the Fireplace” and the brilliant “Blink” reveled in the esoteric potential of Doctor Who, bringing a witty and cavalier note to the show’s time travel elements. It was a refreshing alternative to the massive alien invasion stories of Russell T. Davies. So when Moffat became show runner I was psyched.

But it soon proved too much of a good thing. Moffat became obsessed with outdoing himself, and stories and characters took a back seat to his mania for increasingly complex time travel plots. Hence, the timey wimey factor.

Recent seasons of Doctor Who have become self-fulfilling puzzle boxes—exercises in needlessly convoluted, non-linear gimmickry that ultimately wind up coalescing into a mishmash of overly complicated, implausible series of torturously connected events.

So there was every reason to fear that “The Day of the Doctor” would be a tour-de-force of self-indulgent, timey-wimey Moffatian nonsense.

And with a flurry of plot elements like U.N.I.T. and 3-D Gallifrayian paintings and the Time Wars and Queen Elizabeth and time vortexes being crammed into the opening minutes, I thought we were sunk.

But then David Tennant and Matt Smith met on screen and all of my concerns evaporated in the face of their sheer awesomeness. Their chemistry and humor won the day. And John Hurt only augmented things, giving us license to laugh at some of the more ridiculously childish aspects that have come to define the Doctor.

No one has suffered more under Moffat’s tenure than the Doctor himself. I often feel bad for Matt Smith, called upon to be a manic clown, an impish rascal and a vengeful tyrant, often in the same scene. Luckily he has the humor and charisma to pull it off most of the time. But the shtick is wearing thin. And it undoubtedly would have broken under the increased weight of David Tennant’s idiosyncrasies.

Hurt provided a weighty counterpoint to ground the proceedings. And all of them were flat-out brilliant together. As much as I would have liked to see Eccleston in the mix, shoehorning another Doctor into the main story would have ruined it.

And Moffat even delivered on the timey wimey front. The various plot McGuffins and time shifts actually lined up very neatly, and gave the added bonus of clearing up lingering continuity questions. And the use of Clara and fake Rose was limited but pivotal, acknowledging that the Doctor needs his companions as much as he does his TARDIS.

But Moffat’s real triumph was organically working all 13 Doctors into the climax. If this blew away a Johnny-come-lately like me, I imagine that it was positively orgasmic for long-time fans.

And that’s why I’ve almost regained my faith in Moffat. “The Day of the Doctor” proves that he still does have compelling stories to tell, and it has given the Doctor a renewed purpose.

I look forward seeing how this plays out, especially with Peter Capaldi steering the TARDIS. He looks like he’ll bring some necessary weight back to the show and allow the pendulum to swing back a little. I hope Moffat doesn’t squander the opportunity.

But even if he does, my short time as a Doctor Who fan has taught me not to take it too seriously. The ride is still a lot of fun, and change is only a regeneration away.

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