Oh, for heaven’s sake. OK, here’s the Daily Mail headline.
The entire story (which, by the way, features a colossal spoiler in one of its photos regarding the return of a particular character, so be careful) basically details the shoot of the 50th anniversary special, which features David Tennant playing some form or other of the Tenth Doctor. “It’s unclear how bosses will explain the presence of two Doctors on set,” opines the writer, “given they play the same person”.
I submitted a comment – unsurprisingly rejected – which suggested that for someone assigned to write a Doctor Who article, Ms Fitzmaurice was generally ignorant of both the laws of time travel and ‘The Three Doctors’, ‘The Five Doctors’ and ‘The Two Doctors’ (as well as any number of spin-off items). God, even ‘Time Crash’ stood up scientifically (just about), even if it is overrated. The likely alternative (and I pointed this out as well) is that she knows exactly what she’s talking about but has purposely written a dodgy headline precisely to generate comments from self-confessed geeks – such as yours truly – and up the hit count. Neither approach, of course, may be considered responsible journalism.
I’m not the only person to have pointed this out, as the comments show, but the theories are already flying in thick and fast. These remarks appear to revolve principally around Tennant portraying the Human Doctor in the best-left-forgotten ‘Journey’s End’ storyline, and his escape into our universe from the parallel Earth, with Rose in tow. It could be, of course, that this is exactly what Moffat is planning, although I shudder to think what’ll happen if that’s what he does. For one thing it’ll be a bit of a damp squib given that it’s the fiftieth anniversary of the show. For another, I really, really don’t want to see any more of Rose snogging the Doctor. It would mean having to look at Billie Piper’s teeth.
Outlandish conspiracy theories are endemic in online discussion, and with good reason: they’re actively encouraged. The problem with Doctor Who these days, you see, is that the fanboy contingent have become the production team. In other words, people who grew up loving the show are now working on it. In principle, I don’t have a problem with this. Tennant was a fan of the show, and he turned out fine, apart from the camera mugging. Douglas Adams had been watching since the first season many years before he took over as script editor. Matthew Waterhouse grew up loving the programme, and he – actually, I’m just going to leave that one dangling…
But here’s the thing. Years ago, they made the now legendary Snakes on a Plane. It was almost ready for release, and then word got out and there was a maelstrom of excitement on the internet, with a myriad twenty-somethings blogging from their parents’ basements about how much they hoped the film would contain X, or how much they hoped Samuel L. Jackson would say or do Y. So great was the buzz that the crew did five days of re-shoots to incorporate the wishes of the public. The resulting film was a disaster: a badly-written, incoherent mess not even worthy of tagging as ‘amassed a cult reputation’ in its future Wikipedia entry. Now, I’m never sure as to whether the input from the fans elevated the film from ‘utterly diabolical’ to only ‘fairly dreadful’, or whether they simply made it worse, but even the most worthy of inclusions was not enough to save Snakes on a Plane from being generally rubbish.
The moral of this little tale, of course, is that you don’t let the general public work on the scripts. Philip Pullman (I think) said “Writing is not a democracy”, and he was correct. It’s very easy for us to say what we want to have in the show. That’s exactly how ‘Doomsday’ got written: it was a fanboy’s wet dream, written by a fanboy. It was also dire. The question posed in the story is ‘What would happen if the Daleks met the Cybermen?’ and the answer, at least as far as Davies is concerned, is that they’d stand on opposite sides of a warehouse bellowing “EXTERMINATE!” and “DELETE!” (terminology which, by the way, has become the Cybermen’s new catchphrase despite the fact that it is essentially incompatible with their whole raison d’etre, which in turn is one of many reasons why it was NEVER USED ON THE SHOW BEFORE 2006). The whole sequence was “what the fans wanted”, and it was the televisual equivalent of an Atari 2600 playing Pong with itself, and about as exciting. What do the wishes of the fans matter? We know what we want, but we don’t know what we need. When it comes to what works for the show, we don’t know shit.
I include myself in this little number. I admit that half the reviews I submit to this blog spend much of their word count picking holes in the episode in question, particularly when it comes to New Who. Part of this is a reaction to Moffat’s clever-clever web of complications (in other words, he’s determined to show off, and I’m determined to prove that most of what he does is all flash and sparkle). But I don’t have any excuses for not actually being able to write any better than he does, except that I don’t get paid a five figure sum to show that I can. In other words, the writers are in a position of responsibility and if I can show that what they’ve done is unworthy of the show and its legacy, I’m damn well going to do it.
But this does not mean, in turn, that I can do any better. I consider myself reasonably adept at prose – I wouldn’t write in this way if I didn’t – but I know my limits. I can’t write Who, although that hasn’t stopped me having a go. I’m just not good enough. And if you’re reading this, statistically speaking it’s likely that you’re not good enough either. That’s a harsh truth, but that’s the way it is. By all means attempt it. You’ll never know until you try. You may surprise us all. But the ability to deconstruct an episode does not grant you the ability to restructure it. Put another way, if I showed you a precariously-built Lego tower, wobbly and uneven and full of foundational problems, you’d find it fairly easy to tear it down. But that doesn’t mean that you’d be able to rebuild it any better, at least not with the available bricks.
I don’t mean to discourage you; I really don’t. But I’ve read a great number of blogs and ‘submitted scripts’ and the fact is that relatively few of us have the ability to write successful, compelling television. The fan-fiction I’ve encountered is proof enough of that. Still, our ability to comment blinds us, and allows us to assume that we know better than the writers. Alternative versions of stories and novelisations is one part of it, but nowhere is this arrogance more prevalent than the mind-numbing conspiracy theories concerning what this or that may mean.
The Morbius Doctors is an obvious example. The now-famous sequence of a succession of figures in the Doctor’s head may be previous incarnations of him, but they’re most likely Morbius. There is an ambiguity of sorts – and Philip Hinchliffe himself has admitted that he meant to imply that Hartnell might not be the first – but this was in the days where you could do that sort of thing, and Occam’s Razor applies very strongly here. Despite the subsequent clarification in ‘The Five Doctors’, in which the First Doctor explains “Goodness me, there are five of me now!”, there is still a group of fans who believe that you can count the Morbius Doctors as prior incarnations of the Doctor himself rather than of Morbius. This would make Davison the Thirteenth – the apocryphal limit to which a Doctor can respawn – and that this, in turn, explains his closing remarks in ‘The Caves of Adrozani’, in which he says “I might regenerate…it feels different this time” (along with the subsequent circle of heads and “Die, Doctor!”). Of course, his consumption of a particularly deadly poison, one which caused a difficult and traumatic regeneration, is no explanation at all.
Bringing the series up to date, there were people who genuinely believed that when the Doctor was ostensibly murdered at Lake Silencio, that was it. No more Doctor Who. Moffat was putting a cap on things, the way that Rowling did at the end of The Deathly Hallows by ageing the characters almost twenty years and severely limiting the scope of any subsequent fan-fiction. We’d have two hundred years’ worth of Big Finish productions and that’s your lot. The fact that anyone thought the BBC would let him get away with this treatment of one of their biggest cash cows is frankly flabbergasting. It suggests we know far less about the nature of television than we think.
Someone else I was speaking with the other day has their own ideas as to what’s going on: they posited the idea of three Doctors running around in much the same way as there are two Doctors in parts of series five. Central to this theory is a supposed inconsistency in the Eleventh Doctor’s accent, as well as the fact that he’s being very vague about his age at the moment. I pointed out, in turn, that the Doctor’s age has been ambiguous for years – the Sixth was “900 years old”, the Seventh was “953” and the Eighth Doctor spent a hundred years with amnesia and a further six hundred living on a planet somewhere, although none of that’s canon. The multiple Doctors theory may yet turn out to be accurate, of course, but reaching it from this sort of starting point is an almost unfathomable stretch.
This one, however, is my current favourite.
Bits of it hold water. But then you have Oswin Oswald crash-landing, undergoing surgery and then somehow becoming the Dalek Emperor. Which, I’m sorry, makes about as much sense as the theory that Tinky Winky was a subversive advocate for homosexual behaviour designed to corrupt our children. Never mind the physical side of it, it totally undermines any sense of pathos we might have for Clara. She is utterly and irrevocably corrupted, becoming a genocidal mass murderer. Moffat isn’t going to do that to Clara. I have no idea what he’s planning (I’m still edging towards the Susan Foreman connection, particularly given her birthdate), but I can’t see the Bad Wolf thing playing out – and that’s even bearing in mind my habit of being wrong about this sort of thing.
Ultimately, of course, this discussion is probably harmless. It’s a terrific timewaster, but wild speculation is actively encouraged by Moffat, who leaves clues and red herrings all over the place for the rest of us to follow. Taken to an extreme, the people who spot the inconsistencies in these things are the people who ultimately go on to save the world. But we shouldn’t let that blind us to the truth: when it comes to the grand plan, we know far less than we think we do, and far less about how television is made than we’d like to believe. The internet has turned us all into self-proclaimed experts, and as someone who is relatively enlightened as to his own ignorance (and whose words on here you must never, ever take too seriously, even on those rare occasions that I’m right) I would like to plead for a bit of restraint. Admitting that we know nothing is an essential first step. And ultimately I am sure of nothing but this: that it is probably what the Doctor would have wanted.