Saturday, 3 March 2018

Top Ten Worst Moffat Era Episodes, Part Two

(Previous article containing entries 6-10 here).
Basing an entire season's drama on whether the title character
of a decades old series will die is an awful writing move.

5 - The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon (Series 6, Episodes 1 & 2)
Written by Steven Moffat

I went camping in Easter 2011 and it was terrible, just terrible. The worst aspect, for me, was not being able to see The Impossible Astronaut, a premiere I had been really excited for. In hindsight, this was to be the start of a lifetime of disappointment. When I finally watched this two-parter I was initially blown away, but as Season 6 went on, it became increasingly clear that the admittedly well-done setup of The Doctor's death and Amy and Rory's decision to hide it from his younger self were all for nought, and it was a very egregious example of the way that Moffat fails to write compelling mystery and suspense.

The Silents, introduced in this episode, have the inklings of a good idea. Moffat likes to play around with sight and memory, and so the gimmick of the Silents erasing your memory of them when you look away is quite spectacular. As time wears on, though, it becomes a bit of a tired meme, and holes start appearing in the concept - how did these things come to be, and how do they communicate? We're never given those details; neither are we very clear on why they are manipulating the Human race, other than some vague mentions of them blowing up the TARDIS last season and one of them killing a woman at random in a bathroom. For me and a few others, the story fails to convince the viewer that the Doctor's solution to the problem - brainwashing Humanity into committing a Silent genocide using the Moon Landing video - is anything short of barbaric and cruel, especially when the music and tone make it seem like a heroic and dashing thing to do with no moral implications.

Other annoyances in the episode bought it a place on the upper half of this list. Like Churchill before and after, the episode sees the Doctor palling around with war criminal Richard Nixon. (I look forward to Doctor Who in 40 years doing an episode where the 21st Doctor goes for dinner with Trump). In Moffat tradition, there is melodrama and death fake-outs, further damaging the credibility of the show's stakes, and River Song is here at her most annoying, clichéd self. It's also worth mentioning that as a whole, Series 6 is my least favourite of the revival for a number of reasons, and some of them are showcased here - poor writing, the really bad mytharc story surrounding River Song, and a feeling that the show is just being half-assed on every front.

Honourable Mention: The Wedding of River Song is the culmination of this terrible storyline and is just as muddled and poorly thought-out. It manages to barely escape the list by not including a genocide, and by being too similar to some other episodes already here.
Rory thinks he look intimidating, but he's also wearing a
Roman outfit for literally no reason and he looks like a stoned
hipster asking after his weed stash.

4 - A Good Man Goes To War (Series 6, Episode 7)
Written by Steven Moffat

I don't quite know where to start with Good Man. It feels quite unique, for both good and bad reasons. At the time I recognised it as fluffy in the extreme - heavy in style, light in substance. Now Meant to be the dramatic cliffhanger to the first half of a season unnecessarily split in two, the events of Good Man are so bizarre and ridiculous that sometimes I have to remind myself that an episode this bad even exists.

Never one for subtlety, the Doctor (the one famous for solving his problems with words and using violence as a last resort) blows up an entire fleet of Cyberman ships (which they apparently have now) to extort information about Amy's location. Rory thinks he's cool because he's wearing a centurion costume, and for some reason the soundtrack agrees. We find that Amy has been kidnapped by a military cult called the Silence; an offshoot of a Space Church that wants the Doctor dead. This army includes human soldiers, two gay characters who literally ask why they deserve to have names, and headless monks who never appear before or after and who make no sense. This trained army is disabled by a bunch of Silurians and a "good" Sontaran who talks about breastfeeding. After humiliating one of the Silence generals, it is revealed that Amy's baby is part Time Lord because she was conceived in the TARDIS, "in a bunk bed" and that River Song was Amy's baby after all. The bad guy gets away with Amy's baby, as the one they thought they rescued was a clone that melts when she leaves.

The moment I heard that Amy had named her child "Melody Pond" I knew what the twist was; I'm not sure anyone was particularly asking for that kind of twist, either. River Song's welcome was long overstayed, and tying her destiny even more tightly with The Doctor's feels uncomfortable for a show with a characteristically transitive nature. The loss of Amy's baby, something that should be traumatising to Amy and Rory, never gets the treatment it deserves in follow-up episodes, and this is where for me they cease to be characters and become delivery devices for cool one-liners.

Honourable Mention: The Almost People is nowhere near this list, as the two parter it closes actually has good ideas and executes them well, but the ending scene where Amy is revealed as a ganger and then we watch her being forced to give birth in captivity is traumatic and horrible. It has Moffat's hands all over it.

And billions died.
3 - Kill The Moon (Series 8, Episode 7)
Written by Peter Harness
Please read my review of this episode, it goes into much more detail on just how scientifically illiterate it is.

I have debated with myself about how high on this list this episode deserves to be; it was in second place for a while until I came to my senses. While it does deserve to be here, the reason that this episode is so bad is entirely down to its own writer, Peter Harness, who likes to bring right-wing political elements to his episodes. Kill The Moon fails on three fronts - the science that is so bad as to render the episode unbelievable, the anti-abortion message shoved into a show it does not belong in, and a general failure to make anyone in the slightest bit likable.

The central dilemma at the heart of the story, whether to kill the alien living in the moon, never has any weight because the science used in the episode is so laughable. The Doctor has been coming to Earth for thousands of years, and has only now noticed that the Moon is an egg?! Lines about there being no minerals or water on the moon betray the fact that Harness didn't seem to do a cursory Wikipedia search before writing this trash, and that lack of effort seeps into the episode. We're meant to be struck by the moral dilemma, and be taught that not aborting the child is the best thing to do in the long run, but unlike in the real world, Harness brings in magic nonsense that defies the laws of physics in order to avoid all consequences for that choice. That over all other things makes the polemic nature of this episode as clear as glass. The anti-abortion message is so woven into the episode that there's no hope of actually exploring sci-fi ideas, because everything is pointed towards making you hate the idea of abortion in every situation.

I really have to wonder how this got past the writing team. It's notable that Harness' later stories are co-written with Moffat, in a miraculous case of him making something better by being there. That would not be the case in the remainder of this list, with two Moffat episodes taking the silver and gold slots by a country mile...

Honourable Mention: The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion two-parter, also written by Harness, spends its first half going, "Did you know that all refugees are terrorists? Dangerous terrorists. Anyone of them could be a terrorist. Your mum could be a terrorist." It then spends its second half going, "How dare you suggest that refugees are terrorists!? All that terrorists need to stop terroristing is a good talking to." It was stupid, insensitive, and although the speech at the end is well performed, the whole exercise was a total disaster.

I would mention the amazing moment when Moffat kills off a
new black character so she can have been a white woman all
along, but that feels like overkill.
2 - Let's Kill Hitler (Series 6, Episode 8)
Written by Steven Moffat

This was originally going to be one step above its immediate predecessor, A Good Man Goes To War, but then I realised that it had Hitler in it as a joke character and it just shot up here. Let's Kill Hitler is, quite frankly, an embarrassment. The end of hiatus should be a time for a good episode to bring the audience back on side, but instead we are given this nonsense - more of everything Moffat; fake-outs, making The Doctor the centre of everything, River Song, sexism, and so on.

Let's Kill Hitler is a confusing beast because it expects us to take it seriously as Moffat abuses time travel and retcons to try and make River Song's story make sense. The deep trauma Amy and Rory would suffer at losing their newborn daughter is explained away; "She was with them the whole time," he says, "She was the immature friend they had, so really they helped raise her after all!" The simple fact is that, not only is this callous, it doesn't even make sense. The Doctor's personality changes drastically even across one life, and yet we're meant to believe that River's brainwashing lasted two lifetimes, even when one of them saw her being raised as a human child in Leadworth. Her character bounces around so much in this one episode that the "surprise" at the end when she decides to sacrifice the rest of her regenerations to reverse The Doctor's poisoning feels hollow, and, along with the time-travelling vigilante team, puts a focus on Moffat's hero-worship of the Doctor over all other things.

Trying to mix this shambles of a main plot with the biggest sci-fi cliche of all time is a big no-no, as is the entire threat of the episode. You can't have the Doctor's death lingering over us from the premiere and then expect us to care that he might die now instead of then. We all know he isn't going to die, but Moffat just resist using this trope over and over. What we're left with is an episode that really serves no purpose beyond dropping the hint for the solution to this season's grand gambit. It doesn't even manage to be fun, because it all rings as insincere and childish, and with a deep lack of respect for those watching.

Honourable MentionThe Big Bang, where Moffat... retcons the Universe? I should have seen it coming.

That's the worst Series 6 episodes gone, which can only leave...

The worst, most drawn-out regeneration. Even worse than the
one before. Yes, that one.
1 - Time of the Doctor (Series 7, Third Christmas Special)
Written by Steven Moffat
My review here from the time is really good, and talks about the plot.

Here it is. The worst story belongs to the worst Doctor. Since 2013 I have seen almost everything in the Classic Series, and I have been waiting for something to knock Time from its pedestal, and nothing has. In his attempt to culminate everything in the Matt Smith era, Moffat manages to encapsulate almost every shit thing about it. He makes the Doctor the centre of the Universe one last time, and simultaneously tries to brand his mark onto the show in a permanent and terrifying way. Not content to retcon his predecessor's main storyline out of existence, not content to retcon his terrible companion into every area of Doctor Who history, Moffat decided he also had to be the one to solve the issue of the Doctor's regeneration limit, despite being two Doctors too soon, just so they can write that Moffat woz 'ere.

I might not have minded Moffat's solution to the 13 life problem had it not been such a deus ex machina. Clara begging the Time Lords to help The Doctor is something that should not have worked, and only works because of her status as a magical plot device here in her first season. The paradox the Doctor's survival creates is one that Moffat never apparently realised, as without his death and grave to send Clara through time in Name of the Doctor, all of this never happens, and Series 7 never happened. Which seems to be the show's attitude as well, as apart from the Zygon two-parter, nobody has ever mentioned the events of this season after the fact.

Sexism and archaic attitudes to gender politics were rife throughout Moffat's era, especially in Smith's tenure, and that is one of the things I remember the most from this episode. Smith's Doctor is not a role model for children - he is a pest. The Doctor by this point in his life has literally no excuse to be unfamiliar with human customs and standards of reasonable interaction. He smacks Clara on the bottom and shows up to her house naked. Five episodes before this he sexually assaults a rape survivor in The Crimson Horror by holding her down and kissing her. He laughs when she slaps him, and tells her it feels good. It may seem like I'm demonising the Doctor here, but it's clear from elsewhere both in Doctor Who and away from it that Moffat simply doesn't see anything wrong with these things

I would go into more detail about the episode, but I think you get the idea. My review linked above is a lot more comprehensive, and has a fun drinking game. I wanted to take a moment to say something personal. There are episodes on this list which made me mad, Kill the Moon in particular being a big one for that. But no episode crushed my faith in Doctor Who more than Time of the Doctor. I was fully prepared to sit and wait for Moffat to leave the show before watching it again. So I have to thank Peter Capaldi and Brian Minchin, who managed to steer the show back into something that, although flawed, I wanted to tune into every week. Part of me is looking forward to the future of the show, because I know that however much I have disliked what Chibnall brought to the show before now, nothing can ever be as bad as this shitty, shitty farce of an finale.


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