There’s a sadness to the Moffat-era Doctor Who Christmas specials that belies their casual broadness and often silly or nearly irrelevant holiday flourishes. “A Christmas Carol” is all about loss and it inevitability, the way it can harden us to the world or allow us to recognize its fleeting beauty.
Browsing: Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is a show built on the iconic, trading heavily in iconography. It’s stories are always bigger than it can manage—that’s what makes them Doctor Who stories.
When this season began, I talked about “The Magician’s Apprentice” as “bad Moffat,” as an example of all of the ways the showrunner’s style could go wrong if tweaked in just the wrong way, to make an episode that is all spectacle and no import, engineered around meaningless reveals without much concern for any thematic undergirding.
First she was a Dalek who thought she was a human. Then she was a bar maid who could pass as a governess. Then she was an Impossible Girl. She was many, many things before we finally got to see who Clara Oswald really was. If Peter Capaldi holds the role of The Doctor for many, many more seasons, chances are slim he will ever have a more iconic companion than Clara Oswald.
The best thing about Doctor Who is that Doctor Who can be anything. Want to do a straight drama about a historical period? No problem. Want to do a farce set in the furthest reaches of the galaxy? The show has your back. Experimental sci-fi? Sure. Political allegory? No problem. There is no genre or format that Doctor Who cannot colonize and make its own, no idea that cannot be transformed with a little work into a great Doctor Who story.
We’ve talked a lot, this season, in reviewing first parts of stories, about how vital the second part is to truly judging the thing. It is difficult to weigh in at the half way mark with any certainty of how the story will actually hold up when it is a complete object.
There’s something going very wrong with the world, and The Doctor has arrived to save it. That is, by and large, the premise of every Doctor Who story, even if the setting, time period, and threat changes week to week. The Doctor shows up, sees the problems plaguing the place he has arrived, and sets about solving them.
“The Woman Who Lived” is a marvelous episode of television that exists in little moments and quiet spaces. The episode takes place largely at night, and for long stretches it felt like The Doctor had snuck out of The TARDIS while Clara was sleeping, like we were privy to the sort of solo adventures that have often been referenced in the Moffat era.
The Girl Who Died” is structured brilliantly around an inescapable melancholy. This is an episode where, overtly at least, nothing bad happens, and yet sadness and loss suffuse it. This is a standard Doctor Who adventure where the basic theme is the inevitability of loss, where the victory is inevitably undercut by its impermanence.
There is an innate structure to the Doctor Who two parter in the modern era. The first episode builds to a cliffhanger that promises to change everything, and then the second half frequently plays with an entirely different premise, the two ends tied together by a villain, or a location, or the fact that they are happening near each other.