By Adi Tantimedh
Before we see Matt Smith’s final episode of Doctor Who this Christmas Day, I thought I would bring up something that I didn’t see anyone else talk about in the write-ups on The Day of The Doctor.
A few weeks ago, after watching and writing about the 50th Anniversary Special, it suddenly occurred to me that Steven Moffat had actually created the premise for a spinoff series and kind of tossed it off as a throwaway in The Day of The Doctor.
I’m talking about The Moment, the story’s McGuffin, the doomsday weapon, the “galaxy eater”, a feared apocalyptic weapon developed by the Time Lords whose AI was so advanced that not only became sentient but developed a conscience. When John Hurt’s Doctor switched it on to blow up both Gallifrey and the Daleks, its AI interface read his mind and memories (including memories from his future) and manifested itself in the form of Rose Tyler’s Bad Wolf persona to try to talk him out of detonating it. To do so, it plays Dicken’s Ghost of Christmas Future by opening portals through time to so show him his future selves, the Doctors as played by David Tennent and Matt Smith.
The Moment is actually responsible for The Doctors’ actions and their outcomes in this story. It succeeded in talking The Doctor out of committing an atrocity and a war crime for which he would have spent the rest of his lives scarred by and trying to atone for. The Moment became a symmetrical reflection of Clara in the way it became John Hurt’s Doctor’s companion, serving as his conscience and talking him out of doing something monstrous that he would forever regret. Then the story ended and The Moment was never talked about again. Moffat had actually created an interesting character for a potential spinoff show, and I don’t know if he even noticed that. He certainly hasn’t brought it up in interviews and reviewers and fans haven’t mentioned it up either.
Imagine a Science Fiction series about The Moment, a doomsday weapon that keeps falling into the hands of various people, some of whom plan to use it. The doomsday weapon would spend each episode talking, cajoling, subtly manipulating that person away from detonating it.
We don’t know what The Doctor did with The Moment. Did he hide it somewhere? Dismantle it? Store it somewhere in the Tardis? I don’t think he could put it back in the Gallifrey weapons archive since the planet’s not there anymore. Who’s to say it wouldn’t keep getting stolen and sold and passed from one set of hands to another?
A living doomsday weapon that keeps getting stolen has to keep its owners from using it to kill entire worlds. That’s the pitch.
The Moment, in that single hour of The Day of The Doctor, is an effortlessly compelling and complex character: it was created to destroy entire worlds, but it developed a conscience and thus doesn’t want to be used. It has the ability to read its potential user’s mind to know him or her completely in order to appeal to that person’s emotions, in order to talk them out of detonating it. It can’t actively or physically force anyone to do anything, since it only has a holographic interface with which to communicate with its user. It can only talk and show, opening portals through Time and Space to present its user the past, present and future in its efforts to show them why they shouldn’t use it. It’s almost a therapist, forming a bond with its user and digging into that person’s psyche to understand them and bring them to an understanding of themselves.
The Day of The Doctor could be considered a backdoor pilot for a potential spinoff series if Moffat and the BBC ever wanted to pull that trigger. It established the basic format of the new show right there, showing everything The Moment was capable of doing to meet its objective: to not be used. It showed The Moment not only had a conscience and compassion, but also a personality and a sense of humor – as shown when it mercilessly teased the morose Doctor and liked to drop flirtatious wisecracks. Ultimately, you could also say that in not wanting to be used, it was also acting in self-preservation: if it gets detonated, it dies. Every week on the show, The Moment is really fighting to save its own life. A weapon of death that loves life. A weekly series about Hope versus Nihilism. That’s a hell of a pitch.
Yes, you could say it would be a “person of the week who wants to detonate the bomb” show. Whether you can sustain it as a full series before fatigue set in depends on the skills of the writers involved, but until they get tired, there are limitless potential characters: a gangster who just wants power, a genocidal dictator, a grieving parent bent on revenge, a hurt, angry child who’s lost all hope… each new antagonist of the week would offer an emotional tale and questions of ethics and morality in the way that Doctor Who and Science Fiction were always good at telling. At the very least, you could get a good six-episode miniseries out of this.
If they wanted to, they could cast Billie Piper again as the AI’s core personality. It could have developed a fondness for the Bad Wolf persona as its default appearance even though it can also morph into anyone from its user’s life to better manipulate them into not pushing its button. That’s how TV executives and producers can have a central, recognizable star for a series.
Screenwriters, including myself, are rightly cagey about telling people about their new ideas in public lest someone steal it or beat us to it. I don’t have a problem talking about The Moment because it’s not mine. It’s Steven Moffat’s and he’s already presented it to the public without admitting as much. Helping dissect and present movie and TV pitches is part of my day-job, and I very seldom see an idea like this that’s already so fully-realized and rich with possibilities. Every friend who’s a professional comics writer and/or screenwriter I mentioned this to has agreed that it’s a very interesting pitch for a series.
Hell, several of us have admitted we’re tempted to rip it off for ourselves, write a variation with the serial numbers shaved off. But at the end, Steven Moffat has already thought of it and produced the pilot in The Day of The Doctor. Does he know he has a potentially rich spinoff show in his back pocket? Does he want to make it? Does he even care or have the time given he has his hands full running Doctor Who, ushering in Peter Capaldi and also co-running Sherlock with Mark Gatiss? A Doctor Who spinoff is a potential ratings and international sales earner, just look at Torchwood, which is only on hiatus because Russell T. Davies has urgent family matters he needs to attend to.
I suppose the other question is whether viewers want to see a show about The Moment, perhaps even starring Billie Piper? In which case, I suppose people can start writing letters to the BBC and Mr. Moffat.
Not pushing the button, though tempted for the hell of it at email@example.com
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