Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: The Romantic Agony Of Moffat’s Doctor Who

Adi Tantimedh writes for Bleeding Cool;

Thank God DOCTOR WHO is back! The British TV Imagination Drought is over!

It’s always fun to study and dissect Steven Moffat’s scripts. They’re the structurally-complex, very clever, high concept constructs that every screenwriter would give their left nut and grandmothers to write, but only a small number ever manage. They don’t treat you like an idiot and actually work to make you feel clever.

Where the old show before the 2005 reboot concentrated on plot and left emotion in the background except when it furthered the story, the current DOCTOR WHO put emotions and romance at the forefront, which has paid off in spades, garnering the show a worldwide fan following not just from kids but also girls and women. Both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, as diehard fans, understood the real appeal at the heart of Doctor Who, which is the love for The Doctor himself, and the themes of unending wandering and loneliness he embodies on top of the sense of wonder and imagination he promises to children, the original intended audience for the show. Romantic love for the characters and the endless possibilities they carry. The same is true for BUFFY, FIREFLY, STAR TREK, X_MEN, TRUE BLOOD, TWILIGHT and any popular series or franchise you can name.

Moffat understands that romance works better when it hurts. Just ask all the women who bought FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and turned that literary abomination into the bestselling book on this planet. Moffat’s romanticism is somewhat more layered and less negative. He writes women who are smart, proactive and sassy, quick with a comeback and slightly kinky, like a superwoman version of the best heroines of classic Hollywood screwball comedies from the 1940s, at last the equal of the hero, a romantic foil worthy of him, and then they end up having to be rescued by the hero. Now, you could say the latter is rather sexist, and plenty of people I know have. Rescuing damsels is a major part of men’s romantic fantasies, and that has been part of the Moffat’s romantic make-up, be it JEKYLL with the hero’s wife, SHERLOCK with the updated Irene Adler and DOCTOR WHO. These women invariably fall in love with the hero and devote a lot of time chasing and teasing him in a dance of desire of that type that used to occur in classic Hollywood romances. They’re fantasy figures, of course, but I find them more appealing than the dysfunctional masochistic doormats who pass for the heroines of TWILIGHT and 50 SHADES OF GREY.

I’ve noticed that Moffat has another recurring theme on DOCTOR WHO, which is “the woman The Doctor fails to save”, the woman who falls in love with The Doctor and dies. Russell T. Davies re-established the theme of The Doctor losing his companions and condemned to wander alone, but Moffat has added this additional theme. This began with Madame de Pompadour in Moffat’s episode “The Girl in the Fireplace”, then continued in his introduction of River Song in “Silence in the Library” (with the added layer of her being The Woman Who Died for Him) and now Oswin in “Asylum of the Daleks”, whom he not only fails to save, but also saves him as her last (?) heroic act.

Moffat’s run on DOCTOR WHO has emphasized romantic love for The Doctor more than Davies did, and like Davies, he knows that “happy ever after” is the end for the story and a character who is supposed to keep going indefinitely, and that a romance works better, sticks longer in the mind and heart, with tears more than joy could ever accomplish. What better way to maintain the hero’s eternal alone-ness and loneliness than to have him constantly lose a love he has only just discovered, over and over again. It gives the hero a tragic dimension to his mythical heroism. Fans love a good cry and will come back for more. The more snarky fans may decry the show for its “love conquers all” themes, but not even they can really fault “love hurts, especially when thwarted”. The Hero Doomed to be Alone is very much a part of men’s romantic imagination, albeit a more melancholy part, and fans always love the Hero Who’s Hurtin’.

If all this sounds cynical, it wasn’t meant to be. Steven Moffat and Davies before him deserve mad respect for understanding that aside from the cleverest high concepts and story twists, it’s emotions that make a story and character resonate and attract fanatical geek followings, the scripts are never insincere, and that has translated into ratings, profits in licensing and merchandising and, at the end of the day, proves that good Art is Good Business. Writers and storytellers can learn a lot from studying how Davies and Moffat have written and constructed DOCTOR WHO. Fans may come for the SciFi and the special effects, but they stay for the romantic agony.

Exploding heads at lookitmoves@gmail.com

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.