Television

The Ultimate Doctor Who Review, Part Two

On Tuesday I shared my thoughts on the Russell T. Davies Era of Doctor Who (the Ninth and Tenth Doctors). Today I’m so excited to share my thoughts on the Steven Moffat Era (the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors)!

Please remember that the Moffat Era did bring me into Doctor Who, so my personal views/preferences are colored by that. But in sharing certain opinions, I mean no disrespect to any fans, actors, or writers. These posts are meant to be fun expressions of my Whovian thoughts. That is all.

Allons-y and Geronimo!


The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith), Series 5-7

The major difference you’ll notice between this post and the last is that I pretty much just talked about individual episodes of the Davies Era. As a whole, those series are predominantly plot-driven, which is fine. Steven Moffat’s stories, however, tend to be much more character- and theme-driven–and personally, I do prefer this storytelling method. Yes, there are plenty of action-packed tales, but for the most part this period of Doctor Who is marked by 1) well-defined story arcs and 2) a single theme.

This theme can be summed up in a single word–Fairytale–and it’s at its most conspicuous in the Eleventh Doctor’s story.

Besides blatant comments like “Amelia Pond–like a name in a fairytale,” even the look of the show changes in Series 5. Softer palettes and magical locations are the order of the day, from Vincent van Gogh’s cottage to Stonehenge, from Renaissance Venice to pirate ships, from amusement parks on the moon to a village called Christmas. Amy Pond even ends her tenure as the second-longest-running companion with this haunting request for her “Raggedy Man”:

There’s a little girl waiting in a garden. She’s going to wait a long while, so she’s going to need a lot of hope. Go to her. Tell her a story. Tell her that if she’s patient, the days are coming that she’ll never forget. Tell her she’ll go to sea and fight pirates. She’ll fall in love with a man who’ll wait two thousand years to keep her safe. Tell her she’ll give hope to the greatest painter who ever lived and save a whale in outer space. Tell her this is the story of Amelia Pond...

“I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.” (from “The Impossible Astronaut”)

Fairytale manifests itself in two other major heroines, as well. River Song, the bewitching time traveling archeologist, fulfills in many ways the archetype of “Missing Princess.” She isn’t a princess, of course, but the formula of her story is similar: “Princess is kidnapped as a very small child –> Princess grows up in shielded anonymity and/or raised by villains for some dastardly purpose –> Princess’s identity is finally discovered –> Princess must return to her rightful family and/or place.” Sound like Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinder from The Lunar Chronicles?

Clara Oswald, meanwhile, “born to save the Doctor,” is the closest thing to a “Chosen One” since the days of Donna Noble. This archetype is one of the most popular in all of fiction: we see it in characters like Frodo Baggins, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen, and Wonder Woman. But Clara also plays the role of “Mayfly”–the mortal who falls in love with an immortal–and this archetype goes all the way back to ancient mythology. Psyche especially come to mind (perhaps because I love C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces so much).

“Boy and girl fall in love, get separated by events. War, politics, accidents in time. She’s thrown out of the hex, or he’s thrown into it. Since then they’ve been yearning for each other across time and space, across dimensions. This isn’t a ghost story, it’s a love story!” (from “Hide”)

But what about the Eleventh Doctor himself? According to Amy, he flies through time and space on whimsy, and the statement is very much on point. The Cambridge Dictionary defines whimsy first as “unusual, funny, and pleasant ideas or qualities,” and then, more negatively, “something that is intended to be strange and humorous but in fact has little real meaning or value.” But as G.K. Chesterton declared in his own brilliant, quirky way,

“Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.”

“Whimsy,” Joy Clarkson elaborates, “helps us recognize the intrinsic goodness of life, which energizes us to protect that goodness…Whimsy turns the world upside down so we can love and cherish it when it is turned right side up.”

The Eleventh Doctor is a protector of goodness as well as humor and hope. His stories run the gamut of lighthearted hilarity, mysterious fantasy, sci-fi suspense, and compelling, history-based drama. And though he often carries a great and terrible grief, he never loses his childlike delight in the simplest of joys.

The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Series 8-10

As joyful as the Eleventh Doctor remained, the Twelfth Doctor’s character development centers around his journey back to joy and whimsy. Fairytale isn’t nearly as obvious in this era for two reasons: 1) the stories tend to be darker and more serious, and 2) burdened with guilt and self-doubt, Twelve starts out deliberately running away from the whimsy.

But he comes back to it because he can’t help it. Fairytale remains part of Twelve’s story, because it’s always been part of his identity.

“Old-fashioned heroes only exist in old-fashioned storybooks, Clara.” // “And what about you? You stop bad things happening every minute of every day. That sounds pretty heroic to me.” (from “Robot of Sherwood”)

I won’t spend too much time talking about these three series because I’ve already done that here, here, and here–and at this point, you’re all probably thinking, “Yes, we know, WE KNOW you love the Twelfth Doctor, we don’t need to hear it again.” Merciful as I am, I shan’t wax eloquent this time, haha. But Fairytale remains, often under the broader term of “Story,” as seen in a few poignant examples:

  • In “Robot of Sherwood,” Robin Hood describes the Doctor’s past in distinctly fairytale terms before suggesting, “Perhaps others will be heroes in our name. Perhaps we will both be stories. And may those stories never end.”
  • The Doctor and Clara’s relationship goes into full-blown Beauty and the Beast Mode (I’m sorry, but it’s true), with Clara’s role shifting from “Chosen One” to “Mentor” as she helps the gruff, self-loathing Doctor embrace kindness, love, and humor all over again.
  • In “The Girl Who Died,” the Viking girl Ashildr makes up her own stories about brave warriors in an attempt to boost her courage. The Doctor encourages this and eventually realizes she can save her village with this gift: “You were born for this. Show them a story they’ll never forget.
  • In “Heaven Sent,” widely regarded as one of the greatest Doctor Who episodes of all time, the Doctor fights his way out of a torture chamber while telling himself a fairytale. (And you can read the actual fairytale here!)
  • “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” is a delightful tribute to our modern-day fairytales: superhero comics and movies.
  • Bill Potts (my sweet summer child) crafts for herself a story about the mother she never met, and it literally saves the world in “The Lie of the Land.”
“You mustn’t tell anyone your name. No one would understand it, anyway…except children. Children can hear it sometimes if their hearts are in the right place, and the stars are too…” (from “Twice Upon a Time”)

There are plenty of other examples, but we’d be here a week if I detailed them all. Suffice it to say that in Twelve’s last episode, “Twice Upon a Time,” he’s no longer running from his own story. In fact, he finally accepts that he is the hero of this fairytale–an imperfect one, but a hero nonetheless. “You were right, you know,” he tells his younger self. “The universe generally fails to be a fairytale. But that’s where we come in.


Thus concludes my reviews of the Doctor Who series I actually own. I could talk about this show, its themes, and its worldview hits and misses for hours, but I figure I’m doing pretty good with limiting myself to two posts, haha. (Feel free to fangirl with me in the comments, though–I love the opportunity to chat!)

Before I close, however, I’d like to share a quick list of my favorite episodes…because I could never narrow it down to just one 😉

My Favorite Stories According to Era

Ninth Doctor: Dalek ~ The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

Tenth Doctor: The Christmas Invasion ~ The Girl in the Fireplace ~ School Reunion ~ Blink ~ The Unicorn & the Wasp ~ Midnight ~ The Stolen Earth

Eleventh Doctor: Vincent & the Doctor ~ The Lodger ~ A Christmas Carol ~ The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon ~ The Doctor’s Wife ~ The Rings of Akhaten ~ Journey to the Centre of the Tardis  ~ The Time of the Doctor

Twelfth Doctor: Robot of Sherwood ~ Flatline ~ The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion ~ Heaven Sent ~ The Husbands of River Song ~ The Return of Doctor Mysterio ~ Thin Ice ~ The Eaters of Light ~ World and Enough Time/The Doctor Falls

14 thoughts on “The Ultimate Doctor Who Review, Part Two”

  1. Blast it all, now you’ve got me wanting to write an entire post for my blog about River and the “Lost Princess” archetype!! 😂

    But good job on another great review!! I love how you pulled out just how “fairytalish” Moffat’s era was, especially for Eleven. I noticed a distinct change in tone the moment I began “The Eleventh Hour” on my very first watch-through of NuWho earlier this year. The colors, the scenery, the stories that are told and the ways the messages are communicated to the audiences… not only does it seem much more cinematic (probably somewhat due to changing technologies and possibly a boost in budget coming off the success of the Tennant series), but much more fantastical and absolutely whimsical. Between Doctor Who, the Afterverse books by Kyle Robert Shultz, portions of the British Literature I had to read for school last year, and my recent explorations into art (and the theories and philosophies behind it), I have recently begun developing a very strong sense of appreciation for well-placed whimsy in my life. Maybe it’s my odd latent artistic side coming out, maybe it’s just a by-product of living in an area full of in-you-face mountains and a distinct lack of sunshine for the past almost-eight years (oh my goodness that’s almost a decade where has the time gone?!), but this year I’ve been really appreciating the small bursts of color and silliness in my life a lot more. I love finding God’s own sense of humor in the world around me, whether it be in stories, in history, in nature, or myself. Obviously one should always been aware of the dangers of being *too* childish or immature but, to quote the Fourth Doctor, “There’s no point in being grown-up if you can’t act a little childish sometimes.”

    All that was a a rabbit trail that really has very little to do with your post, but I haven’t really been able to talk to anyone besides my family all week so I’m a bit wordy right now. I do apologize for spamming your comments. 😜😂

    As far as Twelve goes… man I love his arc so much. Trying to be the “practical immortal alien” and then ending up right back around where he started, full of joy and wonder and happiness that is clearly still bleeding over into Thirteen. (Not to drag her into the conversation again, as I seem very prone to doing… 😛)
    Now for the sake of being 100% honest, I feel like I should go ahead and out myself now: I don’t actually SHIP Doctor/Clara, strictly speaking… 😬
    BUT I do fully understand and embrace the classic fairytale underpinnings of their story, and I LOVE the whole “Beauty and the Beast” theme that runs through their story! I don’t really know how to put it into words, but even though I firmly and strongly believe that Clara and the Doctor (especially Twelve) loved each other deeply… I don’t really see it as necessarily a romantic sort of love… Maybe it’s because I just see River as so much of a “soul mate” for the Doctor that I can never quite convince myself to ship anything else. Idk. That said, Clara is magnificent, and I’m CERTAINLY not an “anti” towards the Doctor/Clara ship, and I really enjoy seeing how well you all pick up on that “fairytale love story” theme between the two. 😊
    (Also Till We Have Faces YESSS!!! I read about half of it when I was younger then kinda lost interest due to certain themes, but looking back on it I realize how much I love it and can’t wait to re-read it this summer!!)

    And to point out just one more amazing fairytale influence from the Moffat era… how ‘bout that conversation between Twelve and River on the balcony about “Happily Ever After”s??

    Alright I’m going now. I’ve got a bathroom to clean and then a blog of my own to publish. 😄

    Again, great post, and thank you for sharing it!! 😊
    – Shay

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YOU SHOULD TOTALLY DO A POST ABOUT RIVER AND THE LOST PRINCESS. I WOULD READ IT FASTER THAN YOU CAN SAY “MELODY POND.” Okay, I will stop screaming now–ahem. Do the Thing, Shay.

      And YES to everything you said about whimsy! Indeed, we never want to be childish or immature, but I don’t necessarily think that’s true whimsy, either. It is, like you said, finding God’s sense of humor in everything. It’s in the act of naming your mini-orchid (mine is named “Eloise,” by the way) and in holding your breath and not freaking out when an inquisitive and very innocent honeybee lands on the front of your blouse (which is the most magical thing). And it’s in the act of deliberately deciding, “I am not going to take myself and life too seriously”–which is a big struggle for me. If you ever get the chance to listen to Joy Clarkson’s podcast on “The Wisdom of Whimsy,” I highly recommend it! It changed my life, and I’m not the kind of person to say that lightly. (The podcast itself is called “Speaking With Joy.”)

      You may drag Thirteen into as many comments as you like, my dear friend 🙂 I do the same thing with Twelve, so I think we should just agree that we won’t ever ever EVER apologize for our Time Lord darlings XD Oh, and please don’t feel bad for not shipping Twelve/Clara like I do! My irritation is aimed more at the camp who insist that they have a father/daughter relationship…and I’m always like, “If your father shows you that level of affection and gives you those sorts of longing wistful looks, you probably need to call the police.” 😛 Anyhooz. When I “officially” started watching Doctor Who, I started right where Jenna Coleman became the companion; “The Bells of Saint John” was, for most intents and purposes, my very first episode. So I didn’t really have any experience with River Song; I just knew she had been the Doctor’s wife, but she had died, and until I got to “The Husbands of River Song” I only ever saw her as a data ghost. So as far as I was concerned, Clara was the Doctor’s love interest. Now that I’ve gone back, of course, I love River Song and I definitely ship her with the Doctor! I just ship him with Clara, too, in a totally different context…if that makes sense XD

      And I do kinda blame Moffat, because he decided “Ohhhh wait, I don’t like the send-off I originally gave River in The Name of the Doctor, lemme give her one last hurrah with Twelve.” Which is FINE–that’s the storyteller’s discretion!–and I adore THoRS. We should’ve had at least half a season with Twelve and River being an old married couple and getting into all sorts of scrapes. But I can see how the total (physical) absence of River from “The Angels of Manhattan” until THoRS, plus the end of “The Name of the Doctor,” would make some fans think we weren’t ever going to see her again, and thus pave the way for a new love interest. Again, not trying to argue at all–just tryin’ to explain how the angle/period of time where some people came into the fandom (myself included) allowed for certain perceptions of the characters 😉

      And thank you thank you thank you for bringing up the “Happily Ever After” in THoRS! If I had mentioned every single fairytale reference in Twelve’s era, the post would’ve been a mile long, haha! But I’m so glad you mentioned it, because I really love that one. That episode is one of my “Happy Places.” If ever I need a good laugh, that’s one I’ll always watch, along with “The Lodger” and “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know, I think I really might try it… 😉😂

        Not taking life too seriously can be a challenge for me, as well. And believe it or not, I’ve been meaning to begin listening to that podcast for a while! So thank you for recommending that particular episode; now I have a place and an actual reason to start! 😄

        I absolutely understand where you’re coming from! I was puzzled for awhile when I first began Twelve’s era, because I wasn’t quite sure how to view the relationship between the Doctor and Clara at that point, as I already knew that River turned up again after Clara left and she and the Doctor were still very much married then. So I guess that’s why I could never fully get behind the Doctor/Clara ship. But as I said, I fully understand why others do! 😊

        Ah yes, the TRUE Best Episodes: “The Lodger,” “The Husbands of River Song,” and “The Return of Doctor Mysterio”. Though I should add, “Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol” is another of my favorite feel-good stories, even if it is super Christmasy. 😄

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      2. (*gasps softly*) I loved “A Christmas Carol”! I actually thought it was better the second time I watched it. I’ve been familiar with Katherine Jenkins, the lady who plays Abigail, ever since I heard her sing the Band of Brothers theme a couple of years ago. Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw her on Doctor Who! I actually recognized her operatic voice first, and THEN her face, haha.

        “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” is another lovely Christmas episode, made even more delightful by all the Narnia references. It remains the only Doctor Who episode that made my dad cry.

        Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a Doctor Who Christmas special I didn’t like. They’re all so jolly 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love what you said about fairytales.

    And Moffat’s writing is indeed fantastic. Even though the earlier era’s characters (Ten, Donna, and Rose) speak to me on a deeper level–Moffat’s STORIES are an incredible gift.

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    1. You know, this Fairytale theme wasn’t even the angle I was originally going for…until I watched some episode recently with my mom. I *think* it was The Curse of the Black Spot–the one where the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, and Rory end up on a pirate ship and have to unravel the mystery of the Siren? And I just realized, “HUH. There’s a common theme in this era…and it runs all the way from Eleven to Twelve, doesn’t it?” And then I just had to go at this post from that angle, haha.

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  3. I haven’t been watching Doctor Who in a while, to be honest. I got daunted with Ten’s problems. I thought once I finished with Eccleston I’d love Tennant’s era, but I still find it on the corny side with Eccleston. I feel like I would like Moffat’s episodes more than Davies’, especially since one of my favorite shows is Sherlock, which was written by Moffat. And Matt Smith’s Doctor looks like an adorable little baby giraffe. I’ve seen some episodes with Matt Smith, and I love the way it feels more than with David Tennant. AND I LOVE CLARA. SO. MUCH. I feel like skipping Tennant altogether if I end up watching it still – I like Doctor Who, but at the same time…I don’t know. Do you recommend the Davies episodes or the Moffat episodes?
    Oh, and before I pop out, I loved what you said about fairytales and “whimsy.” Joy Clarkson’s definition was spot on (*I love her so much*)!
    Cheers!
    Emily 🙂
    P.S. I just cannot do Rose Tyler and David Tennant’s Doctor. I cannot ship them for the life of me. All my Whovian friends ship Tenrose, and I just CAN’T. It seems so…annoying. Am I the only one who feels that way? LOL! xD

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    1. I really enjoyed Sherlock as well–at least the first three seasons! Still haven’t gotten around to watching the fourth one, I’m afraid. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are brilliant in the way they show how Sherlock’s mind works! And Moffat often does the same thing with the Doctor: you get into his mind and see how he comes to certain conclusions, and depending on the episode, the results are either hilarious (“The Eleventh Hour”) or heartbreaking (“Heaven Sent”).

      But to answer your question: the Moffat Era got me into Doctor Who in the first place, I love its whimsy and its powerful character arcs, and I do recommend it over the Davies Era. That’s my personal opinion and preference; others prefer the Davies stories, and I say, “More power to ’em.” But if you’re just asking for Maribeth’s opinion, I highly recommend starting with Series 5, the Eleventh Doctor’s first season. The show gets a clear reset/reboot at that point, new companions and major storylines are introduced, classic villains are showcased alongside newer ones, and the Eleventh Doctor is 100% lovable right from the get-go. You won’t meet Clara until Series 7, but her intro sets the stage for the Twelfth Doctor’s story, which really won’t make sense at all if you don’t know Eleven’s story first. So yeah–Series 5-10 is pretty much a self-contained story 😉

      P.S. I had to laugh a bit at your own postscript because…(*winces*)…I felt the same way about Rose and Ten. And I really wanted to like Rose! So many of my Whovian friends love her, but the more I watched her, the more I really didn’t like her or her relationship with Ten at all. I’m so sorry, all my Rose-loving friends–I really tried, honest!!! I did prefer her with Nine, though–I will give her that plus.

      P.P.S. Moffat writes some really good romances. Just sayin’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I loved your response. This sheds so much light onto my Dr. Who predicament. Perhaps I shall give 11 a try. I am intrigued by his era…and yes…MOFFAT!
        Oh. My poor child. You have not seen Sherlock season 4? That is literally the best part of the show! I urge you with my whole heart: finish the beast. It is a MUST, and the ending is the most satisfying tv ending in the history of mankind. Truly!
        Anyways, thanks so much for your advice. Literally, I see it as such…coming from a fellow Whovian much wiser than I. Thanks a bunch! Oh, and I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels that way about Tenrose. I just cannot. She was better with Nine, but I just couldn’t with Ten.
        Cheers!
        Emily 🙂

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      2. I will finish the beast someday, haha! I heard Season 4 was really dark, though–is that true? That said, I also heard the end was SO SATISFYING, and that alone makes me want to see it! (Sherlolly Foreverrrrrrrrrrrr 😉 )

        You’re so welcome, friend! I hope you get to watch some of Eleven very soon. I think you’ll really enjoy his stories 😀

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      3. Yes, I will confess that Season 4 is definitely darker than the other seasons. Towards the end of season 3, I’m sure you could tell things were getting more sinister (“did u miss me?”). But it’s kind of like Lord of the Rings: book 3 and movie 3 are the darkest of the trilogy, but when that darkness is overcome, the ending is so satisfying!

        And yes…Sherlolly! I actually ship Adlock (all my Sherlockian friends hate me for it), but I do love Sherlolly, too. It’s so cute.

        I’ll keep u posted on my Eleven progress 🤣🤣

        Cheers!

        Emily 🙂

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  4. I’ll be honest; I am not in any way a Whovian, and have never watched this show… that said, after becoming interested and reading up quite a bit on Amy and Rory’s romance, I officially ADORE those two (but especially Rory 😍).

    I also completely LOVE the concept (anything with time-travel, amirite?!), and as a long and ardent fan of fairytales, this post of yours is beautiful in every way.

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    1. I’m so delighted that you enjoyed the post! And yes, Rory Williams is AMAZING! He’s even more amazing than Amy, by a long shot. I just tell myself, “Face it, girl: you may have a crush on the Doctor, but Rory Williams is the one you’d actually marry.” XD

      If you love time travel and fairytales, you’ll probably love Doctor Who. It has its worldview problems and some episodes are on the corny side, but overall it’s a fun and often compelling, thought-provoking show!

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