Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Doctors

Gonna get this one out of the way early. It's been fermenting in my head for a while, and I need to get it out eventually! Please bare with me. 

I love Doctor Who.
Ever since I was a wee lad on my father's knee, hearing about the show's almost mystical properties during it's heyday, watching specials as they aired on PBS every so often, I was totally enamored with the concept, and was sorry that I was too young to partake in glory of the show's earlier incarnations. The advent of the internet has allowed me to alleviate that pain somewhat, but it's obvious time has not been kind to the early, low-budget serials.
Pictured: Pants-shitting fear
So, needless to say, I was absolutely ecstatic when the BBC allowed the show a modern-day revival in 2005. I watched every episode religiously. Though I have seen several episodes before that, I consider Christopher Eccleston to be my first Doctor. Alright, this post is getting long and this isn't a memoir, so I digress. Point is, my experience with Doctor Who is limited and largely retroactive. I love it to death, but I wasn't there at the time, with the exception of the show from 2005 onward. So, you see where my opinions, and the rest of this article are coming from.
There has been a debate that has been echoing across the halls of time and the internet, since about June of last year. A question that will no doubt be argued over until such a time as the role is inevitably represented with a new face; Tennant or Smith? Doctor 10 or 11? Which is the better Doctor? To which, the answer is actually very simple: Both!
Both David Tennant and Matt Smith are phenomenal actors, and easily comparable to each other. Had their roles been reversed, with Smith as the 10th doctor and Tennant as the 11th, so too would their names in each camps' respective arguments. When you argue over which doctor was the better doctor, what you're really doing is comparing each version of the character's actions and reactions to the various situations they've found themselves in. You're not comparing the actors, you're comparing the writers. Which is a fair thing to do; Both Tennant and Smith had very different head writers, with very different ways to portray The Doctor.
Russell T. Davies instigated the show's 2005 revival, and had a very story-driven style that drew heavily from the pop-culture tropes of the time, while Steven Moffat, who was responsible for the scripts of several award-winning episodes before his tenure as head writer in 2010, has a more character-driven style that's farther removed from contemporary television, and earnestly tries to be it's own beast.
So which writer was better?
Moffat, of course!
Not to downplay Davies at all; the show wouldn't be on the air right now if it wasn't for him, and his decisions to omit things like Gallifrey, and making the Doctor the veteran of the Great Time War early on were wise,   but he was more content to play in the sandbox left for him, crashing daleks and cybermen together, and generally allowing the doctor to be awesome, than add anything to the mythos of any real consequence. In the Davies written episodes, the Doctor himself is rarely faced with a moral quandary or serious problem beyond  "There is a monster, we must fight it!" With the possible exception of Rose, and even then not until long after she relinquished the position, the Doctor's companions were largely superfluous, serving as nothing more than audience surrogates. (Seriously, can you remember anything Martha did? I can't.)
His season finales were big on bombast but small on actual content, often relying on deus ex machina to end the episode, as opposed to a logical yet interesting conclusion, a particularly infamous example being the latter half of "Last of the Time Lords"
I regenerated for your sins
Moffat, on the other hand, seems much more interested in The Doctor as a concept than as a character, and playing with it, to varying degrees of success. This is particularly evident in the series 3 episode "Blink" and the series 2 episode "Girl in the Fireplace."
In the former, the Doctor himself takes up very little screen time, instead he relays instructions to one-off characters by, in one scene, holding a conversation through a 40 year time gap by using a video camera, several DVDs, and a transcription of the conversation he's currently having. 
Pictured: Pants-shitting fear
In the latter, a derelict ship causes the doctor to be an unwitting influence on a young girl's life. This same concept is revisited in the series 5 episode "The Eleventh hour" with the girl in that case being Amy, the Doctor's current companion.
And then there's River Song, a time traveler whose path crosses with the Doctor's almost exactly opposite his temporal path.  The first time we and The Doctor see her is the last time she sees him.
Amy herself is much more of her own character in series 5, as well, with her own strengths, a few times catching things the Doctor does not and acting upon them, and her own character flaws; at one point, she attempts to cheat on her fiance with The Doctor.
Again, did Martha do anything? Rose held a really big gun as an explosion went off behind her, that's something, right? Donna yelled a lot. None of Davies' companions were ever explored as thoroughly as Amy Pond.
Moffat was more content to think of the Doctor and his Tardis as a way to explore the idea of time travel and it's effect on people, in a way that hasn't been explored in Doctor Who before. Davies just wanted to catch the Doctor in another exciting situation. That's why Moffat is better than Davies. I can't wait for series 6. 


  1. I hope to start watching this soon

  2. u have no idea how much i loved doctor who, i say loved cause i really dont like the new guy or the new episodes.

    keep em coming

  3. This is pretty comprehensive. I've heard lots about the show, but never really got in to it. You have convinced me to try again, sir.

    Unrelated: Followed.

  4. I can remember when Martha traveled the whole world to revive the Doctor :\

    That's what she did!

    Doctor Who is great :)


  5. I love your blog bro and I love doctor who, but i'm sorry to say you are wrong on the issue of who is the best doctor who out of David Tennant and Matt Smith. David Tennant is undeniably the superior incarnation of doctor who. While both are excellent actors, Doctor Who is a Cool Guy, and Matt Smith just isn't a Cool Guy.

    Or to put it another way, sass that hoopy David Tennant? There's a frood who really knows where his towel is!

    anyway love the blog bro, i'm following, check mine out!