It’s a great shame that Stephen Moffatt is so chronically over-committed because when he really gives his all to a show, he does a wonderful job. Pressure that would send lesser men screaming over a cliff-edge seems to be his bread and butter. I’m still processing most of the box of delights he opened up in The Day of the Doctor, and I’ll admit there are things I wasn’t mad about, but overall he really delivered.
The thing I’ve always liked best about Moffatt’s vision of DW is its redemptive quality (and the superb one-liners). If RTD’s vision is of an Old Testament God, full of fire and ice and rage and self-loathing, a view that any God people choose to believe in must be a pretty shitty character, because that’s what having the power of God would do, then Moffatt gives us a much more hopeful perspective. True, he tends to do it through a general riffle through the myth kitty rather than anything recognisably Christian, but in contemporary multi-cultural society that’s fair enough. This is the man who gave us Nine’s wonderful “Everybody Lives!” epiphany. And it’s always sat badly with him, I think, that the Doctor committed double genocide.
I’ve already read vitriolic and absolutely sincere complaints, from people younger than me, that by retconning the Time War we wipe out the Doctor’s moral development. I see it rather differently. I’m old enough to believe, as Four once said, that there’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be a little childish sometimes. I sat in a church service yesterday – a funeral as it happened. It was a church I very sincerely and loudly flounced out of 14 years ago, absolutely and crushingly certain of my own moral rightness and the impossibility of a personal God. Intellectually, I’m still in that place, but intellect isn’t everything. People need hope, they need love, they need stories. I’ve missed the liturgy and the quiet, workaday faith of many people there a great deal. The thing that’s stopped me going back is that I’d have to admit to people I live with that not only do I not understand everything, but that I don’t need to understand everything. At least, not with my head. I need something bigger than myself to get me through 200 Tweets and 20 opinion pieces daily on the psychotic viciousness of people like Iain Duncan Smith. I can’t afford the luxury of believing I’m always right, because anger would cripple me and stop me doing what I can to make the world better.
And what does this have to do with the Day of the Doctor? Well, Giles Fraser, until recently Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, wrote in the Guardian a few days ago about how people seem to respond to DW with the kind of devotion they used to reserve for the Bible. It says something very profound, uplifting, decent and hopeful about the British people. There is more to us than cant about hoardes of immigrants coming in and taking our jobs, or welfare spongers wasting our taxes. We are fundamentally decent and fair-minded individuals. The Doctor finds a workaround – he is not just about cruelty, brute force and despair. Yes, there are many times when he feels like writing “NO MORE” on the wall and blowing everyone to kingdom come, but deep down, that isn’t him. It is a wrong turning, a pathology, a nightmare.
It is time for the Doctor to wake up, walk into the light and come home. As always, he takes the long route. But thank you, thank you so very much, Stephen Moffatt, for giving us that. It’s been a long and lonely road, undeniably fascinating to watch, but it’s time to show us the Doctor banging heads together again and making people find a better way. We need to believe that is possible; things are just too serious now for us to wallow in the luxury of wounded heroes lost inside their heads.
I know those who hoped for more from Billie Piper will despair that she was relegated to a nebulous role as the Doctor’s conscience, but I thought it was rather beautiful. Trust me, we’ve gone too far to return the Doctor to doe-eyed love and the threat of suburbia now. It’s 400 years ago, for God’s sake. Everything has its time. And we can hand wave and explain it away, but deep down I think it’s a fantastic coda to the story of the Doctor and Rose that, somehow, she travelled through time and space and prevented him from committing the atrocity that almost destroyed him.
What a lovely 76 minutes of television. What a fable of hope. What a perfect celebration of the character that has represented the very best of Britishness for 50 years.