It’s inevitable at this point, really. This week, there’s outcry over what happened to Bill in “World Enough and Time.” Give it twenty-four hours, though, and we’ll hit something new: outcry over Bill still being alive.
It’s a common trope in Steven Moffat’s era of Doctor Who for characters to die temporarily, only to have their stories continue on in some manner. To put it lightly, this has attracted a fair bit of criticism. As one Tumblr post puts it, “I’m sick of all this ‘everybody lives’ bullshit. When no one dies in a story other than the villain, there is no tension, no drama, no excitement to see the Doctor prevail.” This line of criticism is quite widespread. It shouldn’t be surprising to know that Bill’s fate immediately was leapt upon not just by hurt viewers hoping she’d make it out okay but by this particular fandom mindset hoping she’d stay dead for an arbitrary sense of consequences. Even before the episode aired, reviews bemoaned it with comments like, “will any of it stick? It’s hard to get 100% invested in the things that transpire when you have that nagging suspicion at the back of your mind that it can (and likely will) be undone.”
But this fundamentally misses the point. There are shows that thrive on uncertainty of survival and high stakes drama. But that approach is not one that in any way fits Doctor Who. Our Tibère/Sam wrote a nice piece on the problems of applying that storytelling logic to Doctor Who here. The gist of the issue is, programs like that encourage a cynicism and lack of regard for character that is alien to this program. Doctor Who is a character-driven adventure story generally told through the lens of the companion. They’re the main character. And while shock death of a main character may be well and good for upping the stakes in a Hitchcock thriller, it encourages detachment from the characters that ground the show in something like Doctor Who. In this show, killing characters isn’t the way, and bringing them back typically offers far more wealth of storytelling. Killing offers less investment and less reason to invest in the hearts of the stories. Resurection offers new directions for the story to live on.