by Z. P. Moo
When you try to figure out who are among the most important figures in human history you tend to get a lot of the same names regardless of how many people you ask. Common choices tend to include your great leaders like Julius Caesar and Henry VIII, scientists like Einstein and Newton who revolutionised how we understood the universe and our place therein, maybe some more unusual but nevertheless valid answers like Hitler might show up, and so on.
Opening cliché statement: the Moffat era of Doctor Who is one hell of a marmite.
It goes beyond the simple outraged and simultaneous cries of “He’s a misogynist!” and “He’s a Social Justice Warrior!” of “He’s repeating himself!” and of “He’s changing the very fabric of the show, the gall!” – the very way he approaches storytelling is divisive. Intentionally so – he’s a media-savvy master ès trolling, that will never hesitate to purposefully provoke and antagonize. Which is why he’s also the best writer Who ever had (sorry, not sorry!) – because that’s what the show is about. Being chaotic and confusing and throwing the whole scope of the time vortex at the flabbergasted viewer. Sure, not everyone has to like it, and sometimes one can rightfully wish for a more subdued vision of the show. Still, he does “get” it; he taps into something that’s deeply, primarily tied to the essence and ethos of Who.
But let’s try a change of perspective, for once. Let’s try not to talk about themes – really, dressing a complete and accurate portrait of the man and his writing style is a bit of an impossible task anyway. There’s way too much to say – you could write books about it, and indeed, books were and will be written about it. Keeping things at a purely structural level: what does Steven Moffat adds to the show? What are the core ideas he brings to its basic skeleton – not the themes, not the writing mannerisms, but the pure, structural ideas – ?
Well, proposition: Steven Moffat has changed, and continues to change, the status of the Doctor Who writer.
Maybe it’s a statement of purpose to start the hopefully long and lasting process of writing on that site by tackling one of the most, if not the most, maligned episode of the revival. Trying to ape the Doctor by defending the oppressed? I don’t know. Still – it’s an interesting topic to bring up, be it only because it’s not one that’s discussed often. If you go around the internet or your entourage, asking what episodes of Who people really hate, you will probably see “Kill the Moon”, or “Love & Monsters”, or “In the Forest of the Night” pop just as often as “Fear Her”, if not more – but the thing is, those episodes at least provoked a reaction: they sparked debates, controversy. They made people slap the door with grand proclamations. They proved rant-inducing, propping internet weirdos and YouTube analysts to deconstruct their many failings with an impressive amount of exclamation marks and swear words. And their memory, be it only as traumatic experiences, thus lives on – they’ve become part of the wide tapestry of images that erupts in one’s brain when Who is mentioned, part of the irregularities and unpredictable storytelling wrong turns and cul-de-sacs that make the show such a strange, unique, compelling experience. Whereas “Fear Her” proved similar to its central character: a lonely, forgotten child nobody cares much about. The consensus is that it’s a mediocre episode – more than this, really, the epitome of Who mediocrity: a crime that’s in a way much worse than simply being a bad piece of storytelling. The French title for the episode translates to “London, 2012” – it’s a pretty telling choice, even if it wasn’t motivated by any sort of deep understanding of the episode and its problems: at first glance, the only thing the episode has is a setting. It occupies a spot, it occupies a position in space and time and in the series, and that’s about it. Who, after all, thrives on craziness and change and unpredictability – what could be more antithetic to that than the dull stillness of a suburban street in a future that looks like past?