I was born in 1991, so when I first got hooked on Doctor Who in 2005, I did what every young nu-Who fan is supposed to do to prove themselves – I bought the DVDs, at least one of every previous Doctor (and a fair few more of Five because pretty). I watched them all, even the boring bits, so I could truly understand my heritage. And now I have this old suitcase full of boxes, full of nostalgia that isn’t even within my living memory. I’ve kept them all because the stories are mostly good, because they now mean something to me, but there’s no denying that I made that investment of my time and money because I felt like I needed to qualify why I belonged.
I’ve seen some fans commenting that last night’s finale didn’t feel like a finale. People have said it was boring, that the stakes weren’t high enough, that Tim Shaw wasn’t as good as the Daleks/the Cybermen/the Weeping Angels/etc etc nostalgia etc.
I’m not here to argue about ‘boring’ because everyone finds different things boring. Personally, one of the things I found really boring was how drearily sexist Moffat’s plot-arcs were, time and time again. (If you’d like to argue with me on this, I’d like to remind you about that time Amy was kidnapped and gave birth without her knowledge or consent, a plot that is almost identical to this pro-life horror film.) What personally switches you off from a story is very much an individual thing.
What counts as high stakes? Does it have to be large scale destruction – a planet destroyed, a galaxy erased, the fabric of space/time ripped asunder? (I mean, the Earth was still in peril, so there’s that.)
Was Doomsday the right way to end that season because the Daleks had a big battle with the Cybermen, or was it right because the Doctor and Rose thought they were inseparable and they ended up on opposite sides of a dimensional wall?
There’s a reason this Doctor has friends, not companions, and why she really wants to carry on using the word ‘fam’. There’s been a lot of reflection on losing and gaining family, learning about ancestry (spiritual and literal), and parents letting their children down. Nearly every episode has featured a close kinship, biological or otherwise, sometimes damaged and in need of repair, often rewarding and strengthening. And this Doctor still puts herself in danger first, but she also talks about horizontal leadership structures and ‘our TARDIS’. So the stakes can’t be much higher than Graham threatening to go it alone at the cost of the group.
And this isn’t going to be a Tim Shaw defence post, because yeah, he’s generic and we can do with some better baddies next time round. But I’m totally here to defend Chibnall sticking to his guns about not bringing back any old monsters or villains. Give me more Doctor Who that welcomes the casual viewer. Because Tim Shaw was generic, but at least that meant you could follow last night’s ep even if you’d missed the first one. I’m all in favour of a breather from squirelly, retconning, alienating stories that make occasional viewers feel stupid for missing things. Reward the fans, but do it in a way which shows kindness to everyone else.
Because you do not need to know everything about a thing to justify why you like the thing.
The Doctor doesn’t need you to qualify. She’s not going to take you back to old places and old stories and expect you to know everything. She’s doing something new this time. No pressure. No suitcases of nostalgia baggage required.
So yeah, fair enough, last night’s finale didn’t feel like a finale. It didn’t feel like an end at all. It felt like every single episode of this series so far: an opening. A welcome. An invitation to join the fam.
(P.S. When I said I had a lot of feelings, I meant it, so hopefully TBC.)