How does ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’ give us glimpses of what’s to come for the show?
Imagine, if you can, a life during the Wilderness years of Doctor Who. A bit hard to think of for those of us who discovered it after the success of the modern continuation, but it was a rough time to be a fan of this show. Most episodes haven’t been released on anything aside from a Target novelization, the TV movie flopped in the States, abandoning all hope for a proper series with McGann’s Doctor, and the BBC was still too embarrassed to talk about it in great detail. You’re idly watching the special they have for Red Nose Day, when all of a sudden you hear that familiar tune, making you immediately pay more attention to the TV. It wasn’t any confirmation that the show was gonna keep going, but that doesn’t matter to you. For a little while, Doctor Who was back. At the time, The Curse of Fatal Death was very well received, to the point where fans rejoiced when Steven Moffat, the writer, was involving himself with the new series. Now that his tenure as showrunner has come and gone, how does The Curse of Fatal Death give us glimpses of what’s to come for the show?
I’ll start with the more minor grievance: casually forgetting the lore. Steven Moffat was always a fan of the show growing up, so you’d think he’d be more mindful of some of the smaller details. In Fatal Death, when they get captured by the Daleks, they say that the Zectronic beam will be shot in five “Dalek Minutes”. Now, I’m not saying that everyone has to completely memorize every event in the Doctor Who Universe before they can create their own stories, but anyone who’s gotten to that level would most likely know that they’re called Rels. Similarly, in Day of the Doctor, when the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors saw the War Doctor’s TARDIS again, they noted the presence of the “round things”. I’m not going to admit that I’m angry they overlooked this on the 50th anniversary special of all things, but they’re CALLED Roundels. Going on a slight tangent, the Daleks tie up the Doctor and Emma in a chair when they’re captured, which is what first prompted me to write this, as the opening 2-parter for season 9 has a moment where The Doctor is sitting in a chair that Davros says is the only other chair on Skaro. This is more of a nitpick than a grievance, but why would a recently-rebuilt Skaro have a chair on it?
Something we learn early on is that he plans on getting married to his companion, Emma. Now, this isn’t the first time The Doctor was involved with someone romantically, but this takes a much greater focus during Moffat’s tenure. Not just with one person, as well; even with characters like River Song and Queen Elizabeth, whom he actually got married to, Steven seemed transfixed on making sure nearly every single female companion had at least one moment of flirting with him, except for Bill, thankfully. Going off of that, the special ends with hinting at The Doctor getting a bit more intimate with The Master, something also explored in the new series with the introduction of Missy. Speaking of The Master, when they first meet face to face in Fatal Death, the two are explaining how they both went back in time to repeatedly bribe the architect to add different contraptions to the building: The Master adds the Spikes of Doom, The Doctor adds the Sofa of Reasonable Comfort instead, etc. It still holds up comedically very well, but I wonder how much of that was meant to be a joke and how much was just Steven writing Doctor Who. Keep in mind, during The Eleventh Doctor’s run, we got a scene where he was shot by his wife, in front of his wife, who then proceeded to try and shoot the other version of herself, while Amy was sitting nearby, pregnant with The Doctor’s wife.
Interesting to note is The Doctor’s death scene(s). Although it was kind of first established in the TV Movie, with the regeneration energy from The Master being used to revive Grace and Chang, this special showed The Doctor being surrounded by a yellow energy when they regenerated, something that would continue in the modern series. More importantly, take a look at what Emma says when she thinks that the Doctor is dead for good:
“Doctor, listen to me. You can’t die, you’re too, You’re too nice, too brave, too kind and far, far too silly. You’re like Father Christmas, the Wizard of Oz, Scooby Doo. And I love you very much. And we all need you, and you simply cannot die…He was never cruel and never cowardly, and it’ll never be safe to be scared again.”
Viewers at the time might have had a chuckle at how that part was a little over the top, but compare it to a couple different moments from the proper show. In Deep Breath, we hear Madame Vastra tell this to Clara Oswald:
“But he is The Doctor. He has walked this universe for centuries untold, he has seen stars fall to dust. You might as well flirt with a mountain range.”
And in The Husbands of River Song, our watered-down Bernice Summerfield exclaims the following:
“When you love The Doctor, it’s like loving the stars themselves. You don’t expect a sunset to admire you back. And if I happen to find myself in danger, let me tell you, The Doctor is not stupid enough, or sentimental enough, and he is certainly not in love enough to find himself standing in it with me!”
It was funny in the parody, but holding The Doctor up on such a high pedestal all the time makes them kind of boring after a while.
Lastly, there’s the matter of the regenerations that The Doctor undergoes. His first regeneration in the special turns him into Richard E. Grant. While this doesn’t have anything to do with Moffat, it’s interesting that he would go on to play The Doctor in Scream of the Shalka, a webisode that I really do wish got expanded upon more. More important is The Doctor’s final regeneration, turning the beloved Time Lord into a blonde woman in their thirteenth incarnation. Sound familiar? Of course, we can get into semantics about whether or not it’s actually the thirteenth incarnation thanks to more of Moffat’s Shyamalan-esque twists, but Jodie Whitaker is generally accepted as the Thirteenth Doctor. This leads me to wonder: Did Steven Moffat purposefully keep casting men as the Doctor until that point as a cheeky reference? Is he just kind of sexist and reuses his ideas without knowing? Did he even have any say in Whitaker’s casting?
I rag on Steven Moffat, and he does deserve it, but I have to give credit where credit’s due: he has made a great impact on both the show and the mythos of the character. There are a lot of stories he’s written that I genuinely love. He’s written more stories than a great deal of the writers that came before, and all the criticism I hurl his way won’t take away the BAFTAs he’s won. That being said, I’m glad that he’s finally decided to take his leave, giving other writers the opportunity to move past some of the more unfavorable bits and improving upon the parts people like.
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