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The other night, the news that Steven Moffat had one more Christmas Special and a season left of Doctor Who hit the Internet. The news also provides notification that the next Doctor Who episode will be the 2016 Christmas Special and the next full season will happen in 2017. Moffat's position as showrunner ends then.
The audience has gone through what boils down to two deaths of very close companions to The Doctor. These two characters mean more to the Doctor than just the characters themselves. Their exiting his life permanently means that he has returned to a solitary life.
Sure, the Doctor has friends out there, like Vastra, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, Osgood, Martha and Mickey, Captain Jack and whoever else he might have out there. As much as they mean to him, though, he never lets his emotional guard down the way that he has with the Pond Family or even Clara Oswald. Even with Rose, the full Time Lord Doctor never lets down his emotional dampers to express his true love for her.
I think a one-year hiatus will do good for the show dramatically. Even after that, having the Doctor travel alone will would do him and the audience some good (even though apparently 2017 will bring us a new companion). The Doctor has some major mourning and finding himself to do.
Ever since The Silence in the Library, the Doctor's emotional and identity fate has become intertwined with the Pond family. Imagine the surprise of the audience, though, when Moffat actually fulfills the demands of the plot/world building hooks that he leaves laying around.
Clara becomes a footnote. An important one that resolves some major plot points, but nonetheless a footnote crutch to the Doctor avoiding something he has to face. The Husbands of River Song turns on our head the assumption that River and the Doctor have their night at the Singing Towers of Darillium before The Snowmen.
After all, in the DVD extra for Series Six, Last Night, River tells another version of the 11th Doctor that they are going to see the Singing Towers of Darillium. Both Doctors have a downcast moment, both thinking it is the last night.
I like to think that this scene occurs during Let's Kill Hitler, during the length of time that just regenerated Mels poisons the Doctor. He wears the same tux. The Doctor, seeing no way out of death, he fetches River for their last night.
I have no idea what causes him to change his mind, to understand that he somehow makes it through the events of Let's Kill Hitler, but he delays their final night again. Maybe she mentions something about an event he had yet to experience or she makes a comment about the tux. Does she ruminate about him wearing it the first time they met and make a comment about how that was a difficult one but everyone made it through somehow? I don't know, but I imagine something like that.
The Husbands of River Song communicates to the audience that the Doctor delays seeing River once again when they part sometime after The Angels Take Manahattan. Not a surprising reaction for a man who has lost his closest friend, the woman who, in many ways, he has grown into maturity with, having met Amy Pond as a child soon afterregenerating. She also acts somewhat as a mother figure, in some ways.
Losing River means accepting the loss of Amy and that formative part of himself. He needs to develop his own identity and complete his mourning. Avoiding River after that point means that he can put off the hard work of mourning and rebuilding himself.
The Husbands of River Song helps make so much more sense of their parting scene in The Name of the Doctor. The ghost of River knows that he won't see her again until he regenerates. She needs to let him know it hurts, though, something like that is worth expressing. Who doesn't wish they could express the pain from a relationship or interaction after it ended? Who doesn't want that kind of closure?
The Doctor's feeling that he has a "duty of care" to Clara provides context to him delaying seeing River again, from Clara's time as the Impossible Girl to the control freak to her death. Seeing her die twice makes a good explanation for his passion to keep her alive, going as far to make grand speeches about it to trying to break the Rules of Time to keep her alive. After all, doesn't he do the same thing as the Time Lord Victorius for someone he had less connection with?
Trying to stop Clara's death, no matter the cost, now feels like the desperate struggle of the Doctor avoiding his fate. Accepting the death of intimate family then moving on with life with one's own identity is scary. The Doctor doesn't want to accept the responsibility and have to face the existential void of having to find new meaning.
If anything, having this psychodrama continue from one regeneration to the next feels the most peculiar. Then again, upon witnessing the death of a stranger that Doctor knows will become one of his most intimate relationships feels peculiar, too. Such a thing will stay with someone, especially when the sacrificor does it for the other's future. Could the parallel have escaped either of them when Clara jumps into the Doctor's grave/timeline.
The Pond era of the Doctor's life has ended. He may not have to mourn Clara since he has forgotten her. Frankly a lot of the audience also may not care enough to mourn for Clara since they never liked her.
Myself, I prefer her as the Impossible Girl than the control freak. The control freak could have worked just fine if the writing transitioned better between the two versions of her. I have a hard time accepting that the Clara in The Day of the Doctor became the control freak starting in The Time of the Doctor. Showing the transition could have helped there.
Having a year off will help take the edges off the ends of Clara and River (even though both have hooks enough to return if the writers want them to do so). Some of the audience needs to do some of their own mourning. It sounds silly to say it. It is just a TV show, after all!
The world of Doctor Who has been around for more than 50 years, though, whether in the form of television, audio dramas or the written form. Paul McGann may have acted in only two episodes of TV (and one of them only a few minutes long), but the 8th Doctor has affected tons of fans through the Big Finish Audio Dramas.
Even New Who has been on for nearly 10 years. People can't help but make emotional connections to fictitious characters that have lasted this long and even to a few of their ancillary characters. New Who makes this connection especially so as the Doctor has displayed more emotions and vulnerability than the cantakerous patriarch of the TARDIS in Classic Who. He has become easier for the audience to connect with.
A year off may not provide enough transition and mourning, though. As with the transition between the Impossible Girl and the control freak not having enough dramatic play out, the Doctor moving onto another companion too quick might not give enough, either.
Doctor Who has done well transitioning from the tragic loss of companions to taking on a new companion. After Rose's exit in Doomsday, Donna helps the Doctor focus a little and gave him an empathic ear.
Martha doesn't have the best run compared to other companions. Nonetheless, she had a reaffirming exit that may have come as a loss to the Doctor, but he can always visit her. Donna's all but death occurs as the Doctor comes to terms that he militarizes people in place of him actually taking on the responsibility, then the David Tennant Specials helps provide a buffer.
For all intents and purposes, the loss of Amy and Rory hasn't come to its full end. I put Amy's exit in a similar category as Martha's, one of reaffirmation where she exits by her own choice and for her own interests, not by circumstances killing her. She has the choice to abandon Rory to the past, but chooses to go to him. Her heart truly lies with him. It ends well for Amy and Rory.
The Doctor's reaction to Amy's exit leaves one of the worst tastes in my mouth than this show has ever put there. The Doctor acts so childish. He should have more maturity. He's the Doctor!
As the show has shown, he never truly deals with that loss. Does trying not to militarize friends apparently have the effect of making the Doctor more vulnerable and open to more feeling and pain than he has let himself show on broadcast TV.
Maybe Moffat will pull off the Doctor's mourning and transition well in the 2016 Christmas Special. I have my doubts, but he has dealt with most other plot hooks that he left hanging about. Only the hybrid hook possibly remains, but debate has occurred whether that one has already resolved or not. He could have left enough room for someone help him transition and get some focus.
I don't like the idea of him getting a full time companion during the Christmas episode, though. It feels too early.
I like the idea of the Doctor not having a full time companion for Series Ten. From media reports, it sounds like Capaldi will likely exit after Series Ten. The part of the Doctor has proven physically grueling, especially on the knees. Even Matt Smith complained about all the running and physicality doing a number on his knees.
Capaldi's two seasons hasn't felt like two seasons of time. He has had some bright spots as the Doctor, especially his speech at the end of The Zygon Inversion and his performance throughout Heaven Sent.
Still, he hasn't FELT like the Doctor yet, at least not like his own Doctor yet. Even Tennant, the only other New Who Doctor who had the same companion after regeneration, came into his own as the Doctor by the end of his first series.
Capaldi has played the Doctor well. Donning old Doctor's wardrobes has had its cute points, but it doesn't feel like he has come into his own as the Doctor. This lack of coming into the character has made the last series feel like they've just rushed by.
The Doctor's avoiding mourning the Pond family has probably contributed to this situation. Capaldi hasn't felt like he has come into his own because the 12th Doctor still hasn't come into his own.
Now, though, he has little choice but to do so. At least if he doesn't get stuck in an inward depressive cycle. Also continued grim darkness could do the show some disservice. The audience can only take so much. More rompy fun would help the show after so many years of grim dark.
If the Doctor can get through believable mourning during the year hiatus and a Christmas episode, great! I have the feeling it will take a little longer, though.
His functional resolution of mourning Rose doesn't feel to have reached its fruition until Martha told him she couldn't be around him. If not for Martha, he may not have even completed his mourning until he regenerated.
People never really get over the loss of a loved one. Being buried in loss has a part in the process of mourning. Nonetheless, people go through a process. It can end in a positive light or end up with someone stuck in their mourning. Both designations can have believable portrayals and both have a place on TV.
The audience has already seen the Doctor wallow in halted mourning. It lasts a long time and weighs on the patience. In real life, sensitivity to someone in this state can matter a lot. So much prolonged reality doesn't always have its place on television. At the same time, process instead of instant end doesn't provide satisfaction.
However it happens, though, whether the Doctor chooses to live agan during the Christmas Special, at some point in Series 10 or at the end, the audience deserves to go through that journey with him. I hope we get this experience.
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LINKS OF NOTE:
The Martian - No matter how far we travel, no matter how deep we explore, we are never far from home when we are in another's heart.
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