Sermonizing, Failing the Payoff & Jumping the Shark: The End of Doctor Who

Warning: Offensive Opinions, Ranty Snarkiness & Spoilers Ahead

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The latest announcement from the BBC on the new Doctor has me thinking a lot of why I have been dismally disappointed in hind sight at the years of the New Dr. Who.  A show I’m quite a fanboy of.  Or at least I was until recent years.  I have considered many of my convoluted thoughts on the subject, and have come to realize that it’s a trifecta of issues that bothered me.  The reason I have not enjoyed the last 4-5 seasons of Dr. Who, despite remaining a fan of the series or individual episodes are as follows:  (and things I’ve learned from their mistakes).

 

Failing the Payoff

Ever since the decision to make “Season Story Arcs” had come about, we’ve had an unholy partnership of bad finales brought about by Failing the Payoff which I directly link to Jumping the Shark.  Mind you, individual stories have been great.  Fantastic even, but the season arcs with the exceptions of David Tennant’s first season, Matt Smith’s first and second season have been a bit rubbish.  Well that’s if you can call a smouldering dumpster fire a bit rubbish.  But why?

Every season save for the three I mentioned became massive “Save the Universe” type moments.  Even the oft appreciated Bad Wolf storyline from Season One was better save for jumping the shark at the very very end.  They’ve failed at the end because the writers wrote themselves into a corner.  Moffat was so good at it, he could practically have his picture in the dictionary for it.  His buildups are excellent.  He has some inventive ideas that create classic thrills and scares and seem like its going somewhere good.  But at the end, he loses confidence so he whips out one of my biggest irritant the Deus Ex Machina, and in doing so spoils all the build up.

Cases in point: Bad Wolf.  Companion gets phenomenal cosmic power.  Why?  Reasons.  With the exception of the three seasons mentioned all the companions develop a phenomenal cosmic power which ends the enemy but to save her the Doctor must rejenerate.  This is a rubbish copout.  Sure you can say that this groundwork had been laid all season long with Bad Wolf… which to be honest is the only reason I don’t go off on it more.

And poor Martha, who just has an out and out dumbass ending of Carebear Feels and Johnny Appleseed talky bits that really were silly beyond belief and became the poster child for wasted companions.  She didn’t jump the shark but the solution sure did.  Plus it was slightly alleviated because she had the best reason to leave the Tardis as anyone.  She was the rebound companion and had too much self respect.

Then you have the whole Doctor Donna Metacrisis in season 4.  What the Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!!!!11!1!???  An awesome build up of planets being ripped from time leading to a face off between the Dr. and Davros?  Oh come on!  This has awesome written all over it.  But the solution was once again? Superpower Companion to the rescue at some forgettable nonsensical cost… if any!

What I learned is that if your ending isn’t good… guess what?  It poisons all the rest of the good work you did. You failed in the compact between you and the reader.  They expect you to do certain things, write about specific things specific to your genre even if you subvert or twist the trope.  But if you chintz out at the end…  no one will care about what you did before and possibly no one will trust you again.  (Full disclosure, I have seen only the “Return of Doctor Mysterio” and “Pilot” from season ten because A) they both jump the shark and B) I’m pretty pissed at Moffat’s serial violation of all these points.  Which is sad because I wanted Capaldi to have a better run than Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker… who were also stuck with crap stories and wasted potential  (well not Colin Baker.  Ick).

Jumping the Shark

As you can see the theme for jumping the shark was Companion based.  Donna was great… then she got made into Doctor Donna.  Rose was great… then she became Bad Wolf.  Rory… the companion, through the power of Runninggag, who just wouldn’t die.  (Amy was good except by using her force of will to you know… drag the Doctor and the TARDIS across an impenetrable wall in space-time and back into reality.  You know… stuff like that) Clara was great… till she merged with the Doctor’s time stream and what was originally an interesting story became a gawdawful mess of “SuperClara and her trusty Sidekick, Some Schmuck Chauffer in a Blue Box”.  Hell, even River Song traipsed up to the line, but she was the one companion, other than say Micky, who didn’t become all-powerful or bend reality to their whim.  I will say that Rose at least had a good ending, all be it terminally sappy and now she comes back time and time again like a Brown Recluse bite and just as damaging to the integrity of the series and her own character’s credibility.  What part of “trapped in another universe unable to cross” don’t you get, writers?  Stop violating your own rules!

What this has taught me is that if you paint yourself into a corner, you’re going to have to go back and fix it where it starts and not… NOT… take the cheap way out and just ret-con some cheesy fix.  It also has taught me that sometimes, you just can’t bite on the tasty bait of a kewl trendy idea without taking into account the dangers of what it might create down the road.  This is also a major sin of Marvel Comics lately.

And that takes us into the last, most egregious sin:

Sermonizing

A while back I was introduced to the phrase “Story, not Sermon”.  It’s part of where lots of Christian Fiction falls down.  Too many focus on preaching while neglecting the story, and that life doesn’t always fall into neat little boxes of quantified faith and philosophy.  Lately, though, sermonizing has become endemic throughout movies, TV and music.  It isn’t so much in books much more than it had been in the past, other than artificial markets created for identity politics which are then weaponized by publishers and retailers with an agenda.  BTW, everyone has an agenda.  Those who claim otherwise are lying to your face.  When I read a book to learn something, sermonizing isn’t so bad.  For instance, I don’t pick up “Hind’s Feet on High Places” and don’t expect it to address me directly or obliquely.  On the other hand, if I pick up “The Screwtape Letters”, I don’t get sermonizing at you, but its more of a morality tale or fable where I can choose to ignore its subtext towards me, and the philosophy becomes a backdrop.  On the other hand, if I read “Ender’s Game” I don’t get any sermon or morality tale outside of the broad general themes of an Sci Fi adventure story.

What this has this taught me?  There are expectations on how much you can preach a belief or faith before it interferes with the good story.  “Hind’s Feet” is a book that uses allegory to preach directly to you about its subjects in an entertaining parable.  But I went into reading that book knowing it was going to preach to me.  If I had not and was averse to Christian theology, I’d have been pissed by the bait and switch.  Same goes for “The Screwtape Letters” if I did not know it was a morality tale with a solid trope twist.  But if suddenly I started getting either morality tales or parables from “Enders Game”, a book based on the pretense it is nothing more than an entertaining story, I’d have launched the book across the room.  It’s part of why the sequels have been failures.

So I work hard to use the morality tale/fable line in my work.  People know going in that I’m putting this out there as an aspect of the world.  I’m not preaching to the reader that this is how to believe.  It’s just the way the characters believe.  The instant you cross the line and try to make people agree with what you’re putting in the book, you leave prose and entertainment and become rhetoric.

How does this relate to Dr. Who?  For a few years now, we’ve been seeing creeping political correctness joked about, more libertine attitudes being normalized and the slow slow descent into forced Transacceptance theology.  Post Modernism and Social Justice has poisoned too much of the show’s underpinnings and has been slowly dissolving the “just for fun” nature of the show into subtle fables and sermons on how we should act and think. Social programming at its most nefarious.  Captain Jack was the first hammerblow.  Missy was the next.  Then came the “Day of the Doctor” with gender changing generals (a rubbish episode that wasted John Hurt), and then Bill and now… this.

No one who’s been paying attention is fooled as to what this is about.  This is pushing a political agenda and using the popularity and love of a trusted franchise to do it.  As a fan of the show since 1980, I find it insulting and infuriating that something used for entertainment and twisted it to push an agenda.  This is equivalent to a reboot of Star Trek making James T. Kirk into some man-hating feminist. Or Darth Vader was Luke’s mother.  It’s a comparable betrayal, and its something people need to realize is wrong for it violates trust for the sake of a trend.  I have no animosity towards the actress.  In fact, I feel kinda bad for her, because she’s going to be vilified and roasted on the spit of public opinion.  To them it’s now a delivery system for a socio-political agenda to sneak unpopular/abominable ideas past critical thought barriers of impressionable fans and normalize aberrant behavior.  All in the name of hypocritical “Tolerance”.

When you fail in the payoff, it’s often because you over-reached or sold something you couldn’t figure out and had to cheat.  If you jump the shark, it’s usually caused from the previous point, but made worse because its outlandish and violates the rules of your universe or at least sprains credulity.  And sermonizing… Well… that’s a direct violation of trust between you and your reader if you were not up front with the fact ‘Here there be rhetoric, not entertainment”, and that is the most bitter betrayal of all.

Some very important things for me as an author to consider.  Something I hope never to violate or at least be up front with my level of rhetoric/sermonizing/story.  A balance that I hope always comes out with story first.

If you think that this level of fan outrage has not happened before or is not coming, I refer you to this: