There was a big mystery looming over last night’s season finale of Doctor Who. And, for once, the question wasn’t wrapped up in typical Whovian wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey . . . stuff. No, the question here is much more straightforward. Is Steven Moffat, the man in charge of the two biggest TV series on the BBC, actually bothered by the intensity of the Sherlock and Doctor Who fans? Or is he just having a bit of fun?
Moffat first started messing with his hyper-devoted fan base back in January of this year, when he brought Benedict Cumberbatch’s popular Sherlock Holmes character back from the dead. That episode, titled “The Empty Hearse,” gave the fans what they wanted and then some. Not only more Cumberbatch, but Cumberbatch starring in a steamy, hair tousling, coat ruffling fantasy sequence.
But that sequence came courtesy of the fevered imagination of Sherlock’s Anderson (Jonathan Aris), a former Holmes colleague who was driven a little bonkers by the detective’s death. In a frenzy of guilt, Anderson formed a Sherlock fan club, a group of like-minded conspiracy theorists who were not only convinced Sherlock was alive, but were hell-bent on figuring out how he survived his great Reichenbach fall. This group, decked out as they were in deerstalker caps, were obvious stand-ins for the Sherlock-obsessed Tumblr crowd whose love for Cumberbatch and all things Holmes helped turn Sherlock into the television phenomenon it is.
Things didn’t end well for poor Anderson, who never did get a satisfactory explanation for exactly how Holmes survived. (Nor did we, the audience.) And his frustration over the futility of his meticulous research was a message from Moffat (and co-creator and writer Mark Gatiss) to the obsessive fans. Relax, he seemed to say, nobody wants to be an Anderson.
But poking gentle fun at obsessive fanboys is nothing compared to what went down on last night’s episode of Doctor Who. During the all-star Doctor Who anniversary extravaganza last year, we were introduced to a character named Osgood (a charming Ingrid Oliver). Decked out in classic Whovian regalia (Tom Baker’s iconic scarf), Osgood immediately became a fan favorite and meta audience proxy.
Here was a clever, brave, likable character as obsessed with the Doctor as any devoted Comic-Con attendee. So when Osgood popped up again on last night’s finale, “Death in Heaven,” the response was extremely positive. This time the scientist was sporting Matt Smith’s bow tie, David Tennant’s shoes, and casually dropping Eleven’s famous catchphrase.
And when the Peter Capaldi’s Doctor muttered part of his standard companion invitation to Osgood (“All of time and space—something for your bucket list”), the audience was meant to think that the young bespectacled scientist was about to experience the ultimate in Whovian fan-wish fulfillment. Would Osgood join the Doctor in the TARDIS as his new companion? Yes, please!
Alas, if you think Anderson driven mad by his love for Sherlock was bad, then you might want to look away for this bit.
The Doctor’s nemesis, the Master (or Mistress or Missy, if you must), pulverized that cute little audience proxy for one reason only: Osgood admired the Doctor and he admired her in return. And though I have to admit the sequence was beautifully plotted and scripted, with a wonderfully menacing and gonzo performance from Michelle Gomez, the message couldn’t be clearer. Love the Doctor too much, or in the wrong way, and you’ll be quashed.
Moffat claims to have had good reason for bumping off Osgood:
The Master-stroke-Missy would have to kill somebody we liked in the most cruel, heartless, and terrible way to absolutely say that this person is shockingly evil. Osgood was the one we flung in the fire to make the Master burn brighter.
And all that makes logical, and dramatic, sense. It is, undeniably, good storytelling. But it’s also true that Moffat has had to put up with a lot of criticism from a very invested, very vocal fan base, and that scrutiny won’t be ending any time soon. Barring, say, James Bond or Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and the Doctor are probably the two most famous fictional characters in all of the U.K. And Steven Moffat doesn’t have the advantage of having invented them. He’s adopted them. You (probably) wouldn’t tell J.K. Rowling she’s doing Harry Potter wrong, but you will often hear fans say “that’s not my Doctor” or “that’s not my Sherlock” in regards to Moffat’s tenure and these particular iterations.
Not that he’s under any obligation to service the fans, but Moffat has, at times, made changes that seem like responses to audience complaints. Displeased with the flirty, silly Doctor played by Matt Smith? Here’s a grumpy, asexual version played by that delightful crank Peter Capaldi. Frustrated that the twelfth iteration of the Doctor wasn’t a woman? Well, O.K., how about we make the Master a woman instead?
But it seems that there’s a certain kind of fan, the kind that fetishizes catchphrases and iconography like the TARDIS, the deerstalker, the scarves and bow ties, that Moffat considers a bad fan. Don’t believe me? Look what happened to poor Seb last night when, swept up in his admiration for the Doctor’s derring-do, he committed the cardinal sin of speaking Internet-ese.
There was a lot to love in this finale of Doctor Who. (I’m going to ignore the baffling “Other Side” coda and the worn-out “love conquers all” solution.) As I said, Gomez’s Missy was absolutely delightful. I think we all have our fingers crossed for her return. The tease of Nick Frost’s Santa was perfection. Clara turning her knack for lying into an asset rather than a character flaw was tremendous, and the payoff for Danny Pink, military man to the last, was particularly satisfying. And don’t forget that Moffat gave us this, a truly lovely bit of Doctor wisdom.
But when you look at this finale and last season’s Sherlock premiere side by side, a pattern does emerge. Steven Moffat can’t really hate his overly enthusiastic Internet-savvy fans, can he? Surely, this is all in good fun.
Maybe. Maybe not. But if I were you, I wouldn’t cosplay in the general vicinity of Moffat any time soon.
Posted on November 11, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged BBC, companion, Death In Heaven, Doctor, Doctor Who, doctorwho, fandom, History, Jenna Coleman, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, regeneration, Sherlock, Steven Moffat, TARDIS, The Doctor, The Master, Time Lord. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.