This week Whovian Leap looks at how Steven Moffat softened the blow of regeneration for younger viewers.
Matt Smith was a Doctor for children. Clownish, silly and child-like he spun his arms round like a windmill and stumbled like a baby giraffe. An overgrown toddler in short. But he wasn’t just a Doctor for the kids. He was their friend. Losing Matt Smith was always going to be a traumatic experience for the younger generation of fans. But on Christmas Day we learned something. The Great Moff cares. Behind that steely Scottish mask, somewhere deep down inside the grim and grumpy exterior burns a light. Previous Doctors had been regenerated into oblivion without a second thought for younger viewers. However Steven Moffat was the showrunner who was going to help them through the regeneration. But how would he achieve it?
Step One – “Handles”
The cutest, cuddliest and “child-friendliest” companion since K9. We got to know him. We got to laugh with him. We grew to love him. He was the perfect comedy sidekick. Moff bumped him off. A seemingly callous, but clever move. He showed younger viewers the worst possible scenario. Death. Steven Moffat was giving us a clear message. We all saw that there was something worse than regeneration. We realised that the Doctor was lucky that he could regenerate. After all what would you choose between regeneration and death?
Step Two – “Learning to say goodbye”
Clara had apparently lost the Doctor for good when she was sent back to Earth. By means of this initial “goodbye” Moffat was psychologically preparing younger viewers for the inescapable adieu at the end of the episode. The little boy from Christmas Town played a crucial role too. He asked the Doctor, as he departed in the Tardis, if he would be coming back. In him the younger viewer had someone to identify with, someone to share their worries with. They were not alone.
Step Three – “Make ’em laugh”
Moffat provided viewers, young and old alike, with plenty of frivolous moments and high jinks to lighten the mood. We saw the Doctor in the altogether. He did his silly dance from “The Wedding of River Song”. Clara’s family’s reaction to him was hilarious when he came round for Christmas dinner. What better cure for grief than laughter?
Step Four – “Old is cool”
Moffat made the imminent regeneration into Capaldi more palatable for younger viewers by introducing them to Clara’s joke-loving grandmother. The tearful Clara hugged her as she grieved for the Doctor. Clara’s grandmother showed her tender side as she reminisced about her husband. She remembered gazing at him as he stood on a pier on a rainy day a long long time ago. “I wanted everything to stop. I wanted nothing to change ever again.” Her words were aimed at the younger viewers who felt exactly the same thing. The loving bond between Clara and her grandmother was incredibly moving. Everyone loves their gran. Kids were reminded that “old people are cool”.
Capaldi is a child compared to Clara’s grandmother. Let’s not forget that our beloved showrunner had already paved the way for an older Doctor, hitting us with awesome oldies in the form of Hurt, Bradley, Baker and debatably McGann. Moffat recently reminded us that kids love Father Christmas and they would never want him to be young. William Hartnell, the original “crotchety old man”, was adored by younger fans who would shower him with fan mail and go wild whenever they met him in public.
Step Five – “Eleven’s fade to grey”
Moffat aged Matt Smith. He took our familiar youthful Eleven away from us gradually, making him more and more unrecognisible underneath the make-up. His loveable and energetic performance as the older Doctor hammered home the message that the Doctor can be old. Capaldi is a spring chicken compared to the decrepit Doctor in the bell tower. In allowing the Doctor to spend hundreds of years in Christmas Town, Moffat granted the Eleventh so much more life, even though we weren’t there with him to see it. But we can imagine him enjoying years and years of happiness as a benevolent celestial toymaker, protecting Christmas Town from its foes. It is indeed something of a consolation for his impending demise. Interestingly the concept of the Doctor settling down was introduced with the appearance of Tom Baker’s Curator in “Day of the Doctor”. We had also seen the Eleventh Doctor put down roots in “The Snowmen”.
Step Six – “The Final Speech”
“We all change. When you think about it, we are all different people all through our lives. That’s ok. That’s good. You gotta keep moving. So long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will forget not one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.” Before regenerating Matt Smith turned to camera and with these words reassured children everywhere that it was going to be alright. He had also reminded them “Times change and so must I”. When it came to the actual regeneration itself, it was mercifully brief and painless. There was no screaming or shouting which kids might have found disturbing. Amy even came back, just to be with him at the end. Her reappearance would have thrilled youngsters who jumped on board the show during Matt Smith’s tenure. And there were smiles. Miles and miles of smiles. Amy and the Doctor smiled at each other affectionately. The Doctor smiled bravely at his bow tie as he removed it. Finally he smiled at Clara to reassure her, right up to the moment of regeneration. He kept on smiling to the very end.
Steven Moffat crafted a glorious final tale for the Eleventh Doctor, full of love and laughter, action scenes, special effects and monsters galore. But he had kept the kids in mind when he first put pen to paper. Somehow I don’t think that the wonderful Christopher Bidmead tried to soften the blow for the kids as he wrote the Fourth Doctor out in Logopolis. Robert Holmes was not holding the younger viewer’s hand when the Fifth finally succumbed to Spectrox Toxaemia.
But the Great Moff did. He was there for young fans. He had devised the Eleventh Doctor with kids in mind and was fully aware of how distraught they would be on Regeneration Day. So he tried to make things easier. He prepared them for the concept of death with the “Handles” storyline. Children were given characters to identity with; Clara grieved for the Doctor, the little boy worried about losing him. Moffat gave kids the Eleventh Doctor at his silliest best, just to distract them. He introduced them to the idea of “old” Doctors. He reminded them of the love for an elderly grandparent and deliberately aged the Eleventh Doctor, making “old” cool. Finally he put the words in the mouth of a smiling Eleventh Doctor who told children the world over that everything was going to be alright. All in all Steven Moffat considered kids’ feelings when he wrote the “The Time of the Doctor”. Maybe the Great Moff has got two hearts beating in there as well.