RORY: Just point and think.
AMY: But what do I think?
— Doctor Who, “Let’s Kill Hitler.”
It’s usually hard to pinpoint the exact moment when a beloved TV series goes off the rails. Fans will debate endlessly when a show definitively jumped the shark, but the decay of a TV show — which is always a big, complicated project, made by many people, and entailing a multitude of decisions — usually comes about as the result of several factors. The original show-runner can be replaced. An especially unappealing new cast member or character can be added; a beloved one can be removed. The writing staff can change. The production values can increase or decrease. It takes a village, is the point here; there’s usually no one scene or choice that causes the viewer to stop caring.
Fortunately, that’s not the case for Doctor Who. Not for me, at least. In the end, the reason I stopped caring comes down to one moment. Five simple words: “But what do I think?” Just like that, I was done. That was the moment that Doctor Who officially ceded its claims to its own title, and became a very different, much worse show — the show I’ve come to think of as Nurse Rory.
Sorry: Flashback time. Doctor Who, you see, is a show about a time-traveling alien who takes human, usually female “companions” along on his adventures; a little non-linearity is to be expected. Since its premiere in 1963, a long chain of different show-runners have created any number of variations on this basic theme of Doctor, adventures, and companion; the crucial thing to know, when you watch Doctor Who, is that it is not one show, but a series of shows which share the same basic premise. Liking one version of Doctor Who is no guarantee that you’ll like any of the others; the cast, writing, and production are always subject to radical change.
So, one and a half seasons ago, staff writer Steven Moffat took over the show from former show-runner Russell T. Davies. Davies’ Who centered around many of his pet themes — the tendency of power to corrupt; the creation of family; religion; blunt speechifying about liberal politics — and was subject to many of Davies’ weaknesses, including the aforementioned speechifying, melodrama, and sloppy plotting. His Doctor was an obvious Christ figure, a profoundly lonely man in search of a family, and a metaphor for self-realization; his companions were usually women, and always looking for greater meaning in their lives. The draw was Davies’ in-depth, multifaceted characterization of the leads, his moral seriousness (even when the characters were in goofy rubber suits, Davies and the Doctor both obviously cared about doing the right thing by them) and his cosmopolitan vision. Earth-based plots were set in major cities, queer characters and characters of color served as Companions, and women — here’s the fun part — were encouraged to want more from their lives than marriage and children. In fact, fan-favorite Donna’s learning to want more from her life than marriage to a man, ANY man, was pretty much the central theme of her plot.
Enter Moffat. Gone is the urban setting; gone are the central characters of color and the major queer characters. (One gay couple, introduced in the mid-season finale, literally said that they “didn’t need names,” and were comfortable with being identified simply as That Gay Couple. “Let’s Kill Hitler,” last Saturday’s episode, contained one of Moffat’s first black female characters; she was a hypersexualized, gun-toting criminal, and was killed off and literally replaced by a white actress about ten minutes in.) Gone, definitively, is the idea that women can or should want more from their lives than marriage to a man. ANY man. Even the man known as Nurse Rory.
To explain: About a season and a half ago, the Doctor ran into a little suburban girl known as Amy Pond. He promised to take her off on his various time-traveling adventures. They bonded. Then, he disappeared. When he came back, she was in her twenties. For him, it had only been five minutes; for her, it had been a lifetime of waiting. The Doctor took the adult Amy off on her various time-traveling adventures. All was well. Or, at least it was until the advent of Rory.
Rory was Amy’s fiance, a nurse, and not much else. I would tell you more about him, but the fact is, he didn’t have much else going on. He was a generally mopey, dweeby, insecure fellow, whose one accomplishment was hanging around his lady-friend until she reluctantly settled for him.
The moment the Doctor found out about Rory, the importance of time-traveling adventures decreased radically. Instead, the Doctor became a matchmaker and alien fairy godmother, single-mindedly devoted to making sure that Amy overcame her ambivalence about Rory and married him straight away. He referred to this process as “getting [Amy] sorted out.” From henceforth, both the Doctor and the show have been cramming every bony, whiny inch of Rory down our throats, in a doomed attempt to convince us that he is awesome. He fights vampires! He whines about being rejected by his girlfriend! He’s a Roman Centurion! He mopes about being rejected by his girlfriend! He punches Hitler! He complains about being emasculated by his wife! Who used to be his girlfriend! That he whined about being rejected by! But never mind: Now that he has her, he is super-emasculated! So he whines about that, too! Don’t you just love Rory?
Meanwhile, Amy has been killed and put in a box through no agency of her own, resurrected and married off through no agency of her own, impregnated through no agency of her own, replaced by a synthetic clone through no agency of her own, had a baby through no agency of her own, somehow raised the baby inadvertently through no agency of her own, and spent “Let’s Kill Hitler” as a robot duplicate and/or helpless mess, looking to Rory to replace agency of her own, of which she has none. Amy’s so firmly construed as Rory’s property that the Doctor actually asks Rory for “permission to hug” her in moments of emotional crisis. Amy making choices would apparently interfere with the show’s premise. Which used to be a Doctor taking a human, usually female companion on time-traveling adventures, and is now one white, straight guy bending time and space to help another white, straight guy get laid.
And then we got there. The moment I stopped caring. Amy is surrounded by killer robots, in possession of a life-saving tool that can do anything she can think up, and Rory actually has to instruct her to “think” something. But even this isn’t condescending enough, apparently. Because Amy then turns to Rory, and asks him: “What do I think?”
Jesus, Amy. I don’t know. If Moffat cared enough to give you a recognizable human thought process, I’d still be watching Doctor Who.