There may be a great many grown up nerds amongst its fan faithful, but Doctor Who was conceived, sold and continues to be marketed as a family show. Say whaaaaaaaaat? Yes, consider the Saturday at 8 pm timeslot, the lack of blood and bad language, and the hero’s aversion to violence and always using the power of his mind over a firearm. Yes, Doctor Who is meant for kids to enjoy every bit as much, if not more, than the adults who also enjoy it. But has it gotten too dark for those kids? Many people have been asking themselves that question, and now it’s Doctor Who executive producer Steven Moffat‘s turn to give us an answer. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t think it is.
In an interview with TV & Satellite Week (via Doctor Who TV), Moffat responded to the question by saying, “I wish those people would do a bit of research. Go and discover what children are reading now,” he explained. “Harry Potter’s very dark. All the Young Adult literature is very dark. And children are dark and serious people.”
Moffat makes a pretty good point, the last Harry Potter novel is a blood bath where not even the pet owl gets out alive after all. Look at the explosion of dystopia as a theme in young adult novels too, nearly every single one them is about a world that’s fallen apart and been rebuilt in some sort of oppressive way that subjugates individuality and freedom. Hardly solemn bedtime reading, is it? Of course, the same could be said for the tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, which have been sanitized by Disney and others, but can be pretty ghastly in the original text.
“Not all the series was very dark.” Moffat continued in SFX magazine. “That’s been slightly talked up. People are forgetting ‘Robot Of Sherwood’ or ‘Time Heist’ or ‘In the Forest Of The Night.’ We did lots of silly, silly things. Just because Peter frowned at you during them doesn’t mean that we’re any less barking mad than normal.”
As we look to the immediate future and issues of tone and silliness, Moffat discussed where things stand on the show going into next week’s Christmas special, which is ominously named “The Last Christmas.” Moffat says that it won’t dance around the fallout of the season 8 finale, or put aside the various dramatic elements the series had been building to just because it’s the usual one-off holiday special.
“We certainly pick up the threads of where we were,” Moffat said. “We don’t just say ‘oh, we’re stepping aside for Christmas to have a party and then we’ll pick up the plot again in episode one.’ To be fair sometimes we’ve come close to doing that with the Christmas specials.
“This time you’re going to see the consequences of the last things you saw on screen, and it’s played out quite seriously,” he continued. “The darkness really comes from the complexity and danger in the friendship between the Doctor and Clara. A lovely and wonderful and warm and serious friendship though it is, if occasionally explosive, it’s a troubling one. It would trouble you if you saw it. If you were Clara’s best friend, you’d be saying ‘He looks barking mad to me…”
What’s mad is that anyone would want to spend Christmas with The Doctor, that’s when the heaviest stuff goes down: invasions, giant robots, Master clones, regenerations. Basically, if you see a blue police box on your block at Christmas time, you pack a bag and get the heck out of town. As for the direction of the show, perhaps accusations of being darker have more to do with an older, grouchier Doctor now being the star of the show versus a younger, more ebullient leading man. Maybe learning just how final “The Last Christmas” really is will change our minds on the subject.
“The Last Christmas,” the Doctor Who Christmas special, airs next Thursday on BBC, BBC America and Space.