When the Going Gets Dark
Correlate a Venn diagram between Doctor Who and ‘Scary Goings On’ and sitting pretty in the middle of the twin circles of terror and television would be Season 6/32, the perfect combination of all the traits of Who tinged with the futile, melancholy sadness of a Burns unit on bonfire night.
Darkness and television have often been seen skulking around back alleys in the rough parts of the neighbourhood – sending its characters off into uncharted territory, forcing them to look deep into their souls and face the horror that lays within – and Doctor Who is no different.
This season The Silence have garnered most of the darkness synonyms with ‘scary’ topping the list.
The newest addition to the lexicon of Who monsters have been at the heart of a campaign by several media outlets to out-Whitehouse each other or to simply offer chin-stroking rhetoric in the name of what scares children.
However the most honest and reasoned response came, unsurprisingly, from Steven Moffat when he commented on whether or not The Silence over-step the line of what is acceptable:
“This is the kind of fear that can be dealt with by a man with big hair and a bow tie.”
It’s a truism that runs through the whole of the show’s existence. There is no problem that the Doctor can’t beat. The degree of darkness comes in the cost that he places on himself while attempting to solve that problem.
There will always be new monsters, some more effective than others, but until the Doctor loses another life, the tension will keep building between just how far Moffat can push our hero out of what has become expected of him and the peril he places him in.
At the moment this season has the balance just right. We expect the Doctor to face insurmountable odds and to defeat them but also we’ve come to expect it to take a toll on our hero too – and the situations he has been placed in have tested him accordingly.
His death, a shocking moment in and of itself, isn’t something new. It presents a new challenge, different from the one he faced last season when he was wilfully wiped from the universe (which is itself a twist on the usual hero’s dilemma) but it’s a challenge that has been seen before.
The construction of which is almost a lap of honour for this type of dark storytelling – perhaps it will be – maybe it’s time to narrow the focus on to the characters.
Life in the TARDIS seems to hang on a knife edge. Take the Ponds.
Amy and Rory’s relationship seems primed for tragedy. As Amy becomes more desperate to save the Doctor – going to such extraordinarily panicky lengths as shooting at a little girl – Rory has been developing more and more into a strong willed character, a person who, in The Rebel Flesh, is willing to risk his life in order to validate another’s right to exist.
He maybe a nurse but he’s becoming more like the Doctor. He’s died and ‘regenerated’ so many times he might as well be the Doctor.
Rory the Roman has always been a dedicated, noble servant to Amy, possessing an enduring fairytale love for the girl of his dreams. Crucially, however, within this relationship that appears to be splintering under the sheer weight of untold secrets and quiet frustrations lies the truth in most relationships, the truth that warring and often contradictory personalities make for the best bedfellows.
It’s this permeable sadness that drama thrives on. Monsters may occupy the scary end of most reactions to the shows darkening horizon but its this friction between its characters that makes it more terrifying to a child.
A jolt from The Silence might give them nightmares but the knowledge that their heroes might not be together in the same way again is a different kind of fear – shadows in Doctor Who are filled with monsters – it’s the damage they leave in their wake that is far worse, something that Moffat agrees with:
“There is an element that the Doctor moves on from people in a rather scary but inevitable way. He won’t be nearby forever.”