Should Steven Moffat Have Reversed the Outcome of the Time War?

Steven Moffat did something brilliant in The Day of the Doctor: he saved Gallifrey. Well, the Doctor did. But more than that, he made it so the Doctor never actually destroyed his home planet at all.

And Moffat, as revealed in the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, feels guilty about it:

“The Day of the Doctor was a success. Record ratings, awards, rave reviews. By any measure, it did alright. But two years later, I’m still haunted by the guilt.

“I know some of you, including friends of mine, were upset that we reversed the outcome of the Time War. My defence, however feeble, is that given the chance, the Doctor would do exactly that. And it was his birthday, how could I deny him that chance? What could define him more? This man who always finds another way? And there he is, at every moment of his life, proving to himself – literally – that there is always a better path.

“Ah, well. My heart was in the right place, at least. But in this job you always need two!”

But should he feel guilt?

Naturally, everyone is different, yet the majority of fans seem pretty happy with the decision. Sure, there was a place for the Doctor’s brooding, but it was the 50th anniversary. We needed something upbeat and hopeful. We needed something true to the character. And he’s right, isn’t it? The Doctor is a killer, but he always has good intentions, and genocide (effectively) isn’t a prospect the Doctor would revel in – particularly not that of his own people.

The Day of the Doctor - 12 Doctors Gallifrey

Perhaps the only way an audience could accept the Doctor killing the Time Lords and the Daleks with them was to be largely unaware of the circumstances. That’s how Doctor Who played out from 2005 to late 2009. And then, in The End of Time, Gallifrey briefly returned, and we learnt the Time Lords’ terrible plan. That was only the plan of the High Council, and those shouldn’t doom an entire planet and its people.

For the character, it works. But what about for the audience?

Part of the problem is that, one day, someone was bound to bring Gallifrey back anyway. It became inevitable when the Doctor first announced that there was a war and his people lost. Neil Gaiman previously joined a number of writers who said they, too, would’ve wiped Gallifrey off the table if they had been responsible for bringing the show back – and we’re not saying it was a wrong decision. It was perfect. But I’m one of many fans, I’m sure, who had concocted their own way the Doctor’s home could return.

Fans had been hankering for a glimpse at the Time War, and when that happened, arguably the bit we were most interested in was how it ended. What the Doctor did. It was an obvious choice for the 50th special. Nothing wrong with obvious, by the way. But seeing the Doctor actually destroy everything would’ve been a mistake. It would’ve been too far, too grim, too awful for the series to show.

There’s still place for brooding. When revealing River Song’s true identity in A Good Man Goes To War (2011), Steven said that an answer to a question, in a narrative sense anyway, should only ask more questions, and that’s what The Day of the Doctor did. Because the Doctor saved Gallifrey. Now what?

The Time War - Day of the Doctor

And that’s where we come to questioning whether the decision worked for Doctor Who‘s narrative as a whole. These questions are important: these questions open up more possibilities. As we say, Doctor Who has done brooding over being a mass murderer – there’s only so much it can do before it gets seriously depressing and hampers the show. Already it was becoming very melodramatic – in particular, I’m thinking of The Doctor’s Daughter, in which the Doctor tells Jenny that being a Time Lord is a “shared suffering.” Crikey. Really?! Okay…

So now what?

Gallifrey is back – somewhere. When is the right time for it to return? How should it return? The Time Lords asked the Doctor his real name on Trenzalore before Clara persuaded them they were asking the wrong question: what will they try next? And maybe the biggest question of all…

How could Gallifrey come back without igniting the Time War again?

That’s huge. I mean, there was half a universe surrounding Trenzalore, desperate for Gallifrey not to return – because the Daleks would once more threaten everything. I wonder if this has been foreshadowed a little in Asylum of the Daleks (2012) in which Oswin hacked into the Pathweb and erased all memories of the Doc. Might this not be dramatic enough?

Missy also threw in the idea that saving Gallifrey saved him/her too, and this is the crux of the matter: if Gallifrey can return, what else is coming back?

Father's Day - 9th Ninth Doctor

I’m not sounding the trumpet for the return of the Rani or Romana or whatever (that would be just fan pleasing for the sake of it – depends how it’s handled); I’m merely suggesting that saving Gallifrey opens up a lot more opportunities than leaving it in ashes.

This gives the overall narrative a new drive. It’s exciting. As to how a writer would handle such a monumental task, I’m clueless. Doctor Who should be Doctor Who. The Doctor needs to be a mystery in general. That’s how Andrew Cartmel made the Seventh Doctor era so memorable (oh, go on – tear me to pieces in the comments! I’m prepared for it!). And each time the TARDIS makes a return trip to Gallifrey, that mystery is chipped away, just a little. The War Games made the Time Lords awesome and terrifying, and since then, they’ve not really helped the show much. There are exceptions, of course – hello, The Deadly Assassin – but overall, they seem to be bumbling idiots.

Okay, so that’s the future. Ah, but what about the past? Does bringing back Gallifrey undermine the Ninth, Tenth, and the majority of the Eleventh Doctor’s adventures?

Well, no. Not really. It makes it all the more tragic. That Doctor is still utterly convinced he’s a monster, and that’s that.

That we know differently doesn’t take away from the drama of The Waters of Mars or The End of the WorldFather’s Day or The Doctor’s Wife. Just because a character is unaware of something doesn’t make any ill feeling redundant. If anything, it highlights it, and makes that character even more sympathetic. Rewatching those stories, knowing something the Doctor doesn’t, adds more gravitas to the situation, makes these tales more interesting and somehow fresher. Try it. I have been.

But what do you think? Should Mr Moff feel guilty? Or was it absolutely the right move to make, at precisely the right time?

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41 Responses

  1. Rick714 says:

    No, he should not feel guilty. His first instinct was correct. He had the chance to save the day and did so, even though he had to lose Gallifrey all over again.

  2. bar says:

    feeling guilty and having some regrets are different things; whether you are Moff or the Doctor, or mere mortals like the rest of us. So no; he tried something big, and it worked in part, set off other hares running, failed in part. two out of three ain’t bad.

    As to bringing back Gallifrey, the two where it worked have one major advantage – Bernard Horsfall. Timothy Dalton chewing the scenery was glorious, but you can’t really take it seriously. Give us some dark, mysterious Time Lord secret organisation, give us layers, something we can’t second-guess from the off.

    If you reduce Gallifrey to just another planet the Doctor must save, with people just like us, what’s the point? To make it a worthwhile arc it has to be much more than that.
    the Time Lords must be into something bigger that’s not just another dalek CGIfest. If Rassilon was responsible for making humanoid form universal, could someone else be messing with the formula? Could someone be playing with time in a postmodern narrative soup way? (Someone told me the other day he thought the audio book he was listening to in the car seemed unfollowably postmodern – then he realised his ipod was set on shuffle!) Or maybe some form of biological hazard that threatens to mutate, cancerlike across the universe unless science and courage and maybe some self-sacrifice can save lifekind… sorry, rambling now.

    • The_Mentiad says:

      The first time I heard a Big Finish I was really taken aback by how fantastic the music in between the scenes was, until I realised that my iPod was on shuffle and the only other thing I had on there was an Arnold Schönberg recording I hadn’t heard before. Although, Big Finish still do do a good job on the music, it must be said.

  3. The_Mentiad says:

    I enjoyed the 50th very much, but I think it is the same issue as bringing people back from the dead, soon everything is always on the table and instead of the narrative being able to go anywhere all that it can do is change on superficial levels. I liked it much more when we saw a guilt ridden doctor-that was new and interesting. That, for me, is more the sort of evolution that the show is about than new actors or Tardis consoles. When people die they should stay dead-otherwise it all just becomes a grey-goo as generations of writers, like Gibsonian nano-bots, render all the narrative matter into a bland definition-less slime wherein everything is possible and yet nothing is.

    • The_Mentiad says:

      It would have been a better narrative choice in my opinion to see the doctor psychologically move beyond his guilt-and the new experiences that provoke this-than just undoing it. That then becomes a story and gives the character depth and history.

    • Lord Hound Dung GCVO, QC, PC says:

      Even if it means the lead character remains potentially out of character? Normally I would agree with you in terms of keeping things interesting. But the problem with the end of the Time War is that it turns The Doctor into a purveyor of genocide. From complex hero to anti-hero. I don’t know, but that never quite sat right with me. He would find another way, just as he does (and may always have done) ultimately in DOTD. War Doctor or not, I couldn’t ever see a scenario where The Doctor could bring himself to deliberately sacrifice millions of children.

  4. Lara Harris says:

    Finding a way to bring Gallifrey back… not got a problem with that. HOW he brought it back… meh…

  5. Lord Hound Dung GCVO, QC, PC says:

    Who says that The Doctor killed the Time Lords anyway? Who is to say it’s not one big loop that goes round and round and, in fact, The War Doctor never killed them on any occasion? After all, the Ninth-Tenth-Eleventh Doctors wouldn’t know any different before DOTD since they don’t remember (according to Moff)! So what if the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors were always on Gallifrey and all other others always turned up at the end of the war?

    That’s the way I look at it anyhow.

    • TimeChaser says:

      Exactly. DotD doesn’t change the outcome, really. He always believed he destroyed Gallifrey, but now he knows he didn’t. The Moment always allowed him to meet his then-future selves which led to the alternative of hiding Gallifrey away.

      No guilt should be felt.

      • Lord Hound Dung GCVO, QC, PC says:

        Well, the article is misleading anyway as no guilt is expressed in the quoted remarks. He just defends what he did.

        I’m no Moff lover, but I think it was perfectly right that he reverse the outcome (or, as I suggested above, retcon it). It never sat well with me that The Doctor would’ve resorted to genocide. I think that as much as the anguish was well done, the actual notion was one of RTD’s few mistakes. In fact, it still doesn’t entirely sit right with me that he still committed genocide of the Daleks when you consider one of the few times the classic show explored a clear cut Star Trek style moral question was in Genesis of the Daleks and The Doctor ponders his right to destroy them. Just doesn’t see right that The Doctor, especially the Fourth, would then turn up and obliterate either race so easily.He’d likely try and find another solution.Well, I suppose the Dalek point is debatable because of their nature, but I think the Gallifreyan genocide was always a bad idea.

  6. Debbi Morrow-Carlson says:

    The only thing I would change about the 50th….. The very last scene, when all the Doctors are standing in a semi-circle…. why couldn’t the actors still alive stood there for their Doctor? That would have made it perfect!

    • ThePurpleFrockCoat says:

      Because some of the older actors don’t look like they way they were when they played The Doctor? Its would look rather odd plus Eccleston wasn’t in the special.

      • Lord Hound Dung GCVO, QC, PC says:

        Probably could’ve had McGann in there though. The CGI McGann is probably the worst looking in that line up (after the ill fitting costumes the standins are wearing).

        • ThePurpleFrockCoat says:

          Maybe he was busy. Work permitting?

          • Lord Hound Dung GCVO, QC, PC says:

            Yeah, he was so busy he came in the studio THE VERY NEXT DAY to do Night of the Doctor!! 😉

            They could easily have photographed hit separately and edited him in during post production.

          • ThePurpleFrockCoat says:

            Like the man said ‘work permitting.’ 😉

      • Debbi Morrow-Carlson says:

        I don’t think it would have mattered, not at that point of the show. I don’t think it would have mattered at all.

        • ThePurpleFrockCoat says:

          In terms of continuity it would when 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th all regenerated fairly young.

          • Debbi Morrow-Carlson says:

            At the moment in the movie, just seeing all the Doctors standing there in that half circle, I just don’t think it would be at all important how old they are now. it would have been a tiny fan moment for the 50th. We suspend our disbelief gladly not noticing storm troopers can never seem to hit their mark, or that there is a mad man travelling through time in a blue police box. For one moment, on the screen it would have been wonderful to see all the living Doctors standing there together celebrating fifty years of Doctor Who.

          • ThePurpleFrockCoat says:

            Unfortunately it did not happen and Its been 2 years since the 50th. Cest la vie.

          • Debbi Morrow-Carlson says:

            That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been cool!

          • ThePurpleFrockCoat says:

            Would’ve but didn’t happen.

  7. Rob DeMillo says:

    Feeling guilty is a strange turn of phrase – regret I can understand though. And yes, he should feel regret.

    The single biggest contribution RTD made to the Who canon was the decision on the part of the doctor to wipe out two species to save the universe. Painful, guilt racked and loaded withwith dramatic potential – a survivor guilt / genocide guilt racked doctor who was now saddled with being the responsible grownup in the room was sheer, dramatic brilliance. (And, no, I don’t believe that concept ran it’s course – there were decades of stories to be mined there)

    In one fell swoop, just for making a big splash 50th event, Moffat removed the gravitas from the story lines of the previous seasons.

    So, yeah, maybe “guilt” is the right term after all.

  8. Dr. Moo says:

    No. He should not feel regret. Bringing Gallifrey back was the right choice as there’s only so many times the Doctor can get all grumpy over it before it becomes stale. Now we have a whole host of new narrative options opened up to us that simply were not there before; how could anyone complain about that?!
    The knowledge that Gallifrey is safe has retroactively INPROVED the Davies era now we know that Nine and Ten had the wrong memories. Stories like The End of Time or Utopia (as well as some Moffat era tales like The Beast Below or The Doctor’s Wife) have taken on a new poigniency now. He should be proud of himself not regretful about his decision.

  9. McJohnson says:

    If you view The Day of the Doctor with Name and Time you get a trilogy that closes the book on fifty years of Doctor Who and opens the book on (at least) fifty more. He made a brave choice and it looks like it will pay off over time.

    Someday Gallifrey will come back. Yes it will come back. Until then there should be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Moffat should just go forward in all his beliefs and prove to us we’re not mistaken in ours.

    • Sofa of Reasonable Comfort says:

      Nicely done.

    • bar says:

      lovely quote McJohnson! but it’s hard to go forward in ALL your beliefs if they’re mutually contradictory or keep fluctuating. Maybe a showrunner has to go timey wimey in all his (or her) beliefs.

    • Edward Delingford says:

      Beautiful and aptly quoted summation. Moffat closed one half century of the show and opened another. The decision was undoubtedly the correct one and the show and the audience are the beneficiaries of Moffat’s vision.

    • Lord Hound Dung GCVO, QC, PC says:

      You know, I hear this a lot, not least from Moff himself. But I never really bought into it. First, as I said below, it may have always been the case that the The War Doctor was helped by Ten and Eleven. Nine, Ten and Eleven (and, presumably the other Docs who appeared alongside them during the climax) don’t remember those events as changing either way until Eleven post DOTD. Plus the Time War was only something that was eight years old, not fifty. Then there’s the whole “13 lives thing” but that was very much dealt with by quick fix, both with the invention of The War Doctor and a bit of contrived scripting.

      So when you consider all that, all the 50th “trilogy” really changed is this notion that the Doctor is no longer on the run from Gallifrey. But then the show, both classic and resurrected, never spent a great deal of time exploring why he fled in the first place so it’s never been a major plot arc. So, all in all, I don’t feel that there was a big grand turning point. For me the trilogy episodes were good episodes (with the exception of TOTD) but the show is pretty much unchanged and chugged along as it always had.

      • ThePurpleFrockCoat says:

        Had RTD cast McGann back in 2005 then perhaps The War Doctor would not be an issue. He choose not to and cast Eccleston instead. Not saying RTD shouldn’t have but he went for another direction without 8th having a regeneration. That left a gap open.

  10. Sofa of Reasonable Comfort says:

    Bloody hell, this man does try my patience sometimes!!! Why the **** should he have ****ing regrets?!

    • Doc7 says:

      Cheers for that insight! Care to explain why you think that? And could you possibly do it politely?

      • Sofa of Reasonable Comfort says:

        My apologies, I’d had a tough day yesterday and seeing that did not cheer me up… >-_-<

        I'll try to not do it again.

  11. Mrs Fingerbottom says:

    Oh for God’s sake, I like Moffat but he does worry me sometimes. Did you see Russell Davies express regret over his choice to have destroyed Gallifrey? Did that happen? No! And that was much more controversial!

  12. True 9th says:

    One minute he’s rallying fans around him “yay he’s doing series ten” and the next he does this. I don’t know what to think anymore. Urgh!

  13. BrittlePacker says:

    I can understand Mr Moffat feeling a tad guilty – the Time War gubbins was all the idea of his friend Mr Davies, and in his boots I’d have had a few qualms about apparently overturning a respected colleague’s work as well as worrying over all the plot implications. However, I’m more than happy that he did it. The Doctor as reluctant mass murderer never really sat comfortably, although the logic of jettisoning all that historical “baggage” made sense at the time.

    You raise a point that’s been niggling me about the (inevitable) eventual rediscovery of Gallifrey, but I have a solution – temporarily at least. The Doctor finds his own planet, but realises (of course) after much soul-searching that to restore Gallifrey in all its glory is to condemn the rest of the universe to a revival of the Time War. Cue heart-rending final scene of the Moffat era in which the Doctor (and please let it be Peter Capaldi, he would absolutely smash a scene like this!) silently torn apart with grief and remorse, logs the co-ordinates and abandons his own people to their lonely fate…

    Until such time as another showrunner with another bright idea (or a pathological hatred of the Daleks – getting rid of them means no more Time War, surely) finds a way of squaring the ultimate circle.

  14. ThePurpleFrockCoat says:

    He shouldn’t. It was a good decision. Time Lords are part of The Doctor’s life never mind he bailed out of his responsibilities and home word. The last of the Time Lords theme got old fast. Now its time to look forward to the future without the guilt.

  15. kwijino says:

    I think the more interesting discussion would be.. if they ever do bring back Gallifrey, can they work it the way RTD did with Rose? RTD, to his credit, looked at the jarring parts of the McGann movie and wrote the episode in a way to reverse the damage. He ignored half-human and didn’t give us a half-hour with McGann leading up to Chris. I think everyone agrees this was the way to go. We also went to the fifth episode before seeing an old enemy.

    Yes, the majority of the Time Lord stories have sucked Dalek bumps. Why? I would offer, they were meant as send ups of establishment British culture. It was to say that loose and funky would mean freedom and it would be better to let the old system die. If it had followed through to show us what that better way was, cool. But, it didn’t. So, the challenge would be to work off-screen and build up not only an arc to bring the planet back, but to build up the society in a way that Moffat and future producers would find fun to write for for at least as many years as we saw River Song on air.

  16. J.M. says:

    Just had a thought. What if the reason the Daleks survived the Time War was because The Doctor DIDN’T destroy Gallifrey as he had intended? More guilt for The Doctor.

    In the end, though, we need a soft restart of the show just to de-power all the items and races which are too powerful, now. One Dalek able to destroy a world but unable to kill The Doctor is silly. The Doctor’s magic wand (err … sonic screwdriver) does too much. Cybermen able to move at high speed and ignore momentum. Half the universe (it seems like) with some form of time travel or cross-time communication. Perhaps the REAL end of The Time War could un-do all of that, leaving The Doctor with knowledge of how things used to be and everyone else saying, no, that’s not right … which means he can travel around JUST to explore once again, undoing that “whole armies turn and run away” aspect.
    Sorry. ranted a bit off-topic there but The Time War is just the McGuffin to fix that problem.

    • Debbi Morrow-Carlson says:

      Because a time travelling police box isn’t silly at all. In science if you can’t prove it is impossible it is possible. Science fiction is still fiction. And continuity in Doctor Who is something that was lost a very long time ago.

  17. Alex Tye says:

    I’m glad he did and think the only fault lies with both RTD and Moffat for not doing it sooner – perhaps it might have provided a more satisfactory conclusion to series 4? It frees up the writing too, especially now that we can move away from Daleks always falling through time as the ‘last’ of their kind. Also, I miss the Machiavellian and dusty senators from the old days and their return could set up a glorious story arc for Capaldi.

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