So over on io9 they’ve posted an article about the central problem with Stephen Moffatt’s Doctor Who, and while I agree with some of their points, I think that the central problem with it — with almost any incarnation of Doctor Who, though particularly with this one — is that it makes absolutely no sense.
I’m not talking about things that are scientifically impossible or implausible, which to my mind are no more legitimate criticisms of Doctor Who are than saying the the monsters look phony and the sets are made of cardboard. What I mean is that the central premise of the show makes no sense from a logical perspective.
It’s particularly obvious in recent years because the show has returned to doing a lot of show set in Earth’s past, but always with some fantastic element (I’m informed, via The AV Club, that “Black Orchid” was the last historical Who story with no SF element other than the Doctor in it, and it was the first one since “The Aztecs” about twenty years earlier.) Often these fantastic elements would have earth-shaking or even earth-destroying consequences (an Ice Warrior triggering a nuclear war in the 1980s, for example) if the Doctor didn’t stop them. But the Doctor has been to our time, which has not shaken or blown up by any of these events, “before” (in his timeline) going to many of these times and places. So how did these events happen “before” the Doctor got involved? Why wasn’t modern-day London a smoking, radioactive ruin until the Doctor went back and stopped that Russian sub’s missiles from launching?
Now maybe this has been answered somewhere — I’ll admit to not having an encyclopedic knowledge of all Whoiana, especially of the Colin Baker-Sylvester McCoy years — but to my mind there are a couple of possible answers. The first is that these things didn’t happen because the Doctor “always” went there — essentially, when he visited our present (or future) he was experiencing the effects of things he would do in our past, his future. This makes the most logical sense but is also the most dramatically unsatisfying, because it basically means that everything he does is already set down by fate.
The only other option, considering that multiple timelines have been declared a no-no in Who canon (and are similarly undramatic, since they undercut the significance of anything you do when you travel in time) is that the times and places the Doctor goes are in some way temporally indeterminate: essentially, if they’re left alone they’ll happen the way they did in our history, but they can be changed by outside intervention. The problem with that interpretation is that it suggests that everything would be fine if the Doctor just stayed home, and that he’s risking all life on Earth to satisfy his wanderlust. Unless, that is, we suppose that each indeterminate point can only be changed once, in which case the Doctor is being brought to them so that he can seal them up before some other time traveler does.
Why are these points in time and space indeterminate? Why are so many on Earth? Why are they crawling with extraterrestrial and interdimensional visitors? Why do they so often seem to create points where history could be changed significantly? And why is it the Doctor’s job to seal — or perhaps we should say stitch them up? I don’t know. But they are pretty interesting questions…