Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Death and The Moffat

Don't Fear the Reaper...


This isn't some esoteric question about the goings-on of Steven Moffat's mind.  This is a serious, straightforward question because Mr. Moffat, like many writers, has a particular motif that he keeps hitting on over and over.

In Moffat's case, it is death, or rather the absence or denial of it.  The Moffat Method of "killing" off characters only to have them come back to life (usually in some bizarre way that even within the confines of the show doesn't make sense) is so familiar and so cliché that it is among the easiest things of his oeuvre to parody.  I'm always amazed someone hasn't come up with a comedy routine where Rory Williams (or Pond, however you know him as) from Doctor Who gets bumped off and comes back again and again in more and more outlandish ways, ending with Rory explaining his umpteenth return with "It was thanks to timey-wimey".

Rory Williams (who has earned comparisons to Kenny from South Park, difference being that South Park is a comedy which is not meant to be taken seriously or literally and is basically reset every episode) is the nadir of Moffat's necrophobia, as it among other things made death a waste of time.  Why would one feel for a character's end when you know he is coming back, usually in ways that were never or vaguely explained.  The "Let's Kill Rory" bit became tiresome and then into a sad commentary on the dearth (or death) of ideas on the show.  How many times has Rory actually died?  My Rory Death Count stands at 7.  That's seven times that I counted Rory die in an episode only to come back.  Yet I digress.

This question, which has been nipping at me for some time, has come to my full attention with His Last Vow, Sherlock's season three closer.  Now, while I haven't seen His Last Vow yet, I know enough thanks to the grapevine to be absolutely horrified by how Sherlockians can prattle on endlessly about how 'brilliant' both Sherlock and Steven Moffat can be when anyone with the IQ of a turkey baster can see the whole thing is idiotic to the core of its own dark, twisted soul.

Let's use our Wayback Machine to go to The Reichenbach Fall, Sherlock's season two finale.  Here, Andrew Scott's Jim Moriarty and Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes appear to both die: Moriarty shoots himself in the mouth and Sherlock jumps off a roof.  Not having seen The Empty Hearse I am not discussing Sherlock's resurrection (which at least is keeping within Canon, though whether Sherlock pulls off a logical explanation remains to be seen). 

While it would be tempting at this juncture to discuss how with Sherlock's character Moffat again shows his inability to actually kill anyone off permanently, I think the greater revelation is that of Moriarty (a character who frankly I'm tiring of, thanks in no small part to Scott's wildly camp and grandiose performance which makes Blofeld from Diamonds of Forever seem almost Machiavellian-like).   In The Reichenbach Fall, Moriarty literally pulls the trigger on any chance of making a return appearance. 

In our world, when you have a character blow his brains out, with blood spilling out all over, that pretty much means said character is dead.  Not just merely dead, but most sincerely dead.   Oh, but on anything Steven Moffat is in charge of, Death is NOT The Only Answer.  In fact, Death never becomes real.  It can be wiped away with a handy-dandy sonic screwdriver or some bizarre plot twist that NuWhovians or Sherlockians can't be bothered to explain.  For them, it is all about the emotion Sherlock or Doctor Who releases, rarely about the logic behind any of it.

If they really wanted Logic on Doctor Who, they would have started complaining when Rory kept getting killed off repeatedly to get an emotional reaction.  Instead, most NuWhovians think Rory, like bow ties, is cool or awesome or even bad-ass BECAUSE he keeps coming back, damn the logic.

Yet again though, I'm wandering off topic.  This is an examination of how Steven Moffat may fear death so much that he is using his writing and producing from metaphorically stopping it from ever happening.  Let us look at the evidence.  The following is a catalogue of Steven Moffat's work on both Doctor Who and Sherlock as either writer (in red) or producer (in green), with particular emphasis on how said episode treats death and resurrection.

The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances: "Just this once, everyone LIVES!"  The Doctor, thanks to some space medicine, is able to bring back to life everyone who had died as a result of its misapplication.

The Girl in the Fireplace: the exception to the rule, where Madame De Pompadour HAD to die, pretty much because even Steven Moffat can't rewrite actual history.  However, De Pompadour did survive somewhat, as the spaceship did bear her name, granting her a certain form of immortality. 

Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways: a rare non-Moffat penned resurrection, as Captain Jack Harkness, killed by the Daleks, is brought back to not just life, but eternal life thanks to Rose's absorbing of the TARDIS core.  However, Captain Jack was Moffat's creation. 

Blink:  characters important to solving the mystery of the Weeping Angels 'die' (basically disappear) in their own time period only to emerge alive in the past, making them dead and not dead at the same time.

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead:  River Song, a character who knows the Doctor intimately (read whatever you like in that) but whom the Doctor doesn't know since this is his first time with her and her last time with him (again, read that any way you like), sacrifices herself to save him.  Fortunately, he uploads her into the data core, where she can remain alive (in a form) forever.

The Beast Below: the Doctor is willing and ready to kill the Space Whale (or at least leave it brain-dead) until Amy, seeing parallels between the Space Whale and the Doctor, prevents its death and finds it is willing to continue living for the sake of Spaceship UK.

The Time of Angels/Flesh & Bone: the soldier-priests killed by the Weeping Angels can communicate 'beyond the grave' so to speak.

Amy's Choice: Rory's first dead is found to be not real, as he is actually still alive in 'the real world'.

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood: Rory Dies Again!  Shot by a Silurian as he, Amy, and the Doctor are about to flee, Rory not only dies but is erased from all history. 

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang: Rory (in Auton form) is alive and well (sort of), not only having lived but having lived for thousands of years as "The Last Centurion". With Amy's memories restored, so is Rory and thus, he is alive again.

The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon: The Doctor is killed by the shores of Lake Silencio, only to come back almost immediately after, fully alive and apparently unaware of who or why he died.  Given it's a 'fixed point in time', there's nothing he can do about and therefore he must die by the shores of Gitche Gumee...I mean, Lake Silencio.  Rory himself is shot, only to have it all be a fake-out to get him and Amy to Area 51.

The Curse of the Black Spot: Rory Dies Again...Again!  Killed by the Siren, we find that in reality he was just spirited away to a medical spaceship where he will be revived.

The Doctor's Wife: Rory appears to have died when Amy comes across his body, but we find that it was all an illusion by the villain, House.

The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People: Amy, we discover, has been a doppelganger or Ganger, and while her double is disintegrated we find that she is alive and about to give birth on Demon's Run. 

A Good Man Goes to War/Let's Kill Hitler:  Strax, a Silurian whom the Doctor calls in a favor from, is killed on Demon's Run.  Mels, the childhood friend of Amy and Rory, "regenerates" into River Song in her current phase and "gives up her remaining regenerations" to stop the Doctor from dying. 

The Wedding of River Song: The Doctor, we find in the end, despite it being a 'fixed point in time' and seeing the Doctor begin to regenerate, is in the end alive, as he got a machine to take his place.  In this manner, the events of The Impossible Planet/Day of the Moon have been retconned.   

The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe: Reg Arwell, the RAF pilot killed over the English Channel, is returned alive and well to his family thanks to the Doctor using the Widow as a 'mothership' to return to her own time and world.

Asylum of the Daleks: Jenna-Louise Coleman, advertised as the Doctor's next Companion, is found to be actually dead, having been killed when her ship crashed onto the titled world.  Oswin, however, believes herself to be fully alive and thanks to our knowledge of her future role, we are aware that she is somehow alive. 

The Angels Take Manhattan: Rory dies at least three times in this episode thanks to the Weeping Angels and his jumping off a roof (and like Sherlock, survives the plunge).  Even though Amy and Rory have gravestones marking their deaths, they get to live in another time.

How did I get here? 

The Snowmen: The Silurian Strax, last seen killed in A Good Man Goes to War, is found alive, manservant to the same-sex bestiality of Silurian Madame Vastra and her human chambermaid Jenny Flint.  A prequel, The Battle of Demon's Run: Two Days Later, was filmed to explain his resurrection.  Adding to the (non)death count, Clara Oswald (governess/bar-wench), dies when she plunges to her death, but Clara (or a version of her) stands literally over her own grave.

Hide: The Witch of the Well, who people believe is a ghost, is in reality a time-traveler trapped in a pocket universe.  The Doctor brings her back to our world (i.e. he brings a ghost back to life).

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS: the molten zombies, who are in reality the salvage company brothers, are restored to full life.

The Name of the Doctor: The Doctor goes to his own grave where we find that Clara is one person split into millions of versions of herself when she enters the Doctor's time-stream, thus allowing her to live and die endless times throughout history.  Further, River Song, who now has returned to a hologram form after spending all her time being active, is still stubbornly alive.

The Day of the Doctor: The Time War, where the Time Lords were all wiped off, is now erased from reality, as three Doctors (Tennant, Smith, and John Hurt as a hereto unknown incarnation dubbed "the War Doctor") is avoided thanks to them interfering with a 'fixed point in time'.  Thus, all those dead Time Lords are saved (where, however, remains to be seen). 

The Time of the Doctor: the Doctor, who is on his final regeneration thanks to a questionable counting system, finds a whole new set of regenerations (i.e. an endless number of resurrection) granted to him by the Time Lords, still trapped behind the cracks in time (themselves being resurrected).  After living to a ripe old age, the Doctor is able to regenerate (and avoid that 12-regeneration limit placed in Canon since The Deadly Assassin in 1976 and reaffirmed in other episodes), return to his usual youthful appearance before regenerating. 

And these are just the ones I could find without going into the minutia of Doctor Who episodes, which I'm sure others can do and find more not-dead people lurking about. 

Now a quick jaunt through Moffat's other wildly popular show, Sherlock.

Not for long.
Note there are no Birth and/or Death Dates...

A Scandal in Belgravia: Irene Adler's Dead!  Sherlock Holmes identifies her decapitated body in the morgue.  Irene Adler's NOT Dead!  She keeps reaching out to Holmes, asking him to dinner.  Irene Adler's Dead...Again!  Mycroft tells John Watson she was executed in Pakistan.  Irene Adler's NOT Dead...Again!  Sherlock, unbeknownst to both Mycroft (THE British Government) and Watson (the man so close to him people think their lovers) rescues Irene from beheading (as a side note, what is it with Moffat and cutting women's heads off).

The Reichenbach Fall: Sherlock Holmes and Jim Moriarty are both dead by the end, the former by having leaped off a building, the latter with a bullet to his head.  In the end, we find Sherlock Holmes very much alive.

His Last Vow: the final shot is that of Moriarty, apparently back from the dead, asking the world, "Did you miss me?"

Eventually, something's got to give. Why should we as a viewer care or invest emotional interest (which is what Doctor Who and Sherlock are descending to: an appeal to emotion rather than intellect), when we know that somehow, in some way, said character's death will be reversed?

Despite logic we haven't hit a point of diminishing returns with Moffat's writing and producing because fans of 'The Moff' will not question all this.  However, at some point he will either have to kill off a character permanently and never bring them back in any way (highly unlikely) or we won't really care that a character has died because he/she will return alive and well, as if nothing ever happened (with the Moffia, equally unlikely).

Unlike Joss Whedon or George R.R. Martin (the other two in a famous joke about their penchant for killing off beloved characters), Moffat never resists pulling a bait-and-switch with dead people.  Whedon and Martin's dead characters stay dead (or at least Martin's do; the Marvel Universe's Agent Coulson being a glaring exception and frankly I am not well-versed in the Whedon-verse to know the intricacies of his mind).

For myself, I again am left wondering why Steven Moffat keeps killing characters off only to bring them back in irrational ways.  There HAS to be something within Moffat that has him coming back to this scenario again and again.  It could be that he, in a deeply psychological manner, is subconsciously so terrified of death (or worse, of being forgotten) that he wants to metaphorically avoid that by having characters cheat or defeat death.

Or, going for the easier answer, he's just a generally lousy writer/showrunner who backs himself into corners and pulls the 'they're not really dead' bit to get out of the boxes he finds himself in because he isn't clever or smart enough to find any other way out. 


  1. Great post. A very interesting point about Moffat's predictability.

  2. On this point, I will agree with you for the most part. I have always been a fan of killing off characters and having them stay dead.

    Whedon does a great job with this most of the time, and The Walking Dead is probably the best western TV series at killing off characters and keeping dead.

    Overall though, Attack on Titan has a penchant for killing anyone and everyone whenever it feels like it.

    Sorry, I was getting a little off topic; however, Moriarty is dead. I know you have not seen the episode, but the actual character is dead, and if he is somehow not dead, I will be pissed off. But I am mostly sure he is dead.


  3. Agreed James. We still have yet to see actual Moriarty. I'm not too pleased with his face on a billboard either, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was supposed to be a clever fake out by Moffat to get us to expect a return.

    As for Doctor Who, totally agree. I watch Sherlock for the acting rather than the writing.

  4. To be honest, anyone who isn't afraid of death must be a complete halfwit...

  5. We shall wait to see whether Moriarty is not just dead, but most sincerely dead. To quote Sherlock, it is a capital mistake to speculate before having all the data.

    I watch something for ALL the elements and no matter how good the acting may be, if I don't believe the story, it doesn't please me.

    As for fearing death, there are people who are not, and I'm in no position to say what their thinking is. I only note that Moffat has a fixation w/writing stories where people APPEAR to die only to reappear fully alive. I can't believe that on a subconscious level, this isn't expressing some obsession w/Moffat.

  6. And in twice upon a time, it is revealed that people of glass record everyone right before death essentially making sure that nobody dies IN THE ENTIRE DOCTOR WHO UNIVERSE


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