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The Midlife Crisis Fairy Tale Of Doctor Who – Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh writes,


The subtext of this season of Doctor Who has come and gone, but I realised its subtext was about male midlife crisis. Underneath the Science Fiction plots, goofy monsters and fights was the story of an aging rock star and his enmeshed, co-dependent and increasingly destructive relationship with a much younger groupie.

It all fits: The Doctor is famous and notorious everywhere. He plays the guitar, wears raybans, and goes everywhere with the headstrong and increasingly reckless Clara. She makes him feel validated, keeps him on the straight-and-narrow while picking up tips from him on how to be cool and clever and solve problems. They egg each other on to become more daring and reckless and he notices how unhealthy it all is and feels increasingly uneasy about her safety, but can't stop being with her.


In the series finale, things come to a head when he loses her and betrays every one of his own rules and code to get her back. That's when they both realise things have gone too far and they can't be together anymore, and reluctantly agree to separate. Or rather, he tries to break up with her, but she resists, until she overhears that he was planning to cut her off, and turns the tables on him, insisting on her own free will, and in the final contest, he loses. When they meet again, he barely remembers the intensity of their time together, only the hole its absence left behind, and when he meets her one last time, he barely even recognises her anymore. She has already moved on, now as strong and clever as he is, having learned all there was from him, and he, melancholy and pain-dulled, will carry on because that's what he does. And probably end up with a new girl along the way, but probably not as intensely co-dependent.


This doesn't really sound like a family or kid's show does it? I'd been watching this season thinking that despite all the kid-friendly trappings of monsters and daring-do, the story was very much a middle-age man's. Anyone else would have told this story as a French arthouse film, and with more sex. It feels like Steven Moffat was writing the show to, consciously or not, address his own middle-age male concerns than just to thrill children. That the show had a later timeslot in the UK forced upon it seemed to free up Moffat into going darker and more adult despite his objections, since an earlier teatime slot would probably have gotten higher ratings amongst children. I wonder if he and his writers were getting a bit bored with writing just for children after all these years. Writers will always kick against restrictions, whether intentionally or not, and their own concerns always spill out in the end. It may or may not be right for the show, but it continues to offer rich pickings when you want to look for them.

Moffat had dealt with complex adult emotional themes before in the 50th Anniversary Special The Day of the Doctor, which was really a parable about a man finding a way to forgive himself for a past sin, and then he – or rather a future, younger generation – finds a way to not have committed that sin at all. It was a rather moving meditation on aging and forgiveness, its nuances and complexity the type of thing you might find in an Ingmar Bergman film, but here Moffat does it in a populist family Science Fiction show.

And the ending of the finale is rife with Freudian imagery: Clara and Me, two women, give The Doctor back his TARDIS. The TARDIS is long-established as feminine, his safe place, symbolically Mother's Womb. When he enters the TARDIS, it makes him a new sonic screwdriver, returning his phallus, a symbol of his male power and autonomy to him now that he's free of that obsessive relationship with Clara. It's fascinatingly poignant and touching, and can only be done in Science Fiction.

This, in the end, is why we keep watching Doctor Who.

Midlife crisis without the Science Fiction at

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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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