The Trouble with Story Arcs
Guest contributor Harry O’Driscoll takes a look at the flip side of arcs, hype and speculation.
Personally I’ve grown rather sick of story arcs. The big hype has been building up for the season finale, with all the speculation as to who Missy is. But I simply refuse to get caught up in it.
The main problem with story arcs in Doctor Who is that they can often become more important than the stories themselves. Series One thankfully avoids this; the words “Bad Wolf” are more of an Easter egg than a story arc. They aren’t the main focus of the story and most of the references could actually go over your head. But by Series Six we have stories like The Curse of the Black Spot and The Almost People, forgettable filler where the most interesting thing about them is the foreshadowing to the series finale.
Maybe some fans genuinely enjoy this, but to me it’s just gotten annoying and predictable. It’s terribly weird watching fans get excited for the each episode hoping that it will feature Missy. As if the 30 second cameo was the most important part of the whole episode. Is it not more important that every episode of Doctor Who takes us to new and unexpected places?
But getting all excited about story arcs is ultimately a waste of time. We are none the wiser as to who Missy is or what the Nethersphere is? And we aren’t going to be able to figure it out beforehand. Just like in Series Seven there is no way of figuring out who Clara really is until it is explained in The Name of the Doctor. So all the speculation about the Impossible Girl amounted to just firing arrows in the dark. People should be enjoying the stories themselves, not getting worked up in another of Moffat’s puzzles.
Series 6 is the most arc heavy season, and tellingly it received pretty mixed reviews. Often the best voted stories were actually the standalone episodes such as The Doctor’s Wife, The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex. The rest of the time it just felt like fandom was spending too much time trying to solve the puzzle instead of enjoying the show. And ultimately the puzzle had no satisfying answer.
And by Series 7 the companion has actually suffered for it. The Doctor’s whole interest in Clara is about solving the mystery that surrounds her, not because of her as a person. Maybe that’s why people complained in Series Seven that Clara didn’t have a personality; because the story arc insisted we look at her in terms of what she is, instead of who she is. And when the mystery about Clara is solved we don’t even get time to absorb it before being thrown an even bigger mystery.
In Series 8 the story arc has not been that bad, it’s been smaller than most and has not detracted from the individual stores (although I did find it ruined the end of Deep Breath). But fans still seem to be obsessing over the story arc. You can do by all means if you want to, but all I can think is “what’s the point?” Enjoy the series as it comes; don’t treat it as a constant run up to the finale.
Remember the long story arc with the silence, how much fans focused on the story arc and how ultimately there was never any pay off. Moffat seems determined to tease fans with hints of big things to come, but so rarely does he actually have a satisfactory reveal at the end. Cracks in time, Silence will Fall, the ‘death’ of the Doctor, the Impossible Girl, Trenzalore. Moffat throws all these teases to fans of huge things to come, but ultimately we know that the show is just going to come back the next year as usual.
I am looking forward to the series finale, the same way I look forward to any episode of Doctor Who. But I refuse to get caught up in all the hype, particularly given how patchy I believe Moffat’s writing has become. Very rarely is the series finale worth all the hype, or stands the test of time. I’m glad that Moffat’s fixation with story arcs has subsided, but I just think fans should stop letting it consume them, because the story arcs just aren’t what Doctor Who is about.