Earlier tonight I watched Twice Upon a Time, the latest Doctor Who Christmas Special and swansong for Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor as well as showrunner Steven Moffat. Just in case those goodbyes didn’t make it enough of an event, it also featured the brilliant David Bradley stepping into the shoes of original Doctor William Hartnell, something I’ve been hoping for as a fan for years now. It was a deep dive into the often tangled mythology of the show and for the most part they pulled it off well. But there was one moment that struck me. During a particularly reflective scene with Bradley’s Doctor the ethereal ‘Gallifrey’ music that always turned up during the especially important parts of David Tennant’s run started to play. It was a way to underline the significance of what was happening; a collision of the different eras of this show on the eve of a whole new beginning.
And I felt nothing.
That little snippet of spookily singing voices used to be an immediate goosebumps-giver in the times when I was intoxicated by Who mythology, the times I wanted to know everything about the history of the Time Lords and got giddily excited any time the show made reference to its past. In the last few years however, moments like this have been so par for the course that they’ve lost any real meaning. Under Steven Moffat Doctor Who has become so in love with itself, so caught up in the epic importance of everything that’s happening (but mainly the epic importance of its central character) that any sense of mystery or power or intrigue has long since been sapped. For my money the show was at its best when it foregrounded the little people, when it was the story of the companions and their slow realisation of their own potential with the epic moments being the little treats rather than the whole meal. Basically, when the show was under the stewardship of Russell T Davies. In the years since his departure I have looked everywhere for that old feeling the show used to give me and never once got it.
But you know what? That’s okay. Because many new fans started the show with Moffat and fell in love with his grandiose, fantasy-flavoured vision, comparatively finding Davies’ more mundane, camp version kind of lame. The last few years I’ve been on a steady learning curve of realising that I can still enjoy Doctor Who even though it’s no longer the show I fell in love with because hey, the series is inherently about change and before long it will be different again. And beyond that, it would be impossible to replicate my version of Doctor Who because my version is so tied to a particular place and time. My Doctor Who comes hand in hand with memories of being in boarding school, of waking up at five in the morning on a weekend I was home with my parents to watch a whole bunch of Who before returning to school because my younger brothers wouldn’t let me take the DVD with me. It’s the summer holidays in which I hired all of Torchwood from the local video store and made my much cooler friends sit through it with me while I insisted with decreasing certainty that this really was good TV. It’s discovering torrenting and watching every new episode in my room at school, falling in love with Donna and having my heart broken at her fate. Ultimately, the way I loved Doctor Who can never truly be replicated because it’s so coloured by being part of a very particular time in my life; even if Russell T Davies and David Tennant returned it wouldn’t really be the same. As such, if I’m ever going to love this show again, I need to be open to whatever comes and willing to accept that just because it’s not for me anymore doesn’t mean it’s not for someone else.
When The Last Jedi came out I was initially apprehensive because I wasn’t really impressed by any of what Disney had done with the franchise thus far. Yes, I wanted my Star Wars back but I found it insulting as an audience member to watch the studio produce content that was designed to pander to my nostalgia, to evoke a past feeling rather than create a new one. Watching The Last Jedi I was struck by the fact that I seldom felt like I was watching Star Wars the way I knew it, but rather like I was watching something new emerge from the foundations.
Do I love The Last Jedi the way I loved the original films? Of course not. How could I? They were a part of my formative years and, like the friends we grew up with, the significance of that will never go away. But crucially The Last Jedi gave me hope that there might yet be something for me to love in Star Wars, something that honours the old but isn’t beholden to it.
Nostalgia, in the end, is as empty as it is powerful. It’s literally the yearning for something we can never have again, and when a film or book or TV show is emotionally tied to an important part of your life, they tend to take on magnified importance in your world. It’s the reason fans get so caught up in whether The Last Jedi was an insult to the franchise or Steven Moffat ruined Doctor Who. In the end a movie is just a movie and a TV show is just a TV show, but what we attach to those properties make them so much more, leaving the current stewards of the stories we love with an impossible task. Is it any wonder Rogue One just threw a thousand Easter eggs at us and hoped for the best? As fans we put so much pressure on the current iterations of our favourite stories to give us what we loved in the first place, but they can never do that. Often the best we get is a pale imitation that isn’t much more than a sugar rush; briefly exhilarating and swiftly forgotten.
The magic of The Last Jedi was that it let me fall in love with Star Wars again by burning down what I thought I knew about Star Wars. Somehow, paradoxically, this meant that when Luke Skywalker faced his destiny at the end, suddenly I felt that old magic come rushing back. Because if we open ourselves up to change rather than furiously clinging to the way we think things should be, maybe our love for those things can grow rather than be frozen in carbonite.
It's a risk that doesn’t always pay off; Doctor Who, for me, being the prime example. But every now and then in Moffat’s run came moments where I could see a version of this show that I might be able to love again. Those moments never crystallised into something lasting, but the fact that they were there gave me hope. And if I never truly love Doctor Who again then, well, I’ll always have those Davies seasons and I’m content enough with everything this series gave me to be able to let go a little and be open to whatever comes next.
It might suck. But then again, it might be brilliant. I’ll take either over stagnation.
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