Thoughts on the X-Files, Doctor Who, and Sherlock

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When I heard that Steven Moffat is leaving Doctor Who, my first thought was, “Finally.” Of course, he still gets a whole last season to ruin what was once one of my favorite shows, but much like Scott Walker as governor here in Wisconsin, we can only hope his successor will be able to put things back like they were.

I also, like millions of others, watched the first two episodes of the X-Files reboot.  I realized that my problems with Chris Carter’s creation are similar to the ones I had with Moffatt’s Doctor Who.

Namely, the shows are based entirely around tearing down heroes.

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Moffat’s Doctor Who, and in many ways his other series Sherlock, feature hyper-intelligent protagonists paired with “normal” folks.  The Doctor’s companion(s) and Watson are there to be the audience’s eyes and ears, to essentially stand in for us.

But under Moffat’s tutelage, both the companions and Watson exist primarily to chastise their partners for failures measured (of course) by those companions’ standards.  I can’t tell you how many episodes of Doctor Who spent their last five minutes with Amy or Clara telling the Doctor how horribly he’d behaved, or how Sherlock’s main character even refers to himself as a “high-functioning sociopath,” a description Watson fully embraces as he frequently scolds him for his behavior.

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Both these characters started off as heroes. Granted neither was typical, and certainly both have suffered defeats, but when it came down to it, they were characters to admire.  But for some reason, Moffat doesn’t seem to believe in heroes.  He sees them as basically assholes with necessary skills, and makes sure their companions frequently remind them of this.

Watching the new X-Files, I was again reminded of why I grew weary of the show before its first cancellation: Mulder and Scully are inevitably going to fail. Every time they’re about to succeed, to prove that there really is a conspiracy involving aliens and the government, we know the rug will be pulled out. That’s the kind of thing that can make a powerful statement once, as in the films The Parallax View or Winter Kills; but when it’s the go-to plot for show, it becomes a kind of masochism to watch it.

I’ve given up on Doctor Who, at least while Moffat’s in charge. It’s a shame, because I really like Peter Capaldi, and wish he was getting the scripts that David Tennant used to get under Russell T. Davies. I’ll probably watch the X-Files just to keep my geek cred, but I don’t expect much from it. The first two episodes (especially that godawful first one) show that nothing has changed in the fifteen years since it went off the air: we may get some chills, and a few good jokes, but ultimately Mulder and Scully will fail.

Have we just outgrown heroes that win with a clear conscience?

5 Comments on “Thoughts on the X-Files, Doctor Who, and Sherlock”

  1. I’d prefer heroes who gave foibles and yet win, even at cost to themselves. And I agree, if it weren’t for the charm of the actors, I really do see Moffat not only doing this, but reworking the same theme over and over. I do think some of his first season with Smith were ok, but I think he has done terrible disservice to Capaldi.

  2. I like Capaldi, but I don’t like his Doctor. I suspect it is the writing, and not the acting, but that doesn’t change the fact that, as a friend said (when telling me he hated the new Doctor and was giving up on the show), he’s just MEAN.

  3. Could not agree with you more, Alex. Yes, we all learned in HE literature that our Hero must have a “tragic” flaw. But, shouldn’t it be subtle and not constantly thrown in one’s face?

  4. All that stuff about “tearing down heroes” is the RTD style, their stories were always fraught with loss and depression, all the Time War ruined the character for me, I expected that the Tenth Doctor commit suicide in “The End Of Time “and I still think it would have been a better ending than that immature tantrum” I Do not Want to Go “. Moffat style is “the Doctor is the hero, the citizen of the universe, the Lord of Time that will save us,” Amy never criticize him (on the contrary, she worshiped him as an angel) but you’re right about Clara Oswald.

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