Do YOU Think Doctor Who is “Too Dark”?

Right, let’s settle this.

Ever since Doctor Who returned in 2005, I have been complaining. Much like people who support a football team who moan when they under-perform but always stick with them I have both loved and moaned about NuWho. Every week I’d faithfully sit down and watch, whether I was captivated or inwardly cringing at every moment. Every time I hoped to be transported, to experience that same sense of awe that my seven-year-old self had when watching the Daleks battle over the Hand of Omega back in 1988 or when watching any of the Classic Doctors on VHS during the Great Hiatus. A universe of terror at my finger tips…

And there have been some wonderful, nay, *fantastic* stories and adventures since RTD brought the show back. But all the while I’ve longed for it “just to be a bit darker”. Less farting, more Fathers Day; less burping bin, more Family of Blood.

Burping Bin

Over the years I’ve realised that this is partly my adult self re-calling some of the Classic stories through childhood eyes. There was a lot of slapstick and silliness in the original series, which nevertheless seemed terribly grown up when I was little. Now I am (notionally) grown up I kinda want the show to be more “grown up” too. I have to remind myself that I’m watching alongside a cohort of children who may enjoy those moments. I’m getting over myself. Slowly.

But when I heard Steven Moffat was taking on the showrunner role I thought “yes! This is it – it’ll get darker, more grown up and creepier.” And it did. Mostly. And then Series 8 happened…

Capaldi Eyebrows

Crikey.

And here I’m a little confused. I’m not entirely sure what we mean by “darker” when talking about television. We could refer to the content – the number of deaths, the themes and issues that are touched on or the experiences that the characters go through. Things might be a bit more “adult” and perhaps nastier?

We might also mean the manner in which it’s done – production teams might talk about the “tone” of an episode or series. Fairytales have some pretty horrific things in them (wolves eating Grandmothers etc.) but the child-friendly way in which they’re told undercuts a lot of the “darker” elements. Here I think Murray Gold has played a big role over the years. He’s written some wonderful music for the show and has been a real scoring power-house.

But there are definitely scenes, moments and even whole episodes that could have seemed a lot “darker” or perhaps less child-friendly or comic with a different approach to the music.

One example, for me, is the Twelfth Doctor’s sky-diving scene in Death in Heaven. The episode had been sinister and uncomfortable up to that point. Suddenly there was an action sequence that could have felt like something from a Marvel superhero movie but the music turned it into something from the Adam West Batman. It’s those darned trumpets…

Christmas Trumpets

I’m not sure whether it’s that I want it to actually scare me, like the childhood TV equivalent of a roller-coaster that it should be, or whether there’s a part of me that is embarrassed. Doctor Who wasn’t cool when I was younger. It was sorta the opposite. It may be that I just don’t want the show to look like something “for kids” that non-fans might point to as a reason for it being “not that good.”

Anyway, things certainly turned a corner in Series 8. The show was on at a later time. There was more death and tonally it felt more adult – there were longer scenes with more dialogue and an older lead man. We’ve had really quite unsettling character dynamics between the Doctor and Clara and the Doctor and Danny with deceit and contempt that seems far in excess of the River, Amy, Rory dynamics in the Smith years…

And then there were those “Capaldi moments” peppered throughout Series 8. Those times where the latest Doctor suddenly hurled us out of our comfort zone – in Deep Breath he seemed to abandon Clara to her death in the clockwork layer. And more than in any other series, people seemed to die. Our hero wasn’t able to save everyone – more to the point he didn’t always seem that bothered! And that, particularly for a child, could be very frightening…

Clara trapped

At the same time we’ve had the Pasternoster/ Scooby gang with newspaper throwing, thorax-commenting comedy from Strax. We’ve had Robot of Sherwood and The Caretaker. It’s not been all dimly lit doom…

Personally, I’m pleased. I don’t like the uneasy relationship with the companion (though the forgiveness scene in Dark Water was astounding) but the darkness – whatever it is – has my interest.

What do you think, Kasterborites? Did Series 8 go too far? Has it lost some of the sparkle and child-friendly cutness of former series? Or has Moffat found the right level on the dimmer switch? Do we have optimal darkness? Is this porridge just right? [No I want that left in!] Vote now, and then tell us below…

P.S. Lawrence Miles wrote some amazing Doctor Who back before NuWho – and he’s written some very cutting commentary since it appeared. It’s a bit mean, but scroll down the right hand side for a wee jocular comment on dark Who…



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