There’s only one thing wrong with the “prequel” for this year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special; it relies too much on false jeopardy, and seems entirely throwaway as a result. Admit it, you thought I was going to complain about it running less than two minutes, didn’t you?
For what’s essentially ninety seconds of tease for “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe,” there’s still a lot to like about the prequel; Matt Smith’s performance is just right, managing to get over the panic and detachment of the Doctor that’s implicit in Steven Moffat’s fun script (Maybe it’s because I like the idea of the essentially kind, humanistic Doctor so much, but I love the idea that the Doctor just wants a chat before getting blown up). But, at the same time… the ending, described by the BBC as “jaw dropping”? That was a bum note, and one that should’ve been incredibly obvious for all involved.
Here’s the thing: The Doctor clearly isn’t dead, and not just because this is a prequel to an hour-long show where he’ll feature prominently (For one thing, the show is named after him, which is always a hint about who’s going to stick around for awhile). But more than that, we’ve just finished a year’s worth of shows centered around the death of the Doctor that ended with pretty much as close to an in-story acceptance of the character’s immortality as we’re ever going to get – You might forget, but the Doctor “died” twice in the sixth season, and turned out to survive both events; short of having the character turn to the audience and say “Don’t worry, I’ll live forever,” that’s as good as it’s going to get – so the idea of any kind of cliffhanger centering around “Oh Noes The Doctor Is Dead” just seems kind of… cheap, now.
And not just cheap, but overly familiar – He’s survived death twice in the last year! How many times can you pretend to kill him? – and almost insulting towards viewers. We all know he’s not going to die by this point, so why use that as your cliffhanger? Why pretend watching the ship explode is “jaw dropping”? It’s surprisingly unlike the normal winking-at-the-audience of Doctor Who in general, and Moffat’s Doctor Who in particular; Moffat does use “smithereened” in the dialogue, which could be said to mean something other than “killed,” but I still wish some other kind of ending had been used (Watching the Doctor fall to Earth in some flaming wreckage, displaying a similarly detached, “This might hurt” attitude, perhaps), instead.
The Christmas Special premieres December 25th, and I hope you all join me in hoping that there won’t be any pretend deaths for the Doctor during the whole thing.