‘Doctor Who’ thing of the day: Steven Moffat is challenging the paradigms of TV formats (or is he?)

Is Steven Moffat’s writing for Doctor Who becoming repetitive? Or is he busting — even if accidentally — the paradigms that rule television storytelling at the moment? Matt Hills at Antenna wonders about this:

[W]hereas [Russell T.] Davies’s masterstroke was to write with the restrictions of industry common-sense, Moffat often writes against industrial norms for ‘mainstream’ TV. His authorship is more combative, more assertive, restlessly looking to think the unthinkable and so write what Doctor Who’s format theorem tells him cannot be written.

Time travel is the perfect metaphor for auteurism; each involves going back over old ground and making it surprising, showing the work of the world in a new light. Equally, auteurism is the perfect metaphor for time travel, always starting with a new chance, a blank page, and yet finding that history can’t be entirely rewritten nor its patterns of meaning wholly resisted. Moffat, of course, exploits and mines the metaphor until it collapses altogether: this version of Doctor Who gives us time travel as auteurism. And a story arc that seems to be shaping up into a ‘story ellipse’, as Moffat’s nuWho explores new ground by doubling back over Freud’s “family romance”, as per pop time travel staples like Terminator, or Back to the Future. Author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger, even includes an intertextual shout out to Moffat’s ‘Girl in the Fireplace’ in Her Fearful Symmetry, acknowledging their twinned authorial territories.

Rather than indicating creative exhaustion, or narrative fixation, repetition has always been essential to NuWho, not just to convey its nature as genre TV, but more than that, as a sign of its ‘quality’, and its status as TV art, even. Impure repetition, like a subtly shifting time loop or a family resemblance, is the sine qua non of any identifiable authorial vision. Becoming repetitive means just this: articulating auteurism and creating ‘quality TV’ within and against the confines of a tightly-formatted, popular series.

Hmmm. What do you think? Go read the whole thing at Antenna, then come back here and discuss: Is Moffat just a lazy writer, or is there a genius to his repetition?

(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)

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