It’s Not Wokeness Or Nice Weather — It’s Bad Writing: Space Babies, Devil’s Chord, And Doctor Who

Some mild spoilers ahead, but it’s also a warning. These episodes are bad.

I’m seeing a couple of hot takes on the new episodes of Doctor Who which are, predictably, blaming "politicizing" and "wokeness" for the low ratings, which is just as silly as the BBC’s claim that it was warm weather. {1}

They are both wrong.

Why are the ratings so low for the first two episodes of this season? It’s because the writing is absolute crap.

Even my usual mantra of "it’s just a kid’s show, it’s just a kid’s show" doesn’t hold up when you compare the writing to, say, The Bad Batch, another sci-fi show for kids. It’s Birdemic levels of bad. It’s worse than Rebel Moon, and I loathed that mess of smashed together tropes and actively warn people away from it.

For just a quick review of some things that stuck in my craw:

  • While I can accept — sort of — that the "space babies" had their growth stunted, why were they emotionally stunted as well?

  • Oh, the AI was being literal. That’s been done since 2001, and has been done even better by Mrs. Davis (which I highly recommend.)

  • "They give people on my planet titles instead of names." Funny that’s never been mentioned before whenever someone brings up the Doctor’s name in fifty-odd years, huh?

  • "Oh, I live over there in this time." Right — so why isn’t earlier you noticing and dealing with this worldwide catastrophe in "The Devil’s Chord"? The Doctor teaming up with their past selves has literally been the start of several specials over the years.

Plus we now have (essentially) demigods that operate by fae rules instead of even pretending to work with science, and a crappy version of "The Devil Goes Down To Georgia" as our big climax?

And these episodes are not politically "woke". While "Space Babies" clearly has something to say about caring for children after birth (and what that entails) it is simultaneously unsubtle about it and loses the message in the stupidity of the plot. (Again reminding me of Birdemic.)

And "The Devil’s Chord"? Sure, Russell T. Davies has now thrown a non-binary entity (Maestro) into the canon of the show, who exudes over-the-top fabulous drag queen vibes.

He introduced the first openly nonbinary character on the show as a villain.

Russell, you know that’s worse, right? You see how that’s worse? In an age where armed vigilantes are literally showing up to libraries to stop the "evil" of having drag queens read stories to children, you do realize how making your episodes’ Big Bad a non-binary with drag vibes makes it worse, right?

If not, maybe you should check in with that TERF Rowling.

Diversity isn’t actually hard to layer in, particularly when you’re talking about your non-protagonist characters. There’s a number of NPCs in my D&D games who have a range of sexualities and relationship styles. Sometimes it affects the story, sometimes it’s just a character detail along with "they like shiny rocks." Off the top of my head, I’ve several nonbinary NPCs that show up, more than a few queer and interracial relationships shown, a polycule or two, and it’s just… there. They aren’t the Big Bad, they aren’t necessarily villains or heroes. They’re just people going on about their lives. It’s been done on Doctor Who before — Bill Potts and Heather’s romance was touching and sweet, back with Capaldi’s run.

It’s worth noting that I’m not blaming the actors here. Ncuti Gatwa, for what it’s worth, absolutely owns the mod look in "The Devil’s Chord", but my goodness, that mustache in the Doctor’s "regular" attire gives a very pornstache vibe.

Jinkx Monsoon’s performance is fun as Maestro, and their costuming is fabulous.

It’s the writing. The writing — for which Russell T. Davies has sole credit on IMDB — is absolutely atrocious.

While Davies has done a lot of good for Doctor Who and Torchwood as a showrunner, I’ve not been a fan of his writing for quite some time. (Moffat’s writing also suffered when he became showrunner.) Much like Lucas with the prequel trilogy, it appears that putting all the reins in one person’s tight grip means that the story — and thus, the franchise — suffers.

If nothing else, fellow writers, take this as a lesson against hubris. You always need editing. No matter how good you think you are.

{1} The very FIRST episode of Doctor Who was up against the assassination of JFK, so the bar is set kinda high.

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