From Leadworth to Trenzalore: How the Eleventh Doctor rewrote the past and the future

From Leadworth to TrenzaloreOh look, another off-cut from the Matt Smith thing I wrote for DWM #470. Again, it didn’t quite fit the bill – it’s that afterword I mentioned before, an effort to tie up, really, the ‘From Leadworth to Trenzalore’ tease that ran on the ‘Next Issue’ page in DWM #469. But – see that? And see that? Those are two stools, and this fell between it. Not long enough, really to do the job. It would have seemed more an afterthought than an afterword.

And with that lusty preview, here it is…

DWM #470“When I started writing Matt’s Doctor, I thought, ‘What if everything he was involved in was in some way a consequence of a battle he was fighting in his last episode?’” That’s what Steven Moffat, the architect of the Eleventh Doctor’s era, told DWM last month. But for someone who admits he has to write his scripts in scene order (no jumping ahead), it’s fair to assume he didn’t actually intricately plot out exactly how the Doctor’s journey would unfold over the next 39 stories and 44 episodes. There was no: “So we’ll mention the Silence and the Crack In Time in episode one, blow up the TARDIS in episode 13, explain that in episode 44 and also bring the Crack back in that one, plus give a mention to Trenzalore in 27, go there in 42…”

Instead, this has been a showrunner finding his way from Leadworth to Trenzalore, navigating by clues and hints he’s left for himself. Doors half open, a crack Moffat knows will come in handy later on. The result is the Eleventh Doctor’s stint draws together now as a box-set of Doctor Who. With box-sets within it, such is Moffat’s inclination towards completion. When Amy Pond leaves the show (episode 33), the series wraps back around to episode one and the TARDIS returning to Amelia’s garden through a gap clever old Steven left for himself.
Sometimes, however, the drive for connectedness and a grand culmination of storylines proves unhelpful. How the Doctor cheats his way out of the Pandorica trap is an indicator of this (a future version of himself providing the means to escape, an escape upon which that version’s existence is predicated). Everything has led up to that moment of seemingly inexorable doom, only to be subverted. Similar unfounded prophecies follow; we see the Doctor die in The Impossible Astronaut (no we don’t) and he’s also supposed to snuff it at Trenzalore, indeed, his grave is offered up as collateral (but, no, he doesn’t). It’s telling that during the Eleventh Doctor’s run we first learn “time can be rewritten”, and then in his final adventure, so can the future too. The examples here have all, in themselves, been excellent teases, but perhaps there have been too many conceptual trapdoors at the end of each journey.

Ah, but it’s all about pay offs. Thinking big brought a new charge to the storytelling. Moffat’s approach has been for faster, more exciting adventures, built around attention-grabbing conceits (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship) and a bold, brakes-off approach to the whole Doctor Who universe. Not only does our hero get married, so do his companions, starting (and losing) a family in the process. The Daleks’ are subjected to a redesign (subsequently scaled back) and lose the memory of their mortal foe (ditto), an Ice Warrior strips off, the TARDIS turns into Suranne Jones, both a Doctor and a companion are introduced before their official starting dates, we discover a hitherto unknown incarnation of the man, Gallifrey is saved and that fretful shadow of the final-ever regeneration is dispelled without anyone breaking sweat.

It’s been a long, long road since Leadworth. But if you’re inclined to start that journey all over again – before we all set off on the next one – and pop in your legally purchased copy of The Eleventh Hour, the weird thing is, despite the fact the leading man looks incredibly young and his hair’s mostly wrong, even then the show was right. The Matt Smith era clicked into place from the very beginning; Leadworth in the Easter of 2010 feeling of a piece with the final adventure that unfolded on Trenzalore over Christmas 2013.

It was all there. A row of ducks Steven Moffat set up, ready for his brilliant Doctor to knock down. Except the ones that were missing from the pond, obviously. What was their story?


2 thoughts on “From Leadworth to Trenzalore: How the Eleventh Doctor rewrote the past and the future

  1. This was a superb bit of writing — Matt feels like my Doctor, because I was there at the beginning and end of his era, creating a ‘box-set’ vibe that you accurately identified. Thoroughly enjoyed your reviews of the series regular since 2009, and up to 2014 — I shall have to follow the time tunnel that you carved in the pages of DWM and do a marathon.

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