I think I just figured something out.
A friend and I were talking on the bus a while back, and I said a lot of the trouble with the writing in S8 was a failed attempt to make the Doctor seem more alien. He didn’t really understand what I meant. Then he mentioned Twelve’s comments about Clara’s appearance as being a step too far, which I agreed with in part but couldn’t quite articulate the other part.
Those comments are part of the attempt, and they fail. They don’t make the Doctor seem alien; they make him seem like a jerk. I was thinking about this today, and thinking that some of what I liked about S1 was the alien-ness, the jarring moments where the Doctor said or did something unexpected, something no ordinary person would. And I saw, these weird little jabs of Twelve’s are Moffat’s failed attempt to capture that alien-ness that RTD expressed (to me) so effectively.
The particular example that occurred to me is from ‘The Unquiet Dead.’ The Doctor wants to let the Gelth use human bodies. He says it’s like recycling. Rose thinks it’s wrong. “You can’t,” she insists. The episode does not choose sides; the audience is left to do it for themselves. Would it be okay to allow benevolent aliens (which admittedly the Gelth turned out not to be) to use corpses which we are only going to bury or burn? Particularly if the Doctor could then find somewhere else for them to live, somewhere they wouldn’t make the family and friends of the dead uncomfortable, somewhere they wouldn’t increase the pressure on an already overpopulated world?
That conversation was one of many that stuck in my mind as demonstrating the Doctor’s alien-ness. Not good, not bad, just alien.
Twelve’s jabs at Clara are different in that they are not ambiguous. They are mean (if not mean-spirited) and unfounded. Even if an alien were inclined to say such things, it is unlikely he would restrict his target to one person. It’s a poor writing choice – not just for plausibility, but for singling out the one ongoing female character – in several episodes, the only major female character – for deprecation. It’s really not okay.
Maybe RTD really IS the better writer, overall…