Steven Moffat's Doctor Who era has been one long story, about the Doctor and the Silence. The Silence are mentioned in Matt Smith's very first episode, and their actions have dominated the Eleventh Doctor's life. But we still don't really know what this is all about, and we're hoping for more clues when the show returns on Saturday.
And as we rewatch old episodes, we inevitably wind up asking: Is there a Moffat Master Plan? One that leads to a climax he planned out long ago? And is this all going to wind up making sense, in the end?
Of course, there's a rule of thumb: Pretty much any time you wonder if a television show's creative team is winging it, the answer is going to be, "Yes." It's pretty much the nature of television, where everything is chaos and creators are at the mercy of outside forces.
At the same time, Moffat is clearly telling one long serialized story on Doctor Who. There's never been an era of the show where the stories were so strongly connected. In season five, the Crack dominates the storytelling, to the point where if you take the Crack away, neither the Weeping Angels two-parter nor the Silurian two-parter has a proper climax. In season six, everything is built around the saga of River Song being born, falling in love with the Doctor, and (apparently) killing him.
And of course, Moffat has said recently that there's no arc whatsoever in the new season of Doctor Who. But he's also said that he lies. And we're clearly in the middle of a sprawling story that won't be completed until we see the Fields of Trenzalore and learn why the Silence were so keen to get rid of the Doctor.
Should Doctor Who have a master plan, in any case? You could argue that a big part of the show's appeal has been that it go anywhere and do anything — which means having a tight arc, with tons of recurring characters, is actually putting too many limits. Russell T. Davies' solution to this conundrum was mostly to make the show's arcs about the companions' personal journeys, while tossing in the occasional breadcrumb like "Bad Wolf" cropping up over and over. The paradox of Doctor Who might be that the more you try to make a sweeping epic out of the show, the smaller it actually becomes.
But leaving that question aside, what can we learn from the stories that have already aired, about the story that Moffat's in the middle of telling?
What are the themes of Moffat's Doctor Who?
Fame and the power of seeing. The Doctor is either legendary or famous, and he faces monsters that gain power from not being seen.
Moffat starts introducing the notion of the Doctor's fame as early as "Forest of the Dead" during the David Tennant era. The Doctor stares down the Vashta Nerada by telling them, "You're in a library. Look me up." He similarly stares down the giant eye of the Atraxis in "Eleventh Hour," telling them, "I'm the Doctor. Basically, run." In "The Pandorica Opens," the Doctor tries a similar tack with the gathered alien armies, giving a big shouty speech on top of Stonehenge. And then, in "A Good Man Goes to War," we see lots of ordinary people gossiping about the Doctor's myth, and the Doctor turns out to have loads of never-before-seen allies. Finally, in "The Wedding of River Song," the entire universe responds eagerly to a call for help on the Doctor's behalf.
And in both of Moffat's season finales, the Doctor sacrifices his fame to save the universe.
In "The Eleventh Hour," the Doctor discovers that everyone he meets in Leadworth recognizes him instantly, because of all the drawings and "cartoons" young Amelia Pond drew of him. He's locally famous as the "Raggedy Doctor" from her stories. He's become sort of a fairytale character, a piece of folklore.
At the end of the season, the Doctor sacrifices his own existence to reboot the universe — and the main way we see this is that everybody has forgotten the Doctor. But he is able to reconstitute himself by getting young Amelia Pond to remember him, once again, as a kind of fairy tale, about a man who ran away in a box that was somewhat wedding-themed (old, new, borrowed and blue) so she'll think of him on her wedding day. The Doctor tells Amelia, "We're all just stories in the end, so make it a good one."
In season six, River Song refuses to shoot the Doctor, and that refusal causes the entire universe to stop, because of timey-wimey stuff. And then in the time-stopped universe that results, River builds a giant transmitter to contact the entire universe, which — as mentioned above — responds with messages of love and gratitude for the Doctor. But the Doctor decides to fake his own death, because he "got too big." The universe is saved, but the cost is that the Doctor needs to vanish. (Something that will probably stick about as much as the Randomizer did.)
And in the most recent season finale, we learn that the Doctor has the ultimate kind of fame: his very name is of massive, cosmic import. (More on that below.)
Meanwhile, Moffat is famous for his monsters that only have power when you don't see. The Weeping Angels can only move when you're not looking at them. The Vashta Nerada live in the shadows, and you have to "count the shadows" spot them. You can't remember the Silence unless you're looking right at them. Even the Smilers are hidden in plain sight and turn ugly when you're not looking.