Is Doctor Who getting too scary or too complicated? A minor backlash is brewing

When Steven Moffat took over as showrunner of Doctor Who, he seemed to be making a conscious effort to keep the breezy family-friendly tone of his predecessor, Russell T. Davies. But now that Moffat's settled in, that's changed.

Moffat's second season of Doctor Who launched with a two-part story that was both darker and more confusing than anything RTD had done — and certainly more so than any of RTD's season openers. We vastly preferred this to Moffat's earlier efforts as showrunner — because it's better to see Moffat being himself rather than trying to copy Davies — but the British press is less certain.

The Daily Mail points to the show's ratings, which are continuing to fall off a bit*, and says these "disappointing viewing figures" may prove the show's "plotlines are too scary and too complex for its largely family audience.

Writes the Mail:

An unnamed father told how his two children, aged nine and four, have now asked to record Doctor Who and watch it on Sunday mornings because it is too scary to watch close to bedtime.

Another unnamed viewer, writing on a dedicated fan site, told how her six-year-old daughter, previously an avid fan, now never wants to watch the programme again because it is too scary.

The mother added: ‘Steven M seems to have no interest in making it enjoyable for children and just seems obsessed by how scary and complex he can make the storyline.'

Meanwhile, the Guardian has a debate between two writers, one of whom insists the "new Doctor Who is too dark and convoluted... At present the writers seem intent on proving how clever they are through too much complexity and too many cheap shocks." He's rebutted by another writer, who claims that "it's important for kids to learn about fear."

As backlashes go, this is pretty minor, and will probably blow over. But given that the BBC is taxpayer-funded and constantly under attack by politicians, you do have to wonder if Moffat is going to be under pressure from within the BBC to make the show more light-hearted and newbie-friendly next year. Probably a lot depends on whether the show continues to lose viewers over the course of the year — and especially, whether people will come back after a lengthy gap halfway through the season.

* - Before anybody points it out in comments, there are other factors behind the falling ratings, including an earlier-than-usual 6 PM airtime, and abnormally nice weather. And yes, more people are watching the show time-shifted or via the BBC's online "iplayer." And yes, the show is still a hit by any standard. However, the numbers do seem to indicate serious attrition among casual viewers — as this SFX article says, the numbers prove the show is appealing more to die-hards and less to random family viewers.