It started at the very end of the Russell T. Davies era, but for some reason the modern incarnation of Doctor Who has given The Doctor a friend from almost every major recurring villain class. If there is one lesson that we can truly learn from Steven Moffat, it seems to be that friendship is magic.
Let's look at a list. Since the show returned in 2005, eight major recurring enemies have returned and two have been created. You've got the Nestene Consciousness, the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Master, Davros, the Silurians, the Sontarans and the Great Intelligence added to Moffat's own Weeping Angels and the Silence. You could throw the Macra and the Zygons in there if you like, but considering that they have one adventure each in the classic series, the word "recurring" seems a bit strong.
Of the 12 enemies on that list, eight have become The Doctor's allies and seven of them since 2010 alone.
You had the Auton Rory, who overcame his Nestene programming to protect the Pandorica and fight with River Song in the museum. Both Rusty and the Dalek Oswin willingly killed their own kind for The Doctor, the former formally joining a human resistance movement afterwards. The Doctor has had three Cybermen allies, Handles and the cyberconverted Danny Pink and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
The Paternoster Gang has not only a reformed (sort of) Sontaran in Strax, but also the Silurian Madame Vastra as The Doctor's regular muscle in the Victorian era. They even led a Silurian army for him in "A Good Man Goes to War," and the race has not been seen as hostile to humanity or The Doctor since their first appearance in "The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood."
Even the Silence switched allegiance, and I have to admit watching the aging Eleventh Doctor lead a squad of them in "The Time of The Doctor" was pretty cool. Still, it was a rather odd thing to see considering how much trouble they caused him before. Moffat even wrote the Zygons into peaceably interacting with humanity in "The Day of The Doctor," a scene I just now realized was basically a remake of the one with the Silurians in "Cold Blood."
The only pre-Moffat enemy-turned-ally is The Master, who drove Rassilon back into the Time War in "The End of Time." It was a great moment, expertly done, but The Master was always going to switch sides one day. He would have done it in the '70s if Roger Delgado had not died unexpectedly in a car crash. The Master and The Doctor fighting together was always the plan eventually. It just took several decades to get there.
Only the Macra, the Great Intelligence, Davros and the Weeping Angels have remained constant foes. One by one, since Moffat took over, The Doctor's rogue's gallery seems to be getting smaller.
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That's not even to mention his penchant for stories where there really are no monsters at all. "The Beast Below," "Amy's Choice," two of the five Christmas specials, the Ganger two-parter, "Curse of the Black Spot," "The God Complex," "Hide," "Listen," "Time Heist" and "In the Forest of the Night," just to name some. More often than not, the bad guy these days turns out to be little more than a metaphor for fear and misunderstanding leading to cruelty when it's not actually, literally that (see "Time Heist").
That's not necessarily a bad thing. You don't want your antagonists to be one-dimensional caricatures of evil. For all that Richard E. Grant made for a fantastic Big Bad as the Great Intelligence, the character himself was so pettily narcissistic that it was a little hard to take him seriously. Can anyone even really remember why he was so willing to sacrifice himself just to erase The Doctor from existence?
This is why Michelle Gomez's Master was such a welcome return to form at the end of last season. Divisive as her appearance was since it was seen as a test for a possible female Doctor in the future, her performance and writing were just spectacular. She achieved pathos and nuance and depth without ever losing her place as the architect of destruction and death. She was like Othello mixed with The Joker, crazed and sad and very, very dangerous.
And yet, even then The Doctor was again reaching out to try to find common ground with her.
Doctor Who has come a long way in just eight seasons. We went from a Doctor who never let killing a menace bother him to one that offered the coldest of mercy to one that actively brokered peace talks to Capaldi, who is willing to enter a Dalek in search of goodness. It's definitely a big change, though a subtle one if you're not paying close attention. It's also probably the lessons we need to be learning the most these days.
Doctor Who returns later this year with "The Magician's Apprentice."
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