Steven Moffat – the exec producer of Doctor Who – has recently hit out at the “fans” who post spoilers to the internet. In a rather great rant, he talks about those who work to obtain twists and turns of upcoming stories and post them out on the internet.
“So to have some twit who came to a press launch, write up a story in the worst, most ham-fisted English you can imagine, and put it on the internet [is heartbreaking].”
Absolutely. Moffat’s spot on here. I am not a spoiler-phobe, and won’t cry if someone accidentally tells me something but I do prefer to be surprised and shocked and carried along by a story. Especially a new story. Part of the fun I’ve had with Moffat’s own show has been in private discussions with other fans speculating over big game plans we can see developing in the show and how we think things are going to turn out. I haven’t had this much fun since I used to watch Babylon 5, a show which again depended on shock and surprise to pull the viewer along its narrative arc. Part of the joy of the show was the speculation and uncertainty, of trying to second guess the plot and the characters, and of often being completely wrong.
I understand that a culture has developed where people’s impatience and need for instant gratification has resulted in the need to seek out “spoilers”, but in the end I think this is what leads to much of the “grumpiness” of fandom. The foreknowledge of what is happening means that we are not surprised by a narrative in the way we might be otherwise. The shock of an emotional narrative development we didn’t see coming is diminished when we expect it. Thus, “Luke I am your father” doesn’t have that impact if you already know that the Dark Sith Lord is Luke’s daddy. Or imagine what it was to see that second Star Trek movie and have no clue that Spoke was going to sacrifice himself at the end.
To return to Who for a moment, when the series first returned in ’05, we knew in short order that the new Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston was leaving. The official announcement, as I remember it, was that he would do the Christmas special and then leave after that. So when we came to the final show of that season, I settled in knowing it was his last but thinking he’d be around for at least some of the Christmas special. Lucky I’d avoided spoilers that week because the shock of his regeneration at the end of the show really got me. “Hang on”, I said, “I didn’t expect… oh bloody hell, he’s going to die, yup and he’s… he’s regenerating.” It was impossible to hide the fact a new Doc was on his way, but the producers cleverly tried to avoid us knowing the exact details of how and when it would happen, thus creating a climax that really pulled in the unsuspecting viewer.
Stories rely on surprise on the audience not being forewarned. And yes, they should be about more than simple shocks* but I love the delight that comes from seeing a story for the first time and having – literally – no idea of what’s around the corner.
Tonight, for example, I watched the final episode of the 3rd series of the incredible French cop series, SPIRAL (also known as ENGRENAGES) with no clue as to how it would end. My friends who had already seen it respected my need for the narrative, knowing how much the impact of the show would rely on not knowing certain details. And trust me folks, I was on the edge of my seat, because there’s something pure in the being swept along by a narrative with no expectations or knowledge of how it will turn out.
So preach on, Mr Moffat, about the joy of narrative surprise and about how these eejits are spoiling the joy of audience engagement with narrative. Spoilers are a horrific thing, an impediment to one’s ability to truly interact with a story. And those who spread them with intent – as compared to those who accidentally give something away, those who innocently forget what they’re saying – are indeed, Moffat says, indulging in a form of vandalism.
*The Sixth Sense, for example, doesn’t exist much beyond that twist – repeat viewings don’t reveal much more other than the trickery that stopped you seeing the truth first time around