Published on January 16th, 2014 | by James Lomond

Moffat Defends Plot Hole Criticism

Aha! The thick is plottening… Who’s lead writer has given an insight into the mechanics behind the storylines. Last Monday, the Moff went on Chris Evans’s Breakfast show to discuss Sherlock, writing and plot-holes.

The veteran broadcaster and ex-hubby to one Billie Piper asked to what extent writers need to “seal up” any plot holes such as those pointed out in the press. Moff’s reply (above) is interesting.

I think people have come to think a plot hole is something which isn’t explained on screen. A plot hole is actually something that can’t be explained.

Sometimes you expect the audience to put two and two together for themselves. For Sherlock, and indeed Doctor Who, I’ve always made the assumption that the audience is clever.

The issue here is that a writer creates a world they ask the audience to believe in and when something impossible happens, it threatens our belief and might get called a “plot hole”. But of course some things go unexplained as deliberate mysteries and some things go unexplained as they’re part of the genre – is it a plot hole that time travel or dimensional transcendentalism is never clearly explained?

The traditional plot hole is where something couldn’t happen and looks like a writing mistake – something was supposed to happen at night but the sun was shining or someone was in one place and then suddenly turns up miles away. But that’s not the complaint leveled at recent Doctor Who. Moffat’s era from Smith’s debut up to the Time of the Doctor has been blessed and cursed with complexity. The usual complaint is that it’s too complicated for the casual viewer and Moff replies that there are pre-teens who are fully clued-up!

However I’ve got two niggling confusions that the Christmas special didn’t fully “explain” for me.

1)    Why were the Silence building TARDISes and what was one doing abandoned and disguised on top of Craig’s bungalow in The Lodger? And…

2)    Who was Prisoner Zero? How did he/she/it get on the other side of the crack and was there no more significance to him/her/it other than they knew of future events for the Doctor and he/she/it was *passing through*?…

I realise I may never know (but if any of you can explain me out of my misery, there’s good will and imaginary chocolates in it for you!) And as Moff says it’s not that either event was impossible – it’s just been left to us to fill in the gaps. But did the story perhaps imply that the gap would/ should have been filled in?

What do you think Kasterborites? Is it a writer’s *job* to make sure EVERYTHING is explained and upfront on screen? How much should the viewer roll with the unexplained and are there some things that seem so significant they really deserve a denouement? And how well were the plot threads of Matt Smith’s era tied up for you? Tell us below…


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38 Responses to Moffat Defends Plot Hole Criticism

  1. In response to your two questions:
    I don’t think they were building the ships, that was probably how they traveled from Trenzalore. How the one ce to be abandoned we got an answer to in Day of the moon: its inhabitants were killed and the ship just stayed there rotting away.

    Why does it matter who prisoner zero was. Much like the crack on trensalore led to gallifrey and the crack in hollow earth lead out of reality, this one led to a prison.

    • avatar James Lomond says:


      yep, you were way ahead of me re the Day of the Moon explanation. There was a throwaway comment in Lodger about it being an “attempt to build a TARDIS” that never seemed to come to anything.

      See reply to Adam below – I just think calling it Prisoner *Zero* implies there’s more to find out. But again p’raps not.

  2. avatar Adam Morgan says:

    It is absolutely NOT the writers job to make sure every little thing is explained. What a boring fictional world that would be. Having things unexplained leaves mystery and room to explore.

    I agree with Moffat about what a plot hole is. A plot hole isn’t something unexplained, it is something that contradicts previously stated things (without and explanation) or something actually impossible to have happened.

    On to question #1.
    In the episode The Lodger the Doctor learns that the craft crashed and was searching for a compatible pilot. Seeing another later in The Impossible Astronaut confirmed that it was either a) related to the Silence, or b) They just took up residence in that one and may not even have known about the one over Craig’s place. This leaves us with two possible interpretations. Either they are the craft the Silence came to Earth in and the one in The Lodger lost its crew and it was searching for a new one, or they were from some other race. I’m inclined to believe the 1st. Did I miss something and someone official stated that they were and attempt by the Silents to build TARDII?

    Question #2.
    No idea who Prisoner Zero is. At that point in the story there were cracks all over the universe. They may not necessarily all have been to pocket universes. It is entirely conceivable that some led to other places within our own universe. Coming through it was probably a simple act of worming its way through the hole. Prisoner Zero was capable of entering small ducts and tunnels in the episode. Their knowledge of the prophecy of the Silence isn’t all that significant either. Dorium Maldovar knew about it extensively as did others. Given that the Church of the Silence was working their way back along The Doctor’s timeline in an attempt to off him, this knowledge would obviously have begun to permeate.

    • avatar James Lomond says:

      Thanks for the answers!

      Yeah you’re probably right re Prizoner Zero. But why give him/her/it such an intriguing name? It does seem to imply some kind of profound significance or backstory – Prisoner *ZERO* – like patient Zero, the start or origin of something. But p’raps not :/

      Regarding the Silence’s ships – in the Lodger when the Doctor and Craig enter the ship he says “the time engine isn’t in the flat the time engine IS the flat – someone’s attempt to build a TARDIS…” which made it sound like the ships were part of new/ attempted time travel on the part of the Silence. But I *think* I have a clue as to why it was empty – in The Lodger they say it “crashed” but in the Day of the Moon when the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS into the Silence’s ship where Amy is held prisoner, he comments that he’s seen one before on Craig’s house and that it was “abandoned” – he then says he always wondered why and that he imagined he was about to find out – which sounds as though the abandoned ship in The Lodger was abandoned because the Silent crew were killed off by humans who had seen the hypno-command on the moon landing footage telling them to kill all Silents on sight. Maybe?..

      • I assume the point of the ‘name’ ‘Zero’ was for the resolution of the episode, where the Doctor reset everything to 0 in order to point the Atraxi to where Prisoner Zero was.

        • avatar James Lomond says:

          Very good point, and one that makes me look like a pillock ;) …though I do think that this is the kind of set-up where some *other* significance to the name would lend more credibility to the reset-to-0 plot device at the end and make it less overtly out of necessity – there just seemed to be more intrigue around Prisoner Zero given the eventual pay-off, but hey ho.

    • avatar iLikeTheUDK says:

      Agreed, but I think Moffat is leaving too much unexplained. There’s a line between leaving some things for the clever viewer to find out and making the viewer write half the storyline in his/her head.

  3. avatar Mark Lenton says:

    All this ‘people are clever’ is a bit of an excuse don’t you think? Afterall remember how the proper explanation of why the Ponds couldn’t be revisited was cut because there was a perception that people weren’t interested in having this explained properly and were happy to accept they couldn’t be seen again because we had seen their graves… Either people are clever or they are not. You can’t have it both ways and say that the audience wasn’t asking this wuestion because the graves had been seen (which makes no sense)….

    • avatar Jamie-42 says:

      I don’t remember the explaination being cut. I always thought that it was explained as because the Tardis had crossed it’s own path too many times, remember Time Travel leaves scars, and to travel back to that point again would be catestrophic.
      Maybe the Ponds could have travelled somewhere else but as we saw their graves were in New York, obviously they didn’t.

      • avatar Mark Lenton says:

        Hmmm, yes that was the incomplete and inadequate explanation given.

        Just becuase their graves were in New York then they never travelled???!!! And why can’t the doc just land in another city and catch a bus to NY??? Moffat gave us a reason for this in the monthly but said it was cut from the episode because he didn’t think people needed it as they could see the Ponds grave – this isn’t execting people to be clever it’s expecting them to be dumb and not ask the question.

        Also why has he started thinking like this now. When he wrote for the RTD period he was meticulous in tying up his loose ends. Those four stories are some of the most tightly plotted in Doctor Who. I’ve got to say that these days it smacks of lazy writing. His other pre 2010 series (Jekyll etc) too are very well plotted and all the explanations are there.

        • avatar Alorer says:

          The Ponds were not just in New York. They had their own paradoxical timeline and they had *already* fucked it up twice (what with Rory seeing himself die then both of them offing themselves to cause a paradox and destroy the Angels). Relanding the TARDIS or a Time Lord as great as the Doctor in an already too weakened and patched up timeline (i.e. the personal timeline of the Ponds) would result in a catastrophe (I think something about the timeline going boom – it would destroy New York only, it would destroy any place the Ponds might have travelled to when it happened).

          Remember, the Ponds themselves were impossible: they were time travellers, they had caused myriad paradoxes and even helped reset the entire universe. Obviously, there’s a limit to how much you can tamper with a particular person and their timeline before the whole thing becomes the equivalent of a bomb.

          I recall that River was able to visit them through her Vortex Manipulator. Could the Doctor do the same? Hmm. Maybe. I don’t think so, perhaps due to the influence/part he has had in their timelines being too great (while River, despite being their daughter, hadn’t really *intervened* that much).

          • avatar Mark Lenton says:

            Yes, well done a brilliant explanation… but not the one given in the episode… that was the problem, we had a dumbed down ‘the Tardis can’t go to New York’ type explanation – hence my point about the Moff can’t have it both ways telling us the audience is clever (enough to accept complex explanations) and then only offering dumb ones that make only cursory sense

        • avatar Jamie-42 says:

          Is it any worse than “the laws of time”? How many times was that used and completely ignored when convenient?

          • avatar iLikeTheUDK says:

            The Blinovich Limitation Effect, for example, seems to work and not work whenever it feels like. It was there a lot in the classic series (i.e. Mawdryn Undead, when the Brig meets a past version of himself, and that past version faints and loses his memories until that future meeting), and its most recent appearance was apparently in The Day of the Doctor (at least in my interpretation, when the War Doctor gets into the TARDIS and regenerates he forgets that he didn’t really use the Moment, and that’s because he, the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors used the BLE to their advantage), but in The Big Bang when young Amy meets gown-up Amy the Blinovich Limitation seems to have no Effect on either (get it…?) and their mind is completely fine with seeing another version of herself.

          • IIRC, Steven Moffat explained this either in the script or in DWM as the universe being just Earth and the TARDIS by this point, so there was not enough energy for a BLE to occur. Or something along those lines.

  4. avatar TimeChaser says:

    I agree with Moffat. Letting the audience try to figure things out is good. Why should we always get everything fed to us on a platter? So boring. Doctor Who is a very complex and twisty series, so there will always be things that don’t make sense and can’t ever be explained. Tying loose ends together like they did in Time of the Doctor is nice, but it would be rather pedantic to explain every last little thing.

    • avatar iLikeTheUDK says:

      I actually think that he’s over-doing it. read my reply to another comment to see the rest of my opinion.

  5. avatar Jarvisrama99 says:

    Of course a writer might leave small details out, and fans will be left contemplating theories and ideas. Blade Runner was significant with the idea of Rick Deckard being a replicant who hunts down his own kind, though many do speculate that Gaff was the man whose memories Deckard was given to falsely believe he was indeed human. The original Star Wars was faulted with the films climatic battle simply a small hole that no one ever covered up.

  6. avatar iLikeTheUDK says:

    Of course letting viewers figure out stuff on their own is great, but there’s a difference between doing that and letting the viewers write half the episode themselves in their minds. I think that Moffat quite often does the latter rather than the former.
    I also think that Moffat said what he did in this interview as some sort of an excuse.

  7. avatar Manup says:

    Moffat’s comment is the perfect example of why he’s criticized – he enjoys his own cleverness too much and gets lost in it, and sometimes plotlines get lost with him, too. A plot hole is not something that isn’t explained, but rather something that cannot be explained within the boundaries/rules of the particular plot/universe. The former are our job to figure out or imagine, and the latter are the writer’s job to keep straight. Moffat implicitly denies that any of the latter exists, and also implies that if we claim any exists, it’s only because we weren’t smart enough to figure them out. Backhanded compliment indeed. As someone once said, you haven’t been told ‘no’ in a long time, Moffat.

  8. Of course Moffat is right, a writer MUST assume the people they write for are not stupid and can connect the dots. And we can do that with his stuff almost all the time.

    I was surprised in “The Time of the Doctor” that the number of regeneration was explained to such detail, for example! I didn’t feel it was necessary (but seeing many people still don’t get it maybe I was wrong).

    Very interesting theories about Craig’s ship in the comments!

  9. avatar Ranger says:

    I am not a fan of writers who have to explain every single thing, as if the audience is stupid, but I also think you can take it too far the other way and I fear that Moffatt is heading in that direction. It’s fine for obsessed fans like us to speculate and dream up answers and scenarios, it’s another for the ordinary watcher where it all becomes too complicated, too much is assumed of expecting them to remember drawn out detailed story arcs and plot holes become irritating. I’m not saying the ordinary watcher is stupid, simply not as interested as us. It seems a good way to turn people off watching the show.

    • avatar Mark Lenton says:

      Absolutely spot on. This is what I hear time and again from the ‘not we’ whenever DW comes up as a topic. Christmas was a mystery to many casual viewers this year…

  10. avatar Neu 75 says:

    The casual viewer is precisely that, the casual viewer! They are not going to care either way whether there are plot holes or not, they just want to be entertained. As with Sherlock, there are people out there that are either taking things way too seriously or using an issue such as plot as an all out excuse to have a whinge and not like what they were watching and using this as this binding “be all and end all” reason…

    • avatar Mark Lenton says:

      Many ‘casual viewers’ do think that part of the entertainment is a plot they can understand…

      … many casual viewers become more committed when they find what they are casually viewing engages and interests them. Believe it or not some of us were casual viewers once :-)

    • thething is guys… I and many others of us can make the leap Moffat describes. The thing that Moffat is forgetting si that we need the explanation or at least a reasonable hint LATER ON so that we know our leap, our THEORY, was right.
      it soothes our badly bruised psyche, and gives our inner child the reassurance it needs from its chosen fantasy, as is the very nature of a fantasy.

      THAt is where Moffat fails. ;)

      • remembering, as well, that fantasies are well capable of being multi-faceted.

  11. avatar Jim Parsons says:

    So what Moffat is saying is that if we don’t get everything he writes then we must be stupid? I think he’s done some really great work, in and outside of Doctor Who, but really, when he starts saying this kind of smug nonsense then he’s believing his own genius a little bit too much. He has not been a very strong storyteller since he took over the show. Convoluted plots and limp conclusions do not a good tale make. People always talk about how Doctor Who refreshes itself and keeps on going because the lead actor changes, but it also works because the people behind the scenes know when to move on. Maybe its time for him too.

    • avatar Manup says:

      It does sound like he’s calling us stupid, isn’t it. Which is not a very creative way of dismissing criticism. I do wonder if he actually, genuinely believes that, that his plots are perfectly tight and those who find plot holes are stupid.

      I vote for renewal, too, before he crashes the whole thing.

  12. avatar koloth says:

    What total tosh! SM is on my last nerve!

    The answer to Prisoner Zero being on the other side of the crack – surely its a Timelord which is why all the Doctors enemies were trying to stop it coming through!

  13. a plot hole can be like
    “Don’t worry Barnable, I have a plan… I don’t really have a plan, people like it when I say that”
    Right in the truth field
    I will call that a plot hole

    • ;) hasn’t the Doctor said alreaady that Truth Fields don’t work on him?

      And even us normal humans can hold two conflicting ideas (yesI have a plan no I don’t) in thier head at one time,and they both be true. this idea set in particular is typical of the Doctor.

  14. avatar drewboynton says:

    My personal feeling is that Moffat tends to out-clever himself. He probably knows what is going on in the stories, but it’s too clever (and not explained enough sometimes) to be completely satisfying and entertaining for a general audience (especially those who are new to Who). I almost feel like he has this huge, epic War & Peace-style Doctor Who novel in his head, and what we get is bits and pieces and chapters of this big story he has banging around in his brain.

  15. avatar Taz says:

    The issue is what people are labeling plot~holes. A plot hole is a mistake “with out an explanation” it’s not something that hasn’t been explained yet (Think Tasha Lem) and is more readily acceptable in the genre of action, comedy, sci~fi, fantasy and “Doctor Who” is all of these.

    From the two examples neither is a true plot~hole which is a reason for the confusion. Prisoner Zero escaped through the crack in time too Earth (he was the only one to do so from that prison complex…hence the moniker “Prisoner 0″) and the 2nd, The Silence were reverse engineering the TARDIS to learn how too fly it, something went wrong. The TARDIS interface (a male in this TARDIS a female in the “Doctors”) was trying to find another Operator on Earth, someone who wished to travel and that would be based on the theory that the Silence (The Religious Order) would have known of the Time Lords. Look back at “Impossible Astronaut”/”Day of the Moon” it looks like they were trying to build one then also, using information from a young imprisoned “Melody Pond”.

    I do love when the actual complaints are listed however, it means the writer relishes debate, once again I could be incorrect, but in watching the Moffat written episodes during RTD’s tenure Moffat set a ton of this up, I personally believe that he got it 99.87 percent correct and that tends to infuriate the crowd who have been watching for 20+ years an should realize this show is not just for you it’s for the masses and let go of some of that resentment to the show having a whole new generation of fans…Enjoy the ride people!!! bring up valid points when they are needed, but to go look for things to complain about…in the words of the “11th Doctor”…”what is the point in having you” hahahahaha

  16. avatar Geoff says:

    I rewatched the Eleventh Hour about 2 weeks ago for the first time since it was on and for about 5 minutes I wondered the same thing you raised. Then I thought: Steven Moffat probably just changed his mind about what the cracks were a few years later. I’m fine with that to be honest. As long as its good and not too unfinished or contradictory in major ways who cares!

  17. avatar Howard Railton says:

    It’s not just one plot hole, it’s the Grand Canyon in every season he writes. Mof’s Who-ed out and should go.

    • avatar Taz says:

      Really wish you would list the plot holes so they could be discussed, instead of just saying they are there…that kinda makes your comment a plot hole…hahahahaha

  18. avatar James Sutton says:

    My main problem with his reasoning is, if we automatically assumed this then we cannot consider any writer to have made a mistake unless their writing contains an obvious logical contradiction. IOW, if we can think of a way round something then it cannot be considered a plot hole.

    There are obvious examples where Steven Moffat’s writer is simply clumsy or inconsistent. For example, “Asylum of the Daleks”.

    We’re told that the Asylum exists because it is offensive to the Daleks to destroy such divine hatred. But this is in an episode where they are going to destroy them all anyway and the Daleks have a long history of exterminating other Daleks. In Victory of the Daleks, the new paradigm didn’t hesitate to destroy the gold casing Daleks!

    We are told that the planet is surrounded by a force field that is impenetratable (that is why it cannot be bombed), but not only has a spacecraft (the one containing Clara) crashed through it … but we later see that the Daleks have sufficient technology to send humanoids through it. And if they are that scared of millions of Daleks escaping, why on earth have they placed the control of the forcefield ON THE INSIDE OF THE FORCEFIELD WHERE THE OCCUPANTS CAN GET TO IT BUT WHERE THEY CAN’T?

    Of course, there are more recent (but perhaps, less obvious) examples. In the Christmas episode (Time of the Doctor), the Doctor (who is very ancient by this stage) tells the young man that he thinks is Barnable that he has a plan. Immediately when the young man leaves, Clara asks the Doctor if he does indeed have a plan to which he replies, “No. They love me to say that!” (or words to that effect). But he’s next to the crack and in the truth field (we were told when they arrived that its impossible to lie in the town, especially so close to the tower). So, if its impossible to lie, how could he tell the young man he has a plan when he doesn’t or tell Clara that he doesn’t have a plan when he does???

    Sorry … but sometimes it has simply been down to bad writing.

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