The new Doctor Who: The trials of a timelady

So the news has broken, and Doctor Who has a new Doctor. All I can say is…

…Thank God she’s hot. I mean, seriously, look at her. She’s got those good girl looks that makes you know that she’s a real tiger in the bedroom, amirite?

The article continues after this advertisement...

Okay, seriously, I know the internet has been on fire since the news broke that one of science fiction’s most iconic characters is switching genders, and it really comes as no surprise that 1) people are freaking out, and 2) this happened in the first place. This was hinted at in season eight’s big reveal that Missy, the Doctor’s nemesis that year, was in fact the Master returned in a new incarnation.

Not only that, it was hinted even earlier in the episode “The Doctor’s Wife”, where the Doctor spoke about a Time Lord colleague who had switched genders and one knew it was the same person based on a tattoo they possessed.

But actually, the first hint came even earlier than that. Go back to 1999’s special Doctor Who: The Curse of the Fatal Death and there the Doctor goes through several transformations, with the last being into Absolutely Fabulous’ Joanna Lumley:

Yes, Curse of the Fatal Death is a comedy. And no, it’s not canon. But I think the seeds were well planted there. Not only that, this seems to be the era of gender swapping. Marvel Comics has apparently declared war on cis white males and replaced them with their female counterparts, including Wolverine and Thor:

And let’s not forget the lacklusterly (not a real word, I know, but it should be. I’m like pulp writer Maxwell Grant that way) performing Ghostbusters movie from last year.

So I’m not the least bit surprised that making the next Doctor a woman is going to happen. People have said online, “It’s about time!” and some will think this is the BBC being socially aware and progressive. But really, this is nothing of the sort. Back in 2005, when actor Christopher Eccleston and showrunner Russell T. Davies pulled off a miracle and delivered a home run of a first season and started off what proved to be a very popular franchise that produced two spin-off series: Torchwood, which starred sometimes Doctor companion Captain Jack Harkness (played by current Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow castmember John Barrowman)…

…and The Sarah Jane Adventures, which brought back veteran Doctor Who companion Sarah Jane Smith, played by the late and much beloved Elizabeth Sladen…

Doctor Who was a red hot product, and it seemed they could do no wrong. And then something happened to throw the franchise off the rails. And that something is a someone: Steven Moffat.

As a writer, Moffat is fine; when you give him an editor to oversee his work he can generate a good product (in fact, he wrote the 1999 comedy special). But as a showrunner, he was and is, well, limited. He was very reluctant to kill off principle characters, giving them “non-deaths”; he was a little overly fond of some villains and overused them; his female characters all had that same kind of oh-so-clever dialogue; and “The Impossible Girl” Clara Oswald proved impossible to tolerate, at least to me. The 2014 Christmas special aired, and when in the prior season finale they had created a wonderfully written and heartbreaking means to break up the Doctor and Clara, we received a coda where we saw her fate.

Clara had led a full life without the Doctor. As endings for a companion go, this was a touching and rare one; seldom had we seen a companion grow old like this, with notable exceptions being Sarah Jane and Brigadier Leftbridge Stewart. And then we discover… it was all a dream! Clara wasn’t old, and she could go on adventures with the Doctor and experience another non-death! I threw up my hands in disgust and walked away.

And I’m not the only one. This last season of Doctor Who has the lowest ratings in its history since its return to television. They also produced a spin-off series Class that itself had low ratings and is likely not coming back, with Moffat leaving the franchise. Fans appear to be fed up, and regardless of how well-written this last season allegedly was (I only saw the last episode, and I was terribly underwhelmed. We got Cybermen… again. A companion should have died but didn’t… again. And a story involving the first time two Masters teamed up fell utterly flat), fewer people than ever tuned in. I’m sure ratings for the Christmas special will be high, because people will be curious about what the new Doctor looks like. That, and the interesting hook of Capaldi’s Doctor teaming up with the first Doctor, played by David Bradley, who played actor William Hartnell in a TV movie about the origin of the Doctor Who series.

So yeah, Bradley will have played not only a person who played the Doctor, he will also be playing the Doctor. That’s both weird and awesome. I wonder who gave Moffat the idea.

So, where are we now? Moffat, after performing a scorched Earth job on Doctor Who, is finally leaving the show and being replaced by Chris Chibnall, who’s produced the British crime drama Broadchurch and wrote for both Torchwood and Doctor Who.

So yeah, he’s a safe choice to take over after Moffat; he’s a successful producer and he’s written sci-fi and he’s familiar with the Who-niverse. And he’s chosen Jodie Whittaker from Broadchurch to play the Doctor.

A lot of baggage comes with the role.

That makes sense, too: Whittaker and Chibnall have worked together before, and over the decades we’ve seen numerous director/producers work with the same actors (i.e. Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Keitel and Samuel L. Jackson, or Scorsese and De Niro/DiCaprio) because they’re comfortable working with them. But let me ask you this: why didn’t Chibnall cast Olivia Colman?

Colman worked on Broadchurch too. Is it because, while she’s an excellent actor, Colman isn’t “hot”? Perhaps Colman doesn’t appeal to the basest instincts of the male of the species? Ladies and gentlemen and those of numerous genders whose names I am currently unaware, please don’t think that with this maneuver the BBC is trying to show the world how socially progressive a network it is. This is a ratings grab, pure and simple. Personally, my choice for a female Doctor would have been Helen Mirren…

…but while she is one of the most talented and acclaimed actresses in history, she just isn’t sexy enough for the desperate publicity stunt the BBC now finds itself needing to make to salvage one of their major TV series.

How do I feel about this news? Honestly, I’m indifferent. As the years go by and I descend into old fartitude, I find myself more and more nostalgic for the original series. Yeah, the special effects were terrible and the costumes were sometimes ridiculous, but overall I find those stories more memorable and the cast more endearing. Sarah Jane Smith, Brigadier Leftbridge Stewart, Ramana, Jamie, and Zoe all had a larger impact on me than even Martha Jones, Rose Tyler, and the duo of Amelia and Rory Pond. And the Doctors back then were on the whole more fun. I simply do not watch re-runs of modern Doctor Who, not even the Davies era. I will check out the next Christmas special more for curiosity’s sake, hoping Alex Kingston doesn’t again reprise her role as River Song, and praying Moffat goes out with a bang rather than with a repeat whimper as the season finale he delivered turned out to be. And I’ll give the new Doctor a chance to wow me; I wish Chibnall and Whittaker all the best. But I really think Moffat’s legacy is a steep hill to climb. Or should I say, a deep ratings hole to climb out of?

So what will happen next year? Considering the conservative stance they’ve already taken with their supposedly liberal choice to cast a female Doctor, here are some plot points that I hope will happen, and what I think will instead likely come to pass:

The New Companion:

Since the new series run, almost all of the Doctor’s companions, save for one or two exceptions like Captain Jack and River (shudder) Song, have been people who live in the modern era; they’ve been almost entirely point-of-view characters for the audience. To me, this hasn’t been necessary for quite some time. The Doctor is so familiar with Earth that he doesn’t need a guide in the modern era, and viewers don’t need a person they might have something in common with to follow the Doctor around. In fact, to me, two of the most interesting companions were the second Doctor’s: Jamie McCrimmon, who hailed from 1746 Scotland, and Zoe Herriot, a genius from the 21st century who lived on a space station.

The dynamic of a person from the past teaming up with someone from the future was interesting and fun, and what was especially nice is not once in my memory did either of them try to fall in love. They were companions, and fast friends, and nothing more. I had thought that when the Capaldi run had begun, it would have been nice to have him paired with someone from another era, such as Emma Grayling (played by Jessica Rayne), a woman from the 1970s with empathic powers.

Sadly, it was not to be, and we kept Clara. Damn it.

For the entire run of this franchise, going back to 1963, the Doctor has always had a female companion (and if someone knows otherwise, feel free to correct me). Yes, there have been male companions on board the TARDIS and even robots, but when you look at the whole of its run, there’s always been a woman around. So why should things change now?

Gee, let me think…

It’s likely Chibnall will want a man on board to do the heavy lifting and for there to be a male/female dynamic going on, perhaps much like we saw on Broadchurch. So if there’s a single companion, it will be a man, specifically a man from the present.

The Villains:

It’s a new producer and a fresh start, so we’ll hopefully see new villains. One thing I had always wanted to see was a bad guy who confronts the Doctor at the beginning of a season who hates him and the Doctor doesn’t know why. And it’s not until later that the Doctor realizes he’s wronged this person in that person’s past, and that during the season their timelines crossed and so the Doctor’s present is the enemy’s past. For a show about time travel, writers often play it safe with how they handle the mechanics of time, and sometimes they change the rules as they go along, i.e. Moffat’s “fixed points in time”, or Davies’ weird time monsters the Reapers that appeared in the 2005 episode “Father’s Day”. We could see the Doctor perhaps faced with a moral quandary; undo the wrong she’s done and change her own timeline, or deal with things the way they are.

You know, it’s weird, but when I compare Doctor Who to another time travel series, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, a show that can be utterly ridiculous…

…I have to say Legends seems to have far more fun, and takes more chances with the concept of time travel. Shockingly enough, Doctor Who has grown… stodgy.

I think too it’s important to both dust off classic Doctor Who villains we haven’t seen in decades (such as the Rani, or the Black Guardian, or the Celestial Toymaker), and for entirely new villains to take center stage. But sadly, I think what we’re going to get is more of the same. There will be Daleks, and there will be Cybermen. And while we saw the dual deaths of the Master, don’t count them out quite yet. Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the return of fan favorite Michelle Gomez as Missy. It’s a time travel show, after all.

The Doctor’s Love Life:

I’ve always thought of the Doctor as a mostly sexless being. Yes, he’s male, but sex seems to hold little interest for him. That’s not to say there haven’t been instances where the Doctor has had relationships. There’s the River (shudder) Song marriage, and in the Davies two parter “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood”, the Doctor must hide his nature and pretend to be human, and he does it so effectively that he forgets who and what he is and falls in love.

It’s a heartbreaking story, because while that part of him still exists somewhere inside him, he can’t truly love the woman who loved that part. And while he offers to bring her with him, she knows just the sight of him every day would destroy her. In the episode “School Reunion”, which heralded the return of Sarah Jane Smith, his reunion with her is bittersweet, because he confesses that watching his companions grow old and die is heartbreaking, so he finds it easier to end relationships early before he grows too attached. It might sound cold, but for a being who lives for hundreds or thousands of years, it makes sense that emotional detachment is important to his mental well-being. And in the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter”, the Doctor confesses to companion Martha Jones that he had a family before, isn’t interested in doing that again. So yeah, I think it makes sense that the Doctor is a being who doesn’t experience love in the same way humans do. He looks like us, but he can never be one of us.

What’s going to happen with the new Doctor? She will fall in love. Likely with one of her companions, be it a man or a woman (and it’s quite possible there will be one of each, leading to a love triangle) from the present while they fight Daleks.

You might think my observations are cynical, that my predictions are pessimistic. But I can’t help but feel that I’m right about the former, but I still hope I’ll be proven wrong about the latter. Only time will tell.

Tag: Doctor Who

You may also like...

  • maarvarq

    “So yeah, Bradley will have played not only a person who played the Doctor, he will also be playing the Doctor”, also being the third person after William Hartnell and Richard Hurndall to play the First Doctor!

    I hope that Jodie Whittaker goes well, but the writers have to do better than “Wouldn’t it be cool if..?” and then forget to wrap that in a plot that makes a lick of sense. Yes, Smile, I am looking at you!

    • Thomas Stockel

      Oh, good point. I forgot about The Five Doctors. Personally I would not have a problem seeing other actors playing the earlier Doctors,
      provided the casting was right.

      • maarvarq

        Precedent has been set! Presumably the guy who played
        PatrickTroughton (he was only 67 when he died) in An Adventure in Space and Time https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reece_Shearsmith would be the first choice for the Second Doctor

    • PhysUnknown

      Isn’t Bradley the FOURTH actor to portray the First Doctor? Peter Cushing played him in a couple of Dalek films, yes?

      • Thomas Stockel

        Well, this is true, but those movies aren’t considered canon. They were produced the same time the series was on television and it was in response to “Dalekmania”. Believe it or not, Daleks were incredibly, amazingly, impossibly popular with the public at the time so two movies were released to capitalize on it.

        So you are technically correct. I admit I thought Cushing did do a good job. Now I sort of wish they had made a movie where Christopher Lee played The Master.

      • maarvarq

        I didn’t think of that, and given that both movies are sort of recycled Hartnell TV stories (subject to Thomas’ comment about canonicity), you are technically correct, which is of course the best kind 🙂

      • El Skutto

        It isn’t technically the same character. Peter Cushing played a human doctor whose family name was Who. He was not portraying Timelord from the planet Gallifrey who called himself the Doctor.

  • Cristiona

    Couple thoughts…

    1: Has the internet really been freaking out? I see a lot of people talking about bro-tears and the like, but I haven’t actually seen any. It’s like the new Star Trek or Finn: a lot of counter-reaction to rather ephemeral “reaction”. The only negatives I’ve seen are towards the motivation of the swap, not the swap itself.

    2: The Doctor should be sexless. Or rather, what we see should be. Since, you know, he’s an alien and all. Her may look human, but he very much isn’t. And considering how much more intelligent and evolved he is than humans, Dr. Who is really kind of… I dunno… British BJ & the Bear. Moffit wedging in romance was just creepy.

    As for a female Doctor, don’t much care. But I largely stopped caring after Tom Baker, so my opinion means little.

    • Mark Lungo

      You might think my observations are cynical, that my predictions are pessimistic.

      Yes and yes, but that’s fandom these days.

      Has the internet really been freaking out? I see a lot of people
      talking about bro-tears and the like, but I haven’t actually seen any.

      Here you go: http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/2017/07/16/the-best-worst-reactions-to-the-news-that-the-next-doctor-who-will-be-a-woman/

    • danbreunig

      I’m just thrilled there’s someone out there who could connect Doctor Who and BJ & the Bear. I’m not really a Whovian but like so many others it’s the Tom Baker era I gravitate to most and the one I want to explore first. I’m also okay with there being a female Doctor, as long as it’s not thrown into our faces every minute. She has to be a compelling *character*, that’s it.

    • CaptainCalvinCat

      To be honest – I don’t care, if some of the most influential episodes of Doctor Who were done in the seven years, that are the years of “all hair all teeth”, I’m not a big fan of Tom Baker. He was great as the curator, but when he was in his prime, I don’t know what to think of the stories and the character. About some of the stuff, that they were doing, I was thinking: “Was that supposed to be a joke?” Did they try to be funny or did they run out of things to say? I mean – with Colin Baker I could tell, that this was supposed to be a joke and that was supposed to be taken seriously, but with Tom Baker… I never know.

      • Thomas Stockel

        For me Tom Baker will always be my favorite, perhaps because he was the first Doctor I was exposed to, in the same way Sarah Jane Smith was the best companion. So I admit I am biased to Baker’s run and might be missing any flaws. I do think maybe he lasted a touch too long, with the later seasons not being as good as the first few. I do think, though, that when I look back at his run to me personally it was largely the best.

        It also had some landmark accomplishments. He was the only Doctor to have a fellow Timelord as a companion. He had K-9, one of the most unique companions. In fact, arguably some of the most memorable companions were around during Tom Baker’s run.

        And to my knowledge Baker had the only solo Doctor Who adventure, The Deadly Assassin. He had the first season long story arc, the Key To Time quest. Bill Nighy guest starred in the modern series but Monty Python alumnus John Cleese had a cameo in City of Death. In fact, I think City of Death was the high water mark for the series as a whole, netting the highest ratings in the show’s existence at the time.

        I also think they did some cool stuff with time travel. In City of Death The Doctor is up against a guy who exists in seven eras simultaneously. In Pyramids of Mars Sarah Jane wonders why the just can’t leave the past they’re in because the present will be fine and The Doctor takes her to her present to show a blasted Earth. Their actions have consequences, even inaction.

        Yes, I’m a gushing Tom Baker fanboy, I make no apology about it. 🙂

        • CaptainCalvinCat

          Gotta admit – my first Doctor is Chris Eccleston, and yet my favourite Doctor is Matt Smith. ^^

          • Thomas Stockel

            Nothing wrong with that. Smith was awesome. I thought I would hate him because he was the first Doctor younger than me, but I realize I had unfairly discriminated against him due to age. His first episode hit all the right notes; the Doctor was clever, did not rely on his magic w…I mean, his sonic screwdriver to save the day, and introduce Amelia Pond. It also had a nice time travel wrinkle in that his had jumped ahead ten years or so by accident and was stuck with the consequences.

    • maarvarq

      “I see a lot of people talking about bro-tears…”-
      This has been annoying me somewhat. Whilst the new Doctor lacking a Y chromosome is a patently silly thing to get concerned about, the schadenfreude and dismissing those one disagrees with as “other” (e.g. “manbabies”, i.e. not fully human), does rather remind me of Trump supporters crowing about “liberal tears”. Come on folks, we’re better than that!

  • Alex Boston

    “Several of those floated were, in reality, never within reach: Waller-Bridge has movie and TV commitments and has generally written her own material. Olivia Colman, also regularly named because of her own Broadchurch connection, is about to open in a play at the National Theatre in London.”

    Source:
    https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/jul/16/doctor-who-jodie-whittaker-as-the-first-female-time-lord-will-make-this-show-buzz-again

    So it looks like Colman would not have been able to take on the role of Dr. Who, and Chibnall would surely have known this. So I think you are being a little unfair here.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Perhaps you are right, but bear in mind filming of new episodes of Doctor Who won’t happen until next year. She would only need to be available for a cameo in the Christmas special.

  • CaptainCalvinCat

    Hey, “the curator” of “the day of the doctor” gave you a perfect statement for this moment of uncertainty. “Who knows…. who *taps his nose* knows”…

    I don’t think, that Moffat is that bad of a storyteller. Yes, he has this “women are all powerful”-thing going for him – but isn’t that at least better than the worldview, that Frank Miller has concerning women? “All women are whores?” yikes. Then I take “all women are powerful beings” and enjoy that one. Thank you very much. ^^

    • Thomas Stockel

      You’ve certainly got a point there. If I was forced to be stuck with one type of fictional woman I’d take Moffat’s more positive one over Miller’s any day. And I don’t mind empowered women, just not ones who all talk alike and who all too often sound smarter than The Doctor, who is supposed to be the smartest person in the room. To this day I cannot look at a picture of Alex Kingston without flinching.

      • CaptainCalvinCat

        On the other hand: There is nothing wrong with them being smarter than The Doctor – after all, weren’t you complaining, that he became too much of a Gary Stu, couple of years ago? ^^

        • Thomas Stockel

          Was I? To be honest I don’t recall that. I certainly thought River Song was a Mary Sue, with all her clever dialogue and “sweeties” and always seemingly being one step ahead of everybody else. It was one thing when it was a one-off, but that smug smile on her face was insufferable.

          Can you tell I really, really hated River Song? I’d write an article about it but I don’t think the boss would publish it here because it would be so full of vitriol.

          • maarvarq

            We haven’t had a good dose of vitriol on this site for a while! 🙂

          • CaptainCalvinCat

            Gotta say – I have no problem with River Song, but was more annoyed with Romana 2. Like I said – sometimes I had no idea, if a line was supoosed to be a joke. Take “Shada” for example. “I like the summer – the sounds, the colours.” “its autumn” “I like the autumn, the sounds, the colours”…

          • Thomas Stockel

            Yes, that was definitely a joke. 🙂

          • CaptainCalvinCat

            Yeah, but the same kind of jokes were done in the Colin Baker era – and most of the people didn’t like Colin…. although I thought, he was quite awesome. ^^

  • The New Companion:

    What’s wrong with Matt Lucas continuing as Nardole? He’s done a great job as a (sort of) sidekick, and really does deserve to be called a full-fledged Companion.

    The Doctor’s Love Life:

    Go back and watch the three seasons where Jo Grant (Katy Manning) was Pertwee’s companion. Talk about your story arcs… Not only did she really develop as a character, she actually did fall in love with the Doctor – only he didn’t realize it until it was too late.