Jan 13, 2020
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.