JD
Doctor Who

D is for Doctor Who

D was always going to be a toss up between two of the things that shaped my life the most (both in hugely different ways), those being Doctor Who and the late David Bowie and deciding basically came down to which one came into my life first and which one would give me enough to talk about in a post (you read the title, you know which one I picked).

My very first experience of Doctor Who was the 26th of March 2005 when ‘Rose’ first aired. It was the first time Doctor Who had been back on TV in 16 years (minus the 1996 TV Movie, which regardless of what anyone says, I really like it. McGann is a damn fine Doctor, just listen to the audio adventures) and what I can imagine was only an attempt to get me to be quiet for 45 minutes, my parents said that I should watch it as it would be something I would enjoy. Sure enough, I loved it.

The first series of the revival (with Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose) just hit it out of the park and had me hooked from just a few minutes of the episode. It was magical, funny, silly, surprisingly deep and unlike anything I’d ever seen before.  With recent viewings of that first series I can see that some of it hasn’t aged amazingly well, but regardless it still stands as my favourite series because of what it meant to me at the time but also due to some really fine writing, acting and direction all round. It was this series that launched me back in time to explore the classic run of the show and I developed a love for it also (despite it being dated and occasionally terrible). David Tennant arrived at the end of that series and quickly became my (to date) favourite Doctor and launched the show to an even bigger audience, built upon again by Matt Smith (definitely one of the best, but nowhere near the same level as Tennant).

…and then we got to Peter Capaldi.

Now don’t get me wrong, I fucking love Peter Capaldi and his Doctor had such a huge amount of potential that was just never tapped into. The problem with Doctor Who for me (and it has been since around Series 6 or 7) has been the writing and for the most part it’s just got worse and worse (Series 10 being the exception in my opinion) which became even more evident when Capaldi took over. They started out making it very clear this was a very different type of Doctor (darker, moodier and complicated) not unlike Colin Baker’s 6th Doctor but when the vocal minority of the fanbase began expressing their “valuable opinions”, the BBC in their desperate attempts to appeal to everyone took everything onboard and pivoted massively. Capaldi’s 12th Doctor in Series 8 is simply not the same character as he is in Series 9 and 10. What could have been something interesting and new was nuked in favour of trying to scrape a little more of that precious Tennant/Smith formula from the controls of the TARDIS in order to appease the ever growing YA fanbase (aka pre-pornpocalpyse Tumblr) . The show plodded on for a few more years and just as it finally found a decent balance again with Series 10, Moffat and Co. depart, allowing the BBC to bring in a fresh production team including new showrunner Chris Chibnall.

Chris… Chibnall. Chris… fucking Chibnall? Writer of Cyberwoman? The same Chris Chibnall who wrote some of the most easily forgettable episodes of Doctor Who that basically have no plot/endings? Ah yes, good choice BBC.

Then we come to the 13th Doctor himself herself. The people that complained at the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor based purely on the fact that she was a woman (aka the Daily Star’s wet dream) hold no place in the fandom and are frankly an embarrassment. It has been a long stated fact that the Doctor could regenerate into a woman and given the nature of TV at the moment it was bound to happen sooner or later, the Doctor is essentially asexual in their portrayal till now and their gender has never really been a focus point of the show so it shouldn’t matter, The Doctor is The Doctor.

Having said that, there is definitely a culture at the moment that surrounds castings like this where any dislike or apprehension is met with a screaming cries of “misogyny”, “sexist”, “bigoted” which pisses me off beyond belief. The most notable example of this was with the 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters which tried to use it to their marketing advantage for some reason? That movie was simply bland, unfunny and all round awful but any comments of that nature branded you as someone who had a problem with it because it was a female cast. There was essentially a full scene in that movie where they read YouTube comments and one of the cast had a line about how anyone who disliked them was sexist, yes that’s in the movie (and then they went outside and shot a giant ghost in the dick, real classy). Fuck off.

When Series 11 finally came round and we were able to cast judgement on the finished product it was… “meh”. I personally found some enjoyment in it and some episodes were very very strong but most of it came across as a little bland, dull and almost feeling like it was trying to be something it’s not (a generic Sci-Fi show). After a relatively decent opener and a significantly weaker second episode, the highest point of the series was undeniably ‘Rosa’ dealing with an almost fully historical story involving Rosa Parks (arguably more of an episode of Quantum Leap than Doctor Who). This was followed immediately by “Arachnids in the UK” and “The Tsuranga Conundrum” which are two of the worst episodes I’ve seen. When the first 6 series got an episode wrong (and I mean really wrong, Love & Monsters/Fear Her/Curse of the Black Spot wrong) you could at least find some kind of enjoyment in them for all their campiness and over the top acting, villains etc. When Series 7+ got an episode wrong they commit the ultimate crime for an episode of Doctor Who, they’re just boring.

The big telltale sign that a classic show like Doctor Who is in trouble is when they take a risk, have it backfire with the (vocal) fans and with the writing staff and then try to compensate by stuffing the series full of fan service in the hopes that it’ll distract the viewer from the problems it faces (I’m looking at you Star Trek). I have a funny feeling Doctor Who is about to fall down that hole. My prediction for Series 12 is that it’ll be absolutely jam packed with references to things that the audience don’t really understand, completely full of returning villains (some good, some bad) to the point where if you close your eyes and listen, it could be a Matt Smith or David Tennant episode unfolding. I’m not saying this would be a bad thing (it would be certainly more enjoyable than what we’ve currently got) but it’s a path that the show has been down before in the mid 80’s. Here’s a table for easy reading (everyone loves tables):

 

Event Classic Series Revived Series
Show soft reboots itself. Ratings are strong, quality writing Jon Pertwee
(Dr 3)
Christopher Eccleston
(Dr 9)
Doctor regenerates, audience initially apprehensive, Doctor becomes fan favourite and launches show to new heights and all time strong ratings Tom Baker
(Dr 4)
David Tennant
(Dr 10)
Doctor regenerates again, showrunner casts youngest actors in the role ever at that time, ratings still strong but writing begins to suffer towards the latter end of the run Peter Davison
(Dr 5)
Matt Smith
(Dr 11)
Show celebrates major anniversary, promises to be running long in the future The Five Doctors
(1983)
The Day of the Doctor
(2013)
Doctor regenerates again, showrunners take new direction. New Doctor is extremely divisive, ratings fall, writing suffers show put on year long hiatus Colin Baker
(Dr 6)
Peter Capaldi
(Dr 12)
Future Doctor regenerates again, BBC slashes budget, writing continues to suffer and despite best efforts the show is cancelled. Doctor regenerates again, BBC slashes budget, writing continues to suffer.

 

I know this post comes across as very ranty (I’m pretty sure this is the longest one I’ve done so far) but that only goes to show how much the show actually means to me. For a kid that didn’t really grow up with a lot of friends, having that Saturday night escapism was the highlight of my week. The moment a series would end, I would go out and buy all the DVDs and watch them one by one every week in the same time slot until it returned (I know I’m sad, you don’t need to tell me). It hurts to see the show get bogged down with trying to appeal to too many people that it forgets who made it great in the first place, the fans. Until Series 11 the Doctor Who fandom was beautiful and the finest out there. Most people in it understood that the show was never going to be perfect but loved it so much that they could see past its imperfections and lose themselves in the worlds that it created. I don’t know whether there was a particular turning point or whether it was a perfect storm of change that caused the community to become toxic and split itself, but it really does hurt to see.

I’m hesitant to throw around the phrase ‘PC’ in relation to Doctor Who, but I’m very afraid that it’s what it’ll become. It’ll become a version of itself watered down so much in an attempt to please everyone that it’ll please nobody. I’m also very concerned about how the BBC will handle Whittaker’s eventual departure (hopefully it’s not for a long time, I do like her but the writing is failing her big time). No matter what casting choice they make it’s going to be seen as wrong and splinter the fandom even more. Cast a man in the role, it would be seen by some as the BBC admitting Whittaker was a mistake, cast another woman in the role, the screams of ‘PC’ and ‘SJW Influence’ would only continue to grow and engulf the show to Ghostbusters 2016 levels. Best of luck to that casting crew, you’ll surely need it.

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