Category: The Doctors
Here’s a topic that’s worth discussion, but won’t get it. Let’s consider who’s the best companion, and then not discuss it.
There are objective criteria we can use, you know. Dialog, performance, and all those actor-y things, all of which I’m going to skip, because, at least for the AG companions, I think it’ll be an umpteen-way tie. They’re all prodigiously talented.
No, being story-focused anyway, story-based criteria are what I’m going to use, specifically these three:
⦁ Doctor’s Complement
I’d explain them in advance, but it’s easiest to just start going over AG companions (I haven’t seen enough of the BG ones to be able to rate them fairly).
Rose gets high marks in all three criteria.
Strong but vulnerable, sweet but determined, she might be close to Katy Manning’s Jo Grant, but her lower-class background sets her apart.
All the companions under RTD and Moffat were powerfully conflicted in ways that really drove the stories; all of them wanted something they couldn’t have—could never have. In Rose’s case, she loved the Doctor. The conflict was made explicit by Ten in School Reunion: she could spend her life with him, but he couldn’t spend his with her.
Since we identify with the companions, or at least see the episodes through them, a strong desire like hers draws us in, and makes us want it fulfilled. The fact that it never is never lets us go.
Ideally, the companion’s personality and conflict illustrate, or rather illuminate, the Doctor, and vice-versa. With Rose, her sweetness and vulnerability drew in the damaged Nine, and showed by contrast how damaged he was—and how he might find relief and even redemption in her companionship. Likewise, his damaged nature showed who she truly was; remember when she stepped in front of Nine’s gun in Dalek?
With Ten, they could play the romantic leads with each other, showing how easily Ten could be a hero in a Byron or Bronte mode. Likewise, his affection for her showed how loveable she was.
Rose gets points for serving so well with two quite different Doctors.
From the same social class, I think, as most BG companions, and with the same conflict as Rose’s, Martha suffers here. (Was she the Companion Who Suffered, or what?) I suspect RTD loved the Doctor so much, that he found it easy—too easy—to have the companions do so, too. And, of course, Martha’s Doctor was the endlessly endearing David Tennant.
See Rose, above. Pretty much the same here.
Martha frustrates me. She really never got a fair shake, even in the conflict her character was given. Then again, that’s part of what makes her compelling…
Martha’s endless suffering—even when human, Ten/John Smith falls for that insipid* nurse instead of loyal, loving Martha; she spends a year crossing the world and hiding from the Master’s forces—shows how the Doctor is worth suffering for. And Martha’s year-long quest was to get every human on Earth to think of the Doctor at the appropriate time, demonstrating how worthy the Doctor is of our regard.
*Just my opinion…
I looked her up; the Biblical Martha was “cumbered about many things.” Always nice when the name reinforces the character(ization).
The Doctor, of course, easily brought out Martha’s story essence; how clear is love when unrequited?
Donna. Donna, Donna, Donna. The shrill and shouty Chiswick temp who transforms herself so much over the course of her tenure. Has there ever been a comparable companion character arc? (Maybe Turlogh?)
Donna. Donna, Donna—okay, I’ll stop. All she ever wanted to do was to become: become somebody, become herself, become the person she’d always wanted to be. And not only did she do so, she went far, far beyond, and then lost it all. Never to return. Can’t get much more compelling than that—or universal, at least among a Doctor Who audience. How many of us yearn to be slackers? (Don’t answer that…)
Donna got to show Ten in the light of a friend or even father figure, helping her along the path of her hopes, aiding her to achieve her dreams. Likewise, the Doctor showed us what to expect when we got Doctor Donna.
Met as a child, and then later met again, but of course a companion only as an adult, this unique concept underscored that time travel is an essential element of this program.
At first, Amy wants her imaginary friend to be real, and is as delighted as a child when she gets to travel in the TARDIS with him. But later Amy wants to adventure with her Doctor playmate, while marrying her love Rory. Can’t have both…
Amy is quite the complement to Eleven. Childlike in her joy, she lets Eleven show just how old a man inhabits that young man’s body. And yet, her bedrock-level determination lets her play the adult to Eleven’s own childlike tendencies. That latter is only reinforced by her grown-up love of Rory.
And The Girl Who Waited only underscored both sides all the more.
To begin with, companion as plot device. Got to admit it’s original. (I’ll get to the downside in a moment.) Her time with Twelve was another matter, but I’ll get to that too.
Here’s the downside from her time with Eleven: no conflict. We might have found her compelling, as impossible as she was, and wondering if she was going to die again. But she hadn’t been depicted with a conflict.
With Twelve, of course, she found one. She wanted to live the Time Lord life, while lacking the two hearts, ability to regenerate, and all the rest. As she discovered, that’s a goal a mere human can have…for awhile…
With Eleven, she was able to bring out his playful nature, and there were moments—that embrace when Eleven rescued her from his timeline—when she let that young man’s body sure seem to belong to a young man with a young man’s urges. But mostly with him she was a plot device.
With Twelve, with her wish for a Time Lord’s life, she got to take on characteristics the Doctor normally has: moral certainty and superiority, decisiveness, and risk-taking. This let Twelve have the character arc the companion usually gets: he grew more certain in who he was (“Am I a good man? I’m an idiot!”) and what his role was (Clara hanging from the TARDIS in Face the Raven the way Eleven had in The Day of the Doctor).
Illuminating and original, even if disliked by some.
Leave her sexuality out of it, it had no effect on stories—although it did further the show’s aim of being for everybody. No, her reacting to mysteries with a smile instead of a frown made her the perfect traveling companion, and a true original too.
Ah, the cafeteria life. Who wouldn’t want their existence to revolve around chips?
Yeah, me neither and Bill too. Who wouldn’t root for her to get a better life? Of course, she couldn’t have it; she had to die to get a better “life.”
A Twelve who has become comfortable in his own Time Lord skin really can’t go on letting the companion lead. And yet romance with someone half his age or less really is inappropriate. (“Am I having a mid-life crisis?” said The War Doctor, in another context.)
Bill as student and Twelve as tutor is perfect. Her wanting to learn lets him lead by teaching, and showing that side of the Doctor; his mentoring emphasizes her growth over the course of the series.
Graham, Ryan and Yaz
They’re not done yet, but we can at least do some preliminary assessment.
Three companions that know each other before meeting the Doctor is different, as is one being a police officer. Throw Grace into the mix and what she means to two of them in particular gives a strongly original flavor.
“But there isn’t any!” Yes there is, but those used to the preceding AG seasons can be forgiven for missing it. Series 11 focused on ordinary people taking on social issues, and so the conflicts are no longer cosmic or deeply complicated. These three try to do the right thing, just like the Doctor, and that’s what they’re supposed to do.
The three function effectively in this realm as well. They aren’t supposed to be superheroes, archetypes or icons; no “Girl Who Waited,” no “Last Centurion,” no “Impossible Girl” in this series. They are supposed to be (relatively) ordinary, as is the Doctor, and they each highlight the other this way.
Let’s Not Discuss
So, now that we’ve set some parameters, let’s ignore them. Let’s not discuss who’s best. Let’s not use any of the criteria I’ve mentioned above. Let’s not consider conflicts and complementary qualities.
Let’s do like everyone always does when this comes up: Let’s talk about our favorites, which is less about quality and more about taste. Who do you like best? Why? What was your favorite moment?
We’re a welcoming site, but that doesn’t mean we welcome just anything. If you look around some, you’ll see the site is devoted to reasoned discussion. So anything deemed unreasonable will tend to get short shrift.
For those who don’t want to read a lot of the existing posts, I can give you a number of pointers:
1. Give Reasons “Jodie Whittaker is the worst Doctor” by itself is going to get you ignored, or maybe mocked. We’re here because we like to talk about Doctor Who. Give us something to talk about. “Jodie Whittaker is the worst Doctor because she doesn’t give big shouty speeches” is going to be met with argument, but argument is fine.
2. Avoid Loaded Words “Worst” will pass, just barely, but “stupid” or “hack” or “incompetent” not so much. Words that carry a whole lot of emotional loading make rational discussion harder.
3. Avoid Pejoratives That’s a formal way of saying no name-calling. “What a jerk” won’t pass muster. And don’t use “SJW” that way either; I know what “social justice warrior” is being used to say nowadays, but since when is seeking any kind of justice a negative?
4. Avoid Personal Attacks We’re here for reasoned discussion, and attacking someone personally, whether another poster or someone connected with the show, has no place.
5. Avoid Hyperbole Exaggeration doesn’t help keep things on a rational level. Instead of “She’s the worst,” starting off “I just can’t get comfortable with her” helps the rest of the sentence be part of a discussion.
6. Don’t Rant It would be an interesting writing test to successfully rant while following all of the above, but, even if you can do it, don’t do it here. There are plenty of places elsewhere on the internet for ranting.
7. Don’t Set Out to Rile People Up That’s just not what this forum is for. As the title of this post suggests, we’re here to engage, not enrage.
Did I say a “number” of pointers? Guess I’m guilty of understatement. Because there’s seven do’s that will help you along with the seven don’ts:
1. Feel Free to Be Positive Look, honestly, if you say “Jodie Whittaker is the best Doctor” by itself, you won’t be mocked. You may not get a lot of response, but we love Doctor Who, so positivity will get you some leeway.
2. Feel Free to Disagree We have long-time forum members who don’t like every Doctor or every episode. Not everyone here agrees on much of anything. So go ahead and disagree, but see the don’t section for how to do it respectfully.
3. Don’t Expect Others to Agree You don’t have to, and neither do they.
4. Remember Quality Does Not Equal Taste It’s hard to accept that something you don’t like is great. But consider silent movies, or opera, or, I don’t know, the works of James Joyce. Do you like all of them? (If so, think of another example.) You can accept that all can be great, right? Same for Doctor Who writers, performers, episodes, and the rest.
5. Remember Others Don’t Share Your Taste Remember Great Aunt Edna who loved fruitcake. Even people you love can love things you can’t stand, and that’s okay. Same’s true for Who.
6. Be Respectful If you want respect in return…
7. Be Kind Remember the Twelfth Doctor and Twice Upon a Time; it’s what he’d have wanted. Besides, if Missy can do it…?
Doctor Who rarely has an episode without at least one scene in the TARDIS. Star Trek: The Next Generation only had one episode without any time spent on the bridge. I remember that episode as being unsettling, and read somewhere years ago that the reason was the lack of scenes on the bridge.
Which figures, really. Both shows spend a lot of time in exotic locations; if we don’t spend any time at “home” we can feel lost in a foreign land. Which I’ll come back to.
The comments in the last blog entry got me thinking, because, well, it’s what I do, but mostly because they made good points.
Series 11 didn’t have any terrible episodes. They might not have been the best, but I didn’t have terribly high expectations going in. So why was I so disappointed?
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is so different in personality from her last several predecessors. Her TARDIS looks so different, and we haven’t had a great many scenes in it. Three companions means a different dynamic. Different enemies, different themes, different scale, different look, different music, credits…different almost everything.
Maybe I just haven’t felt at home.
I’ve been watching day one of BBC America’s eight-day marathon with a big smile on my face. I feel like I’m welcoming in old friends for hour after brilliant hour of imagination and wonder. Plus running in corridors.
I think on some level I’m wondering who these people are, and why they aren’t like the friends I’m used to.
Let me make sure I’m clear here. The viewing numbers are up in the UK and US. The Appreciation Index has stayed adequately high. Most of the folks on this forum are feeling happy. So everyone involved with the show can’t be faulted for the moves they’ve made—they’ve succeeded in putting the show back where it used to be.
But maybe part of the reason for some long-time fans’ dissatisfaction can be attributed to this. Maybe we just feel on some level like our old friends have become strangers.
Or maybe it’s just me. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Meanwhile I hope you’re all home for the happiest and most wonderful holidays.
Everyone’s preferences vary, but one aspect that I’ve long admired about Doctor Who is its willingness to explore its own premise. Let me show what I mean by depicting the opposite, with a short bit of made-up dialog:
Doctor: So, where should we go today, fam?
Yaz: I bet I know where Ryan wants to go.
Yaz: What, you don’t like being called “Nubian prince”?
Ryan: Stop it, Yaz!
Graham: Now, Ryan, if Yaz is going to be a pain, at least she’s being a royal one.
Okay, so I’d never make it as a sitcom writer. But can you imagine Doctor Who as sitcom? Anywhere in time and space, and it’s just an excuse for old and tired comedy routines?
Leaving out The Curse of Fatal Death, Who hardly holds back that far. But think of all the TARDIS can do, compared with what’s asked of it in a typical episode. It’s usually just a vehicle to get the TARDIS team to a location for an episode. A vehicle not much different from an NCC-1701 Enterprise, or a Quantum Leap.
So, should Doctor Who be willing to be much the same as some other show? Or should it show its uniqueness and explore its greatest strength: the scope of its premise?
Now, it’s clear from ratings that seasons-full of timey-wimey don’t draw the audience numbers. But, to me, for Doctor Who to reach its potential, it has to explore the premise, and that’s time travel.
So I can accept no more season-long cracks in time or dates with Lake Silencio. But I do think, and past audiences have accepted it, that every season should have a Girl in the Fireplace or Blink. An Eleventh Hour or a visit from a River Song. And, every big anniversary, a Day of the Doctor.
The Doctor’s life isn’t linear the way yours or mine is. She jumps around into the past and future, and can meet others who do likewise.
I hope Series Twelve has an episode where time travel is more than a way to go to the past or future, followed by a linear-plot episode. I’d like to see it explore more than just those periods in time, and explore its premise, too.
* * *
There’s another way of exploring a premise that’s worth, well, exploring. I’ll do so by way of illustration.
Let’s look back at the Twelfth Doctor for a moment. What made him tick? He wasn’t the Man Who Regrets or the Man Who Forgets. At first he seemed to be the Man Who Won’t Hug because he felt too much, like the trauma of losing all those companions. But once he settled in, I think he was the Man Who Figures Things Out.
What’s this memory worm doing in my hand? Why is the moon’s gravity so high? Why is my TARDIS shrinking while people are turning into wall decor? And just what is it with the human afterlife anyway?
He likes puzzles, and he likes to figure them out.
Still with me? Okay, now let’s look at Bill Potts. What attracts the Doctor’s attention to her? What attracts the Doctor to her (not romantically)? When she encounters something she doesn’t understand, she smiles.
She likes puzzles too. Of course he couldn’t resist ignoring oaths and other impedimenta to TARDIS travel. He’d found a kindred spirit!
And, for storytelling purposes, we were given a companion whose nature reinforced that of the Doctor, a way of exploring his premise, plus strengthening both characterizations, and setting up the whole season that followed.
What’s up with these smiling robots? Why are we here at the Frost Fair? And look at that whole sequence in mid-Monk trilogy: What’s underway to destroy life on Earth?
But there’s one more aspect to the value of exploring the premise.
Twelve’s and Bill’s nature set up the end of the season as well, much like a Greek tragedy. Because there at the end, Twelve just couldn’t resist figuring out the puzzle of the ship, the black hole, and time dilation. He just had to play with the puzzle.
What was the result? “I. Waited. For. You.”
It all fits together. Twelve’s nature, and Bill’s, and the tragedy that befell them both. The Doctor Falls, just as he has to, given the nature of the premise, because that’s where exploring it led to. Masterful storytelling.
Was this the best season ever? Or the reverse? Well, we could crouch down and take a good look, but first let’s consider terms.
It’s a long way to Series Twelve, so I’m going to give you a big bacon sandwich (that does love you back), one full of easily digested bite-sized chunks.
Ever see an exchange like this go by?
That was really great.
Yeah, my favorite.
Or, of course, the opposite?
I really hated that.
Yeah, the worst.
It’s clear that with most people, “great” equals “I liked it.” That’s understandable: if something is great, then we ought to appreciate it, right? And if we don’t like it, then how can we call it great?
So, as with almost all constructive discussions, we have to define our terms. Instead of throwing words like “great” around, we need to look at factors that enhance or detract from the quality of a season. It’s understandable, of course, that not everyone does so. This kind of objective analysis can take up to several minutes if you do it as superficially as I will. (You’re welcome.)
So, let’s look at a number of aspects of quality, starting with:
I can make a pretty good case for AG Series Five being “great” because of how original it was. For a time-travel show, it makes sense for the Doctor to spend time with a companion at widely varying points in their life, but the first episode to take this original approach was The Eleventh Hour, with Amelia/Amy Pond.
On top of that, this is the season that starts to explore the notion of time travelers who meet but not in parallel, i.e., River Song. And it has the original idea of the Dream Lord in Amy’s Choice. A brilliant exploration of what time travel and Time Lords can’t help, in Vincent and the Doctor. A different view of the Doctor in The Lodger. And certainly the finale, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, wasn’t like anything that had gone before.
And yet. If originality is the only criterion, or the overwhelmingly important one, I would say hands down the best season was the very first, starting all the way back on 23 November 1963. The Doctor was new, the TARDIS ditto, plus the Daleks. I don’t see how any season can beat that.
Of course, originality isn’t the only possible criterion. There’s also:
Sense of Wonder
This isn’t the easiest term to define, but to keep from spending all the comments arguing about what this means (like I can stop you all, hahahaha), I’m going to describe this as when you’re left wondering if the episode’s “truth” could be reality.
Doctor Who does this a lot with monsters. Could those statues really be quantum-locked creatures that can send me back in time? Could there really be sentients from geologic eras ago, waiting to take their Earth back?
Could my sweetie in her real form be covered in suckers, with poison sacs under her tongue? Could be, she’s a great kisser…
But it doesn’t have to be monsters. Could the moon be an egg? Could the idea behind Satan predate the universe? Could the word “doctor” come from the Doctor?
Asking big questions is the best way to evoke sense of wonder. But to do so requires a degree of:
Daring something really different is what it takes to get a Blink or a Heaven Sent. Also Love & Monsters or Sleep No More. You have to take serious risks to create a classic…or the reverse.
Since truly great episodes, and the opposite, tend to derail discussions by their sheer power, let’s just illustrate the point with something that dares nothing. Not a real episode, just an example to show what would happen if an episode tried to do nothing original, break no new ground, just shamelessly trade on what has gone before.
In two admittedly overlong sentences, in the tradition of—that is, trading with no shame at all upon The Day of the Doctor, The Night of the Doctor, and The Time of the Doctor, I give you…(drumroll)…The Lunch of the Doctor.
The Doctor attempts to dine while locking gazes with a Weeping Angel (an involuntary glance for the butter sends a perfectly good steak and kidney pie back to 1967). Meanwhile the Doctor keeps up a monologue with Clara’s back (leading her to write on a chalkboard “I blew in on a leaf for this?”).
Ta da! A triumph of repackaging.
So it’s likely that a great season has to show a little audacity. Perhaps as the writers are pushing themselves to do so they also need to provide episodes which are:
I remember visiting a friend long ago, when I was between jobs and he wasn’t, and him getting home from work and plunking himself down in front of the TV and putting old sitcoms on. After a challenging day at work, he wanted to turn his brain off.
As you can tell from the way I blather on, I like to think about things, and to take some time to do it. So I like episodes that provoke thought, and I’m disappointed when they don’t.
But that’s me, and my personal taste. As my old friend illustrates, not everyone wants that all the time. Too much challenge seems to drive casual fans away; too little—well, let’s hope that’s never an issue.
So this is a divisive factor, I think, one that is a must for some and a mustn’t for others. One that is, however, more generally wanted is probably:
Pete Tyler shaking off his shiftless shiftiness, and showing what a real Dad does in Father’s Day. Any of Twelve’s impassioned speeches. Rose melting down in Doomsday. Rosa Parks being arrested, and the looks on the TARDIS team’s faces. Donna’s journey ending. Vincent’s picture “for Amy.” Astrid Peth being sent to the stars. Grace’s death. “It’s bigger on the inside.” “I’m the Doctor.”
Most of us can’t call any story great if we can’t bring ourselves to care about it. Conversely, the more we care, the greater the story in at least that respect. I think every great season has moments of great emotion, and cannot be the best without them. Not for most of us.
Something that generally goes with that is:
Martha’s season isn’t generally considered a great one, and I’d say part of that is that, while her character arc isn’t terrible, it isn’t terribly satisfying either. After all she goes through, to walk away, romantically rejected by the Doctor, leaves me at least with a certain frustration.
Conversely, Donna’s is almost universally acclaimed, as the shouty temp from Chiswick goes on to be sung of as a planet-savior…and then we get to that ending. Even the heavens weep.
I don’t know if character arcs alone can make a great season. But clearly a strong character arc can help a season be considered great, right?
Well, maybe not. Consider Series Eight and Nine, where Twelve has quite an arc, going from self-questioning to the playful “I’m an idiot!” in Death in Heaven, to showing his passionate “duty of care” in particular in Hell Bent.
By contrast, Clara is the fixed point of moral certainty; whereas Nine would threaten to throw “stupid apes” out of the TARDIS, Clara is the one at the end of Kill the Moon to tell the Doctor, “You go away now.”
I’m fine with the role-reversal, but it’s certainly not to everyone’s taste. So a strong character arc helps with greatness, but it at least partly depends on what arc and whose.
Speaking of whose (Who’s), there’s always the Doctor’s character itself:
Do you like your Doctor tormented to the point of Byronic heroism? Or with hidden depths like maybe Loch Ness? Something dark beneath a bright exterior? A Doctor whose character, whose inner conflict, facilitates stories with a darker tinge?
If you do, some Doctors (Nine and Twelve in particular) and their seasons will appeal more than others, and will affect your perceptions of “great” and “best.”
If instead you’ve had enough of stories with an undertone of desolation, and want to emerge into the light already, then Thirteen might instead be your “greatest” Doctor.
Prefer a less alien Doctor, one you can relate to easily? One whose lack of quirks and “otherness” means less story time spent on mistrust and side-eye looks? Or at least less supporting characters being taken aback?
Or would you rather be reminded regularly that the Doctor isn’t human, isn’t native to any Earthly culture or tech?
Or maybe a mix? A Doctor like Thirteen who tastes dirt or licks things while otherwise seeming pretty “normal”? Or maybe that’s not the mix you want, and you want a nice young man like Eleven, except for all the times when you can’t miss that he’s centuries old?
Your preference here will absolutely affect your thoughts on what’s “best.”
Do you like your Doctors to be like Ten and Eleven in particular, turning an entire confrontation around with a single speech? Would you rather they were more like Twelve, leaving a level of leadership to Clara? Or perhaps Thirteen, who appears less interested in asserting herself over others?
Is it possible that the opposition to Thirteen is because she is insufficiently internet-y, that she should be like everyone else on the net, asserting her views of what is “great” and “best” over everyone else? Or perhaps I should reverse course now, before you all start giving me the side-eye. (That would be a great—I mean “great”—idea.)
“Doctor Who Looks Like Me”
I personally can definitely relate to this, since as you can see from my picture here that I look exactly like Peter Capaldi does when seen by a sentient puddle. So wanting a Doctor who (Who) looks like you is completely understandable to me.
I know, I know, there’s a definite downside to identifying too closely with the Doctor. Not only can it lead to unfortunate lifestyle choices—metacrisis quasi-clones, resisting regeneration, etc.—but can end up with questionable behaviors such as obsessive polarity-reversing and spouting technobabble.
Nevertheless, viewers are perfectly reasonable to want a Doctor to look like them, and to consider such a Doctor “best.” I would just personally urge that they not give up when the Doctor regenerates into a less recognizable form, since that would be a case of hetero-facio-physiognomic phobic response.
And then there’s all the ones I didn’t even mention, like Cinematography, CGI Quality, Plotting, Pacing, Variety, Humor and Wit (among many others). And don’t let’s forget, ideas are great, but implementation is crucial. The same audacity can yield you a Heaven Sent, or a Love & Monsters. There’s many a slip ‘twixt the “Cut!” and the pitch.
So even if all the factors you look for are in place doesn’t mean a good episode follows. And that will certainly affect what is or is not “great.”
If you’re expecting me to declare a greatest season, well, I’m not going to. Maybe in a comment later. I’d rather leave that up to all of you.
Of course, when you do so, there’s no guarantee that any of the people behind the show will ever be aware of anything said here or anywhere else. Nevertheless, if you’re hoping your words will influence Doctor Who’s direction, if you are unable to articulate what aspects of the show are the “best” or “worst,” then you can’t expect anything to change in the way that you want.
But that’s okay. It probably won’t change anyway. The most we can hope for is to influence the discussion’s direction, especially when evaluating a season.
So let’s hope we can find something to enjoy, whatever era of the show we’re in…and if we can’t, at least we can make our complaints sound like they come from intelligent people. (Especially in the comments here. Hint.)
Wouldn’t that be “great”?
Okay, we’re just over halfway there. Six episodes down, four to go, and the shape of the new era is starting to be visible, shimmering like the TARDIS in The Ghost Monument.
Well, I think so. 🙂
This has been a blog I’ve been intending to post all summer but with one thing or another, have never quite managed it. But as we’re on the verge of Chris Chibnall taking the reins of the show, it’s now become very much a now-or-never moment. My intention here is not to take the attention from Chibnall’s big moment and we have, let’s face it, spent rather a lot of time already dissecting Moffat’s work. Rather my thinking is that this is the first time this forum has seen a ‘regime change’ on the show and it might be interesting to mark that, as well as provide a baseline for us to work from as we watch the Chibnall era unfold. Read more…
The beginnings of a bonkerish theory…
… the Christmas Special is partly set up to explain why the Doctor, after a solid run of thirteen male bodies, regenerates into a female body. And it’s connected with the First Doctor.
Moffat likes his Who metaphors: I’ve argued before that the episodes immediately leading up to the 50th Anniversary could all have been read as metaphors: each representing the various ages of the Before Gap programme. During the Capaldi era, he’s played quite heavily on the metaphor of ‘Doctor Who as legend’, as ‘story’. The Capaldi incarnation of the Doctor is often struggling to retrieve the real person who lives behind the legend of ‘The Doctor’. Robin Hood thought it was better that the legend be remembered; the Capaldi Doctor is not so sure.
Moffat also likes explaining things. The ‘explanation’ is very often a ‘blink and you miss it’, ‘available if you think about it’ kind of explanation, but Steven Moffat is still, at heart, the completist fanboy. The Doctor Falls, for example, sneaked in an explanation for why the Master became Missy after staying resolutely (and misogynistically) male for body after body. Quite simply, having met himself as a woman, the Master now knows (at some level) that he will have to make a gender switch. Missy didn’t ‘just happen’; Missy is part of a Moffat loop.
So I’d suggest that, rather than leave the Doctor’s regeneration into a female body as an ‘Oh, look, I’m a woman now, funny it took so long’ there will be an explanation – just as Moffat didn’t ignore Peter Capaldi’s previous appearance as Caecilius, but briefly explained why the Doctor had unconsciously chosen that face.
Why might that explanation be connected with the First Doctor? Because in a way, William Hartnell’s regeneration into Patrick Troughton was the real beginning of the transformation from ‘programme’ to ‘legend’. Up to that point, Doctor Who was like Journey into Space or Space Patrol. Massively popular, but didn’t outlive its time. It was regeneration that gave Doctor Who the potential to become one of the immortal stories.
But if it was the regeneration of William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton that began ‘legendary Who’, then did the regeneration of the First Doctor into the Second Doctor begin the long process of becoming ‘legendary Doctor’? Might the Capaldi Doctor see it as the beginning of the process of losing his ‘real’ self behind a legend? Given that Steven Moffat does like connecting events in-story to the history of the programme, I’d suggest that such a connection will be made.
Are the First Doctor and the Capaldi Doctor still the same person? Is that original 1960’s Doctor Who still the same programme as the bigger budgeted, CGI’d juggernaut that is the 21st Century Who? Or is that moment of doubt in Deep Breath, where the Doctor clearly wonders if there’s anything of his original self left, prophetic on both levels? In all that change, is the core self (the ‘soul’) – of the Doctor, of the programme – still the same?
What do you hold on to, when you’re a shape-shifter? What do you hold on to, when your leading actor and your production team go through periodic, complete, changes? When you can be ‘whatever you feel like when you get up in the morning?’
And, in-story, Gallifreyans aren’t just shape-shifters – unlike Zygons, their periodic regenerations shift both body and persona. They must have cultural methods of coping with this – but the Doctor has fled from his own culture. The one and only constant in the Doctor’s life is that his TARDIS likes to appear as a police box. Oh, and that he always regenerates as a white male.
Hold on to that last thought. After Moffat’s finished with the Christmas Special, it’s possible that we’ll be able to see that in a different way.
The production team have one advantage that the Doctor doesn’t have; despite the ‘missing episodes’, there’s an awful lot of Doctor Who history available for instant reference. The production team know what they’re changing from. Even though the latest actor to play the Doctor wasn’t alive when William Hartnell was the one and only Doctor, she can haul the episodes out of the archives, put the DVDs on expenses and effectively ‘remember’ the previous characterisations. If she wants to.
The Doctor doesn’t have that luxury. He’s over two thousand years old; his childhood was so long ago that he tells Bill that he can barely remember whether he was a boy or a girl. He has a photo of Susan and River on his desk – as if he’s now frightened of forgetting his own family. If the Smith Doctor was ‘the Man Who Forgets’, the Capaldi Doctor has become ‘the Man frightened of forgetting too much’. In episode after episode the Capaldi Doctor struggles to remember stories that much of the audience know perfectly well. The Second Doctor told Victoria that his family slept in his memory – which implies that he didn’t need photos; he remembered them without any props. The Capaldi Doctor keeps their pictures on his desk.
What do you hold on to, when you’re a shape-shifter who’s over two thousand years old? What do you hold on to, when your memory of your childhood is slowly fading and you need a photo to remind you of the granddaughter who was once so precious?
What do you hold onto when you’ve always hated regenerating?
We first saw the Doctor as an old man with a granddaughter. At that point, regeneration wasn’t even a twinkle in Sidney Newman’s eye; he wanted some actor with a bit of gravitas, and in the 1960’s that meant age.
But once regeneration becomes part of the lore of the programme, you start to wonder why the First Doctor would keep that first body so long that he was literally starting to wear out. Then you look at the Second Doctor (forcibly regenerated by the Time Lords) and all the following Doctors. None of them chose regeneration – except in the sense of ‘regenerate or die’.
Romana, on the other hand, seemingly regenerated because she fancied a new body. She also appeared to have considerably more control over the process than the Doctor does; the only time the Doctor managed to control the process was when the Tennant Doctor regenerated into the Tennant Doctor, by diverting some of his regeneration energy.
Let’s look at this again; it seems that the Doctor has never willingly regenerated – and in fact, once chose to keep the same body. The Tennant Doctor compared regeneration to dying – a ‘new bloke’ walks away. The Capaldi Doctor had to insist that he was still ‘me’, the same person as the Smith Doctor.
But then, unlike those Gallifreyans who regenerate among Gallifreyans, the Doctor generally regenerates surrounded by people who struggle to accept the new body, the new persona. Regeneration, for the Doctor, has become traumatic. Through the eyes of his companions, he sees just how much each regeneration changes him; no wonder that he has to insist that he is, indeed, still ‘me’. And unlike the Master, or Romana, he doesn’t generally start his regeneration process exclaiming ‘great, a new body to look forward to’.
Metaphors again: the Companion is the audience surrogate; their difficulty in accepting the ‘new Doctor’ represents the audience struggle to accept the ‘new bloke’. Until Smith, new Doctors generally had an old Companion or a continuing character (like the Brigadier) to make the cross-over with them and be the lightning rod for any audience confusion. But how far can the Doctor change until they stop being ‘The Doctor’? How far can the programme change the Doctor until the character stops being that Doctor created by William Hartnell, Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman?
Moffat likes paradoxes. At what point in the Doctor’s life will the paradox of Theseus’ Boat come into play? Can the Doctor replace everything about himself over a dozen times, and still be the original? Is he still that little boy who’s afraid of the monsters in the dark?
He tells Bill that he’s not sure whether he was a boy or a girl any more – yet Rule One is: the Doctor lies. Because when he returns to Gallifrey he (twice) goes straight back to the barn where that little boy hid.
He’s changed everything about himself a dozen times. Except for one thing. He’s still that little boy.
If gender selection at regeneration is a true 50/50 chance, then the probability of the Doctor managing all male regenerations this number of times is about 1 in 4000. Moffat’s been hinting that it isn’t truly random; the General loudly insists that she’s never trying that again, the Master has met Missy. The suggestion is that Gallifreyans can, at some level, select which gender they will become. The General prefers being female, the Master prefers being male; so that’s what they usually choose.
And the Doctor doesn’t like regenerating. He’s scared that he’s going to lose himself; that the ‘new bloke’ might be the one who finally makes the break from that original self, that the humans who generally surround him at regeneration might one day be right – regeneration makes him a different person, not just a different persona. So if there’s one thing he can control, one thing he can choose not to change – is he going to dare to change it? Or is he going to always keep that connection with the original self, the little boy in the barn, by always being the white male of his childhood? The little boy and the 2000+ year old man are still, literally, the same man.
If that’s the case, would the Doctor ever dare to regenerate as a woman? Or would that represent, to him, the last, final break with his childhood, his first body, his self?
And then we go back to meeting the First Doctor. Because it’s not just a question of whether the Capaldi Doctor remembers that long ago self. It’s a question of whether that long-ago self can recognise his incredibly older, much regenerated self – as still himself. The Doctor’s met himself before, of course. But those other meetings were much closer in time.
If the First Doctor recognises the Capaldi Doctor as himself, as ‘Doctor Who’, even after thousands of years and over a dozen regenerations, then those ever-changing personas were just … personas. The core self, the soul, has always remained. The Doctor has always been the Doctor. The Doctor Who of 1966 is still recognisably the Doctor Who of 2017.
But there’s more. Because the Doctor (and Doctor Who) has changed. You can see it in the role of the Companion, you can see it in the way the man who would kill a primitive human now counts humans as friends, you can see it in many, many ways. It is not just a matter of that original self being able to recognise his future self as himself. It’s a matter of the Capaldi Doctor being able to recognise that the changes that have happened weren’t all bad. He is, after all, still scarred from nearly committing genocide. He’s still haunted by the thought that he might not be a good man. He’s scared that his changes might have been for the worse.
So meeting his original self also becomes a matter of recognising that it might not necessarily have been a bad thing to change some aspects of that original self. Some childish things we keep. Others we put away. Sometimes, what we need is to look in the mirror of our old self – and realise that we like the way we’ve changed.
Did the Doctor ‘lose himself’ by becoming the legendary ‘Doctor Who’? Or was the ‘change’ he’s so worried about really ‘growth’? Did becoming the legend make him more truly ‘The Doctor’ – and is ‘The Doctor’ who he truly wants to be? Is the legend something to live up to, rather than to deny?
If his first self recognises his current last self, then the Theseus Boat Paradox has an answer. However many times the body changes, the person within the body is the same person. However many different personas there are, the self remains. His ‘self’ (or soul) is the constant thread that runs through the Doctor’s lives. Regenerations are not a way of losing oneself; they’re the Gallifreyan way of changing and growing. Humans struggle to understand that – but the Doctor isn’t human.
And with that understanding, he can not only choose to regenerate. He can choose to step outside the self imposed limits of the previous regenerations. He no longer has to cling to that little boy by always being a boy; he can recognise that, man or woman, he will always be the same person as that boy.
And recognising that, secure in that core self – he might choose to no longer be a good man – but try to be a good woman, instead. After all, he’s just seen how it appeared to change Missy for the better. Maybe it’s time to try a major change
But she might keep the hoodie. 😉
Master: Is the future going to be all girl?
Doctor: We can only hope.
With hindsight it was obvious this regeneration was going to be the one. The one that brought us a woman Doctor.
We’d seen it established that Time Lord regenerations can involve a change of gender as well as of height, hair colour, apparent age and so on. We’d engaged with the Master/Missy conundrum.
DOCTOR: She was my first friend, always so brilliant, from the first day at the Academy. So fast, so funny. She was my man crush.
BILL: I’m sorry?
DOCTOR: Yeah, I think she was a man back then. I’m fairly sure that I was, too. It was a long time ago, though.
BILL: So, the Time Lords, bit flexible on the whole man-woman thing, then, yeah?
DOCTOR: We’re the most civilised civilisation in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes.
BILL: But you still call yourselves Time Lords?
DOCTOR: Yeah. Shut up.
With lines like the above, we were being set up to welcome (or not) a woman to the role. Still, at some level, at least until a couple of days before the announcement, I really thought they might row back from that and say no, not yet, not this time. I really wasn’t sure they had the bottle to do this.
There’s been a lot of rather predictable frothing at the mouth, harrumphing and incipient apoplexy, with claims that this is the BBC surrendering to some mysterious all-powerful Political Correctness lobby (‘Murdered a part of our culture for feminazi political correctness ideology!’ ‘Doctor Who … didn’t die nobly as you might expect. He was murdered by Political Correctness’). That’s best ignored, by and large. I fear that Jodie Whitaker will have to contend with worse than that, and with personalised unpleasantness, but I’m sure she’s well aware and will be ready for the haters.
Not everyone who dislikes the change is of this breed, of course. There has to be a core of Doctorness with each regeneration, and some feel that maleness is a part of that. I disagree, but I suspect that many of those people, if they genuinely love the programme, will continue to watch and will be won over. Another response was that whilst of course boys have far more heroic role models in popular culture to emulate and be inspired by than girls do, the Doctor is different, and valuable because of the ways in which he is different. I do see the need for boys to have role models who aren’t all about action and fighting (even fighting for Good against Evil), but part of what makes the Doctor different, for me, is that gender roles and stereotypes simply aren’t (or shouldn’t be) relevant.
A plethora of girls and women have regarded the Doctor as a role model, and identified with him, over Doctor Who’s 50 year span, whilst he’s regenerated, repeatedly, as a man. The Doctor is still, no doubt, going to be the Doctor as portrayed by Jodie Whittaker – alien, two hearts, both of gold, funny, witty, snarky, capricious, kind, adventurous. (Juniper Fish, Doctor Who Forum)
The Doctor can and should be a role model for both boys and girls, in a way that Captain America or Batman can’t quite be – and probably Wonder Woman and Buffy can’t quite be role models for boys either. So, the Doctor can continue to inspire boys whilst giving girls and women a whole new image of how to be wise, and brave, how to save the world, to do what’s right, to be kind. Girls need to develop the confidence to take the lead roles, not to assume that a hero/a protector is by default male.
Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand, is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help, a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?
Funnily enough, whilst the Outraged/Betrayed/Will Never Watch Again lobby were as loud and silly as one might have expected, overall what I found on Twitter was a mix of sheer delight, excited anticipation – and a different kind of silliness. See the #TardisFullOfBras hashtag, for example – someone took a hostile Daily Mail comment and turned it around, so that it’s full of fan art and daft jokes (and bras). That’s the way to go, I think.
There’s little point in trying to engage with someone who throws ‘feminazi’ into the conversation simply because someone gives a job to a woman that has been previously held by a man. There’s little point in trying to unpack the hotchpotch of false analogies and fake news and mythology that is evoked whenever the term ‘political correctness’ is used. And if someone believes that ‘social justice warrior’ is an insult, we don’t really have a lot to talk about.
What matters here, to me, is the delight that this news has brought to so many of us. It’s only a story, but stories are the most powerful things in the world.
Stories can make us fly.
We need stories, and we need heroes. And if we can’t immediately see around us the heroes we need, we build them. It seems that we are having a real moment here.
When I wrote about Wonder Woman, only a week or so ago, I did not know – though I hoped – that the 13th Doctor would be a woman. They’re quite different of course, but what is so glorious is that now, right now, there are two more in the pantheon of women who can, women who can stand up, will stand up. We have a woman (OK, a demi-god) who uses superhuman physical strength, courage and a fierce sense of what is right, in the service of humanity, and another (OK, a Gallifreyan Time Lord) who uses the wisdom of centuries and galaxies, wit and invention and intellect, courage and a fierce sense of what is right, in the service of humanity.
without hope, without reward, without witness
I felt when I was watching Wonder Woman like punching the air and having a bit of a cry at the same time, and when I think about the Doctor’s next regeneration, I feel much the same. Of course it is vital that the stories are well written, that the wit and humour is there, as well as the thrills and chills. Of course it is vital that the gender thing is dealt with intelligently, that stereotypes are undermined or dismissed with humour and that the Doctor is and remains Doctorly, demonstrating both difference and continuity as each new incumbent has done over the last 50 years.
It is perhaps even more vital that the stories are strong because there are those who (even though they may have vowed never to watch it again) will be waiting for it to fail, wanting to say that they told us so, that it could never work, that the Doctor can’t be a woman. If Jodie kicks it out of the park, as we hope and believe she will, then each regen that follows can be whoever seems right at the time and whoever takes it on will be critiqued for their ability and not for their gender.
Meantime, we’re loving this moment. Loving it for ourselves and for our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, all the young women who can now enjoy Doctor Who in a different way, who can take on the lead role in playground games. Not just companions or assistants but The Doctor.
My love for Doctor Who is, I realise, a bit ridiculous but I don’t bloody care because we all need escapism sometimes and, as my often tested loyalty to lost causes show, my love is nothing if not tenacious. At primary school I distinctly remember the humiliation of a school assembly where some of us were asked to share our pictures of what we wanted to be when we grew up. A Timelord was not an appropriate aspiration for a girl apparently and the piss was duly ripped. Not the first, worst or only time youngling (or indeed “grown-up” me) encountered sexism and ridiculous gender stereotypes but, because as a troubled kid my fantasy life was a refuge and a solace, one of the hardest stings. Anyway, fuck that nonsense because anything can happen with a Tardis and hooray for progress and little girls being allowed imaginations. And no, that does not come at the expense of little boys at all, and yes, I am really sorry Capaldi and Bill are gone because when they got the scripts they were brilliant and that, actually, is the heart of what I want. Good writing, please, please, please (and obviously for me to get a ride in there somewhere with them, because what is the Doctor if not an intergalactic anarcho-flaneuse who needs a bit more glitter?) (Morag Rose)
Doctor Who is a different sort of hero. The Doctor solves problems not by being the strongest, the fastest or the one with the biggest army, but by outthinking everyone else in the room. Far too many female characters are two-dimensional. I’m ready for one that can travel in four. I’m ready to watch a woman save the world again and again by being very, very clever and very, very moral, without having to have a man sort anything out or come and save her. I’m ready for a woman hero who’s older than recorded history and weirder than a three-day bender in the BBC props cupboard. I’m ready for a female super nerd. And so is the rest of the world. (Laurie Penny, The New Statesman)
1979, London, England, Super8 film format, colour, sound, 75 minutes long.
Ocean in the Sky is the great lost epic fan film. It’s not the earliest documented fan film – that honour goes to Kevin Davies ‘Doctor Hoo’ a three minute animated short from 1977. Before that there’s a rumour of a fan film called ‘Son of Doctor Who’ from the late sixties or early seventies. But Ocean stands out as a milestone for the sheer level of ambition – 75 minutes, as long as a serial or movie feature, and for the ambition of the production, featuring Daleks, monsters, genuine actors, special effects, and as many as fifty people involved in the production. So far as we can determine, it was shown in its entirety, only a single time, in 1979.
The story, what we know of it from personal communication with Marc Sinclair, involved Daleks at a base on Mars, attempting to invade the Earth through a blue portal in space, thus the title ‘Ocean in the Sky.’
A newspaper article posted by Richard Bignell elsewhere refers to multiple ‘blue holes’, and monsters called ‘Ancholi’ and assorted ghouls. Accompanying pictures depict gauze draped ghostly figures attacking or chasing the Doctor. One set of pictures shows the Doctor fleeing a tentacled columnar thing that might have been an Ancholi, or perhaps an Emperor Dalek. The Dalek Mars base was shown, by using, according to Sinclair, “a hospital corridor on a model set.” I’m not sure what that means, but I assume it was a miniature. The ‘stars’ were two Daleks, nicknamed ‘Fred’ and ‘George’. Looking at the available pictures, it’s very hard to say. From what we can see, these Daleks look pretty good. In clips, there is a red one and a black one. In some of the photographs, the black ones silhouette and appearance doesn’t seem right, too narrow around the neck. They look slightly different, as if from different builds. There’s definitely signs of serious wear and tear in some pictures, with collar rings misaligned and the lower skirting along the base of one seems seriously damaged. Who they were, where they came from, we can only guess. Sinclair mentioned that they had a third unit, an Emperor Dalek. If true, it’s possible that this was an third original build, separate from at least one, possibly both. Or it may have been cannibalized or adapted from one of their existing Daleks, perhaps just a bit of ‘dressing up’. As to the ghouls, nothing much stands on them. Steal someone’s gauze curtains, wrap it a round an extra there you go. The Ancholi may have been more ambitious, but we don’t know much about that costume. At the same time that Sinclair obtained at least one of his Daleks, in the early to mid-seventies, he also acquired a Tardis shell. There was apparently a Tardis interior/control room, was constructed by Reg Spillett, costing about three hundred pounds to construct, which shows the scale and ambition of the project.
The Doctor was played by Leo Adams, a local actor with the Manchester Repertory Company, then 69 years of age. He would pass away at the age of 92, having hopefully lived a life as full as it was long. – perhaps fifty people were involved with the production, at various points and in various ways. Adams and Woodley were the only credited cast members known.
The project attracted Mark Ayres, then studying music at Cambridge, for Music. Ayres would ‘go pro’ in the late 1980’s providing musical scoring for serials during the Sylvester McCoy era.
Kevin Davies participated, and seems to have formed a separate second unit/special effects unit who operated on their own, together with David Beasley, Jon Saville and Peter Cox. Davies would go on to direct Shakedown, two episodes of Space Island One, as well as Dalekmania, 30 Years in the Tardis, and numerous Doctor Who themed documentary shorts.