In Defense of Doctor Who

It’s been a decade since the Doctor came back to our television screens and in that time, I’ve seen Doctor Who soar to heights of popularity I never imagined.

If I could take a TARDIS back in time and tell my younger self that not only would episodes air on the same day in America as they did in the UK but that there would be (sold out) screenings of the fiftieth anniversary special in movie theaters, I’m not sure my younger self would necessarily believe it.

But even as the show rose to new heights of popularity, I knew it was only a matter of time before a certain segment of the fan population began to jump off the band wagon for the next new and shiny thing.  I predicted it would happen when David Tennant left and was pleasantly surprised when that fans who jumped on board for Tennant stayed around for the Matt Smith era.

But now in the second year of the Peter Capaldi era, I’m finding more fans who jumped on board with the modern Who are beginning to look around for the next new shiny thing to come along.  As part of SciFi Month 2015 Rinn Reads published a piece about Falling Out of Love With Doctor Who, which I read and disagreed with on just about every point. 

In the post, Rinn laments (and I’ve seen this sentiment shared by other) that this season of Doctor Who has too many multi-part stories (they’ve all been epic two parters) and that some of the excitement of the self-contained stories is gone.

This is exactly one of the many reasons I LOVE this season (or series).   With series nine, producer Steven Moffat is subversively taking us back to the model of the classic series — multi-part stories that built each week toward the cliffhanger.   OK, so not every cliffhanger was ingenious or brilliant, but when classic Who did a cliffhanger right it was something truly memorable.   In fact, I’d argue that the cliffhangers were moments most remembered by fans before the days of VHS and DVD copies of all the stories were available for collecting.

Moffat is allowing the stories more time to breath, more time to build worlds and to explore characters.  He’s giving us all the things that this classic Who fan loved about the original series (warts and all).

Another argument I’ve seen is that the new series hasn’t dealt with the Time War lately.  That’s because the Time War arc was wrapped up in “The Day of the Doctor.”  And while we were promised that the Doctor might find a way to bring Gallifrey back, we were never promised if, when or how this might happen.

With the BBC giving Moffat the go-ahead for a series ten and Capaldi committing to the show for the long term (and he can stay as long as he wants as far as this fan is concerned because he has been nothing short of fantastic), I have a feeling that there are pieces being put in place to usher back in Gallifrey when the storytelling time is right.  I wouldn’t be shocked to see Moffat reveal that he’s been playing a long game with fans and slowly building the foundation for Gallifrey’s return across both the Smith and Capadli years.

What is working for me in this new era is that the show isn’t content to just rest on its laurels and offer the same thing week in and week out.  It’s changing and evolving.  Just as the original series did.   We’ve had thirteen actors take on the role of the Doctor and each one brought a different take to the role.

I once joked in an on-line forum that if the Internet had existed in 1963 when Doctor Who debuted that fans would react poorly to every change that took place from the first episode.  I jokingly said that when “The Dead Planet” aired (aka the first part of the Daleks’ introduction) that fans on the Internet then would be lamenting the lack of cavemen in the show because based on three of the first four episodes of the show featuring cavemen, that’s what Doctor Who was about.

Change is what the series is built on.  Some fans will love the changes, some fans won’t.   Not every era of classic Who is beloved by all fans.  And some of the eras weren’t beloved by fans as they went out the first time around.

I also think that a lot of what’s happening now is exactly in the vein of the classic era as well.  Eras are being defined by their producer as much as by the actor in the role of the Doctor.   I’ve seen fans divided a bit between those who enjoyed Russell T. Davies leadership and those who like how Moffat runs things.  Honestly, I can see strengths and weaknesses to how both men approach the show and the main character.  And while I prefer what Moffat is doing, I can see how if you came in and only knew Davies take on the character how this could have a big impact on you.

And honestly, I’m not nearly as weary of Moffat as I was with Davies as we got toward the end of Davies’ tenure on the show.   But that’s another post for another time.

For now, I can tells fans who are thinking of jumping off the bandwagon, you never know where it might head next.   I grew up watching the show in a vaccum of sorts, without the Internet to influence which stories resonated with me and which didn’t.  And I also feel like there are strengths and weaknesses to every era of the show — and they should all be seen and enjoyed on those merits.   But I feel like fans who are ready to jump off may miss the next big thing — sort of like how fans who jumped off during the sixth Doctor era missed one of my favorite runs on the show with the seventh Doctor.  Or if you gave up on Peter Davison’s last season with the start of it, you missed one of the greatest stories in the entire canon on the show.

So, keep being patient with it.  And maybe take a minute to step back and see that Who is bigger than just one era, one Doctor and one producer.   You may be surprised at just how awesome it still is.

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3 Comments

Filed under Doctor who, SciFi Month, Uncategorized

3 responses to “In Defense of Doctor Who

  1. Lillian @ Mom With a Reading Problem

    Love this!!! I’m a newer fan of the Doctor. (Didn’t start watching til Matt Smith) But I’ve gone back and watched them all. I love the ever changing Doctor and this season is my favorite of the new series. Love Capaldi! Even the sonic sunglasses are growing on me, though I do miss the screwdriver. And the two part episodes are awesome. Love the suspense each week! Great article!

  2. Following over from Rinn’s post, I’m certainly not jumping off yet! I think it’s probably true that any change in a show that people like is going to cause a lot of griping. I agree that it does change a lot season-by-season (even episode-by-episode), so even if I’m less into this season it doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t love the next. Also, I would be so thrilled if they actually bring Gallifrey back.

    Also, thanks for your suggestions over there on what to try in classic Who. I’ve only tried a few episodes at random on Netflix– since it’s such a long-running show, it’s hard to figure out how to best get into it.

    • The good thing about classic Who is that it’s not as continuity driven as some TV shows, allowing you to drop in at just about any point in the series run and enjoy. But I do understand that the sheer number of stories can make it a bit daunting to figure out where is a good point to dip your toes into the water.

      I tend to point new Who fans toward the fourth Doctor era as a good jumping in point. There are a couple of reasons for this.

      First is it’s the most popular classic series Doctor in an era that is considered the best the classic series had to offer. I point fans specifically to Tom Baker’s second story The Ark In Space as a nice starting point. It requires no prior knowledge to enjoy and it features Sarah Jane Smith, who is familiar from the modern show. It’s also one heck of a great stories by Doctor Who’s best writer, past or present. Starting here also leads you quickly to Genesis of the Daleks, which is referenced heavily in this year’s season premiere.

      Second, because the early years of the show are lost to the ravages of time, there are gaps in the first two Doctors eras that could be off-putting to new fans who want to see everything in order. Also, the early years, while wonderful, take a bit more patience and I think that modern Who fans may find them off-putting.

      The biggest issue is that what’s available for streaming is hit or miss. I recommend trying to rent or borrow the stories on DVD.

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