Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Revolving Door Of Doctor Who

Well, how about that? A Doctor Who post on this here blog... I don't think that's ever happened before.

I used to watch Doctor Who a few years back. Mostly on and off, but I stuck around for the Peter Capaldi run and I've enjoyed that run. But once that run was done, I sort of dropped the show. I have not watched a single lick of New Who since Peter Capaldi left the show, which meant that I skipped out on the majority of the Jodie Whittaker run. I couldn't begin to tell you why that was - lack of interest, lack of time - but my only exposure were the few clips I'd see online and not being particularly impressed. And it's nothing against Jodie - from what I've seen, she did her Doctor fine. It was just the material around that I wasn't a fan of.

So as per tradition, Jodie leaves the show and they announce a new doctor in Ncuti Gatwa, who's known for being in a show called Sex Education and apparently, he's openly gay because that's relevant information these days. I don't know this guy. I've never seen Sex Education. He is a complete blank to me. If he can do the role justice, then good on him, mate. So everyone assumes he's going to be the Fourteenth Doctor - do we still number these Doctors, given that whole Timeless Child thing where it turns out the Doctor has been around for eons before Hartnell's doctor or whatever the fuck that business is... my brain hurts just thinking about that. Fortunately, former new Who showrunner Russell T Davies (RTD for short) is taking the reigns once more and he's bringing back Murray Gold to do music. Things might be looking up... allegedly.

So The Power Of The Doctor comes along and Jodie does her big regeneration scene... and turns into David Tennant - rumored to have been making a return to Doctor Who in new TV specials as some version of the Tenth Doctor, but turns out he's the new Doctor... and they're also bringing back Catherine Tate and the whole other clan... there's even a cameo from the late Bernard Cribbins in the second special, giving him some closure as well.

So they give Tennant three specials on TV, thus giving him the short TV lifespan of the numbered Doctors, with only John Hurt and Paul McGann having shorter runs... though to be fair, McGann had been busy with Big Finish stuff for decades, so he wasn't entirely inactive. They bring in Neil Patrick Harris to play the Toymaker, an immortal villain who hasn't been seen since the Hartnell days (he's been featured in some Big Finish stuff, but if you don't count that stuff, the guy hasn't been mentioned or heard of in years). And Harris' take on the character is certainly an acquired taste. The different voices might seem awkward and kooky to some folks, but the more informed and knowledgeable Whovians would know the real reason behind the changing accents and it's not to be offensive for the sake of being offensive... that's usually for those who choose to be offended for the sake of being offended, but I digress.

But there is one thing that I would like to discuss and that's the whole bi-generation thing. For the less knowledgeable folks, regeneration is a thing where the Doctor is dying and instead of dying off, he /she basically turns into someone else. The rules of regeneration used to be that a Time Lord had thirteen lives before finally expiring... and then Matt Smith got a new regeneration cycle to keep the show going... and then the Timeless Child stuff happened where all that stuff about limited regenerations for immortal Time Lords is apparently a lie or something and... my brain hurts.

Bi-Generation is essentially the splitting of the Doctors, where instead of the Doctor turning into someone else, that someone else splits off from the old Doctor and is now their own Doctor. How does that work? Who knows? But it is certainly divisive. Some people call it a clever way of giving Tennant's Doctor a sort of happy ending while others declare it the ruination of Doctor Who. I'm somewhere in the middle of this whole thing. If I were to rationalize this thing, the beam that the Toymaker used to "kill" the Doctor had some property that triggered this bi-generation thing and this is just a one-and-done thing. It is something that does need to be explored a little more into be rationalized. In some behind the scenes commentary, RTD had been speaking about how this sort of creates a "Doctorverse" for each Doctor, who goes on to have adventures of their own. I hear about this and my first thought falls back to an old James Bond quote from the second film "From Russia With Love" when he asks Red Grant "what lunatic asylum did they get you out of?" That idea is rather stupid. It does not feel fully thought out.

But what makes me mid as the uncool kids say? Well, I like the idea of giving Tennant's Doctor a happy ending of sorts, the idea that he got his old face back as a way of his body telling him to settle down, relax, and enjoy the good life after several lifetimes worth of turmoil that he never got around to process. The Doctor has been through a lot of shit and he kept going. There have also been times when the Doctor had settled down, but this seemed to have been for the short term and all it took was one thing to happen and he was back on his adventures. After all, Doctor Who as a show wouldn't have been interesting if The Doctor was just a teacher at a school or just stayed in with the Ponds... allegedly.

But the Doctor has had a long lifetime or so. Maybe he needs a nice long rest. Maybe it doesn't last... but you know what? That guy has a chance to settle down and maybe nothing will go wrong. As far as this show is concerned, that Doctor's story has come to an end and it's time to follow along with the new guy... and that's where I'm a bit uneasy on this bi-generation thing.

Don't get me wrong. Ncuti Gatwa made the most of his brief time as the Doctor in that special and he looks to have things in the bag. He's bombastic and charismatic, he has a moment of humbleness, and there's just an excitability with him that's just impossible to ignore. If his run as the Doctor ends up being a failure for whatever reason, it'll be because of the material rather than the actor because as far as I'm concerned, he's got the goods to be a great Doctor and I'm looking forward to the ride... that isn't on Disney Plus.

But bi-generation doesn't just give us two Doctors... it also gives Whovians a choice. Because while one Doctor's journey is just beginning, another Doctor's journey is ending. And some folks see "The Giggle" as a sort of "jumping off" point or a conclusion to sixty years of Who, particularly those who want nothing to do with this new era of Disney Plus-powered Who. When RTD discusses re-branding Series 14 as Season One, the intent was clearly to establish this as a bold new beginning for Doctor Who, dump the baggage of the past 60 years, and start fresh with this new Doctor... and not everyone is sold on that idea.

Unfortunately, the more I think about it and the more I rewatch the specials, the more I start to realize that these specials feel less like a celebration and more like an epilogue. The end of a long, wonderous journey with ups and downs. Mind you, every regeneration story feels like an epilogue of sorts, but it's usually the end of that Doctor's run and the new one takes over, but underneath the skin, it's still the same character that's been around since the sixties. And now, you've given skeptical Whovians an out. They can easily write off Gatwa's Doctor as some newbie with no connections to the past 60 years while their Doctor is enjoying a spot or two with the Noble-Temples while his original TARDIS (because Gatwa's TARDIS is also a duplicate) is garden dressing and thus have no need to follow the show.

That mentality is a bit unfair... but not entirely unwarranted.

Listen, if "The Giggle" is your jumping off point for current Doctor Who and you want nothing to do with what comes afterwards, I'm not going to hold it against you because this special gave you that option to drop off and do something else. A typical regeneration story at least leaves you curious as to what happens with the new guy, but you don't even need to do that here. Your Doctor is fine at home and his story is done. Time to move on to something else. But if you're willing to stick around and see what's next for the new guy who's taking over the show going forward, then it's business as usual. You get to see his first full show, see how things go, and then you can drop off or continue onwards. It's how we used to do things back in the day.

I, for one, am certainly willing to give Gatwa's Doctor a chance... and hope that the stories are just as worthy as any that have come and gone in the past.

That was my Tardy Box Talk. I'm going to bed. Good night.

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