Doctor Who Confession

One of my favorite TV shows for the last several years has been Doctor Who. I can remember being young, you know way back in the 80’s and 90’s, and finding old episodes of Doctor Who from the 60’s on PBS. Some of the episodes were in black and white and I always found them mid-episode so I never knew what was going on. For a long time, I didn’t even know the name of the show. It wasn’t until I saw my first Dalek in connection with the modern Doctor Who that I was able to put two and two together and realize what it was that I had watched as a kid. I just knew that there was this odd show on PBS that had very unusual characters compared to anything else I really watched back then and it intrigued me.

Now, fast forward to 2005 when Christopher Eccleston joins the BBC’s revival of the dormant series. Doctor Who if brought to a new generation with new faces, new stories, but still familiar backgrounds, conflicts, and more.

Of course, since I didn’t realize that I had watched Doctor Who in the past, the show flew under my radar for the first few years. Eccleston did his 1 year as the Doctor before being replaced by David Tennant. Still, I didn’t watch the show. Tennant’s run came to an end after a few years and was replaced by Matt Smith.

It was around this time that Netflix launched their streaming service and had Doctor Who among their list of titles. My best friend had found Doctor Who and enjoyed it. In a conversation, he recommended the show to me knowing my interests and all. 

I picked the show up in Matt Smith’s second season but watched the episodes in order from start to finish on Netflix before watching the current shows still airing on TV.

I was hooked from the first episode.

Everyone has their favorite Doctor. For me, it is and will always be David Tennant. I liked Eccleston as the Doctor. He had spunk and attitude but when Tennant hit the screen, I felt his emotions. David Tennant just emoted so well that you felt his humor, his pain, his sadness, his love, all of it. When Matt Smith took over the role, I didn’t feel the same connection. He did a good job and I liked his fixation with bow ties and fezzes, I liked the storylines he got with Amy, Rory, and River, and I appreciated his performances but I just never was able to connect the character like I did with Tennant. 

Eventually, Matt Smith left and in came Peter Capaldi. His old, cantankerous old man vibes was a fun change-up from the goofier iterations of Tennant and Smith. But while that different angle to the character’s personality was appreciated, Capaldi’s Doctor just seemed mad most of the time and never gave a wider emotional performance. Was a Capaldi’s limitations as an actor or just the limitation of the writers? I can’t say but the show lacked some of the appeal of the earlier seasons. Thankfully, Clara was something of a bright spot during Capaldi’s early episodes but even her character was somewhat moody and embittered. Sadly though, the companion Bill did not mix well with Capaldi’s Doctor. It had nothing to do with Bill being female or gay but just how the character was written. I don’t know if the writers just didn’t know how to write that character or if the actress didn’t get the performances they wanted so they wrote her off or what.

Capadli’s time came to an end and in came Jodi Whittaker. It represented the first time that the Doctor would be played by a woman. People online had a lot to say about this gender-swapped Doctor but I remained open-minded. The Doctor is an androgynous title and thanks to the Doctor’s regeneration ability then there is no reason that the Doctor couldn’t be a woman.

By this time, I had gone from just watching the show to organizing watch parties at my house with family and friends. All of us were welcoming of the new Doctor. We watched episodes with anticipation and excitement, even discussing the episodes after they ended.

Jodi’s first few episodes were met with general acceptance and appreciation. She had kind of a steampunk crafter vibe to her character and we were digging it. The entourage of companions she amassed was something concerning to us but things were largely positive. Unfortunately, the steampunk crafter vibe that the character started off with quickly disappeared and the bevy of companions seemed to dominate the stories. Again, was it just the writers unable to balance the stories among so many characters or was it compensation for some issues with Jodi’s performance? Nobody knows.

Eventually, our watch parties started to have fewer and fewer people attend. By the time of the last season of Jodi’s time as Doctor, nobody was coming over to watch. Everyone was too busy to come. I would record the episodes and not watch them with the hopes of watching them together as a group later.

That was a year ago. Those episodes are still sitting on my DVR unwatched. I know our watch group won’t be getting together any time soon but I still haven’t felt the urge to watch the episodes.

I still love the show and rewatch older episodes frequently but for whatever reason, I haven’t felt compelled to watch those last few episodes. Jodi’s run as the Doctor never connected with me. I think mainly because I felt like I was mostly watching the companions and she was just there. It didn’t feel like her show

There is one more episode expected for Jodi where she will regenerate back to David Tennant’s Doctor for the 65th anniversary for Doctor Who. I’m excited for Tennant to come back and am more excited to watch those episodes that haven’t been aired than I am to watch the episodes waiting to be watched on my DVR. 

To me, that’s sad. I’d rather wait to watch Tennant’s new episodes a year from now than watch Jodi’s episodes from a year ago.

But at the same time, they’ve already announced the next Doctor. Tennant’s return as the Doctor is only suppose to be a short run for the anniversary season. The next Doctor goes back to being male but for another first, the next Doctor will be black. Again, regeneration makes this perfectly plausible and there is no expectation or conflict with the Doctor’s lore that says a black Doctor is wrong, but I’m not sure how I feel about the new Doctor.

My reservations have nothing to do with the color of his skin but rather his background. I’ve looked him up but he’s not an actor that’s familiar to me. Maybe he’s more popular in England, the home of the BBC and Doctor Who, but as an American, I’m not sure who this guy is.

I knew Eccleston. I had heard of Tennant. Matt Smith was another unknown who I came to like as the Doctor after a while but he was my least favorite Doctor until Jodi came along. Capaldi, I knew him from an old Doctor Who episode where he played another character but that was about it.

I think the moral of the story is that casting lesser known actors as the Doctor seems to run the risk of the character being stunted regardless of race of sex. Likewise, there is a limit to the number of companions any Doctor needs to have at a given time before the companions overwhelm the Doctor and have to dominate the story to avoid being nothing but background scenery. 

The last few seasons have been an example of how both of these things can wipe away the excitement for a show. I know there is a lot of excitement about Tennant’s return, I’m not the only one, and that the old show runner Russel T. Davies is returning to the show. Maybe that combination of talent can reinvigorate the series and restore my love in the show.

My flagging fandom for Doctor Who hasn’t been because they cast a woman as the Doctor or that the next Doctor is black but because the stories have just lost that sense of magic and adventure that the other seasons had. Jodi and Peter just never had that moment that made their character’s memorable. Tennant had “wibbly, wobbly, timey, wimey stuff” and Smith had “fish fingers and custard” but the others never did.

At some point, I’m sure I’ll get around to watching the final episodes of Jodi’s seasons, probably before Tennant’s return just so that I’m up to date, but it isn’t a priority to me. That said, the minute David Tennant hits the screen in his iconic outfit, you can guarantee that I’ll be watching. When Tennant’s limited return comes to an end and the new guy takes over, I’ll still watch. I’ll give him a chance to establish himself and hopefully have some good stories and writing to do that.

Only time will tell how Doctor Who will do moving forward but after the last few seasons I find myself struggling to care about much else but Tennant’s return.

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