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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

2024 could be a lifeline for ‘Doctor Who’ fans

Unpacking how bad the last seasons were and what to expect this year


By MALCOLM LANGE —- mslange@ucdavis.edu


Last year, “Doctor Who” celebrated its 60th anniversary with a three-part special. Those three episodes, along with a Christmas episode released on Dec. 25, were the only real “Doctor Who” content released in the year of its 60th anniversary — a very disappointing realization for fans everywhere. In such a monumental time for the show, we, as fans, only got four total specials for the entire year. Additionally, they were all released from November to December, making the last two months the only time for celebration. 

Luckily, there’s good news in this somewhere: we are getting a real season. Set to be released in May, it stars Ncuti Gatwa as the 15th Doctor. Unluckily, it will only contain eight episodes. Even with the disappointingly small amount of episodes for this new Disney+ show, “Doctor Who” seems to be heading in the right direction — back on track and even better than it was before. 

The quality of the show, many would say, has been on a downward trajectory since Jodie Whittaker took the mantle of the Doctor. Though there are claims that this stems from sexism and resentment due to the role being played by a woman, this gradual decline is not because of the Doctor’s gender or the writer’s script. 

“Doctor Who” has been around almost consistently for 60 years, with only a small gap from 1989 to 2005 when audio series and books took the place of the show. The Doctor has encountered many different trials: aliens, world-ending events and the mortality of humans. 

The Doctor himself has also aged significantly since the start of the show back in the 1960s. Most estimates of the Doctor’s age from the first episode put him at around 230 years old, with the 12th Doctor marking his age at now over two thousand years old. Despite the aging of the character, the show has managed to stay young despite its six decades of life, breathing new life into it through change. 

Over the years, the show has evolved and changed many times and many ways. In fact, that idea is the purpose and whole concept of the show: the Doctor never dies, he only changes. This makes the differences in Whittaker’s seasons to not necessarily be a bad thing, just something new. The writers took risks and not just by having a woman play the Doctor — the storylines they introduced were a welcomed update to the show. 

They completely rewrote the history of two races, the Time Lords and the Gallifreyans, introduced one of the most interesting and powerful villains and had the biggest universe-ending event. Many fans were not happy with these different types of stories. I, however, believe that if Chris Chibnall, the head writer for Whittaker’s seasons, was given more support and time to flesh out these stories, we would’ve been able to see their full potential. 

Specifically, the “Timeless Child” plotline is one that outraged many fans of the show, as it completely throws away substantial history and lore from “Doctor Who” and leaves a lot of questions and plot holes unanswered. However, I believe that until the whole storyline has reached its conclusion, it is too soon to make a full judgment on if it was a mistake to include. Coming up with new twists and stories for a 60-year-old show is no easy feat, so I definitely cut Chibnall some slack. 

This, as well as underdeveloped characters, was just one of the problems facing Whittaker’s tenure as the Doctor. The show still, however, felt like “Doctor Who.” It was fun to watch how she would solve puzzles and escape the enemy each episode, all the while making quips and sarcastic comebacks. Most of the hate, I believe, stems from her having to replace an incredible line of Doctors and storylines before her. 

David Tennant’s last season as the Doctor, written by Russel T. Davies, was incredible. After Davies, Steven Moffat took on as the head writer and gave “Doctor Who” some of the best and most iconic seasons the show has seen. Then, Whittaker with Chibnall’s writing gave us more of Russel T. Davies’ earlier seasons — good, but not phenomenal like the Moffat era. The stories didn’t have the same arcs that Moffat’s had, and most episodes didn’t feel very important to watch. You obviously knew the Doctor was going to win in the end, and very little character development occurred. 

Chibnall’s seasons felt like a revamped version of Davies’ writing, with some differences and influences from other seasons. So, why is it perceived that the Davies era was so much better than Chibnall’s? I believe that some of it has to do with nostalgia and acting capabilities. Obviously, if you have watched the show for 13 seasons, you must have some love for the series — most likely the earlier seasons that you watched first. Some of Davies’ seasons have truly awful episodes of “Doctor Who,” yet no one seems to complain about any of them as much as they do about Chibnall’s, even though there were some amazing episodes in Whittaker’s seasons. . 

This is where acting abilities come in — Whittaker just was not as strong of an actor as past Doctors. She is by no means a bad actor, but David Tennant carried most of the Davies’ era with his acting and screen presence. His great character choices helped hide the poor writing, while Whittaker’s acting capabilities were not enough to cover up bad writing. 

Why then, do I believe that the show is heading on an upward trajectory if Russel T. Davies is back, when I believed him to have some of the worst episodes in the show? Again, it comes to who is playing the Doctor. Already from the 60th anniversary and Christmas Special starring Ncuti Gatwa, there were weird writing moments, strange dialogue and just ridiculous — some would say, bad — story devices. However, Gatwa and his co-star Millie Gibson were standouts, and it will be very exciting to see them in the upcoming season. 

Finally, because writers and producers are taking a longer amount of time to come out with the new season, it appears they are using a lot of care and precision, which the Chibnall era lacked. As sad as I am to wait so long for more “Doctor Who” content, I am sure it will be worth the wait. 


Written by: Malcolm Lange — mslange@ucdavis.edu 


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


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