It’s official, with Chris Chibnall and the 13th Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, about to hand back their TARDIS keys, Russell T Davies is returning as showrunner of Doctor Who. Of course, this is very exciting news: Davies is the man who regenerated Doctor Who for a new generation of Whovians, playing a major part in the revived sci-fi series success.
Even better since leaving the show in 2010, Davies has turned out some of the best TV series of his career including, It’s a Sin and Years and Years. It’s all very rousing, and yet we can’t help shake the feeling this is the BBC hoping to turn back the hands of time a little bit. It pains us to say it, but Doctor Who doesn’t have the pop culture cache it once had.
Among general audiences, we’d argue it’s gone from being appointment viewing to something you might watch if you’re having a lazy Sunday evening and can’t find the remote. Could the BBC be bringing back Davies in the hope of recapturing a bit of the old magic that made Doctor Who one of the hottest shows of the new millennium? Well, we can’t say for certain, but the cynic in us says he’s been brought in to steady the ship. So with all that said, what do we want Davies’ new season to look like? Well, we have a few ideas…
The 14th Doctor
To paraphrase Matt Smith moments before he turned into Peter Capaldi, we all change through our lives, “you gotta keep moving,” and remember all the people you used to be. This line is a warning to the series, you have to keep moving forward, and the Doctor has been a woman now, and they should stay a woman.
It would be far too easy for the Doctor to return to the status quo – when the show was at the height of its popularity – and regenerate them back into a good looking, straight, white, brunette man with a predilection for long coats. As an average looking, straight, white, brunette man, with a predilection for long coats, I can confidently say this would be a step back for the series and a huge mistake.
The decision to revert the Doctor back to a man would embolden certain toxic parts of the fanbase. It’s this loud minority who’ve spent Whittaker’s run on the show moaning to anyone who would listen that having a female Doctor is the reason for the show’s decline. We shouldn’t give their argument any oxygen by giving in to their demands because Jodie’s been fantastic.
Not only that, I don’t feel we’ve fully explored all the potential stories that having the Doctor currently identify as female allow for. They could bring in the brilliant Jo Martin or an unknown it doesn’t matter. Just, for the love of Rassilon, don’t make them a David Tennant clone.
Companions and the supporting cast
One of the things that made Davies tenure as showrunner so compelling was that he grounded his run on Doctor Who in human drama. Davies achieved this by making his companions more than just walking talking plot devices or living props for the Doctor to bounce techno-babble off.
Instead, they were fully rounded, consistent characters with their own lives outside of the TARDIS. This had the added benefit of bringing in a whole host of superb supporting characters into the Doctor’s orbit without having to make them fully-fledged travelling companions.
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While we like Moffat and (some of) Chibnall’s run, I’d argue that part of the reason the show’s lost some steam is that it’s become more and more concerned with navel-gazing about the overall mythos. This is fine in small doses, but explaining core concepts of the character like the Doctor’s true name, and where regeneration comes from aren’t why we tune into the show. We watch it to live vicariously through the Doctor and companions, going on crazy, frightening, and fun adventures.
The companion’s family provides us with another perspective on travelling with the Doctor. The Doctor is brilliant and awe-inspiring to the companions and the viewer; to the companion’s family, it’s different. To them, the Doctor is a frightening and dangerous being who takes their family away and brings them back changed.
No line has ever expressed this better than Jackie Tyler’s warning to Rose, written by Davies, about what would happen if she kept travelling with the Doctor. “In 40 years time, 50, there’ll be this woman, this strange woman, walking through the marketplace on some planet a billion miles from Earth,” she says. “But she’s not Rose Tyler. Not anymore. She’s not even human.” In recent years, we’ve lost this dynamic, and I hope Davies brings it back.
Respecting what’s come before
Recent creative decisions made on Doctor Who haven’t pleased certain sections of the fan base, myself included. I wish I could be on board with the whole “timeless child” storyline and the origin of regeneration, but I’m not. The entire thing reads like bad fan fiction that completely misses the point of Doctor Who, and explaining the character’s origins completely demystifies what made the Doctor appealing to fans in the first place.
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With all that said, Davies shouldn’t ignore the Timeless Child storyline, and it shouldn’t be swept under the rug because fans don’t like it. That would be like Moffat saying the Great Time War never happened in his first episode just because he wanted to bring back Gallifrey. It would be disrespectful to the previous creative team and to the audience.
Now we’re not saying Davies can’t retcon the reveal, but he can’t treat it like it never happened. For good or bad the Timeless Child is part of the Doctor’s story now. Who knows, maybe Chibnall will address it again in his last series and the specials he has planned leading up to Jodie’s regeneration.