Doctor Who is my favourite thing in the universe ever since I watched Ace beat up a Dalek with a baseball bat on my old black and white telly. Over the years, I’ve supported the show through cancellation to the revival and all the major changes in between. When I discovered The Doctor would be played by a woman for the first time in the show’s history, I was completely supportive. Actually, it made sense. The Doctor, being a shape-shifting alien, was bound to change into a female form at some point. Right? Not everyone in the community of fans were happy, but there’s a singular truth at the heart of every fandom dedicated to something as long-running as Doctor Who: we’re never a united front, and we’re never totally happy. How can we be? There are so many Doctors and different eras of the show. The tone of the show changes every few years. Within three years of Eccleston taking over the role, the entire cast had changed. Doctor Who has always embraced change and stylistic makeovers. It happened with Russell T. Davies. Then again with Steven Moffat. Now, Chris Chibnall is in charge. If you aren’t adaptable to change, you’re going to struggle with Doctor Who. Yet change is a huge strength. Like Davie Bowie’s discography, Doctor Who has something for everyone. There’s literally a Doctor for your own personal tastes. I’ve always said that your favourite Doctor is the one you grew up with. I have a few of ‘those’ Doctors. Sylvester McCoy, loathed by viewers at the time, now reassessed favourably. Jon Pertwee, the sort of Doctor a generation of old fans want to see time and time again, that patriarchal British man in charge. He was my hero. He still is. Christopher Eccleston, who made The Doctor working class. Really, I adore them all. Some I prefer to others but every Doctor is someone’s favourite.
The Moffat Era was never a favourite of mine. I enjoyed being dazzled (BAMBOOZLED?) by some plots, but disliked the direction of Matt Smith’s Doctor. That era brought in a lot of American fans which helped the show, but sometimes I find myself at odds with the more alt-right aspect of these Who addicts. Some of whom seem to enjoy telling fans on Twitter what Doctor Who is and should be i.e. Moffat Who. To want to trap the show in that single alley seems foolish, if only because the show has always lurched in severe directions and fans expected it. The shift from seventies to eighties Who is particularly pronounced. I can only imagine the impact on viewers when that star field opening title sequence hit them in The Leisure Hive. When I’m inevitably lectured by these fans I watched Doctor Who on BBC1 not a cable channel thank you very much. Doctor Who is part of my cultural DNA. I see a pepper pop and think ‘Dalek’. When I pass a police box in Buchanan Street, I’m passing the TARDIS. I’m not certain American fans will ever understand how part of British culture Doctor Who really is. Of course, there are British fans who hold similar views. They regard The Smith Era as the way the show should be forever and ever. Some of them rate Peter Capaldi as the best Doctor. He is brilliant. A Doctor for fans even if he didn’t necessarily reach the public quite as effectively as Tennant/Smith clearly did. Then there’s Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor. God, I love her. I really took to her version at the end of The Ghost Monument when she summoned her TARDIS. In that one scene, I believed this was the ancient alien I’d grown up watching. Actually, I’ve discovered that Jodie is one of the Doctors whose performance rewards repeat viewings. I’m always finding something else I like about her Doctor. She’s brave, kind, a mad inventor, and she wears a rainbow on her t-shirt. For the most part, she doesn’t make long ponderous speeches. She gets on with it. She doesn’t insult her friends.
This Doctor isn’t infallible, but like The Second Doctor (her spiritual predecessor if you think about it), she improvises her way out of trouble and is often underestimated because of how she presents herself. When I first watched The Woman Who Fell To Earth (one of the show’s biggest ratings smashes), the scene where The Doctor builds her Sonic Screwdriver made me gasp. You just don’t see women on primetime British TV making stuff. She’s a traditional Doctor, but a woman, which gives this version of the character a subversiveness that appeals to me.
The show looks amazing and it seems bigger than I remember. All the locations across the world we’ve seen over the last two series gives it a larger scope, rather than just Britain and America. The three companions are possibly too much, but I feel like I know Graham/Ryan/Yaz better than the likes of Amy and Clara (whose parents were practically props). One of the many good things about Season 12 was that we got to delve into Yaz’s character a little more than her debut series. We got to see why she became who she is now, how her family dynamic works, and how she’s trying to prove herself to The Doctor. I’m hoping for more in Series 13.
The Timeless Child story arc has been great. I love that everything established over the years has been overturned. It doesn’t change what we’ve seen, but it definitely adds a lot more to the show’s mythos. For the first time in a long time, the title character has a bit of mystery again. One thing that bothers me about fans is how we’re such gatekeepers of lore. Each Doctor is now numbered (I’m guilty of that too) and not a Doctor in their own right. They’ve been boiled down to their position in the list. I hate that. The Doctor (William Hartnell) isn’t just ‘The First Doctor’. He’s The Doctor. And so the idea there are Doctors before him don’t bother me in the slightest. I think it’s an incredibly brilliant creative decision on Chris Chibnall’s part. I can’t remember the last time a Doctor Who story made me feel the way Fugitive of the Judoon made me feel. That…shock. Amazing stuff.
I think I’ve tired of the powerful English man with vaguely Edwardian/Victorian clothes walking into situations and saving the day. Jodie’s quieter take is what I prefer right now. Her Doctor’s values appeal to me. The show is ‘woke’ in the best way, like the classic era. The Doctor took on fascists in his second story. He overthrew a corrupt regime in The Savages that resembled apartheid. The Doctor brought down an intergalactic Margaret Thatcher in The Happiness Patrol. The Doctor, while exiled on Earth, worked for the establishment, but he clearly despised them, verbally bashing pen-pushing government officials for their narrow view of the world – and he did this while admiring Sir Reginald’s collection of fine cheeses. Before I knew what ‘woke’ was, before it became an insult sometimes favoured by crypto-fascists, I was seeing it in Doctor Who where it helped shape me as a person.
This new era feels less complicated yet oddly epic too. Jodie Whittaker is now an absolutely essential Doctor, one of the very best. Not every fan will agree, but then what do we agree on? Really, the one consistent thing about Doctor Who fandom is that we’re inconsistent. But there’s always another Doctor waiting for you, some in the past, many in the future.