All change at Doctor Who, with Jodie Whittaker set to take on the role of the iconic time traveller when current incarnation Peter Capaldi regenerates in the Christmas 2017 special, titled “The Doctors”.
Very bold casting indeed, and headline grabbing too as Whittaker will be the first female to harness the sonic screwdriver from 14 regenerations.
However, I just can’t get excited about this appointment and fear it could be a case of “unlucky 13” for the longest running sci-fi show of all time.
And it’s not not because a female has been cast in the lead, I have absolutely no issue with that!
Michelle Gomez’s portrayal as a female incarnation of The Master was absolutely sublime and really injected a long-overdue freshness into the series with a simple gender switch of a main antagonist that would have been unimaginable when the show was first imagined in the early ’60s. Doing likewise with the Doctor makes sense, and is also quite an exciting prospect, adding a new dimension to a classic format.
When it comes to regeneration time, I’m always keen for it to go to the best option available at the time – an actor who brings an edge that immediately translates to what type of doctor they will be and something that will excite me – regardless of gender or race.
Since it’s rebirth, Eccelston, Tennant, Smith, Hurt and Capaldi were all inspired choices, each carrying that edge. They all had unique strengths and traits that allowed them to make the Doctor their own, each iconic and unique in their own right.
Upon Capaldi’s decision to step down – which I always felt was a year too soon anyway – some of the names being banded about really excited me, while others genuinely terrified me. The thought of Tilda Swinton inheriting the keys to the Tardis was absolutely inspired – she would have been my top choice. Likewise, the early bookies favourite of Kris Marshall gave me the absolute fear.
Whittaker is neither exciting nor terrifying. She is a very underwhelming choice and I struggle to imagine what she will bring to the role that will make her a truly stand out as more than just “the female Doctor”.
Her appointment is being lauded across the board for the simple fact she is female, with little attention paid to what she will bring to the role and if she is right for the role. Sure she put in a solid performance in Broadchurch, but does a serious drama role as a grieving mother really support a claim to play the enigmatic Doctor? Her Broadchurch co-star Olivia Coleman would have been a far more enticing prospect, with her career littered with a mix of comedy and drama along with a very unique approach in her delivery.
Just because new Executive Producer Chris Chibnall has appointed a woman as the Doctor doesn’t mean we should all be applauding. We should be asking if it’s the right woman…and for me the jury is very much out.
Yet, that is only the icing on the cake of why I believe the 11th run of the rebooted Doctor Who could be the beginning of the end.
No denying Russell T Davis did an absolute stellar job reviving Doctor Who in 2005, making it the global phenomenon that it is today. He was supported by a team of fantastic writers including Steven Moffat who would go on to take over the reigns in 2009 pushing the boundaries even further and delivering some of Who‘s greatest moments of the modern day.
It can be argued that after eight years at the top, a fresh approach is needed and while I’m sad to see Moffatt depart, its probably time. So in comes Chris Chibnall, and this is where the real crux of my issue lies.
Sure, Chibnall credits include Torchwood, Merlin, Life on Mars and Broadchurch as well as five Doctor Who episodes. But when you take a closer look, it unravels a little.
His Doctor Who credits are what I would very much call “lesser” episodes. While Moffat before him had written some of the strongest episodes during Russell T Davies tenure including “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances” double, the mesmerising “Blink” and the introduction of River Song in “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead”, Chibnall is at the other end of the spectrum.
Credit number one was season 7 episode “42” – which is a mess, never finding a balance and one of Tennant’s weakest outings. He next appeared with season 10’s “The Hungry Earth” / “Cold Blood” double which was full of promise and rich in concept bringing back the Salarians, but fell completely flat and didn’t deliver. “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” was an over-exuberant romp that never quite knew what it was, while it was shortly followed by “The Power of Three” which was another episode that felt very much like a classic Who adventure at heart, but ultimate didn’t delivery. All five of his episodes are forgettable, and that isn’t a trait you want in someone who is going to be running the show.
The first season of Broadchurch that rightfully won him plaudits galore is almost impossible to fault. However, due to the public demand he followed it up with two more seasons that were over-hyped nonsense, with very little clarity or substance. It was 20 episodes of filler that went nowhere, as he dined on the glory of the original run. Immediately it raises alarm bells about his longevity, which is paramount to a show like Doctor Who. His appointment of the 13th Doctor was his first big test; an indication of what his vision is for the season is. And I genuinely feel the appointment of Whittaker, while no doubt a talented actress, lacks any real imagination.
As a dedicated Whovian I will be glued to my screen for Whittaker and Chibnall’s first rodeo, very curious to see how the dynamic of this iconic show plays out with a female lead. I’m more than willing to give them both the chance to prove me wrong, and I genuinely hope they do. I will be the first to hold my hands up and admit I was wrong.
I normally hate the dismissiveness of creative works before they come to fruition, and I’m honestly not setting out to be negative. It is more a matter that for the first time in 12 years I don’t have the same levels of anticipation for such a mesmerising show. Fact is, I’m completely underwhelmed and can’t shake the feeling that a show I absolutely adore is taking its first steps toward the end.
Unlucky 13? Time will tell.