How do you begin an article you’ve dreaded writing? With a rhetorical question, apparently.
The truth is, Doctor Who hasn’t felt right since the end of 2013. I need to make it immediately known that this isn’t the fault of Peter Capaldi, who has been a fantastic Doctor. No, it’s because the show, these days, is content with being controversial, with dividing a loyal fanbase. We had a Doctor forced into being someone who wasn’t very likeable; we had Missy, a female Master who didn’t, if we’re honest, either act like the Master, or have any purpose for being; and a shocking take on the afterlife, courtesy of Dark Water/ Death in Heaven (2014).
In amongst the controversy, there were great stories, and these were the ones that didn’t rely on anything that would tamper with the fabric of the show. Listen (2014) was as close as a solid story came to messing with Doctor Who, but towed the line well.
Then Series 10 exploded onto the scene, and much of it was good. Why? Because it concerned itself with telling stories. Not to split audiences. Not to upset some. Not to get people on Twitter spitting bile at each other. It just told a lot of good stories. Finally, I thought, Doctor Who was coming back.
It’s no secret that the announcement of the Thirteenth Doctor hit me like a tonne of bricks. Look, it’s pointless me trying to explain why I feel a female Doctor isn’t the same character at all: the people who disagree with me won’t be swayed, and I won’t suddenly decide to take to the notion because a few people are intent to assure me that the Doctor isn’t a male character. I know who the Doctor is to me. Instead, it’s more worthwhile to point out the consequences of this decision.
It’s cracked fandom, and made me remember the question I’ve been putting to the back of my mind ever since the Series 8 finale: have I fallen out of love with Doctor Who?
The answer, of course, is no. Not completely. More accurately, I’ve fallen out of love with the show as it is, and as it will be in its immediate future. I can still take some comfort in the past. I’ll always have twelve Doctors to enjoy, but going forwards, it’s tainted by the sad fact that, come 2018, I won’t recognise the show anymore, and perhaps that I don’t relate to fandom anymore.
Sure, fandom’s always been a potentially horrible thing, but that vocal minority, I have to remind myself, are exactly that – a minority – and that on the whole, fans are lovely people.
Now, however, a gross beast masquerading as liberalism sits on a stump and calls it a moral high-ground, there to remind anyone who disagrees with their opinions that they’re wrong, and spouting whichever insults they deem suitable for the situation. The latest, of course, is that you’re a sexist, a chauvinistic pig for knowing who the Doctor is to you, and not rolling with the times.
It was inevitable that a female Doctor would come along, but, if I were a betting man, the smart money would’ve been on the Fourteenth Doctor. Just because some folk on Facebook say “now is the right time” doesn’t mean it is the right time. We do live in a world where differing opinions are scorned, people are very easily offended, and you have to write “IMHO” to let readers know that an opinion is, indeed, an opinion. The aforementioned high ground has always been an ever-shifting mass, but now more than ever, people don’t seem to know what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to supposed freedom of speech.
While half of Twitter are celebrating the man who took Katie Hopkins to task about her views on the Thirteenth Doctor, the other half are angry because he concluded his tweet with “you bitch”. I hope the same people were critical of Missy describing herself as such too. No matter how well-intentioned you may be, however nice you are, people will turn against you.
The problem is that many think of Doctor Who as just a show. It’s not. It consumes its fans, prompting them to give the franchise time, money, and love.
As a writer, I’ve always known the importance of stories. In college, far too long ago now alas, I argued that they made us human. Saying Doctor Who is just a show, that it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, is entirely missing the beauty of culture.
That’s why it hurts when fandom turns against you. Because it means a great deal. Saying it means “a great deal” is seriously underestimating the hours spent in front of the TV, consuming books and comics and audio, searching for merchandise, and worrying about its future and its past. It underestimates the heart we put into the series.
And it’s really not about being sexist. A very tiny minority of people are genuinely sexist. A female companion has always been an essential part of the show, and I wouldn’t want that altered. This is the story of the companions just as much, if not more than, it is of the Doctor. I didn’t watch for the Eleventh Doctor. I watched for the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Rory, and River.
(If people wanted a female-led TV show set in the Doctor Who universe, they should’ve supported The Sarah Jane Adventures more: while many passed it off as a show for kids, it was often better than Doctor Who!)
Of course, this regeneration throws up more questions. Will the male be a companion now? If so, will people find cause to complain to the BBC that the corporation doesn’t have faith in a female-led show? If the Fourteenth Doctor is a man, will people call this sexist?
Fans are even split as to how this can work. One half think it’ll only work if the series doesn’t bode upon the gender-swap; the other, only if it does just that.
Oh, what a mess. What a mess.
Some are justifying the mess by referring to Tom Baker and Sydney Newman; the former first joked about the Doctor changing sex, and the latter mentioned it in 1982 as well. Now, this is a funny one. Because Newman was a genius, and created the show we love. Does that mean we take his word as law? If so, the Daleks would never have happened, and the series might not still be on air.
“If you can’t accept this change,” some have argued, “then you’ve missed the point of Doctor Who.” No. If you’re revelling in the hurt this change has resulted in, and calling people bigots for not sharing your viewpoint, then it’s you, my friend, who have missed the point of Doctor Who.
That’s why it’s so baffling that such scorn has been used by several members of the Doctor Who cast and crew from present and previous day. In particular, I’m aghast at one such former cast member, who shall remain nameless because I have respect even when it’s not returned, claims he struggles to call people like me “fans”. I wonder if the same view will be taken when he’s accepting £20 per autograph on a DVD sleeve.
We are fans, whether you like it or not.
Peter Davison, meanwhile, has proven again why he’ll remain a hero; his tweet simply read, “It might be more helpful to be encouraging, and not simply scornful, of fans who are uncertain about change.”
It might be more helpful to be encouraging, and not simply scornful, of fans who are uncertain about change.
— Peter Davison (@PeterDavison5) 17 July 2017
He’s recognised that this has shaken many fans. Sadly, I feel that’s more than can be said of Chris Chibnall.
I wouldn’t have chosen him to be the next showrunner, but since his appointment, I’ve been very optimistic. I was sure he’d return Doctor Who to a safe place, there to deliver enjoyable stories and not cause unnecessary controversy. How wrong I was. I guess this is what pains me so much. It’s not that Chibnall went out looking for the best person to the play the role: he’s admitted to solely wanting to cast a woman. This was his grand plan. He went into the show with that as an agenda. As far as many are concerned, he went into the show intent on upsetting part of the fanbase.
Chris is no stranger to fandom. He knows what this change will mean. Arguments are rife. He’s really divided friends apart, and I won’t forgive him for that. This isn’t a reflection on Jodie Whittaker: it’s not her fault that Chibnall wanted to play gender politics.
How does this all relate to Peter Capaldi’s tenure, which I’ve admitted had me questioning whether the show was for me anymore? Simply that I want Doctor Who back. I just want Doctor Who.
If it weren’t for the DWC, I wouldn’t be watching the Thirteenth Doctor’s era. What would be the point? As far as I’m concerned, it’d be like watching fan fiction, with better CGI. Now, I genuinely don’t know if I’ll watch or not. It wouldn’t be fair on Whittaker, but then again, the whole situation isn’t fair to all fans. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, surely you can see how sad it is that a tear has formed in fandom. Regeneration can do that: if you don’t like the new guy, it’s a bad situation – but the changing of a lead man is a necessity. This upcoming change is not.
I’m sure that, one day, the people who have drifted away will return to the “present” series. Not all, but most. Until then, we can enjoy over 800 episodes. Catch up on books and audio adventures. And remember the good times.
We’ll find our ways back, but rest assured, it will have been the long way around.