The female Doctor question once more

It’s been almost a month since Peter Capaldi announced his intention to leave Doctor Who at the end of 2017. In remarkably quick time the fandom has turned from lamenting Peter Capaldi’s impending departure, to speculating excitedly about the identity of the actor who will be playing the 13th Doctor, to now fighting angrily amongst itself in the latest fandom war to break out in this exceptionally quarrelsome fandom. I’m talking about the controversy over the question of whether the Doctor should be played by a woman. It’s not really a new controversy—it rears its head every time the question of the next Doctor comes up and every time anyone publicly speculates about the future of Doctor Who. Not to mention every time Steven Moffat gives a self-indulgent wink to the fans indicating the possibility of the Doctor one day undergoing a sex-flipping regeneration.

But there’s something different about the discourse about a prospective female Doctor this time. It’s like the calls for a female Doctor have finally reached fever pitch. The people calling for a female Doctor are calling louder and shriller than ever before. There’s no humility in the calls for a female Doctor any more. What used to be speculation and suggestion about the possibility of a female Doctor has turned practically into demand, coupled with an intolerance for the views of those who don’t want such a radical change to the show’s format. I’ve never seen it like this before. It’s practically at the point where those pushing for a female Doctor won’t accept any new actor cast as the 13th Doctor who isn’t a woman.

I’ve elaborated on why I don’t want a female Doctor before, but with the female Doctor idea being pushed so forcefully at the moment, I feel compelled to reiterate my position. I’ve seen various reasons put forward in opposition to a female Doctor, but fundamentally, for me, it’s about being true to the character. For me, it’s simple: the Doctor is a male character. The Doctor is a man. I’ve never thought of the Doctor as anything other than a man. I don’t think generations of fans and producers of this show since the 1960s have ever thought of the Doctor as anything other than a man, as indicated by the fact that in 53 years and 13 regenerations, the Doctor has only ever been played by male actors. For me, at least, casting a female actor to play the Doctor would not be true to the character. I would feel that a 13th Doctor played by a female actor would lack something intrinsic and fundamental to the character, which is the character’s gender. Seeing the Doctor played by a woman, I think and I fear that I would feel, “This character is not the Doctor. She is another character (maybe even a good character) but she is not the Doctor.”

As I said in my earlier post on the subject:

I’ve come to love this character, the Doctor, independent of any of his individual incarnations. When I think of the Doctor, no individual incarnation springs immediately to mind, but I think of a number of essential traits that make this overarching character, this person, who he is: heroic, principled, selfless, eccentric, lonely, mysterious — and a man. I very much get the feeling that, throughout his various incarnations, despite looking and feeling different after each regeneration, the Doctor remains the same person, and it’s very important to me, for my investment in the character, that the Doctor always feels like the same person. To an extent, at least, I’d feel that the Doctor had become a different person if the Doctor were to become a woman. After thirteen or however many incarnations as a man, I think I’d feel that I couldn’t recognise a female Doctor as the character I knew and loved; that a female actor is likely to depart in a fundamental way from how the character has been portrayed in the past would only exacerbate this feeling.

“But Time Lords don’t have a fixed sex, it’s been shown they can regenerate into the opposite sex, so the Doctor is not a man” might come the objection. My first response to that would be that all that’s been shown onscreen is two Time Lords regenerating into the opposite sex, one, the Master, after a long history of having been a man (like the Doctor), and one, the General, whose first words after regenerating were “Back to normal, am I?” It’s not been established canonically when and how Time Lords can regenerate into the opposite sex—it certainly hasn’t been confirmed that every Time Lord can do it, or that a sex change is a 50% chance for every Time Lord. That the Doctor has been a man 13 times out of 13 so far suggests that there’s more involved than pure random chance.

But I recognise that Moffat (or Chibnall, if he is so inclined) could easily retcon that continuity and establish with a single throwaway line in a forgettable script that the Doctor has an equal chance of regenerating into a man or a woman, and that he’s just had exceptionally unusual luck so far. So the more important answer to the objection above is that just because the Doctor can be made to regenerate into a woman, doesn’t mean he should. The whole idea of sex-flipping regeneration is very new in the history of the show (2011 was the first reference I believe), and the Doctor has now been a man for 13 regenerations and 53 years offscreen or over 2,000 years onscreen. He’s long been widely and popularly identified as a male character, and the Doctor was entrenched in the fandom’s consciousness and the broader cultural consciousness as an iconic male character long before Steven Moffat turned up on the scene, late-coming, and told us all that, actually, the Doctor isn’t a male character, he’s actually a bisexual gender-fluid sequential hermaphrodite (as I once saw it amusingly put), and that our long-standing identification and association of the Doctor as a male character is wrong and misplaced.

That’s my view, for what it’s worth. I fully respect the views of those who disagree with me and take a different perspective, as long as they respect mine. Because it’s an increasingly common thing among the more ardent supporters of a female Doctor to dismiss everyone who doesn’t take their position as misogynists. Because apparently there’s no other possible reason a person might be reluctant to radically change a fundamental part of the format of a 53-year old show other than hatred of one half of the human race. Even the substantial number of female fans who oppose a female Doctor. Apparently they hate women, too. Sounds legit. Perhaps there are people who oppose a female Doctor because of misogynistic motivations, but I would assume their number is minuscule, because one wonders why misogynists would spend their time watching a show which so proudly elevates and empowers its female characters.

I know that the majority of supporters of a female Doctor are reasonable, intelligent people who do not believe that opponents of the idea are all misogynists. I’ve been in many debates about a female Doctor before and the majority of those arguing for a female Doctor have been reasonable and respectful of the views of those of us who disagree. But there is a vocal minority who do take that line, and they’re incredibly stubborn and infuriating people to argue with, who are typically projecting their own profound intolerance onto others. In this respect it’s regretful to see that Radio Times has, since Peter Capaldi announced his departure, become a prominent voice pushing the “all-opponents-of-a-female-Doctor-are-misogynists” line with its articles containing thinly-veiled suggestions to that effect, giving unwelcome respectability to that view.

Something else I worry about with the push for a female Doctor is that it would be done for all the wrong reasons. If it’s done for genuinely creative reasons, because the producers are interested in the creative possibilities casting a woman as the Doctor opens up, that’s fine. I respect that, even I don’t agree with it. I can’t respect the decision if it’s done for political reasons, to promote a social agenda, or simply to be progressive or politically correct. Doctor Who isn’t another front for a progressive social agenda, another hive of reactionary social oppression that needs to be prised open by the winds of equality, it’s a TV show for kids. When it comes to casting for a TV show, “it’s time” just isn’t an argument. Why is it time? Is it oppression to be denied the opportunity to be Doctor Who? Is playing the Doctor a human right now? Should we inform the UN, in that case? Forgive my saltiness, but I really don’t have patience for arguments like this. A casting decision should always be a creative one with the purpose of making the best work possible, not a political one, because when politics is elevated above art in making casting decisions, by definition worse casting decisions are made and the show, as art, suffers.

I mean, I wonder what would be gained politically by turning an established and iconic male character into a woman as a purely symbolic act, especially considering the backlash from the substantial proportion of fans who don’t want a female Doctor. I’m not sure that the campaign to turn established male characters into women is the best progressive strategy considering how much it annoys fans (male and female) of the franchises in question. In any case, I’m not even sure a decision to turn an iconic and long-established male character like the Doctor into a woman, when the person making that decision knows that they would face a huge backlash from a substantial number of fans if they did so, can ever not be political. Even if the decision is made predominantly for creative reasons, the decision to cast a woman as the Doctor, after 13 men have played the character and after the character has been entrenched in popular consciousness for so long as a man, couldn’t not be fundamentally political. It would almost certainly be perceived that way, especially if Chibnall uses the words “it’s time”, as he would, in reference to the decision.

All that said, I’m not necessarily saying that if a woman were cast as the 13th Doctor, I wouldn’t give it a chance. As I said in my earlier post on the subject, I would most likely continue watching the show and I would keep an open mind about the change—I would even be interested in how a female Doctor would be played out, like most fans, I’m sure. I would be prepared to admit that I was wrong about how I thought I would feel, and that I end up continuing to identify a female Doctor as the character I love. But I think my reservations are legitimate, and I would rather it not happen at all than see it go ahead on the unlikely chance that I end up warming to the change. And it’s not just me—as I mentioned a number of times, there are a substantial number of fans, if not a majority, who are opposed to a female Doctor. It’s worth considering whether what the idea’s supporters want from a female Doctor is worth alienating a huge proportion of the fandom for.

Whither Sherlock?

Warning: spoilers for The Final Problem.

(My belated review of The Final Problem will be posted soon—I’m doing a Sherlock marathon at the moment and I’m going to write the review when I get to TFP 🙂 )

So the long-awaited fourth series of Sherlock has come and gone in a whirlwind of suspense, emotion, anticipation and controversy and it’s hard to believe, given how long the wait was, that it’s all already over. If nothing else, Series 4 was a feast for the fandom, an indulgent three weeks of event television lapped up by the fans which, for three suspenseful weeks, sent us into a frenzy of speculation and furious discussion.

Certainly Series 4 was divisive, and those in the Sherlock fandom on the Tumblrs or the Twitters would know that The Final Problem sort of triggered an all-out fandom war on those platforms. But even those whose yardstick of a quality series of Sherlock is how much time John and Sherlock spend kissing, and were thus disappointed by Series 4, would have to (reluctantly) admit that Series 4 was probably the most ambitious and momentous series yet. Mary got killed off, after her lurid backstory was revealed; the secret third Holmes sibling was introduced; and the hidden secrets of Sherlock’s past, Sherlock’s “origin story”, so to speak, were revealed.

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There’s a reason, maybe, that Series 4 was so big and ambitious. It’s been seven years, four series, and who knows how long in-story. The characters have developed in leaps and bounds and the narrative itself has come such a long way. Dragons have been fought and slain, and the characters have faced enough challenges and had enough adventures for a couple of lifetimes. Series 4 ended with a sense of completeness that wasn’t present at the end of any of the previous series, as though Sherlock and John’s stories have been told; there’s nothing left to say—the montage at the end of TFP communicated it all: they continue solving crimes, fighting bad guys, enjoying their dangerous, unconventional lives, being best friends and raising John and Mary’s child together. Moriarty is gone, Magnussen is gone, Irene Adler is safe, Eurus is tamed. Sherlock, through the friendships and relationships he’s formed since we first met him in A Study in Pink, most of all through John, is a better, stronger person, a “good man”, as Lestrade affectionately admitted at the end of TFP. There’s no more to say.

Indeed, that montage seemed to convey the writers’ sentiments that this may well be the last word on Sherlock and John—the end of Sherlock’s story, or at least the end of Sherlock’s story worth making into the cinematic event television that Sherlock is. The writers and the actors have speculated that this might be the end of Sherlock, and with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s professional lives increasingly busy, there might not even be the opportunity to keep making more seasons of Sherlock from now on. It’s Cumberbatch and Freeman’s willingness and availability to do Sherlock, after all, that determines if and when the show gets made, although Moffat and Gatiss have said that they would not be opposed to making more Sherlock if there’s a good enough idea and everyone wants to do it. The problem is finding an idea for more Sherlock good enough to justify making it, a difficult prospect when Series 4 felt so final.

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I’ll agree that if Sherlock were to end now, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad place to end it. And I’ll agree that it would be a hard ask to find an idea worth making into Series 5. But there’s clearly a hunger in, I’d say, the majority of the fandom for more Sherlock. There’s a feeling that this show could still do more and that there’s still more to tell in the story of Sherlock and John. That’s the way I feel, I think. No, I wouldn’t be disappointed if Series 4 were to be the end of Sherlock, but I feel that it doesn’t have to be, and that the show could still do more. I only say Sherlock shouldn’t need to end because I love it so much, and because I think if something is good, if something is working, and if you love it as much as the fans and everyone involved in Sherlock loves Sherlock, then there’s no need for it to end until it really has to. I don’t think Sherlock needs to end. At least not yet.

Moffat and Gatiss have said they would love to see Sherlock and John grow old together. I think I remember reading that either Benedict or Martin said they wanted to grow old with the characters. Why not? Here’s a concept: Series 1-4 are Chapter 1 of the story of Sherlock and John. Chapters 2, 3, 4 etc. are still to be told. That might mean we don’t see Sherlock and John again until the time is right. Let the show rest, give the characters and the narrative time and space to grow and develop offscreen, and come back to them in, say, eight years, and the show will be new again. The characters will be different people in a new and different stage in their lives. Sherlock will be closer to the more familiar, wiser, older, more venerable Sherlock Holmes of Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett. The events of Series 1-4 will be an increasingly distant memory, and the show would not be a continuation of the storylines of Series 1-4 as much as an entirely new chapter in the narrative, even a soft reboot of sorts.

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It doesn’t have to involve making progressive series of the show, as the show has done for the first seven years of its life. I would be happy with a special every couple of years which revisits the characters at appropriate intervals and show Sherlock and John growing and aging—straight crime-solving stories in the nature of The Hounds of Baskerville or A Study in Pink rather than the arc-heavy material that has dominated the show in Series 3 and 4: vintage Sherlock. That said, I really like the idea of doing a full series of Sherlock in the future by way of a big, multi-episode story similar to what Torchwood did in Children of Earth if the writers can find a good enough idea (and I’ve no doubt they can).

If there is to be no more Sherlock, though, if Series 4 is to be the end of Sherlock forever, then of course I’m happy with what the show has been and what everyone involved in the show has given us over the last seven years, and I feel privileged to have been part of this fandom when Sherlock was being made. Sherlock really is an extraordinary show, and I’ve no hesitation at all in calling it some of the best-made television ever. It’s given us some of the finest moments in television history, some of the most thrilling screenplays ever, and we, as fans, really can’t ask for more. It’s undoubtedly become a cultural icon, and is arguably the most iconic screen adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories ever (it’s certainly my favourite, and I’ve seen all the Jeremy Brett episodes). I’ll be sad to see it go, but happy to have had it at all. Everyone involved in Sherlock should be immensely proud of what they’ve made, including us, the fans, who’ve made the Sherlock fandom one of the most fun, energetic and invigorating to be part of.

So thank you, Sherlock. Thanks for the memories, and an emphatic and heartfelt goodbye—but hopefully not yet.

Steven Moffat’s Top 10 (Part 2)

A few days ago I began counting down my top 10 Doctor Who stories written by Steven Moffat (Part 1 here). Because I wanted to build up suspense and anticipation, and because I’m too lazy to do the whole list at once, I cleverly and conveniently split the list into two separate parts.

So, here it is: my definitive ranking of Steven Moffat’s five best Doctor Who stories.

5. The Eleventh Hour

You really can’t beat The Eleventh Hour as a new Doctor (and companion) introductory episode. There is really no understatement in saying that the first episode of Matt Smith’s run, and of the Moffat era as a whole, is the prototype against which all other introductory episodes will be measured. It does everything it’s supposed to do—introducing the new Doctor and companion, ushering in the new era, and serving as a concise and engaging introduction to the show in general—exemplarily. Sure, the plot itself, about the Atraxi, is a bit insubstantial and generic, but the focus of this episode is, emphatically, not on the plot but on the elements I’ve just mentioned, in particular the introduction of the new leads, which it does sublimely. Its most important moments, therefore, are not the scenes dealing with the Atraxi threat, but the scenes in which we get to learn who our new leads, the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond, are, such as that magical, timeless scene between the newly-regenerated Eleventh Doctor and little Amelia Pond.

4. Heaven Sent

It’s been over two months since Heaven Sent aired as the penultimate episode of Series 9, and I’m still reeling from how utterly amazing it is, as an entire package—a piece of writing, production, acting, directing, even music—but especially as an outstanding work of screenwriting. As a one-hander featuring (for all intents and purposes) only one speaking character, the Doctor himself, it is possibly the most experimental and avant garde episode of televised Doctor Who, and certainly on Moffat’s resume. You’d have to go back to the most surreal years of Hartnell and McCoy to find something as remotely experimental as Heaven Sent. The gamble undoubtedly paid off, though, as Heaven Sent is a masterpiece of writing and, indeed, in every department. It’s simply a mesmerising 55 minutes of television, a constellation of screenwriting genius with the equally impressive talents of Peter Capaldi, Rachel Talalay, Murray Gold and others. It proves that, even nearing the end of his Doctor Who writing career, Steven Moffat is capable of creating breathtaking and artistic stories.

3. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances

There was a time when Moffat was known as the master of terror, a sadist among the Doctor Who writers who delighted in terrifying children. The reputation probably stemmed from this skin-crawling pair of episodes in Series 1, which live up to Moffat’s caricature. These episodes traumatised a generation of pre-adolescents, including myself: I saw these episodes when they first aired when I was 10, and they frightened me so much that I was put off Doctor Who for years, and also caused me contract an irrational fear of gas masks (I’m still a bit uneasy around them). They contain some of the creepiest and most unsettling scenes in the show’s history, and it’s clear, watching them, that Moffat is a master of fright and freaky at work. Apart from the fear factor, though, this story is just exceptionally well-written: never mind great Doctor Who, it’s great television, full stop. It’s a totally absorbing and atmospheric story, and features fantastic instances of characterisation, unarguably deserving of a place among the best Doctor Who stories ever made.

2. Blink

If anyone you know is in doubt of Moffat’s abilities as a television writer, just show them Blink. Justly acclaimed as one of, if not the, best Doctor Who story ever made, it’s a timeless classic whose veneration among fans has not diminished with time by one iota. Nearly a decade later and it’s still as chilling and exhilarating as ever. It’s another perfect exemplar of great Doctor Who as great television in general, a fantastic screenplay and a fantastic piece of sci-fi writing. Blink, of course, introduced Moffat’s ingenious creation, the very creepy Weeping Angels, the most successful and popular Doctor Who monsters since the Daleks, and which, at one point, looked like they might even pip the Daleks for the status of Doctor Who’s signature monsters. Somewhat ironically for one of Doctor Who’s most popular episodes, Blink is Doctor-lite, but instead we get the brilliant character Sally Sparrow, one of the show’s great could-have-been companions. In fact, the conspicuous absence of the Doctor’s presence lends the story exactly the atmosphere of claustrophobia and intolerable suspense that makes Blink such a successful episode. It’s an outstanding credit to Moffat’s creative genius.

1. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead

Why Silence in the Library over Blink (or any of the other episodes)? Good question. I agonised over this choice, trying to weigh the episodes’ respective attributes and consider the varied factors that would play into a choice of what makes “the best” Moffat episode. But I always came back to the fact that whatever my choice, it would always be completely arbitrary and subjective, and there is no objective way of choosing a definitive “best” episode. So, in the end, I just went with my favourite.

Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead is a testament Moffat’s ability to take an idea for a fairly standard base-under-siege story (shadow monsters in a giant library) and develop it into as bold, moody, surreal and emotional a masterpiece as this. Silence in the Library is a perfect showcase of the many tropes of Moffat’s Doctor Who writing that have by now become quite familiar to us. There’s a freaky new monster, the Vashta Nerada, whose fear factor lies in a clever psychological gimmick; intricate and intelligent plotting that ends up blindsiding the audience with a well-executed twist; bold, creative narrative experimentation, including some truly surreal sequences while Donna is stuck inside CAL’s virtual hard drive; and involving and emotional character drama, including the first (and best, at least until THORS) appearance of Moffat’s signature character, River Song, and the beginning of the legendary onscreen relationship between the Doctor and River Song. It all comes together in a thrilling narrative symphony, making for, I believe, the very best of Steven Moffat.

So, in summary…

My ten picks were:

  1. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
  2. Blink
  3. The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
  4. Heaven Sent
  5. The Eleventh Hour
  6. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang
  7. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
  8. A Christmas Carol
  9. The Day of the Doctor
  10. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

How does your list compare to mine? Wanna fight about it? If so, leave a comment below.

Steven Moffat’s Top 10 (Part 1)

Having digested the news that our Dear Leader, Steven Moffat, is to retire as Doctor Who showrunner, I have decided to look back on what this remarkable writer has contributed in his career to this remarkable show. I’m counting down my picks for Steven Moffat’s ten best scripts for Doctor Who — although I hope, of course, careful not to be premature about this, that Moffat, in his final series, will deliver yet more astounding writing and that I can say in a little over a year’s time that this list is redundant.

This list is obviously subjective, based on my own opinions and estimations, as there is no objective way to compile a “Definitive Top 10” of anything that can’t be measured. So don’t take this list too seriously if you happen to disagree (as you may) with my picks.

Anyway, without further ado…

10. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone

In his first series as showrunner, Moffat brought back his acclaimed creations, the terrifying Weeping Angels, and stuck the Doctor and Amy in a spaceship teeming with them. It’s an exhilarating and dramatic base-under-siege with enemies that were practically made for this format. The suspense and the adrenaline never lets up: it’s a tight and absorbing pair of episodes that do justice to the Weeping Angels’ second ever outing, after their introduction in the sensational Blink. It also has Steven Moffat’s signature flair for engaging character writing, as Eleven, Amy and River Song (and their respective actors, of course) are all at their luminous best. Notable scenes include Amy stuck in a trailer with a Weeping Angel materialising out of a video recording, and Amy stumbling, blind, through the forest while surrounded by Angels.

9. The Day of the Doctor

Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary special was an extravagant, uplifting homage to the show and its fans, indulging shamelessly in the show’s heritage and featuring not just one, but three (four? thirteen?) Doctors. I can’t remember laughing more at an episode of Doctor Who than I did watching Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt perform the hilarious dialogue with each other in this episode. The brilliance of The Day of the Doctor owes much to the novelty of seeing Matt Smith and David Tennant, along with John Hurt, together onscreen as leads, but it’s also an exceptional story in general. It isn’t a sophisticated, artistic work of writing as many of Moffat’s other most acclaimed scripts are, but it’s a jubilant, well-put together and emotionally satisfying celebration of Doctor Who that only a writer with a deep love and reverence for this show could have written. I adore it.

8. A Christmas Carol

Still the best Christmas special by a good length, and, in my opinion, one of the best things Moffat has written for the show. A Christmas Carol isn’t often mentioned among lists of “Moffat’s best”, because, well, it’s a Christmas special and aren’t Christmas specials just light, insubstantial seasonal fluff? Not “real” Doctor Who? Well, yes, generally, but Christmas specials can still be fantastic pieces of writing and production, as I believe A Christmas Carol is, perhaps ironically for the most overtly “Christmassy” of Doctor Who’s Christmas specials. It was an absorbing, heartwarming and very emotional story, a recreation of the eponymous Charles Dickens tale with the unique Doctor Who twist of time travel. It’s filled with enchanting moments, such as all the adventures the Doctor has with young Kazran and Abigail, whose blossoming relationship is beautiful, but also very poignant moments such as elderly Kazran’s emotional catharsis when confronted with his younger self. It’s a perfect Christmas tale.

7. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

It’s hard not to love this one, the bold, explosive two-part opener to Series 6. Like The Magician’s Apprentice, this extravagant opener begun Series 6 with a story pretty much the of the scale and atmosphere of a finale, although in fact it set up the various arc threads which would weave their way throughout Series 6 and culminate in the timey-wimey finale. This story introduced the Silence, probably my favourite monster in Doctor Who, in my opinion one of the more menacing and genuinely scary creatures in the show. Like the Weeping Angels, Moffat’s other notable creature creation, they’re very creepy monsters based on a neat psychological trick, their ability to cause the observer to forget them after looking away. In the episodes this made for many creepy scenes, like Amy being confronted by the Silent in the White House bathroom, and Amy in the Silence-infested orphanage. The plot constructed around the threat of the Silence to human civilisation was also great, suspenseful and claustrophobic drama, and the aesthetic of Americana lends the story an irresistible mood and swagger.

6. The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

The two-part Series 5 finale remains, to my mind, the best finale of the revival. It’s a superlative script that oozes Moffat’s style and voice all over. It’s a delightfully clever script that deceptively wrong-foots the viewer and then radically changes course halfway through. In many ways it’s the archetypal Moffat finale: it’s an expansive, high-stakes plot with a thrilling concept at its core, involving a very timey-wimey threat in an exploding Tardis that threatens to cause the implosion of the whole universe; but it also carries a profound emotional and character-centred quality, punctuated by touching character moments such as Rory’s pledging himself to stand guard over Amy for 2,000 years, and the Doctor’s pathetic goodbye to little Amelia in her bedroom as he fades from the universe. This story embodies those two staples of Moffat’s style: a penchant for clever and intricate storytelling and especially imaginative exploitation of the narrative possibilities of time travel; and a firm anchoring, from a storytelling perspective, in characters and their relationships.


Stay tuned for my top 5 Moffat stories! Please?

Ideas for the next companion

So Clara’s gone. That happened. She flew away in a stolen Tardis with Maisie Williams, and the Doctor’s memories about her were deleted. You know, it took me a long time to warm to Clara, but now she’s gone I know I’m really going to miss her. She and Twelve became one of my favourite ever Doctor-Companion teams; I thought they worked so perfectly together, and it was a gut-wrencher having to see them parted. But times change, the show moves forward, we move on, and a new companion is on the way.

No announcement has yet been made about who will be playing the new companion, but I think we should expect some details quite soon, given that filming for Series 10 is supposed to be starting in April (or at least it was, before Moffat threw a spanner into the works…). I’ve had some ideas, though, on possibilities for the next companion…

A teenager

maisieinthetardisI’m not sure why I’ve become so enamoured by the prospect of a teenager accompanying the Doctor on his travels, but a teenage companion is one of my favourite possibilities for the next companion. Perhaps it’s the interesting contrast a teenage companion could pose to the companions we’ve had in New Who so far, which, with the notable exception of Donna, have all been ordinary, well-adjusted, twenty-something year-old British women. There’s nothing wrong with ordinary, well-adjusted, twenty-something year-old British women, but it’s starting to get a bit repetitive and tiresome.

A teenager, though, presents very different, and unique, possibilities. Teenage years are a formative, difficult, confusing, sometimes terrifying, sometimes perilous, but also vibrant and ecstatic, and beautiful, time of life. One is almost always a very different person as an adult, even a twenty-something adult, to when one was a teenager, and twenty-somethings who dispute it have forgotten what it was like to be that age. There are possibilities and directions in a teenage companion that aren’t realistically available with an older companion, and the Doctor’s dynamic with a teenage companion, if the companion is actually written well, promises to be very different from any Doctor-Companion dynamic so far in the modern show.

A Tardis Team

tardisteamA Tardis Team, as I define it, is a team of two or more companions who are equally important as characters in a narrative sense. Examples from the show’s history include the companions who travelled with the First and Second Doctors, who both liked to travel with more than one companion at a time, including the very first set of companions: Susan, Ian and Barbara with the First Doctor; also, notably, Jamie and Zoe with the Second Doctor. In addition, the Fifth Doctor for most of his time travelled with at least three companions at a time, at first Adric, Tegan and Nyssa. New Who has never had a (regular) Tardis team; the Eleventh Doctor travelled with Amy and Rory, but Amy was clearly the principal companion.

For a shake-up, I’d welcome a new Tardis Team. I don’t think it would be a good idea to go for three permanent companions, as it would get far too crowded (not to mention expensive), recreating the difficulties of the Davison era, but a two-companion team could definitely work. The drawbacks of a Tardis Team are that less time can be afforded to developing characterisation for each main character, leading, perhaps, to characters that feel less fleshed-out, but the main areas of potential are variety in characters and a unique group dynamic. It’s the potential for group dynamic that really intrigues me about the idea of a Tardis team, as it would present such a stark contrast to the Twelve-Clara dynamic, which took the personal, one-on-one Doctor-Companion relationship to an extreme. A group of companions would be something completely different, and I’d be interested to see Twelve operating in such a contrasting character setting.

My favourite idea for a Tardis team is a male and female set of companions, who aren’t necessarily romantically involved (at least at first; I could get on board with a blossoming romance between the companions). I call to mind Ian and Barbara, Ben and Polly, Jamie and Victoria, Jamie and Zoe, as useful precedents. I can see Twelve as the madcap grandfather zooming about in time and space with his companions, who are like his adoptive grandchildren. There would be a very warm and engaging familial and paternal dynamic.

Someone not from Earth

romanadvoratrelundarI’m using “someone not from Earth” as an umbrella term to include all manner of companions of non-terrestrial origin, including both non-human aliens and humans from elsewhere in the universe (presumably from the future). The reason I’m attracted to a non-terrestrial companion is much the same as the reason I’m attracted to a teenage companion: it would make for an interesting change; it would be different. Maybe I’m just desperate at this stage for a new companion who doesn’t conform to the conventional profile, but I do actually think there are very interesting possibilities in a companion who comes from a radically different society, civilisation and culture from ours. It would mean a wholly different perspective, especially with regard to ourselves: there are great opportunities, for the willing writer, for commentary on our society from the point of view of an outsider.

I’m particularly attracted to the idea of a Time Lady as a companion. Now that Gallifrey’s back, a Time Lady companion is now eminently possible. Romana (both of her) was my favourite companion from the classic series, and I think Four and Romana were a brilliant Doctor and Companion team. That said, I don’t necessarily want another Time Lady companion to be Romana 2.0 (and the writers would have to be careful not to make her so). I like the idea of a young (for a Time Lady, so 100 years or so), energetic, relatively inexperienced, immature Time Lady, who, like the Doctor, doesn’t fit into oppressive, stultified, hidebound Gallifreyan society, and wants to escape and explore the universe. She has more energy and wanderlust than experience and prudence, and needs the Doctor as a mentor and guide of sorts. There’d be a master-and-apprentice dynamic. There’s also the potential for a spinoff that doesn’t involve Arya Stark in a flying American diner. But I’m rambling — the point is, a Time Lady companion would be brilliant.

The main pitfall of a non-terrestrial companion might be that the show would be too inaccessible to the audience, especially if the companion is a non-human alien. The narrative role of the companion is, strictly speaking, an audience avatar, and it’s obviously less possible for the companion to play that role if she or he is just as alien as the Doctor. That is, definitely, something the writers need to have at the forefront of their minds if a non-terrestrial companion is settled upon.

Someone from the past/future

victoria2I’m just going through all the possibilities now for a companion that isn’t an ordinary twenty-something British woman. The opportunities presented by a companion from the past or the future are similar to those presented by a non-terrestrial companion, in particular the different perspective a companion from another time would bring to the Doctor’s adventures. We’ve had companions from the past (Victoria, Jamie, and Victorian Clara; and Leela may as well have been from the past), and the future (Vicki, Zoe, Steven, Jack Harkness).

For my own part, I’m more drawn to a companion from the past. A companion from the future would still be very interesting, but I feel that the wonder and the novelty of space-time travel and advanced technologies and civilisations would be more emphatically conveyed through the eyes of someone from Earth’s past. I’m also a huge history geek, so I love the idea of plucking someone from ancient Rome (or better yet, the Middle Ages, where most people’s whole worlds were two-by-two square miles) and taking them on adventures in time and space. A historical companion might come with the drawback of the Doctor needing to explain what a mobile phone or a touchscreen or indoor plumbing or Twitter is every five seconds. That danger could be avoided with skill, though, as the show did with Leela.

Someone the Doctor knows

susan2

Read: Susan.

#BringBackSusan


What do you think of my ideas for the next companion? What are your ideas?

On Steven Moffat’s departure

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Save your #moffatmustgo tweets, Moffat haters, because you’ve finally got your wish: Steven Moffat is retiring as Doctor Who showrunner after Series 10, to air in Spring 2017 (Autumn for we antipodeans), to be succeeded from Series 11 onwards by Chris Chibnall. I don’t mean to be resentful: it’s fair to say that Moffat’s era and style of Doctor Who hasn’t been received with universal adoration by the fandom — Moffat has had his legions of ardent fanboys and fangirls (like me), and conversely, a sizeable contingent of dissenters for whom Moffat’s interpretation of Doctor Who rubbed them the wrong way and who’ve never stopped clamouring for him to go. I know personally someone, a good friend and devoted Whovian, who will be delighted by this news. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with either perspective.

For my own part, I’m both saddened and gratified by the news. Anyone who reads this blog would know that I’m a huge Moffat fanboy, an unabashed Moffat partisan who will defend him and his era to the death. I think he’s by a substantial distance the best writer ever to contribute to the show, the best showrunner Doctor Who has ever had, and, I would propose, one of the best things ever to happen to Doctor Who. His era is easily my all-time favourite; he created my two favourite Doctors, Eleven and Twelve; and my favourite ever companion, Amy Pond. I became a fan of the show during Moffat’s tenure. Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, in short, is my Doctor Who.

At the same time, I’ve been of the opinion for a long time that it’s about time for Moffat to go. As much as I’ve loved Steven Moffat as showrunner, Doctor Who thrives on change and renewal and reinvention, and the show should not ever become synonymous with one person’s creative vision. I don’t think Moffat had begun to run out of ideas at all — Series 9 has been the most creative and pioneering series in years, I would suggest since Doctor Who came back, in terms of pure boldness of vision. It suggests Moffat is still brimming with interesting ideas for Doctor Who. I’ve no doubt that Moffat could, if he wanted to, go on indefinitely directing Doctor Who and producing a high-quality show. But, by the end of Series 10, Moffat will have pretty much reached the limit of how long a single showrunner should be in charge of the show. If Moffat were to continue on after Series 10, it would be too long for the show to have been stuck in a familiar style, directed by a familiar vision employing familiar tropes and motifs. A new voice is needed. Which is why I’m glad about Moffat’s departure, even if I’m going to miss the man enormously. It’s, frankly, the perfect point for him to leave.

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As for Moffat’s chosen successor, Chris Chibnall, this isn’t an announcement about which I’m not without reservations. To be sure, I’ll be glad of a fresh vision guiding the show, but Chibnall would not have been my first choice (that would have been Jamie Mathieson, although I realise that was a pretty optimistic hope). Chibnall has commendable showrunning experience in producing Broadchurch, an absolutely fantastic show which is a huge credit to Chibnall’s ability to make high-quality television. He was also showrunner of a lesser-known BBC period drama called Born and Bred, which is also an exceptional show, and one of my favourite ever dramas (I highly recommend watching it). It’s his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred that makes me very excited about the thought of Chibnall as Doctor Who showrunner.

But it’s Chibnall’s work on Doctor Who about which I have reservations. In his Doctor Who scripts to date, he has never particularly distinguished himself as a writer. His best script, in my opinion, was Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which is a delightful romp, and in my opinion the best episode of Series 7, but not really what I’d call the most memorable of episodes. In contrast, when Steven Moffat was announced as showrunner, he’d written four all-time classics under Russell T Davies: The Empty Child/The Doctor DancesThe Girl in the FireplaceBlink and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. Chibnall has nothing like Moffat’s Doctor Who writing record under his belt going into assuming creative control of the show. That said, he’s written a few very good scripts for Torchwood: CountrycideAdrift and Fragments. But he was also responsible for Cyberwoman, one of a small handful of stories in the wider Doctor Who franchise that I can say without hesitation that I hate with a visceral passion.

On balance, I think the jury’s still out for me on Chris Chibnall as showrunner. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see what he produces before I pass judgment. And, frankly, at the end of the day, I am very excited, as well as trepidatious, to see how Chibnall does. At the very least, it can be said that he’s a real Doctor Who fan, he understands the show, and he’s likely to have an interesting vision for the show, which will probably be quite different from Steven Moffat’s. He’ll also be inheriting probably the best stable of regular writers the show has had since it came back: Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Sarah Dollard, Toby Whithouse, so he’ll be very well-equipped as showrunner. One thing I will say unreservedly in his favour, though, is that he seems to have tremendous skill and instinct for writing characters. This is unmistakable from his work on Broadchurch and Born and Bred (again, I can’t recommend watching this show highly enough), as well as his writing for Doctor Who; he did create the character of Brian Pond Williams, after all, for whom the only apt description is “amazing”.

One last thought, on the 2017 air date for Series 10. Of course, I’m greatly disappointed that we won’t get any Doctor Who this year apart from the Christmas special (what is this, Sherlock!!?!?!?), but I can agree that the extended wait might be worth it. It’ll give Moffat and the crew plenty of time to perfect and hone Moffat’s final series. Moffat will want to go out on a bang, and I can anticipate that Series 10 is going to be huge, especially if Capaldi also leaves at the end of Series 10 (which I think is likely). An extra 6-8 months should surely give Moffat et al. enough time to hone Series 10 into the best series it can be, and, above all, make it worth the wait and worthy of the showrunner’s swan song. At the same time, though, I’d have thought, at least, that we’d get some Doctor Who in 2016: at least a couple of specials (à la 2009), or a split series. In that case, though, Series 10 better be worth the wait. I’m just wondering what on Earth I’m going to write about for the next year.

Doctor Who headcanon #2

Time Lord regeneration is both the secret to the continuing success of Doctor Who, and one of the great mysteries of Doctor Who mythos. It’s easy to forget that the Doctor isn’t human, but each time the Doctor regenerates, losing his old face and persona and gaining new, we are reminded of the alienness of the Doctor and his kind, the Time Lords, as represented by the wonder of regeneration. Time Lords are creatures of time — they “walk in eternity”, as the Fourth Doctor so enigmatically put it. The essence of time is change, and regeneration reflects this aspect of time. You think you know the Doctor, but there goes and regenerates, and suddenly he’s no longer the man you know. When you appreciate that the Doctor has done this twelve times in a lifespan of over 2000 years, you realise how really alien and inhuman the Doctor, and his species, is.

Much ambiguity surrounds the concept of regeneration in Doctor Who lore. It has never really been made clear what actually happens when a Time Lord regenerates. True to form, we fans have tried our best to nail down the precise mechanics of regeneration, but, ultimately, until more explicit evidence is provided, it is a question open to interpretation.

Which is where headcanon comes in. Some time ago I read a contributor’s piece on Doctor Who TV which speculated that regeneration involves the total “death” of the Time Lord in body and mind, wherein the consciousness of the Time Lord’s former incarnation is disintegrated alongside the physical body and is replicated in the new body. In this way, each incarnation of a Time Lord has a separate consciousness. I’m not satisfied with this explanation, as I don’t really like the idea that the only relation that any given incarnation of the Doctor has with his previous incarnations is that they are made up of the same atoms and share memories. This theory almost denies that the Doctor is the same person as his previous selves. Are a man’s memories all that makes him who he is?

I prefer to think that regeneration is an organic process that is supposed to rapidly “renew” the Time Lord’s body, rather than dissolving the old body and constructing an entirely new body. The change happens at a cellular level: the cells remake themselves to rejuvenate the whole body. This process is imperfect, though, and the regeneration process will result in a physical change of appearance — a side-effect of regeneration. The regenerative process also has the effect of frazzling the brain, resulting in an altered personality, but, ultimately, continuity of consciousness. In this way, aspects of personality due to “nature” (i.e. preferences, persona) change, but not those due to “nurture” (i.e. values and principles, memories, things that are learned or due to experience).

This interpretation can also be distinguished from theories that see regeneration as involving a “body-swap” wherein an existing body is simply changed into another body (while consciousness and memories are retained). I don’t see regeneration as exchanging one body for a completely different one, but as a complete and drastic renewal of the same body. I think it is the disposition towards seeing regeneration as a simple “body-swap” that leads many to embrace the possibility of a female Doctor: the argument is that there is no reason the Doctor could not regenerate and find that he has ended up with a female body. In contrast, the way I prefer to see regeneration — as a renewal of the existing body rather than changing one body for another — means the idea of a female Doctor is more problematic, as it is hard to see how a male body could renew itself into something other than a male body. The objection could be raised, “But how is it any different from a young man (Eleven) regenerating into an old man (Twelve)?” Ignoring the fact that Eleven had physically aged to an extent that made him physically older than Twelve when his regeneration process began, I’d suggest that such changes as physical age, height, complexion, hair colour, facial structure, weight, etc, are essentially superficial changes of outward appearance. In contrast, a change from man to woman, involves a fundamental chromosomal shift, which begs the question: if one chromosome can slip, why not two? Why do not Time Lords routinely regenerate into non-humanoid forms?

I suppose the way one looks at the mechanics of regeneration also depends on what explanation for the origins of regeneration one accepts. To my knowledge, two different explanations for Time Lords’ ability to regenerate have been offered in the show. The traditional explanation, developed in the expanded media, was that regeneration is an artificial aspect of Time Lords’ physiology inserted by Rassilon during his shaping of Time Lord civilisation. The more recent explanation propounded in the revived series is that Time Lords evolved the ability to regenerate naturally, per A Good Man Goes to War:

DOCTOR: “But she’s human. She’s Amy and Rory’s daughter.”
VASTRA: “You’ve told me about your people. They became what they did through prolonged exposure to the time vortex. The Untempered Schism.”
DOCTOR: “Over billions of years. It didn’t just happen.”

This explanation posits that Time Lords evolved the ability to regenerate due to billions’ of years exposure to the time vortex. A similar process, River Song’s conception in the TARDIS, brought about the ability to regenerate in her.

These two explanations are plainly in clear contradiction with each other: either Rassilon did artificially insert regeneration into the Time Lord genome, or he didn’t; either regeneration is a result of natural evolution, or it isn’t. Such a contradiction can be resolved by resorting to Rule 3 of my headcanon rules: “Any blatant contradictions between onscreen explanations can be resolved by preferring the most recent explanation.” Rule 9 also comes into play: “Only the television show is explicitly canon; the audio stories, novels and comics are canon if you want them to be, but are not necessarily so.” Since the traditional explanation was only propounded in the expanded media, its canonicity must be subordinated to the later onscreen explanation. Another related piece of Time Lord backstory developed in the expanded media but retconned in the revived series was the idea that Time Lords are “born” fully grown through an artificial process of being “loomed” into existence from DNA strands — The Sound of Drums and Listen have showed Time Lords as children (the Master and the Doctor respectively), as did The Day of the Doctor, which made mention of “2.47 billion” children who died on Gallifrey (and indeed showed some Gallifreyan children).

So I prefer the “evolutionary” explanation for regeneration rather than the “artificial” explanation. It occurs to me that, if one accepts the evolutionary explanation, one would be more disposed to seeing regeneration as a restorative process (as I do) rather than as a process involving a total reconstitution of the body, or a body-swap. Conflicting views of the implications of regeneration, can be, if not resolved, but at least better understood, when the different interpretations of the mechanics and origins of regeneration are understood.