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.

ws1

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.

ws2

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.

ws3

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.

Sherlock: The Lying Detective

Warning: spoilers. If you haven’t seen The Lying Detective read on at your own certain peril.

Well, that was a twist. No, I’m not talking about that twist, but I’ll get to that, too. I’m talking about the one line uttered by Sherlock at the end of this episode that cast everything that happened before it in a completely different light: “I want you to kill me.” Lying, drug-addled and beaten, in hospital, with Culverton Smith arching vulture-like over him, Sherlock says something completely out of the blue: that he wants Culverton Smith to kill him. The explanation for this, as we found out, was that Sherlock’s pursuit of Smith was not about Smith at all, but about John Watson. He was following Mary’s orders and purposefully risking his life to spur John Watson into action and out of his melancholic state, to save John Watson.

It was Mrs Hudson who said it, in case it needed saying: Sherlock is fundamentally a creature of emotion. Everything, all of it, was about John. He teetered on the precipice of hell because Mary told him to, because he loved John Watson. The further we get into this show, the more that’s becoming clearer, no more than here—Sherlock may be a prodigious detective with extraordinary mental powers and unfailing command of logic, but he still put his life in danger for the sake of his friend. He still made a vow to protect John and Mary, and it still destroyed him that he failed to keep that vow. The contrast with his brother couldn’t be clearer. Mycroft says “People die, so what?” Sherlock says “Your life is not your own—keep your hands off it.”

tld4

I’m not sure I’m quite convinced by the convoluted reasoning Moffat engaged in such that he ended up with “Sherlock needs to literally risk his life to make John save him so John will recover from his grief over Mary”, but in any case it made for a captivating character piece about both Sherlock and John. It allowed us to see how crushed and wounded Sherlock was by Mary’s death and his own failure to save Mary. We saw a completely different side of Sherlock. We’ve seen Sherlock the prodigious detective. Here we saw Sherlock the penitent when he admitted he killed Mary and said John was entitled to take out his anger on him. We saw Sherlock the diminished and wasted, numbing his grief with drugs. We also saw Sherlock, fiercely loyal and loving friend to John and Mary, willing to die for both their sakes.

The character study of John was subtler, but equally as powerful. The motif of John’s hallucinations of Mary, talking to him, walking with him, reprimanding him, as if she were still there, potently conveyed the extent of John’s grief. It was a shock seeing her the first time, because the dialogue made it sound like she wasn’t actually dead, that she’d somehow faked her death. It made it that much more gut-wrenching, then, when you realise that it’s just John hallucinating. You feel deeply for the poor man. So to with John’s anger at Sherlock. John’s assaulting Sherlock in the mortuary was quite graphic, but it was powerful in visually conveying the pent-up, festering anger John harboured towards Sherlock. Maybe that’s why it was so emotionally gratifying to see John forgive Sherlock and admit he hadn’t killed Mary at the end. It was also really gratifying seeing John admit to his flirtation in the last episode and Sherlock helping John come to terms with it. That was an important and beautiful little character moment, and it’s a testament to how much both characters, and their relationship, have developed since they first met each other.

tld3

Although, as we find out close to the end of the episode, The Lying Detective is essentially a character piece about Sherlock and John, nonetheless it still excels as a detective story. Culverton Smith is a wonderfully creepy and slimy villain, played sublimely by Toby Jones. He completely exudes menace, and you’re left in no doubt that Sherlock is right when he insists that Smith is a serial killer. Sherlock’s obsessive fixation on Smith makes sense—until it doesn’t. It’s a credit to Moffat’s writing that he was able to turn the viewer so quickly and completely against the slimy Smith, but then make viewer doubt themselves by suggesting Sherlock, baked on drugs, had hallucinated everything that made him believe Smith was a serial killer. Which makes Sherlock’s vindication and defeat of Smith so much more satisfying. Although Cumberbatch delivered a masterclass of acting—some of his very best to date—to a great extent it was Toby Jones as Culverton Smith that made this episode so good, by making Culverton Smith as hateful and despicable, and as mesmerising, a villain as Augustus Magnussen and Moriarty.

Finally, let’s talk about what happened at the very end of the episode—the only thing the Sherlock fandom has been talking about all week. So Sherrinford is Euros, and Euros is Sherlock and Mycroft’s secret sister. Much praise to the writing and production team for so smoothly and seamlessly executing that twist, because I’m pretty sure very, very few of us saw that coming, although it’s funny to note how much alike “Faith” and John’s therapist actually look on a rewatch. As for theories about Euros? I’ve seen a few, but the only thing I’m convinced of is that something happened involving Euros in Sherlock’s childhood which traumatised Sherlock, but the memory of it and her he’s repressed—which is why Sherlock didn’t recognise Euros. He probably doesn’t even know he has a sister, because he’s repressed all memory of her. But whatever it is, it’s going to be interesting and I absolutely can’t wait to watch The Final Problem.

Sherlock: The Six Thatchers

Warning: spoilers. Dear lord if you haven’t seen The Six Thatchers then don’t read on because you will be spoiled so hard I’m not even joking.

Seeing Sherlock back in action again after so long has made me realise how much the show has changed since it began in 2010. When Benedict Cumberbatch’s black, moppy-haired iteration of Sherlock Holmes first appeared on television, Sherlock was more like the conventional adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, albeit with a generous stretch of artistic licence taken with Conan Doyle’s stories and a helping of character drama to spice things up, but to a great extent the show revolved around the cases, the mysteries, and Sherlock’s problem-solving. Watching Cumberbatch’s captivating Holmes solve mysteries was the heart of the show, and the formula worked excellently. It’s what drew the audiences in and made the show the cult phenomenon it is today. Hell, it’s what made Benedict Cumberbatch the A-list Hollywood actor he is today.

Now into its fourth series, nearly seven years running, The Six Thatchers is a testament to how far the show has moved away from the hard mystery/crime genre in the direction of character drama. Although mystery-solving is still the essence and the beating heart of Sherlock, it feels like the show is now moving into different artistic territory. Because The Six Thatchers was, basically, an episode about Mary Watson. As far we can tell, it was an episode written and produced for the sole purpose of moving along the character drama—in a pretty radical way, as the final shocking scenes demonstrated. There was still plenty of juicy mystery and problem-solving in this episode, but it was for the overriding purpose of the character drama. From what it looks like, this episode was for the sole purpose of moving all the characters to a new place in their relationships with each other.

six-thatchers2

I’m not necessarily criticising. As much as we fans complain that Sherlock takes forever to make and we only get three episodes every two years, we have to remember that they’re fairly long episodes—they’re practically movies, and the Sherlock team are practically making three movies every two years. But consider if Sherlock just stuck to the Series 1-and-2 style hard mystery-solving formula. I think it’d actually get old. It’d be like making twelve of the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes films in the course of seven years without altering the formula. The hardcore fans would love it, but a lot of the audience would get bored after a while. It’s basically the reason I stopped watching The Big Bang Theory. But in Sherlock‘s case, the character drama has almost dwarfed the mystery aspect of the show for much of the fandom. Some fans (you know who you are) seem to think Sherlock’s love life is the main point of the show. That’s a testament to the exceptional character writing on this show, not to mention the exceptional acting. But, for this fan, although I welcome playing up the character drama as a necessary and inevitable consequence of the narrative’s progression, I’d still like to see Sherlock keep a firm foothold in its roots. There should be at least one hard mystery episode per series, and I’m hoping that’s what we’ll be seeing tonight in The Lying Detective.

Otherwise, The Six Thatchers was a good episode, well made, although—and you can probably tell by my long discussion about character drama—I thought it was something of a waste to spend a whole episode dedicated to killing off Mary Watson. I think they almost tried to do too much with this episode: they were trying to bring Sherlock back in a big way as well as elaborate on Mary’s backstory, kill Mary off and setup the necessary new character dynamics as a consequence of that event, and establish the Moriarty arc, even if only in anticipation. It did a lot, and the result, I think, was a remarkably well pieced-together production for how much it was trying to do; but, for me, it still fell a bit flat. Mary’s shocking death and the character fallout in consequence notwithstanding, this episode was one of the poorer in the show so far, in my opinion.

six-thatchers3

For what it’s worth, I think what the writers were trying to accomplish narratively in this episode could have been carried out better if they played it as a regular mystery episode (another A Study in Pink or A Scandal in Belgravia type episode), but unexpectedly killed off Mary at the end—in the same way, with Mary saving Sherlock’s life. It would have come as a bigger shock (with the way it was done, I half saw it coming and wasn’t that shocked as a consequence), and it still would have worked equally as well to bring Sherlock’s hubris crashing down on him. The details about Mary’s backstory could always have been seeded in in a later episode.

But all that said, I think the character writing in this episode was very good—especially the writing of Sherlock. The way the ending was played, Sherlock’s overconfidence getting the better of him, only for his inflated hubris to be punctured in the most dramatic way possible—like a smashing of the Tower of Babel moment—was brilliant writing. It shows that it’s not just all fun and games on this show, that being Sherlock Holmes, Britain’s favourite hat-wearing detective, isn’t a lark, it’s fantastically dangerous and positively lethal to the people around him. It shows that there are consequences on this show, something John Watson seems to be coming to terms with, only too late. Seeing Sherlock visibly deflate in disbelief and humiliation over Mary’s corpse was almost as painful as watching John literally moaning with grief. If Gatiss and Moffat keep up the good work, it looks like the arrogant, superior Sherlock is gone. It’s getting interesting.

Music of Doctor Who: Twelve’s Theme

New thing. At appropriate intervals I’m going to post my favourite music from Doctor Who, perhaps with a view to doing a “Best Music of Doctor Who” series or post sometime in the future. Because Doctor Who, both modern and classic, has some truly outstanding music, an aspect of the show that sometimes gets overlooked beside the writing and the acting.

The first post in this series then, features A Good Man (the Twelfth Doctor’s theme). It’s just wonderfully epic. It makes Twelve’s “saving the day” moments that much more exhilarating, and, truly, it suits Capaldi’s Doctor so well. Definitely one of the better pieces of Doctor Who music, in my opinion.

Doctor Who’s best speeches | 3-1

Click for: 12-10, 9-7, 6-4 in this series!


3. Eleventh Doctor, The Big Bang

The Eleventh Doctor says farewell to Amelia Pond in this beautiful, pathos-laden little speech before he steps into the cracks in time and disappears from the universe. This is some of the best acting I’ve seen from Matt Smith, I think. He truly, convincingly conveys the impression of the weary, jaded old man as he rambles affectionately at Amy’s bedside, no mean feat for an actor of Matt’s age. It’s a simple, nice little scene but it’s so powerful and emotive and iconic that I think it deserves its place near the top of my list.

2a. Twelfth Doctor, The Zygon Inversion

Come on now. This is the reason we don’t deserve Peter Capaldi. This is the reason Peter Capaldi has rightly been called the best actor ever to play the Doctor. Peter is channelling passion and theatrical genius into every syllable, and that’s what makes this speech the widely acclaimed piece of television that it is. The writers, Steven Moffat and Jamie Mathieson, knew they could give Peter Capaldi an extended, soliloquising monologue like this and that he would pull it off outstandingly. Only an actor of Peter Capaldi’s calibre. Twelve’s words themselves are incredibly moving expression of the Doctor’s visceral abhorrence of war, and, when it comes to his feelings about war and his experiences in the Time War, I think the Doctor bears his soul more in this speech than we’ve ever seen from him before.

2b. Eleventh Doctor, The Time of the Doctor

Why are there two speeches tied for second place, you ask? It’s because I ONLY JUST REMEMBERED THIS SPEECH BEFORE I STARTED THIS POST OH MY GOD HOW DID I FORGET ABOUT THIS ONE I’M SO SORRY. This is the speech you watch on repeat if ever you’re feeling particularly masochistic. It absolutely killed me at the time, and I still find it incredibly gutting to watch, especially so because Matt was my Doctor, and saying goodbye was hard. It’s just a sublimely executed trainwreck of emotions. Matt’s speech is so beautiful, and then “I will always remember when the Doctor was me,” and then, goddamn it, he has a hallucination of Amy, “Raggedy man, goodnight,” and JFC JUST SPARE ME ALREADY. You get the picture. It makes me feel things.

1. Eleventh Doctor, The Rings of Akhaten

Some of the speeches in this list I chose for their emotive quality, some for their narrative or character significance, some for the pure captivating drama and theatrics. I chose Eleven’s acclaimed speech in The Rings of Akhaten because, in a way, it’s a combination of all of these things, and, above all, it’s just a sublime, consummately written, produced and acted segment of television. More so than any of the other speeches on this list, it’s pure art, pure literary flair and brilliance. It doesn’t really serve a critical purpose in the story, which I think is a fairly average episode in general, it’s just the writer, Neil Cross’s, and Matt Smith’s, and, not least, Murray Gold’s, creative talents unleashed, and the result is a sequence of utterly spellbinding, emotional, invigorating television. Matt Smith, of course, is the star of this sequence, and it’s his impassioned, candid performance here that makes this speech—in my opinion some of his absolute best acting during his time in the role.

So that’s my twelve thirteen picks*. Now this is the part where you tell me your twelve 😀

So, to recap

My twelve picks were:

  1. Eleventh Doctor, The Rings of Akhaten
  2. Twelfth Doctor, The Zygon Inversion / Eleventh Doctor, The Time of the Doctor
  3. Eleventh Doctor, The Big Bang
  4. Tenth Doctor, The End of Time
  5. Amy Pond, The Big Bang
  6. Eleventh Doctor, The Pandorica Opens
  7. Eleventh Doctor, The Eleventh Hour
  8. Twelfth Doctor, Flatline
  9. Clara Oswald, Listen
  10. River Song, The Forest of the Dead
  11. Ninth Doctor, Rose
  12. Tenth Doctor, The Christmas Invasion

Honourable mentions

I’m giving honourable mentions to speeches that I probably would have included somewhere on this list if I had actually remembered them in time (lmao I’ve messed this up I’m so sorry 😂😂).


What do you think? Which speeches do you like the most? Do you agree/disagree with my list? Wanna fight about it? Comments are open!

Doctor Who’s best speeches | 6-4

Click here for: 12-10, 9-7, in this series!


6. Eleventh Doctor, The Pandorica Opens

Eleven’s epic speech in the first half of the Series 5 finale was pure bombastic speechifying. He’s swaggering and grandstanding against the assembled malevolent hordes of the universe, and it’s awesome. It’s the archetype of an epic Doctor speech — it’s even recited at conventions by former Doctors to audiences of squeeing fans (no one can quite top Matt, though, although Sylvester McCoy gave it a very impressive crack). It’s ironic because this speech is actually exactly the opposite of what it looks like—it’s so ridiculously over-the-top (but still completely awesome), which is actually the whole point: the alliance of the Doctor’s enemies set this whole thing up as a bluff to distract the Doctor from what was really going on here. That sort of diminishes the significance of this speech—but who cares, really? It’s still amazing, and I love watching it.

5. Amy Pond, The Big Bang

In my opinion, this is one of the most iconic moments of Doctor Who, certainly of the modern series. Try to remember what it felt like watching this for the first time. On first viewing, even on a rewatch, what’s happening here is absolutely spellbinding. It’s a consummately written and produced scene that, for me, stands as one of the single most memorable moments of this show. It’s simply magical. I love the way symbolic images conjure back Amy’s memory of the Doctor, I love Amy’s passion as she’s practically hectoring the Doctor back into existence, I particularly love the way the imagery of the Tardis is used like a magical incantation conjuring the Doctor into being. Most of all I love Karen Gillan’s transfixing performance, which, more than anything, makes this scene.

4. Tenth Doctor, The End of Time

Oh, the feels are strong in this one. Ten’s anguish and frustration at realising he’s being made effectively to end his own life is wonderfully moving and heartbreaking. For me, it’s one of the most emotional sequences of the entire show. David Tennant’s performance is so sublime, so incredibly powerful and gutting. Nearing his final moments as the Doctor, David Tennant delivered some of his greatest acting in the role, and that’s why this scene is remembered by every fan, that’s why it remains just as intensely powerful on the umpteenth rewatch. Words can only do it so much justice. Just watch it. Feel it.

Doctor Who’s best speeches | 9-7

See here for 12-10 in this series!


9. Clara Oswald, Listen

Watching this again just now gave me goosebumps. It always does. It’s a wonderfully haunting little sequence about the power and the virtue of being afraid, overlaid by this beautiful monologue of Clara’s. The controversy about Clara’s agency in “making” the Doctor aside, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who would deny that the sequence in itself is very powerful and moving, perhaps the best moment in what is already a standout episode. It’s a beautifully rousing message, and it’s articulated so perfectly by Clara in this sequence — I’m just frustrated I couldn’t put this one any higher, but it’s contending with some very stiff competition.

8. Twelfth Doctor, Flatline

You might think this speech of the Twelfth Doctor’s in Flatline is not really a very important speech, that it’s just standard Doctorish flamboyance and bombast, but I think it’s actually hugely significant for the Twelfth Doctor as a milestone in his character arc over Series 8, which is the reason I love it and always get chills watching it. Remember that the Twelfth Doctor began his life agonising over whether he was a “good man”, unsure of his identity and his purpose. Slowly over the course of Series 8 he came to remember who he, the Doctor, was and what his purpose was, culminating in the “I’m an idiot!” speech in Death in Heaven. This speech is an important milestone along the way, being the moment the Doctor comes to terms with and embraces the role he has found himself in, though he might not understand why he has been put in it, as “the man who stops the monsters”. His cold, triumphal fury as he’s banishing the Boneless is enough to tell you all you need to know.

7. Eleventh Doctor, The Eleventh Hour

No explanation needed here, really. This is what I like to call Eleven’s “I am the Doctor” moment (literally), just as Ten’s speech at the end of The Christmas Invasion was his, and Twelve’s speech in Flatline, I believe, was his — the moment the new Doctor casts off the shadow of the previous actor and establishes himself emphatically in the eyes of the audience as the Doctor. It usually actually involves the words “I am the Doctor”, as here. This speech was shorter and punchier than Ten’s speech, but just as, if not more, powerful. The moment Matt Smith walks through a montage of all ten previous Doctors and declares “Hello. I’m the Doctor,” is amazing, chills-inducing stuff.

Doctor Who’s best speeches | 12-10

The speeches and monologues in this show make up some of Doctor Who’s most memorable moments. The writers love to show their flair by giving the Doctor or his companions and friends rousing monologues to perform, whether they’re extended soliloquies or short and punchy passages. They’re the centrepieces of the best episodes, and we consider a Doctor or a companion short-changed if they haven’t been given a sufficient selection of meaty, memorable monologues to perform. Over the next four days I’m counting down what, in my opinion, are Doctor Who’s 12 best speeches and monologues.

I’ve restricted myself to New Who because, while I know there are plenty of brilliant monologues in Classic Who, it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen those episodes so I don’t want to miss out any worthy speeches just because I’ve forgotten about them!

So, without further ado, here goes…

12. Tenth Doctor, The Christmas Invasion

After being practically absent for the entirety of his first episode up to this point, wasn’t it just so, so sweet when Ten strutted out of the Tardis, bathrobe and all, and proceeded to lay down the law? It was the big payoff to this episode, seeing our new Doctor for the first time — for real — and seeing him wrest control of the situation in such a familiar flamboyant Doctor-ish style. And it worked. It established, within a matter of minutes, this unfamiliar new face as undeniably the Doctor in the eyes of an audience which could easily have failed to take to the new actor after the beloved Christopher Eccleston’s departure. I don’t think it holds up as well with time as it does on first viewing — some of the cornier lines and gestures make me cringe now, and Ten’s character is still relatively unhewn here — but it’s still undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments of New Who.

11. Ninth Doctor, Rose

In the first episode of the revived series, the Ninth Doctor expresses powerfully and mysteriously to Rose who the Doctor is. Although the Doctor is a beloved and iconic figure for viewers, part of the secret of the popular fascination and appeal of the character is the element of mystery and mystique which surrounds him, most obviously in the fact that the Doctor never reveals his name. In rebooting the character and the show, Rose did a fantastic job of establishing the Doctor in the minds of the audience as an interesting and endearing character, but also whetted the curiosity of the audience by casting a shade of mystery and mystique over him. In doing so it captured the essence of the Doctor perfectly, to my mind.

10. River Song, The Forest of the Dead

Just when you thought this majestic two-parter was going to end on the morose, poignant note of River Song’s sacrifice, it takes a complete u-turn and delivers one final, thrilling coup de grâce as the Doctor races against the clock in pursuit of one, final, lingering chance of saving River. It’s an uplifting, exhilarating, emotional short sequence set to River’s haunting monologue about the Doctor. It all captures who the Doctor is so rousingly and perfectly. I find it incredibly stirring and it never fails to make me emotional every time I see it.

New companion: first impressions

…And it’s Pearl Mackie! She plays Bill, who seems to have an ’80s vibe going on with that wicked style (and hair) of hers. We’ve had a brief glimpse of Bill and Twelve working together in a short trailer the BBC released introducing the new companion, allowing us to form our first impressions of Pearl Mackie as Bill.

I have to admit, I didn’t take to Bill immediately. My initial reaction when I saw the trailer was: “annoying”. Maybe it was just the poorly-written dialogue, but Bill comes off as someone who will prove to annoy me over her time on the show. That she doesn’t take the threat of the Daleks seriously, but rather makes glib jokes when her life is in danger doesn’t bode well on that front, to be honest. Nor was I very inspired by the chemistry between Bill and Twelve. Perhaps it’s still just strange and uncomfortable seeing Twelve with someone other than Clara, but this partnership feels a bit jarring.

Moreover, she comes across to me as another iteration of the standard Moffat strong-female-companion archetype, i.e. she’s a bubbly, feisty, perky, self-confident, quick-witted young woman who’s unrealistically fearless in the face of danger, just like Amy, Clara and River. I love Amy, Clara and River for those qualities, but the trope has run its course, and to make Bill another iteration of this archetype is going to feel repetitive and unsatisfying: Bill is simply not going to out-Amy Amy or out-Clara Clara, because she’s not Amy or Clara and she’s going to look inadequate in comparison if she tries (talking about Bill here, or rather Moffat-writing-Bill, not Pearl, who, I’ve no doubt, will do her valiant best with the hand she’s dealt).

I’m hoping there’s more to this character than it seems so far. I’d be more prepared to accept another standard Moffat-style companion if she were to undergo some significant and meaningful character development over her time with the Doctor that clearly distinguishes her character and makes her into someone unique and interesting and more relatable. I’m not going to be happy if the character we saw in the trailer is the character Bill will remain for the rest of her time on the show.

I guess I’d just like to see something different. A companion who represents a stark change from what’s come before. An introverted companion, for once, an intellectual, an actual realistic, relatable person, or someone with loads of space for genuine, positive character development. Moffat has a type, and it’s getting old. From what we’ve seen, Bill is just more of the same.

All that said, though, I don’t want it to seem like I’m not going to give Bill a chance. Of course I’m going to give her a chance, and of course I want to go into Series 10 as open-minded as possible about the new companion. I don’t want to make rash judgments from a two-minute trailer (he says, after making rash judgments from a two minute trailer…), and I’d prepared (albeit sceptical, based on Moffat’s record), to have my first impressions of Bill proven wrong. It occurs to me just now that I thought precisely the same things about Clara when she became the new companion in 2013, and, although it took me a while, I ended up loving Clara. So it may well be that I’m proven wrong once again.