Doctor Why

So, this morning I—like many others—woke to the announcement of who’s playing the next Doctor. Somewhat predictably, there has been online ranting from the extremes of the pro/anti spectrum1.

Am I the only one thinking “That’s interesting. I’ll have to see how they turn out.”?

But then, I tend to have that reaction to any new Doctor announcement2. Generally I haven’t heard of/encountered the new actor before, so I don’t have any particular preconceptions before I see them in action. It’s hard to judge how good a Doctor someone will be beforehand3, as it’s not just a matter of who the actor is, but what their “style” is going to be (both costume and manner), and where the writing team take them.

Doctor Who is at rather an advantage in this regard, having not just a built-in mechanism for cast changes, but an expectation of them. Companions come and go as their own stories are completed, and the main character regenerates to be the-same-but-different, allowing a new style, attitude, and perspective. Regardless of whether you like a particular Doctor and/or companion, the show will eventually move on, and even if you stop watching there’s always the incentive to come back to see what you think of the new one.

My theory is that with every new Doctor, the writers etc (whether they’ve worked with the previous Doctor(s) or not) will have a sense of what aspect of the character they want to explore, and will cast the part with that in mind. The general theme so far with the new series has been the Doctor coming to terms with past trauma (the Time War and all that), so…

  • The 9th Doctor started out a bit hardened and cynical, and gradually learned to open up to people again, to have fun, to “dance”. Christopher Eccleston was a good fit for being able to be a bit scary but also a bit goofy.
  • The 10th was somewhat mellower, but now that he’d opened up, had to deal with the previously-bottled emotions. Hence, manic energy, but also the angst. And David Tennant does good sad-puppy eyes.
  • 11 had moved on, wanting a fresh start. New, happy memories to replace the bad, old ones (10 and 11 are described at one point as “the man who regrets, and the man who forgets”). Hence the young Matt Smith, who never-the-less can convey an alienness and sense of age.
  • 12 (bearing in mind I’ve only seen his first season) had finally resolved a lot of his issues around the Time War, but had been uncertain about who he was without that focal point, making it difficult for him to relate to other people. Peter Capaldi made this unintentional abrasiveness work, and—in an odd reversal of the previous version—was an old-looking face who behaved like a teenager; still finding themselves, desperate for approval, but prone to being prickly.

So where does that leave 13, to be played by Jodie Whittaker? For one thing, she wouldn’t have been cast if they didn’t think she was capable of playing the part. My hope is that the Doctor being a woman has a purpose behind it, in terms of exploring a different side of the character.

But, as with all her predecessors, we’ll have to wait, and watch, to find out. As usual, I’m quietly hopeful.


1 “Yes!!! Another kick in the plums for the patriarchy!!”, “Ow, my entitlement!”, “About time! James (Jane) Bond next!”, “The show is ruined forever!”, etc. etc. All the stuff you encounter if you ever dare to read the comment section.

2 Though I do admit a little extra emphasis on the ‘that’s interesting’ this time.

3 Full disclosure: Of the “modern” Doctors, I’d heard of Christopher Eccleston and thought him a weird choice, but he was fine. I knew nothing about David Tennant, enjoyed his early stuff, but got a bit over him by the end. Matt Smith was the first Doctor younger than me, which was a strange feeling, but I thought he did well4. Peter Capaldi I didn’t know what to expect, and personally haven’t enjoyed his Doctor, but I wouldn’t say he’s done a bad job of it.

4 Plus, bow ties are cool. I’m undecided about fezzes though.

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2 thoughts on “Doctor Why

  1. I think the second series with Peter Capaldi allowed them to go back to aliens and saving the world type stories, He was different.

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