Why the new Doctor Who is both great and disappointing

08.04.13 4 years ago 30 Comments

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While part of me was very excited about the announcement of a new Doctor Who today, at heart I had to admit I met the announcement of Peter Capaldi with a shrug. Yeah, a shrug. 

It’s not that I don’t care (I do, I do), but more that I’ve found Steven Moffat to be a trustworthy and savvy keeper of the “Doctor Who” flame. Though fans cried out in despair when David Tennant left the show, complaining loudly that Matt Smith was too young to be convincing, I think it’s safe to say we all found he brought his own engaging quirk to his ride around the universe. It wasn’t that we didn’t love Tennant, but we could appreciate Smith as well. 

I don’t recall an equally voluble protest when Tennant stepped in for Chris Eccleston, but I think their very different approaches to the role were valid. In short, I may grumble about a new Doctor, but I’ve learned to have faith. 

Peter Capaldi, who was long favored to take the role, is by any measure an excellent choice for the latest Doctor. He’s acerbic, he’s smart; hell, he was the lead singer in a punk band with Craig Ferguson on drums (Ferguson has already tweeted his congrats). He’ll be an older Doctor at 55, but given that this season hints at darker territory to be explored, a more seasoned Doctor seems absolutely dead on. He’ll lend a gravitas to the doctor, I think, and one that makes sense for where the story appears to be headed. 

So, I’m happily climbing on the Capaldi train. But…

That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t hoping against hope that this might be the year the franchise got shaken up with a new kind of Doctor — whether that be a black man or woman, a gay man or woman, or just a woman of any color. Idris Elba? Olivia Colman? The great talents that could tackle the role are mind boggling. 

This is not, mind you, an entirely popular idea. In a Mirror TV poll, 40 percent of readers said they didn’t want any firsts in their new Doctor (21 percent were open to a black Doctor, 18 percent a female Doctor, 10 percent a gay Doctor and 11 percent a combination). 

Reportedly the BBC was against the idea, for fear it would create discomfort for parents who’d have to explain why the good Doctor was suddenly a woman. “‘While I think kids will not have a problem with a female Doctor, I think fathers will have a problem with it,’ former Doctor Who boss Russell T. Davies said. “They will then imagine they will have to describe sex changes to their children.’

I guess parents don’t have to explain death to their kids (which  happens quite a bit on the show), but they might have to sort out sex changes. So much for a teaching moment. But I digress. 

Still, the idea of a groundbreaking Doctor Who was attractive, not only to me but to some notable Brits. Matt Smith joked at Comic-Con that he would “put his arms out and turn into a woman,” and told me that as long as the right person was chosen, he didn’t care if Doctor Who was male, female or fish. No, he wasn’t stumping for a female Doctor, but he was open to the idea.

On the British TV show “Daybreak,” Helen Mirren even said, “I do think it’s well over-time to have a female Doctor Who… I think a gay, black female Doctor Who would be the best of all.” She did, unfortunately, push aside any suggestion she’d be a candidate for the part. 

Moffat himself told “The Sun,” “It is a part of Time Lord lore that [a female Doctor] can happen. Who knows, the more often it is talked about the more likely it is to happen some day.”

While I definitely understand why no one would want to mess with Doctor Who’s mythology, I’d suggest that a show as clever as this one might be the right one to upend our expectations. If we can dance through the ages and find a lizard-woman in Victorian dress, if we can have an Impossible Girl who dies and lives and dies again because she was splintered through time, why not really and truly challenge viewers to imagine that anything is possible? If Moffat says it’s not a violation of Doctor Who mythology (well, not his incarnation, and that’s the mythology that counts) to have an unconventional doctor, why not? 

Why, exactly, must Doctor Who be a white male? Because we’ve never seen anything other than that? That’s a rigid kind of thinking that is boring in television, worrisome in the real world. 

The idea that people don’t want a beloved institution to change is understandable. The idea that Moffat chose a respected and extremely talented actor is not a choice I’d criticize. Like I said, I’m on the Capaldi train. I think he’ll be amazing in the role, and I’m tuning in. It’s all good. 

But… well, maybe next time.   

What do you think of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor? Who were you rooting for? 

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