The Problem with Current Doctor Who

Jodie Whittaker has cemented herself in the hearts and minds of Doctor Who fans as the worst actor ever to take up the iconic role of the Doctor. Her run alongside showrunner Chris Chibnall on Doctor Who has been filled with hate and disrespect hurled at the very fans that support the show. As their divisive tenure on the series is coming to an end soon, we must look back at why the show has been so divisive and so polarizing.

Once upon a time, Doctor Who was a revered show, beloved by fans and critics alike and watched by millions around the globe. However, in recent years those numbers have dwindled, eroding the loyal fanbase who had been around for over 50 years. No amount of falling viewership or ratings has been enough to convince Whittaker, Chibnall, or the BBC that maybe they were wrong. That was until Whittaker had an interview with The Guardian where she showed the smallest, tiniest glimmer of humility when she said:

What if I have pitched this so badly wrong? What if I’ve ruined it for actresses? Because I know full well that when lads were cast in the part, they weren’t representing men, they were representing their own personal casting. The way it was described in every outlet was not: ‘Can Jodie Whittaker play the part?’, it was: ‘It’s a woman!’ I suddenly thought: ‘Have I hindered us? Have I held us back?’ Because we’d filmed the first series, and I’d loved it. I really felt confident all the way through. Then there is that moment where you go, oh God.

current Doctor Who

Though this is the smallest of admissions, and her individual points may be contested heavily with fans, it is more than anyone working for the show currently has ever admitted – a small victory, yet leagues better than anything the fans have received in recent years. At this point, any victory, no matter how small, is celebrated by fans as gaining a single inch back toward good Doctor Who.

The fact that this simple comment spoke more to fans than any other press releases recently highlights the broader issue with current Doctor Who. Jodie Whittaker’s run as the Doctor has been divisive, to say the least, and many believe that she has done unequivocal damage to the series as a whole.

When it was first announced that there would be a female doctor, many fans kept an open mind to the idea. They had just experienced the fantastic performance of Michelle Gomez as the first female Master. They figured if the Master could be so well transitioned into a female actress, there was potential for the Doctor to be as well. Some fans knew better, though; some knew to fear this change and dread the possibility that current-day politics might have influenced the decision. This dread blossomed with just those first few episodes of Whittaker’s first season, “Rosa” in particular. The series was indeed diving into the muck of identity politics to rewrite the show entirely and steal it from its supposed owners: straight white men.

current Doctor Who

That is all this role and show were ever going to be for Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall: a vehicle and a platform to push their political agendas. That decision erased all possibility that fans could ever accept a female in the role, so Whittaker’s fear indeed came to pass. This small concession of even mentioning her initial fear doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The show will never change as long as Whittaker and Chibnall are working on it.

In her interview with The Guardian, the fact that Whittaker came at it from the direction of “Have I failed women?” showed her fundamental approach to this character. It was never going to be about “Am I right for this part?” or, “Am I going to do a good job?” If anyone approaches a role or a series or a story from that “feminist” perspective, it’s always going to be driven by that political agenda and never have an opportunity to grow into something more, something better, something timeless, like this show used to be. Despite that, this small confession of doubt in her interview is the most human moment she has ever portrayed on or off-screen. It is a lot more emotion and character than she’s shown in three whole seasons of television.

Most viewers would agree that politics has been the primary focus of current Doctor Who and that those politics were fashioned into a baseball bat to beat the audience over the head. That sentiment is no better exemplified than by the creation of the Timeless Child, which erased all of Doctor Who’s previous history to retcon the character into being a little black girl who was born to be great and then was experimented on by colonists and forced to be a white man to agree with their misogyny and racism. That alone demonstrates where the writers were coming from creatively. By doing so, they didn’t have to write any characters with complexity anymore. Wokeness was their excuse for laziness. After this change, there was no heart or soul behind the Doctor’s character anymore.

Writing characters with flaws is the number one thing that writers cannot do after making a politically motivated character change. That is the number one issue that this new Doctor has. She does not have any flaws, she never makes a mistake, never struggles, and she never simply has to try. That is not compelling storytelling. The audience cannot relate to someone who is perfect, and that is why Mary Sues, as they are so often called, aren’t good characters. Fans don’t want Mary Sues or Gary Sues. They do not want characters who are perfect and just magically great at everything. It’s the struggle, the drive to be better, and their characters arcs that make relatable characters with whom people can sympathize.

current Doctor Who

All the previous Doctors had moments where the audience saw stark flaws or character shortcomings. At the end of David Tennant’s run on the show, the Time Lord Victorious especially showed a vastly relatable moment of weakness for the character. He had lost so much, his friends and loved ones were all gone, and he was losing his grip on his morality. When someone with so much power and knowledge loses it all, the fans could see why he would give in to his darker desires, even for just a moment. That was a flaw in his personality, but it made him such a good three-dimensional character that the fans all loved and cared about. That moment is heralded as one of the best moments in Doctor Who history – a moment of weakness.

The Doctor’s weakness and the overcoming of his flaws are what made him a good character. By robbing the Doctor of his flaws, the writers took everything away that made him relatable and compelling. Without a compelling Doctor, no number of good scripts could save the show from slipping back into obscurity. No story can stand on the back of an empty or perfect character; it will be doomed to crumble.

Doctor Who was once a compelling story about this mysterious and broken man from a faraway world who would whisk people off into incredible adventures full of heart and simple human kindness. It focused on the morality and philosophy behind insane sci-fi scenarios and always tried to find a non-violent, entertaining, and compelling solution. That is what was special about the show. Sure, there were political allegories before the current era of Doctor Who. However, they were included subtly and with great precision and done professionally. Now, the writers have erased everything that made the show special and just weaponized the propaganda of the BBC to make Doctor Who wholly devoid of character or heart or choice or will or anything even remotely correlating to a story worth watching.

I’ve seen him. He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night and the storm at the heart of the sun. . . He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the center of time, and he can see the turn of the Universe. . . And he’s wonderful.” –Doctor Who Season 3, Episode 9.

Can Doctor Who be saved? No one knows. The Timeless Child did more damage to the show than anything else, even more than The Last Jedi did to Star Wars. Only by erasing the Timeless Child and Jodie Whitaker’s entire run can the show be saved. Only by allowing the Doctor to have flaws and weaknesses again can he be a compelling character that draws people from around the world to watch. The BBC is finding out the hard way the truth behind the phrase “Go woke, go broke.” Hopefully, it’s enough for them to decide to course correct and redeem this dead show.

Comments (1)

February 3, 2022 at 2:57 am

I have to take issue with the idea that making the master female gave us a fantastic performance. I found “Missy” to be more of a demented Mary Poppins (right down to dropping from the sky under an umbrella) who made me cringe every time she appeared.
I thought at the time that the character was being used to promote the idea of a female doctor and I still think that was the case.

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