This Christmas we said goodbye to an old friend. Doctor Who, who was born in 1963, started life as an Edwardian gentleman. He left this world as a woman from Yorkshire. Let us now call this series “Intersectional Medic in Space”, and bury it in cement.
To be clear: as a lifelong fan of Doctor Who I’ve never objected to the idea of its time-travelling hero regenerating as a woman. It depended on who the woman was, and they just don’t cast character actresses like they used to. Previous eras would have gone for Beryl Reid or Margaret Rutherford. On Christmas Day 2017, however, the Doctor turned into soap star Jodie Whittaker. She was one of the lead actors in Broadchurch, which was written by Chris Chibnall, who just happens to be the new lead writer and executive producer of Doctor Who. Well, as they say, “it’s not what you know but Who you know.”
And what do I know? That Doctor Who is a very English hero who, despite his wanderings, belongs to a particular place and time. The 1963 incarnation – essentially Baden-Powell with a time machine – was intended to educate and entertain: he introduced us to Marco Polo and Robespierre. There were aliens and character arcs, yes, but key to the success of the show was its emphasis upon concept – original, thrilling ideas that, like all good sci-fi, made you look at your own humdrum life a different way.
But the society that created that kind of show has passed. Overmighty, postmodern producers have turned it into something very different. Russell T Davies wrote camp comedies, so he rolled out a camp soap opera. Steven Moffat wrote Sherlock, so Doctor Who became a weirdo. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, except that the sum of their PC, saccharine, clichéd parts was something that simply wasn’t Doctor Who.
Modern Who is the only Who era that was ever likely to break with tradition and cast a woman. And yet it’s also the era least likely to do it well. Its older, more inspired forebear is finally over. Vanished, like a distant star that burned brightly in the sky and then, suddenly, is gone.
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