Doctor Who: Past, Future, and Thoughts on the End of the 13th Doctor (SPOILERS!)

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
(Note- I originally wrote this as a comment on this thread. I ended up writing a lot about Doctor Who in general, so I am posting it as a separate thread)

I watched the finale of Season 13 (and the Whittaker era) the day after it aired (recorded on BBC America) and I've been thinking about the finale, Doctor Who, and the Whittaker era since then. Here are my thoughts-

Background: I've watched every episode of nuWho. I've seen a fair amount of WhoClassic. I'm not an uber-fan. I've never listened to anything by Big Finish. I haven't seen every single WhoClassic episode, nor do I ever intend to go back and watch them. I can easily identify every Doctor and have a passing knowledge of most of the canon, but the deepest cuts require me to look it up. But I'd say I'm more knowledgeable than the random person, less than the tru-Who fan.

Thoughts on the Finale: It was fine. It was entertaining enough, I guess. I really enjoyed seeing the older Doctors and some of the fan service. I think Jodie Whittaker gave it her all (as she always does). The Master (played by Sacha Dawan) gave a suitably unhinged performance that harkened back to John Simm (alas, seeming to skip the nuance of Missy). And, of course ... ACE! I admit, I loved seeing Ace. And I also have to admit, I was like ... look, it's Ace, and ... uh ... dang it. Clearly, not enough of a fan. Then I was like, oh yeah, Tegan! Seriously, the show was so chock full of cameos that seeing Tennant at the end was like M. Creosote getting the wafer-thin mint- at a certain point, it's too much fan service.

Which gets to the reasons why it was just fine. Look- I talked about all that, and I haven't even gotten to the Daleks! Or the Cybermen! Or Ashad, again. Or the Master-as-Rasputin, who is different than the regular ol' clean-shaven Master, but maybe not ... eh, this is a Chibnall story, don't worry about the plot.

Look, I wanted to love this show, just like I wanted to love the Whittaker-era Who. Any time you get Boney M playing, that's gotta be good, right? But this show combined the worst of Doctor Who finales/specials (too much- I mean, the Daleks AND the Cybermen AND the Master AND Ashad AND new regeneration canon AND a whole bunch of other Doctors) with the worst of the last two Doctors- sidelining the star of the show! Too often, Jodie Whittaker has been sidelined in her own show, and now ... it felt like she was sidelined by the intense amounts of nonsensical plot and fan service in her own finale. I loved her performance, as I always do, but it felt like it was in the service of something hollow. In the end, people aren't talking about her in her own finale, but are instead talking about all the cameos and Tennant and the (admittedly very cool!) Companions Anonymous scene. She deserved better- it was a messy capstone to a messy run.

Thoughts on nuWho in General: It isn't hard to read the above and see that I am starting to get a little disenchanted with nuWho. Before going into some analysis, I thought I'd go mention that maybe it's just me. I have three theories:

1. It's me. Maybe I suck.

2. It's the overall landscape. When nuWho started ... it was 2005. The Matt Smith Era ended ten years ago, before D&D 5e was even released! Look at the difference in the TV landscape. Doctor Who is, at its heart, a show that adults love, but is meant to be watched by children (families) as well. When it first started, there was no Disney+ with millions of superhero shows, or Netflix programming, or a lot of the incredible TV that we now take for granted. It's not that Doctor Who is that much worse, it's that the rest of TV is so much better in comparison.

3. Maybe it is the show. I am going to elaborate on this ....

A. Specials aren't special.
As of the airing of this episode, there have been 153 "regular" (part of a season) nuWho episodes. And 22 specials. But break it down a little more.
The first three doctors (Eccleston, Tennant, Smith) appeared in 91+17 specials episodes in eight years. (13.5 episodes per year).
The next two doctors (Capaldi and Whittaker) appeared in 62+5 specials episodes in ten years. (6.7 episodes per year).

Yeah, I know, COVID didn't help. But even taking that into account, the pace has been slowing greatly, with shorter seasons and prolonged breaks. And this has a deleterious effect on the show- because holiday specials, and season opening shows, and season finales, and Doctor switchovers, tend to be way over-the-top ... and you can only do that so often. Doctor Who does not excel when every show is (or tries to be) The Stolen Earth ... over-the-top only works when it's been earned through the gradual accumulation of the little moments. When seasons get shorter, and are aired less often, and are interrupted by specials more ... it constantly becomes spectacle without a core.

B. Inverse Ninja Law.
We all know the inverse ninja theory. One ninja is a problem. 30 ninjas are just a bunch of mooks. Unfortunately, this problem has crept into Doctor Who to the point of absurdity. This isn't new ... but it's really bad now. At no point in the Season Finale did I even get a moment where I considered the Cybermen (Cybermasters!) or Daleks a threat.

Contrast that with the first season. Midway through Eccleston's run, we had the episode "Dalek." That was about a single Dalek, and it was legitimately chilling. Now, you might think to yourself ... well, this is in keeping with WhoClassic. Daleks could be a little silly. No big whoop with just having a ton of 'em, and having Ace beat 'em up with her baseball bat.

But the problem is with all the antagonists. They keep going to the same ponds, and overfishing them. Think about the Weeping Angels. The first appearance was a stone cold classic. The use of them in the Matt Smith era ... eh. It was fine. By the time they are used again in the Whittaker era, they are just more cannon fodder.

C. The Writing.
And this is what we really get down to. The writing. Early nuWho had its share of clunkers. The last two Doctors had some decent episodes. But when you sit down and make a list of the stone-cold classic nuWho episodes ... what episodes are you coming up with?
Dalek? Silence in the Library? Midnight? The Girl in the Fireplace? Blink? Turn Left? Eleventh Hour? Vincent and the Doctor? The Doctor Dances?

When it comes to the last ten years, how many episodes would crack the top 50? Top 75? Probably the Heaven Sent two-parter. Perhaps Listen? From the Whittaker era .... maybe Demons of Punjab?

We are on a ten-year run of diminishing returns when it comes to the writing. And this is evident in the finale- you shouldn't need that much fan service to send off the Doctor. There should have been enough pathos and characterizations done the entire time. The episode where the Doctor leaves should be about the Doctor in such a way that it is unmistakably about this Doctor and this characterization.

And here, the show's writers did a disservice by having this all happen to the Doctor. Even ignoring the plot issues, how did this specifically apply to the characterizations of this Doctor so far ... I mean, she was like the Dom in the Fast and the Furious, in that she was about family, and she liked gadgets, but when you get right down to it ... The Master out-thought her, she was forced to regenerate not of her own accord even when she wanted to continue being the Doctor, and they ended with a poorly developed nod toward the late-developed relationship with Yaz.


Cool cool, right? So what does all of this mean for the show going forward?

Well, I am super excited for Ncuti Gatwa, but also ... not? Let me explain. In the history of show, the switch from Ecclestone to Tennant was difficult. But Tennant nailed it to the extent that, for many people, he is the Doctor. And then there was the switch to the then-unknown Matt Smith. Of course, his first episode was a classic, and he was also a great Doctor.

The last two Doctors (Capaldi and Whittaker) were both incredibly accomplished actors and I was super excited for each of them, but both of them were let down by the writing. And I think that's the lesson- I think Gatwa could be amazing (he is great in Sex Education), but all that matters is the quality of the writing. I think that RTD understands a lot about the Doctor, and I am glad to see him back ... but I hope be brings fresh energy (and new writers) to the show. His run at the end of the Tennant era was getting tired, and the issues with the show now are not necessarily what he is best at solving. While I am glad to see Tennant reprise his role for a while, and Catherine Tate (of course), the show doesn't need more spectacle.

It needs a return to basics. IMO.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
(Note- I originally wrote this as a comment on this thread. I ended up writing a lot about Doctor Who in general, so I am posting it as a separate thread)

I watched the finale of Season 13 (and the Whittaker era) the day after it aired (recorded on BBC America) and I've been thinking about the finale, Doctor Who, and the Whittaker era since then. Here are my thoughts-

Background: I've watched every episode of nuWho. I've seen a fair amount of WhoClassic. I'm not an uber-fan. I've never listened to anything by Big Finish. I haven't seen every single WhoClassic episode, nor do I ever intend to go back and watch them. I can easily identify every Doctor and have a passing knowledge of most of the canon, but the deepest cuts require me to look it up. But I'd say I'm more knowledgeable than the random person, less than the tru-Who fan.

Thoughts on the Finale: It was fine. It was entertaining enough, I guess. I really enjoyed seeing the older Doctors and some of the fan service. I think Jodie Whittaker gave it her all (as she always does). The Master (played by Sacha Dawan) gave a suitably unhinged performance that harkened back to John Simm (alas, seeming to skip the nuance of Missy). And, of course ... ACE! I admit, I loved seeing Ace. And I also have to admit, I was like ... look, it's Ace, and ... uh ... dang it. Clearly, not enough of a fan. Then I was like, oh yeah, Tegan! Seriously, the show was so chock full of cameos that seeing Tennant at the end was like M. Creosote getting the wafer-thin mint- at a certain point, it's too much fan service.

Which gets to the reasons why it was just fine. Look- I talked about all that, and I haven't even gotten to the Daleks! Or the Cybermen! Or Ashad, again. Or the Master-as-Rasputin, who is different than the regular ol' clean-shaven Master, but maybe not ... eh, this is a Chibnall story, don't worry about the plot.

Look, I wanted to love this show, just like I wanted to love the Whittaker-era Who. Any time you get Boney M playing, that's gotta be good, right? But this show combined the worst of Doctor Who finales/specials (too much- I mean, the Daleks AND the Cybermen AND the Master AND Ashad AND new regeneration canon AND a whole bunch of other Doctors) with the worst of the last two Doctors- sidelining the star of the show! Too often, Jodie Whittaker has been sidelined in her own show, and now ... it felt like she was sidelined by the intense amounts of nonsensical plot and fan service in her own finale. I loved her performance, as I always do, but it felt like it was in the service of something hollow. In the end, people aren't talking about her in her own finale, but are instead talking about all the cameos and Tennant and the (admittedly very cool!) Companions Anonymous scene. She deserved better- it was a messy capstone to a messy run.

Thoughts on nuWho in General: It isn't hard to read the above and see that I am starting to get a little disenchanted with nuWho. Before going into some analysis, I thought I'd go mention that maybe it's just me. I have three theories:

1. It's me. Maybe I suck.

2. It's the overall landscape. When nuWho started ... it was 2005. The Matt Smith Era ended ten years ago, before D&D 5e was even released! Look at the difference in the TV landscape. Doctor Who is, at its heart, a show that adults love, but is meant to be watched by children (families) as well. When it first started, there was no Disney+ with millions of superhero shows, or Netflix programming, or a lot of the incredible TV that we now take for granted. It's not that Doctor Who is that much worse, it's that the rest of TV is so much better in comparison.

3. Maybe it is the show. I am going to elaborate on this ....

A. Specials aren't special.
As of the airing of this episode, there have been 153 "regular" (part of a season) nuWho episodes. And 22 specials. But break it down a little more.
The first three doctors (Eccleston, Tennant, Smith) appeared in 91+17 specials episodes in eight years. (13.5 episodes per year).
The next two doctors (Capaldi and Whittaker) appeared in 62+5 specials episodes in ten years. (6.7 episodes per year).

Yeah, I know, COVID didn't help. But even taking that into account, the pace has been slowing greatly, with shorter seasons and prolonged breaks. And this has a deleterious effect on the show- because holiday specials, and season opening shows, and season finales, and Doctor switchovers, tend to be way over-the-top ... and you can only do that so often. Doctor Who does not excel when every show is (or tries to be) The Stolen Earth ... over-the-top only works when it's been earned through the gradual accumulation of the little moments. When seasons get shorter, and are aired less often, and are interrupted by specials more ... it constantly becomes spectacle without a core.

B. Inverse Ninja Law.
We all know the inverse ninja theory. One ninja is a problem. 30 ninjas are just a bunch of mooks. Unfortunately, this problem has crept into Doctor Who to the point of absurdity. This isn't new ... but it's really bad now. At no point in the Season Finale did I even get a moment where I considered the Cybermen (Cybermasters!) or Daleks a threat.

Contrast that with the first season. Midway through Eccleston's run, we had the episode "Dalek." That was about a single Dalek, and it was legitimately chilling. Now, you might think to yourself ... well, this is in keeping with WhoClassic. Daleks could be a little silly. No big whoop with just having a ton of 'em, and having Ace beat 'em up with her baseball bat.

But the problem is with all the antagonists. They keep going to the same ponds, and overfishing them. Think about the Weeping Angels. The first appearance was a stone cold classic. The use of them in the Matt Smith era ... eh. It was fine. By the time they are used again in the Whittaker era, they are just more cannon fodder.

C. The Writing.
And this is what we really get down to. The writing. Early nuWho had its share of clunkers. The last two Doctors had some decent episodes. But when you sit down and make a list of the stone-cold classic nuWho episodes ... what episodes are you coming up with?
Dalek? Silence in the Library? Midnight? The Girl in the Fireplace? Blink? Turn Left? Eleventh Hour? Vincent and the Doctor? The Doctor Dances?

When it comes to the last ten years, how many episodes would crack the top 50? Top 75? Probably the Heaven Sent two-parter. Perhaps Listen? From the Whittaker era .... maybe Demons of Punjab?

We are on a ten-year run of diminishing returns when it comes to the writing. And this is evident in the finale- you shouldn't need that much fan service to send off the Doctor. There should have been enough pathos and characterizations done the entire time. The episode where the Doctor leaves should be about the Doctor in such a way that it is unmistakably about this Doctor and this characterization.

And here, the show's writers did a disservice by having this all happen to the Doctor. Even ignoring the plot issues, how did this specifically apply to the characterizations of this Doctor so far ... I mean, she was like the Dom in the Fast and the Furious, in that she was about family, and she liked gadgets, but when you get right down to it ... The Master out-thought her, she was forced to regenerate not of her own accord even when she wanted to continue being the Doctor, and they ended with a poorly developed nod toward the late-developed relationship with Yaz.


Cool cool, right? So what does all of this mean for the show going forward?

Well, I am super excited for Ncuti Gatwa, but also ... not? Let me explain. In the history of show, the switch from Ecclestone to Tennant was difficult. But Tennant nailed it to the extent that, for many people, he is the Doctor. And then there was the switch to the then-unknown Matt Smith. Of course, his first episode was a classic, and he was also a great Doctor.

The last two Doctors (Capaldi and Whittaker) were both incredibly accomplished actors and I was super excited for each of them, but both of them were let down by the writing. And I think that's the lesson- I think Gatwa could be amazing (he is great in Sex Education), but all that matters is the quality of the writing. I think that RTD understands a lot about the Doctor, and I am glad to see him back ... but I hope be brings fresh energy (and new writers) to the show. His run at the end of the Tennant era was getting tired, and the issues with the show now are not necessarily what he is best at solving. While I am glad to see Tennant reprise his role for a while, and Catherine Tate (of course), the show doesn't need more spectacle.

It needs a return to basics. IMO.
Thank you for writing up all my thoughts for me. ;)
 



MarkB

Legend
Chibnall, and Who in general, seems to be a victim of stakes creep. Once you've done one story in which the Doctor saves the Universe, it can seem hard to make another story interesting without similar stakes.
Yeah, they've tried to step back from that level of stakes a couple of times during nuWho, but they always seem to wind up dialling it back up, either by the end of the season or the next special.

They pretty much peaked in The Stolen Earth / Journey's End with saving all parallel universes, but they keep trying.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
I haven't watched the episode yet (my wife has and has bombarded me with aspects of it), but there are things about the fan service that I think are kind of cool. I like the idea of a Companion support group. I like the idea of prior Doctors having an impact on an episode. But I also agree with the idea that an ultimate episode ending in regeneration should be about that actor completing their run on the show and about their incarnation of the Doctor without the intrusion of too much legacy Doctor.
So maybe the answer is to give the actor a victory lap special or penultimate episode to mix in with their previous incarnation peers and get that out of the way before delving into the death of the Doctor that then requires a regeneration. "The Day of the Doctor" worked well as Matt Smith's penultimate episode as the Doctor and got all of that fan service out of the way.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Pretty much downhill since Matt Smith for the reasons you outlined.

Seen two episodes and the Dalek special of Whittakers and that was enough. Screens for free here on TVNZ in demand.

Even at that price wanted my money back.

Nothing wrong with Whittaker it's the writing and it predates her arrival. Show started to fall apart with Capaldi.
 

2. It's the overall landscape. When nuWho started ... it was 2005. The Matt Smith Era ended ten years ago, before D&D 5e was even released! Look at the difference in the TV landscape. Doctor Who is, at its heart, a show that adults love, but is meant to be watched by children (families) as well. When it first started, there was no Disney+ with millions of superhero shows, or Netflix programming, or a lot of the incredible TV that we now take for granted. It's not that Doctor Who is that much worse, it's that the rest of TV is so much better in comparison.

I'm still reading the rest of your post, but this one resonated with me so focusing on it for my first response. I started to falter towards after the first Whittaker season (wanted to like it but fell off the show by her second). Personally I don't find newer shows better than older ones (I still tend to prefer older entertainment) but the explosion of media culture and internet together did something that made me less interested in being keyed in with what other people were watching. Before there was a lot of joy in watching Doctor Who, then talking about it or debating it the next day. At some point there were so many shows, doing so many things, there were so many conversations happening so quickly, and shows like Doctor Who felt like they were trying to keep up with internet culture, that I think I just felt the need to slow down and step back from what was being offered. I still watch new shows on occasion. I would come back to Who if it looked sufficiently entertaining, but I'm a lot more selective with my time in terms of what media I want to devote hours of viewing to (whereas in the past I'd have thought nothing of doing a week long marathon of old Doctor Who episodes).

I think part of it too is when Doctor Who aired, people my age were very much a target demographic, so naturally the stories were things that I could easily relate and connect to. More recent media is sometimes harder for me to follow (I don't get the more recent cultural references in shows for example, sometimes the language goes completely over my head). So I think another aspect to 2 for me is I'm getting older and I'm not necessarily going to understand newer shows (even new episodes of older programs) because they are speaking to a younger audience. Which I am okay with. There are plenty of movies and shows I can watch that I don't feel lost viewing, and there are shows still aimed at people my age. I just think I'm at the phase in my life, where my parents probably were when I was young, where there was a clearer dividing line between this show is meant for people who grew up in these decades and this one is meant for people who grew up after these decades. A show like Cobra Kai, I don't feel lost (even when they use language that young people use that might otherwise confuse me, there are older characters equally baffled so it gets explained).
 

B. Inverse Ninja Law.
We all know the inverse ninja theory. One ninja is a problem. 30 ninjas are just a bunch of mooks. Unfortunately, this problem has crept into Doctor Who to the point of absurdity. This isn't new ... but it's really bad now. At no point in the Season Finale did I even get a moment where I considered the Cybermen (Cybermasters!) or Daleks a threat.

Contrast that with the first season. Midway through Eccleston's run, we had the episode "Dalek." That was about a single Dalek, and it was legitimately chilling. Now, you might think to yourself ... well, this is in keeping with WhoClassic. Daleks could be a little silly. No big whoop with just having a ton of 'em, and having Ace beat 'em up with her baseball bat.

But the problem is with all the antagonists. They keep going to the same ponds, and overfishing them. Think about the Weeping Angels. The first appearance was a stone cold classic. The use of them in the Matt Smith era ... eh. It was fine. By the time they are used again in the Whittaker era, they are just more cannon fodder.

Someone more versed in Who history might be able point to examples where this might not always be the case if you go back far enough, but at least for Nu Who, I agree. I think you saw that with the Daleks especially, which were supposed to be terrifying, and were initially so terrifying that a single Dalek was enough. I don't mind revisiting monsters, and Nu Who certainly introduced its share of innovative creatures, but some of the episodes I liked the least were ones that were "More of X". I think Nu Who over all suffered from this need to increase the volume as it went on. And everything started feeling like it was too much (I loved a lot of the crazy Moffat stuff, but some of that too became a victim of its own need to outdo itself: I would liken it to a musical genre getting more and more extreme until it feels like self parody).

That said, you can never have too many ninjas. Duel to the Death makes this abundantly clear (its just a matter of how you use them).
 

Chibnall, and Who in general, seems to be a victim of stakes creep. Once you've done one story in which the Doctor saves the Universe, it can seem hard to make another story interesting without similar stakes.

It did start to feel like a person running a D&D campaign that just keeps raising the stakes (once you unleash the dragon apocalypse, then you have to unleash the demon apocalypse, and then you have to unleash the planet destroying apocalypse, etc).
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top