The Doctor will see you now. In the third and final chapter of this series we review the recent return of Doctor Who, with Series 10, and delve into what we can expect from the future (or past, or even present) of this epic franchise. Tell a friend! [Spoilers below]
If you’ve been following our Handbook of Whovianism (part 1 and 2 are here), you’d know how the show loves to hit what one may call, the soft reboot button. Nothing changes for existing Whovians but new entries to the TARDIS are given a chance to climb aboard with least resistance, as the story/setting/premise/companion are refreshed. This time around, The Doctor is an eccentric professor in a university, sharing philosophy and poetry wisdom during quantum physics lectures. Bill Potts is the wide-eyed college cafeteria worker, sneaking into his lectures out of awe of his genius. Out of the many chances at becoming generic and cheesy with such an equation, the first episode ‘The Pilot’ (aired on April 15th) begins with what may be one of the quaintest scenes of any Doctor who series opener.
Instead of immediately being thrown in to an exploding war zone with a new companion and nowhere to run (though that happens too), the episode opens with The Doctor and Bill across a desk, and their chemistry is as authentic as any Doctor-companion relationship we’ve seen before. The heart that Mackie brings to Bill is instantly evident, and will surely be the driving force of the Doctor’s actions, and in turn the plot of this series. Nardole, played by Matt Lucas is excellent as a third hilarious cog in the wheel, and the interaction between all of them seems to hit home. The pace is steady and calculated, months going by as we learn more about the Doctor from Bill’s perspective. Until things start to go Who-ey.
We all know the questions coming, but Who manages to keep it fresh even after 54 years. Impressive, since “Bond, James Bond” got predictable after two movies.
The Doctor’s been known to take a break from saving the world, often due to the lasting impact of the previous series' turmoil. But this time there’s a “vault” that has tied The Doctor to campus grounds, one he must protect due to “promises made” (of course the what, why and to whom is still to come). The monster that eventually tugs at our hearts, Heather, is Bill’s crush-turned-stalking-alien-creature. This understated sci-fi drama story works brilliantly as a new companion’s first introduction to the Who-niverse.
The DW YouTube page provides quite a few behind-the-scene looks, if you’d like to de-mystify the monsters so that you can get some sleep at night.
The innumerable nods to past Doctors (all the sonic screwdrivers) and the framed portraits of his granddaughter, Susan and River Storm on his desk, are surprisingly maudlin and effective at that. All this is a deliberate move to give something unexpected to the audiences who’ve been waiting for more than a year. Not all things are alien though (actually, most are), as the habitually dramatic rise in action takes us from a tranquil office, all the way to the “deadliest fire in the universe,” within minutes. We see Bill deal with the reality of what we all know and love, and handle it in a way that convinces this Professor to return to being The Doctor, and inviting Bill to a series of adventures.
Peter Capaldi is arguably more The Doctor than he has ever been. DW communities all over the world have criticized the writing of the show in the past few series, showrunner/writer Steven Moffat’s decisions in particular, arguing that it hasn’t let Capaldi make the Doctor his own. In this returning episode however, the majority seems to agree that Capaldi is very much in his element, as a fresh story arc that is unrelated to previous Doctors has allowed him to spread his wings and enjoy his Scottish jigs.
All in all, response to ‘The Pilot’ probably has the cast and crew following Capaldi’s steps.
Series 10 is a big one for New Who (2005-current). Not just the double digit swag, but this will be the last series and a swansong for Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat. The fandom expects a fitting goodbye as well as a strong first step into what and more importantly, WHO is next.
Apparently, sadly, it still won’t be a woman.
Other than the infinite “Next Doctor” gossips, there’s talk of this being the only series with Bill. In one of the trailers for Series 10, Bill’s voiceover goes, “I’m having the time of my life and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Even if it kills me.” That bright red flag aside, it does make sense that a new showrunner and a new Doctor would mean a new companion, so that the oncoming team has the freedom to play it out as they like. That may cause a worldwide groan based on how well she’s been received on the strength of ‘The Pilot’.
In the Classic Era (1963-1989), as many as 9 producers helmed the show, the last of whom was John Nathan Turner, showrunner for the final decade before the it got cancelled. Many credit this era to the declining popularity of Who, and at least partly blame Turner for not shaking things up. Steven Moffat, in 2016 said in an interview on InnerSpace that he wouldn’t want to be the one that runs something like Doctor Who into the ground, and that is why he is stepping down. A whole bunch of Whovians rejoiced at Moffat’s decision to depart, many were dismayed too, but it immediately spewed rumours of who else could take on such a responsibility.
Chris Chibnall, announced as the new showrunner starting 2018, is a prolific writer and director. Chibnall has already contributed some great stories to the show. Debuting his writing during David Tennant’s era, in 2007, with a real-time episode named ‘42’ (for the number of minutes the episode runs), Chibnall has been plunging deep into ways of energizing the classic Who format through different lenses. ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, ‘The Power of Three’ are all well written episodes, both showing different extremes of his sci-fi prowess, but Chibnall certainly faces pressure from an unbelievably vast and opinionated community.
Helps that he was one of them! In 1986, at 16 years old and representing the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, here he is laying out his views on Season 23 (skip to 2:04)
Other than DW, Chibnall was a heavy contributor to Torchwood, the Who-spinoff show that ran for 4 seasons, and he has been at the helm of Broadchurch, a series that stars former Doctor David Tennant. Series 3 of Broadchurch just wrapped up a few days ago, and Moffat’s Sherlock Series 4 came out early 2017, both of which may have been why the gap year in Who took place. So in an alternate reality then, if Sherlock or Broadchurch weren’t blooming, this regeneration of showrunners could’ve happened at the end of Series 9.
Chibnall is also rumoured to change the show’s writing process, going towards an Americanized writers’ room rather than the current, one or two writers per episode. We won’t know if that’s an effective approach until Series 11 begins, but it’s reassuring to know that Moffat, Capaldi, Tennant, Matt Smith and almost all of the DW production team have shown tremendous faith in Chibnall and his ability to handle the show with caution and compassion. One thing we do know is that BBC Worldwide and BBC America, despite whatever outcome, will not stop supporting this behemoth of a franchise. Back in 2010, the BBC expected a change in showrunner and approach would lead to a fall in ratings, but told Moffat “So long as it’s a good show we won’t mind if the ratings stop being quite as amazing as they were. That’s absolutely fine.”
In this BBC Writersroom interview Chris Chibnall goes into his philosophies of writing:
I admit it, I disliked Peter Capaldi at the top of Series 8 (2014), his first series. "He isn't MY doctor" I exclaimed, akin to a forlorn teenager. I'm proud to say that now, he's one of my favourites, and that very ability of the show is what keeps me hooked and preaching to all who may care. I've come to trust the writers to have a sense of preservation towards a legacy. Of course, that whole premise is at risk, once a new Doctor, showrunner and possibly even companion take over in 2018. The question is how sturdy are the hands of those that will carry the weight of Doctor Who, on to another 50 years?
So here we are, at the end of our three-part series on this symbol of geek lore and sci-fi pride, Doctor Who, as it also stands on the brim of another era. We hope it’s provided you with insight and information to enhance your Whovian escapades. We can’t predict if Moffat and Capaldi will make a glorious exit or if Chibnall will John Nathan Turner the entire thing, but atleast we have another year of The Doctor and his eyebrows!
Scribe: Ankit Dayal
Captains Log: Ankit Dayal is a professional procrastinator, musician, high ranking amateur geek by day; and asleep by night. Follow him, not for the stories, on Instagram @ankitdayal.