Change! It’s a word that Doctor Who fans will be well used to. Since the show’s inception in 1963, the Doctor has regenerated 12 times, the Tardis has undergone numerous redecorations, and the series has passed through the hands of several showrunners.
Later on this year, the show will change again. Jodie Whittaker will be handing the keys of the Tardis to somebody else and Chris Chibnall will be stepping down as showrunner.
We don’t know who the new Doctor will be at this point but we do know that Russell T. Davies, the man who rebooted Doctor Who in 2005, will be returning to oversee the next series.
As a long term Doctor Who fan, I’m sad to say that the last three seasons have been among the worst in the show’s history. And I say this as somebody who had to put up with Bonnie Langford doing Yoga in the Tardis and Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor playing the spoons back in the late ’80s before the show was laid to rest for an extended period.
Personally, I am glad to see Chibnall go and in a way, am glad that Whittaker will be leaving too. She is a supremely-talented actress but as the Doctor, she deserved better. The majority of the stories she was given were weak and while she did her best with what she was given, the time seems right for a fresh start.
Of course, there may be those who have enjoyed Whittaker’s run as the Doctor. They might question the need for a change of Doctor and a change of showrunner. And that’s fine – we all have our own opinions. But I believe now is the right time for the show to regenerate. I have already alluded to the reasons why but let me go into a little bit more detail on the problems the show has been having.
In 1986, future Doctor Who writer and showrunner Chris Chibnall appeared on the BBC series Open Air. The show’s guests that episode were Pip and Jane Baker, two long-running scriptwriters on Doctor Who, and they came under criticism when Chibnall complained about the state of the programme. As can be seen in this video clip, he stated the show had become “cliched” and “routine.”
At one point, Chibnall says “it would be nice to have something different from the norm.”
His words are very interesting because when we consider his tenure on the show, it’s clear that he tried to provide something that definitely was different from the norm. Going against the show’s traditions, he introduced the first female Doctor and made wide, sweeping changes to the series’ lore. Was there anything wrong with this?
Well, yes and no. I have no problems with a female Doctor, although the choice to change the Time Lord’s gender seemed to be less about serving the show’s best interests and more about point scoring – especially given the writing!
It seemed odd to change the Doctor’s gender after years of having a male Doctor but of course, that was explained away when Chibnall introduced ‘other’ Doctors into the Time Lord’s timeline. These were both male and female so despite the assertion of the ‘first Doctor’ that he was “the original,” it suddenly transpired that he wasn’t.
It was this change to Doctor Who lore that infuriated many, including myself. But Chibnall didn’t stop there. In his attempt to revolutionise the show, he also came up with the idea of the ‘Timeless Child’ storyline, which questioned everything we knew about the Doctor’s origins.
Personally, I hated the way Chibnall rewrote the show’s history. As I said at the beginning, Doctor Who fans are accustomed to change but Chibnall’s changes were a little hard to take. And here’s the kicker – with only one episode to go before Chibnall hands over to Davies, I don’t think he has any intention of concluding the ‘Timeless Child’ story arc. So, why did he introduce this in the first place?
In my opinion, Chibnall has damaged the show and Davies will be left to pick up the pieces.
Doctor Who has always been a bit hit and miss with its story writing. Up until the Chibnall era, there had been more good than bad, however, especially when talking about the series post-2005.
Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi were able to make an impact as the Time Lord because of the quality of the scripts they were given. Some of their episodes can be considered classics and like me, you can probably bring to mind particular stories that stood out during their tenure as the Doctor.
But what about Jodie Whittaker? As I mentioned earlier, she has been let down by the scripts she has been handed. If asked to pick my favourite, I would struggle as very few stand out. ‘Rosa’ was certainly a highlight as it delicately tackled racial prejudice. It had an extra impact because of the skin colour of two of the Doctor’s companions. But when considering the other episodes during Whittaker’s three seasons as the Doctor, it’s hard to pick out another that is particularly memorable.
Sadly, the story writing has gotten worse over Whittaker’s run. Again, this is largely down to Chris Chibnall who penned most of the episodes during his time as showrunner.
Consider the most recent episode, ‘Legend Of The Sea Devils,’ for example, which was very poorly written and clumsily edited. The Sea Devils used to be scary but you are unlikely to have nightmares this time around as they failed to make much of an impression in Chibnall’s pirate-themed episode.
Sadly, very few of the Doctor’s other foes made much of an impression either because of the dull and convoluted stories they took part in.
If you were to name your favourite Doctor Who companion, I would be surprised if you mentioned Graham, Ryan, Yaz, or Dan. I certainly wouldn’t as for me, they didn’t have the opportunity to stand out in the way that Rose, Amy, Rory, and Clara did before them. Again, the show’s writing was the problem as they never had a lot to work with.
This was especially true for Mandip Gill who played Yaz, whose character was poorly written in the earlier episodes of the show.
Likewise, John Bishop never had much to work with either. He’s a naturally funny man too, not that you would know it when watching him stand idly by during much of Season 13.
Of course, there has been some attempt to add depth to Yaz’s character in the last two episodes with the revelation that she has romantic feelings for the Doctor. But once again, this feels like a last ditch change to try and inject some interest rather than add anything meaningful to the series.
If Yaz’s feelings were revealed much earlier, more could have been done to add this extra dimension to her character and the show. However, her sexuality comes across like an afterthought, as does the reveal that the Doctor also has romantic feelings towards her. According to the latest episode, the Doctor has stronger feelings for Yaz than she does for River Song!
We have no reason to believe this could be true when looking at their relationship throughout the last three seasons. Once again, we are invited to hop aboard the Afterthought Express!
Failing viewing figures
In 2020, it was revealed that the show had suffered its lowest viewing figures since 2005. When considering the lack of quality prevalent in the series during Chibnall’s time as showrunner, this is not surprising. The recent New Years’ Day special pulled in 3.4 million viewers, which is a sharp decline from the 9 million viewers that used to tune into the show.
This isn’t the first time viewing figures have fallen so rapidly as Colin Baker’s seasons also suffered in this way. However, this was because the former chairman of the BBC, who famously hated Doctor Who, scheduled the show to go out at the same time as Coronation Street! The show would be axed a few years later and up until recently, there were those in the media who predicted Doctor Who would be axed again.
Thankfully, when the show does regenerate, it has a chance to regain the audience pull it once had.
It’s Time For A Regeneration
So, what’s next for Doctor Who? Nobody quite knows for sure but the BBC, who are presumably scared by the backlash and viewing figures that their biggest sci-fi show has received, has sensibly made the decision to bring Russell T. Davies back. He successfully brought fresh life to the show back in 2005 and he will likely do so again.
We don’t know what he’ll do with the show – there have been rumours of an MCU-styled Doctor Who universe – but it will be a while before we find out as season 14 is currently scheduled to make its debut on November 23, 2023.
As for who will take on the role of the eponymous Time Lord, we don’t yet know. Personally, I think Ben Whishaw and Olivia Colman would both be great choices but as is typical for Doctor Who, only time will tell!