Last night, the new Doctor Who was cast: Ncuti Gatwa.
Who? The Doctor, silly.
He’s a massively talented actor who has won awards and is known mostly for his work on Netflix’s Sex Education. Now, he’s on to play one of the most prestigious roles in British showbiz, up there with James Bond. He’s also taking the mantle as the first black Doctor, taking over from the first woman Doctor, Jodie Whittaker.
And while I always get giddy and excited for a new Doctor being cast, I’m forever cautiously aware of the “Doctor Who cycle”. What’s that, you ask? This:
here’s what i’m referring to as the “Doctor Who Cycle” pic.twitter.com/3Ui5X2B6j4— metal.txt (@metaltxt) May 8, 2022
See, I love Doctor Who, but I also can’t stand it. It’s a feeling shared by many a Doctor Who and Star Wars fan.
When it comes to Doctor Who, I don’t think there’s much hope left for the show in terms of interest. During the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi years, we got to watch a decline in show quality with episodes and seasons shifting from being about the matter of the episode into being about the mythology of the Doctor: a forever existing being that has seen all of time and is feared across the galaxy. The episode plots were made insignificant by the Doctor’s presence.
That mostly sounds cool, right? I know that sounds cool, but it sounds cool for the wrong reasons.
Unfortunately, the way it was presented in the Smith and the Capaldi years was poorly done, relying on the Doctor being a wildcard who could solve any problem simply because they were the Doctor. That’s hardly an exaggeration, that was actually the way out of at least one episode plot. The writing quality ground to a point where it was not only less interesting, but it was also fundamentally flawed.
What makes this tough is that I think many Doctor Who fans are a bit confused about what their true grievance with the show is. For a long time, I thought my problem with Doctor Who was Smith, but looking back on his seasons, he acted his heart out and did what he could with what was given to him. The same can be said for Capaldi and Whittaker.
What makes these eras of Doctor Who so different from each other? It’s not an exaggeration to say Russell T. Davies.
During the years of David Tennant (the Doctor before Smith) and Christopher Eccleston (the Doctor before Tennant), Davies was the showrunner and a writer on Doctor Who. He did an incredible job of mixing just the right amounts of drama, sadness, consequences, character flaws and weakness with each other to produce an all-around masterpiece, episode on episode, by the side of his writers. There was also a healthy amount of camp, which was supported by Tennant and Eccleston’s impressive acting (along with their companions, of course).
I could gush for hundreds of words about Davies’ work on Doctor Who, breaking down individual episodes and plotlines, but I’m not going to. We’d be here for centuries.
When Davies exited the position with Tennant, he was succeeded by Stephen Moffat. Moffat wrote some of the best episodes during Davies’ time as the showrunner (Silence in the Library and Don’t Blink in particular) but Moffat’s style of showrunning really did revolve around the Doctor being god-like with little-to-no weaknesses. The Doctor, in Moffat’s mind, was a flawless being capable of anything and doing whatever he wanted, while Davies’ Doctor was flawed and a travelling member of the universe, happening to be the protagonist. In my mind, Davies’ Doctor revolved around the show, instead of the show revolving around him.
This point is a weird one to hyperfixate on, but I think it bleeds through into the rest of the show. The stakes were never high under Moffat, no matter how insurmountable they were presented, because they’d always be conquered by the Doctor being so darn cool. Viewers had no motivation to care.
Yes, Doctor Who superfans, I know what you’re thinking, Chris Chibnall was the showrunner during the Jodie Whittaker years, but in my opinion, his style, while not as bonkers as Moffat and not as well-rounded as Davies, was just a bit boring and nonsensical. There were episodes that would just drone on senselessly, to the point that I can’t actually remember the plot of a single episode.
So, then, let’s come back to the modern-day. A new Doctor has been cast, a brilliant one as we’ve come to expect, with Davies announced to return as showrunner.
What’s next for Doctor Who?
While I don’t think Davies will approach his next run of Doctor Who episodes with a scorched earth mindset, whereby he overrides all of the weird decisions made by Moffat in his time away from the writer’s table, I think this is one of the best positions the show could have found itself in after a seemingly unimpressive run of seasons.
We’ve got Doctor Who’s best showrunner returning with a new Doctor, basically giving him a fresh slate to work on. A new Doctor to write around and a whole new season to jot out. It’s a good position and I’m optimistic about it.
I did think similarly when Chibnall was announced as the lead showrunner for Whittaker’s doctor (and was wrong), but in my mind, if there’s anyone that can get me interested in Doctor Who again, it’s Davies.
We can expect Davies and Gatwa’s first season in 2023.