Matt Smith has announced he is leaving Doctor Who.
I’m not bothered about that- he’s done four years and moved the character into new places, he’ll be in the 50th anniversary special and regenerate, as David Tennant’s Doctor did, in the seasonal specials at Christmas.
That’s a good innings in modern Who.
Complexity and loose ends:
So I’m not worried about a regeneration. No, my arrrrggggghhhh is because I find the uninformed press and forum stuff so irritating.
Doctor Who is not nearly as complicated as people seem to think. My five year old can follow the story, albeit that he will repeat-watch episodes until he does.
It can be a bit annoying when the writers seem to leave loose ends but usually there’s a tiny payoff somewhere that deals with it, even if some time later.
For example why did the Silence want to keep the Doctor from Trenzalore? We assumed they shared Mme Korvarian’s loathing of this warrior figure that dominated history but don’t know for sure and at the moment. After “The Name of the Doctor” it looks like it was actually to keep the Great Intelligence from removing him from time altogether, so their plan was to kill him before he reached Trenzalore as a less damaging solution to a Doctor-free universe? The Big Bang 2 universe reboot at the end of new series 5 deals with the exploding TARDIS/ cracks in the fabric of the universe issue by making it all never have happened. So we don’t have to know more than that unless we are dedicated fanfic writers.
Mostly it is clear though…
But most of the stuff being thrown around on the fan sites at present is just annoying because it suggests that they have just not watched the programme they claim to love.
Is River the Doctor’s wife? Yes, of course, both characters have said so repeatedly. It doesn’t matter if the marriage is in an aborted time stream, there is a whole story with them happening off screen as shown by the shorts filmed as DVD extras (in the series 6 box set).
Is Clara really the Doctor/ the Doctor’s mother/ a regeneration of River/ the Rani? No she’s the girl born to save the Doctor.
Is John Hurt a past or future Doctor? At the end of “The Name of the Doctor” the caption introduces him “as the Doctor”. We know that the eleventh Doctor recognises him, even though he’d tried to forget him. We suspect that he is what the Doctor saw in his room at the hotel in “The God Complex”. We also know that the Doctor does not always recognise his future self – David “10″ Tennant and Peter “5″ Davison in the Children In Need short “Time Crash” show this… So John Hurt is a past Doctor. Probably. The costume suggests a combination of Paul “8″ McGann and Christopher “9″ Eccleston. I doubt that is accidental either. And in the episode the Doctor is clear that the figure is him, but not The Doctor any more, the one that broke the promise that goes with the name.
Given the costume clue and the words, I suspect that he’s a version of the Doctor from the Time War. The one that killed Everyone and sealed the Time War. The biggest mass murderer in history. The one from being whom we know the Ninth Doctor was running and seeking redemption.
Guessing is half the fun though.
Do numbers matter?
There’s so much debate about whether that means that the Doctors need to be renumbered. Is Tennant really Eleven? Is Smith really Twelve? And why then was there so much made of Eleven during Smith’s tenure? (His first episode was “The Eleventh Hour”, his God Complex room was number 11, Clara says that Amy Williams’s book’s best chapter is eleven…)
Partly this is because in the old series’ of Doctor Who, the Timelords always claimed to have 13 lives. A Sixth Doctor story “Trial of a Timelord” introduced The Valeyard (pronounced Va-Lay-Yard), an incarnation of all the dark aspects of the Doctor apparently from between his twelfth and final regenerations.
So why the fuss? The key thing here is that in most TV series leaving open the possibility of twelve other actors being able to take over a role would be plenty. But Doctor Who has existed in many formats over 50 years. 50! And with an average tenure of four years thirteen actors is not enough to keep this successful series running much longer, and that cannot happen when it is so loved and such a money spinner for the BBC. What can be done?
Well, just as the Valeyard can be the Doctor without the numbering, surely John Hurt’s character can be an incarnation without numbering. That means no one has to be renumbered, but doesn’t deal with the thirteen regeneration problem.
Bringing back David Tennant- a frequent fan cry- might also be possible storywise, but again not a
Long term solution.
The best bet is to just grab the Doctor’s throwaway line from the BBC spinoff series “The Sarah Jane Adventures” episodes “Death of the Doctor” in which he tells Clyde Langer that he can regenerate 507 times. Can it just be changed like that? With Matt Smith as the Doctor and Russell T Davis as the writer, SJA stories are certainly canon. And besides, wibbly wobbly timey wimey. It’s only a TV series.
And the Next Doctor?
What about who should play the Doctor after Matt Smith?
There’s the usual ridiculous speculation in the press, from Rupert “Ron Weasley” Grint to Catherine Tate, Zac Effron to Dame Helen Mirren. Facebook fan sites keep suggesting American actors, and there are questions about appropriate ethnicity, gender, age etc. that are making the news.
I don’t need the Doctor to be a woman. I know, feminist blogger, you might find that surprising. I feel like a big fuss is being made.
A Female Doctor?
The Doctor’s appeal is not (unless you are a truly tragic fan girl) sex appeal, it is the joy of the adventure. There’s no reason why it could not be a woman from that perspective. Timelords can switch gender- the Doctor talks about this in the context of the Corsair in “The Doctor’s Wife” (“ooh she was a BAD girl”). So Timelord mythology allows for it.
I’m sure Helen Mirren, Danni Harmer, Olivia Coleman and all the other amazing women being touted in the press would be brilliant as a Doctor-type character. But for me, the Doctor is male because there are plotlines that get put forward for female characters and others for male and until scriptwriters, editors, producers etc. can write as well for three dimensional female characters without resorting to sexual threat, indecisiveness or handling the issue of motherhood effectively as the major motivator for action, then I’d rather not see the character changed so dramatically.
To accompany the male lead, there have been a series of strong female companions in the modern series. That’s strong in the sense of headstrong and a bit arrogant, but it is better than just screaming “Doctor! Help!” at every opportunity like sidekicks of old. And he hasn’t had romantic relationships with all of them. Moving on from Rose and Martha by introducing a companion as best mate, a married couple (and a wife!) allowed the sexual tension elements to take a backseat, which was good for story purposes.
Does the Doctor have to be white?
There’s a brief running joke in Doctor Who that he’s not been ginger yet. Rather like Greebo, Nanny Ogg’s cat in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series when briefly transformed into a human, the Doctor has at his last two regenerations expressed disappointment at not being ginger. Some people seemed to misinterpret Matt Smith’s words “still not ginger” but no, this was a pro-redhead statement. Casting Damian Lewis or Rupert Grint as the Doctor would neatly cover this issue, but I think both are unlikely.
Leaving ginger hair aside, race is a different matter. I don’t think that the programme, its makers, viewers or the BBC are institutionally racist. The Doctor is a timelord, not a human, but his appearance changes. There is no reason for his skin to always be Caucasian. And there are fantastic and already successful actors who would be amazing in the role: Adrian Lester, Dev Patel, Patterson Joseph, Chiwetel Ejiofor, each would make the role his own. Doctor Who has raised race in earth time travel before via Martha Jones, the first black companion, in “The Shakespeare Code”… And decided not to make it an issue.
Throughout the Russell T Davis and Stephen Moffat eras, colourblind casting of characters means that key roles (such as Mickey Smith), minor characters (Donna’s husband Sean Temple or Doctor Moon) and mixed race relationships are not a big deal but the norm.
Despite the increased amount of kissing (companions male and female, air kissing everyone) and soap opera will-they-won’t-they required to make a hit of new Who in these sex-filled times, other than references to his family in the past, the Doctor is not about having sex – indeed the Doctor sees no reason not to give a newly married couple bunk beds! Whether Captain Jack Harkness’s 51st century “omnisexuality” or Amy’s agreement to be the bridesmaid at her friend’s gay wedding, Doctor Who presents homosexuality as a normal part of life – just as it should be, and not a “gay agenda” as some critics tried to say.
So sexuality is not an issue in casting the Doctor. Russell Tovey, who has already appeared as Midshipman Alonso Frame in the Starship Titanic Christmas special “Voyage of the damned” and high up in the betting to be the 12th doctor would be the first openly gay Doctor if he got the role.
The Doctor is over a thousand years old…
When Matt Smith was cast, he was the first Doctor younger than me. The press kept asking if he was too young. His acting showed that age is no impediment for an actor of his calibre, especially given that the character is now more than a thousand years old. One of the worries was that a younger character inevitably mean more of a relationship focus to the show. It didn’t – the Doctor treated relationships like an eight year old, a bit yuck, a bit oooooh.
The bookie’s favourite at present is Ben Daniels. He’s exactly the sort of actor I would cast: older, a little grizzled and giving the impression of both capability and having more going on than it at first appears… he was brilliant in The State Within, and he’s already appeared in Merlin which is kind of a standard for British science fiction and fantasy roles… But that almost certainly means he won’t get it.
The Doctor Who team never seem to go for the predictable choice. And the show is better for it.
The Doctor is English- isn’t he?
The Doctor is an alien. But a very English one. And the show has a very English feel and sense of humour. This doesn’t mean that the lead would have to be British, but it does mean that there is an expectation that the character sounds a certain way. David Tennant played the role English despite his own accent being Scottish. Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor had a northern English accent rather than RP, but still was English.
I feel a bit differently about whether an American could/ should be cast.
Neither old nor new Who has been afraid of going to America. We’ve had Daleks in Manhattan, the Silence in Utah. Captain Jack has an American/ Canadian accent despite being from the Boeshan Peninsula space colony.
This is entirely reasonable. The Doctor can travel anywhere in time and space, he loves earth and would not avoid one of the big continents. And the BBC cannot afford to ignore it offend its biggest overseas market for programmes, particularly if co-funding is available.
British actors are making it in America. Damien Lewis (Homeland) and Hugh Laurie (House) do excellent American accents but are British. Jonny Lee Miller is clearly having a whale of a time playing (British) Sherlock Holmes in (US show) Elementary, even if he does have to talk about “cell phones” to be understood. And we know Gweneth Paltrow and Renee Zellwegger both did convincingly British accents as Jane Austen’s Emma/ Helen in Sliding Doors and Bridget Jones.
But weirdly for a show based around an alien that can go anywhere and any when, Doctor Who is English. As the Starz co-funded series of Torchwood showed, relocating to the USA and having a strongly American cast can be going too far from the British roots, and can serve to undermine the integrity of the show that attracted viewers in the first place.
You may still have an interesting show, but not what viewers thought they were watching. One thing is clear from fan forums – if you want to do that, do it as a reboot for a US film, not the BBC TV series.
So who will be the next Doctor? Given the announcement, it is likely that the new actor has already Ben cast and is desperately trying not to tell a soul. Well, black/white, gay/straight, male/female, this role is one of the prizes of British television. Whoever gets it will be one lucky actor indeed.