The premiere date for Doctor Who Series 11 is just weeks away. Ordinarily, I'd be very excited right now. However, I've reached some saddening but unavoidable conclusions about where I stand on the new era of the show at this point.
Will I watch the premiere? Yes, if only to review it.
Will I go on to watch the full series?
Honestly, I'm not sure. I think it's time to admit that there's a strong possibility I won't. I will give the show's new direction a chance, but if my current expectations for it are proven correct, I don't see myself staying on board.
I wanted to be excited about Series 11. I initially defended the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor, despite the fact that I was uncertain about it. I still think it could be a success if it were handled correctly, but over the past year and a half, I've seen no evidence that this will be the case.
(And no, I won't be doing the patented I'm-not-sexist speech. It's an insult to fans to assume that every time they voice dissent with the casting, they're doing it out of sexism. Those who disagree with the gender-change should stop apologizing for it. Their arguments are, by and large, perfectly reasonable and civil, and they have every right to express them without having to pre-emptively defend themselves from knee-jerk accusations.)
Let's face it; Doctor Who has shed a lot of viewers in recent years. Now, I'll be perfectly honest and say that ideally, in my opinion, the best path forward would have been for the BBC to cast a young, David-Tennant-like, male Thirteenth Doctor and try to recapture some of the magic which made earlier seasons soar. Don't get me wrong; I love the Twelfth Doctor. But poor storytelling decisions caused Peter Capaldi's era to suffer. I enjoyed Twelve's seasons more than most fans, yet even so, I have to admit that they aren't as universally popular as the David Tennant or Matt Smith years.
Could a female Doctor work? Yes, I think she could, if her introduction were implemented with a cautious and deliberate strategy. However, thus far, that has not been the case. In a perfect world, the BBC would have taken great pains to give fans a sense of continuity with previous Doctors, marketing Thirteen's introduction as yet another chapter in the Doctor's life rather than a complete reboot. In this utopian alternate reality, social-justice themes would have been thrust to the background in the marketing campaign, and the trailers and other promotional materials would have simply focused on Whittaker as “the next Doctor”. Familiar characters and monsters would have been woven into Series 11 alongside new ones to help get Thirteen off to a strong start. Similarly, established and popular writers would have worked alongside new faces to make sure there was a sense of familiarity for long-time fans to latch on to in the new episodes. And we would have gotten plenty of trailers to make sure fans were as hyped as possible for what's to come.
Instead, we have a couple of paltry teasers, a ham-fisted, off-putting “glass ceiling” promo, and a leaked clip which is now the subject of a witch hunt by the BBC. (Because heaven forbid we see Thirteen for more than a few seconds, apparently. Do I detect a lack of confidence in the new series?) We have claims, probably accurate ones, that no familiar characters or creatures whatsoever will feature in the new season. We have an entirely new staff of writers and directors, some of them with little writing experience under their belts, led by the man responsible for some of the least popular episodes of the revived series. And we have a slew of comments from people involved with the show which seem to indicate that the focus this year will be on “education” rather than clever, well-written sci-fi and respect for the program's passionate fanbase.
Despite all this, it is possible that Series 11 will still be good. But almost every piece of news released about the new season has been disappointing in some way, and there's no sign that the BBC is listening to the mixed response. The fans who politely disagree with the new direction are perpetually squelched and branded as sexist trolls, just like those who don't care for the recent changes to other major franchises like Star Wars. The ratio of likes to dislikes on official Doctor Who videos tells a dismal story about fan expectations for Series 11, as do the majority of the comments on those videos. And sadly, because the show is funded by a BBC license fee rather than the more free-market system of American programming, a lack of viewership won't necessarily inspire the producers to woo back lost fans in Series 12. They're not beholden in any way to viewer opinions.
I hope the people who expect the new era to be a dumpster fire are proven wrong. But I'm done trying to convince myself that this outcome is likely.
One of the most powerful moments in “Twice Upon a Time”, the Twelfth Doctor's last episode, was his final line. This line has, sadly, become the slogan for many long-time fans these days. I must reluctantly admit that I have come to adopt it as well. (I realize I'm not the first person to use it as a blog post title.) When the Doctor said those words, he was giving himself permission to be somebody else; to live beyond the life he was about to lose. But before he said that and allowed himself to regenerate, he summed up who he truly is in a beautiful speech and exhorted his next self to carry on where he left off.
I'm no longer sure that this is going to happen. I've come to accept that the Doctor Who I knew and loved, which inspired the unique, quirky, wonder-filled atmosphere of my own stories, may have ended with those five fateful words. If that turns out to be the case, it won't be simply because the Doctor is now a woman. It will be because Doctor Who is no longer Doctor Who.
This doesn't mean I'm “leaving the fandom,” as it were. For a while now, I've been more excited about what Big Finish Productions is doing with both the classic and revived series in the audio medium than with the developments in the TV show. The company's skilled team of writers (who really should have been brought on board for Series 11) consistently produce high-quality stories featuring fan-favorite characters from across the Whoniverse. They often throw in the kind of plot twists and story elements that people hoped for but never actually got from the show itself. And they have all kinds of exciting plans for future productions. At Big Finish, all past eras of the show, going back to the First Doctor, live on in faithful reproductions. So if you're feeling nostalgic for a particular Doctor, companion, monster, etc., just go there and you're likely to find what you're looking for. And even if you don't, Big Finish will probably still make it someday. (They have a multi-Doctor, epic-length anniversary special planned for July 2019 that sounds amazing.)
As far as the Doctor's future journeys are concerned, however, I'm no longer sure that I will continue watching. As I said, I will definitely give the new series a chance. Up until recently, I was pretty much determined to like it, and I still have faint hope that it will be better than the marketing makes it sound. But I've decided that the time has come to temper my expectations.
If I'm wrong, I'll be the first to come back with another post happily admitting it. I'm a fan. I want the show to succeed. Given how much it's inspired me over the years, it holds a very special place in my heart.
However, I'm giving it my permission, if not my blessing, to be something other than the show I knew and loved. Maybe it will continue to be something I enjoy, or maybe it will find a new and different group of fans. But for now, in this time of uncertainty, I have to admit that the new Doctor is unlikely to be recognizable as “our” Doctor. That character's time is over, perhaps for good, aside from his returns in the expanded universe of audios, books, and comics. As a result, the show may now be losing its way. If that's the case, I can only hope that someday, Doctor Who will return to the foundation of what made so many fans love it in the first place.
Laugh hard. Run fast. Be kind.
Doctor…I let you go.