Doctor, I Let You Go: Why I’ve Lowered My Expectations for the New Doctor Who

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.

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Comments (17)

SO. MUCH. YES. To this. Sir.

Thanks!! It was kind of sad to write, but I don’t there’s anything to be gained from sugar-coating the truth at this point.

Awesome post, I really enjoyed it!

I am remaining hopefully optimistic that the new season will be great and just blow us all away. Unfortunately I agree that all the news points to the exact opposite–a flop. Change for a new doctor is good; this much change is not good. Introducing some new characters and monsters is good; taking away all characters and monsters we’re familiar with is not good.

Thank you! And you’re absolutely right; it’s so frustrating. I’m hoping that in the worst-case scenario, it will turn out like Season 8 did–not very successful, but followed up by a new season that corrects its mistakes. But that will only happen if the producers are willing to listen to fans. Moffat, despite his faults (and despite the fact that fans were often far too vicious toward him), still listened. So far, I’m not sure Chibnall is following his example.

I had no high hopes. I’m remaining a little stubbornly cynical. However, I feel disappointed about not expecting more, or not wanting to expect more. Doctor Who is a show that is so integral to how I feel about my own writing, the type of world, feel, characters I want to create, and it holds such a special place in the heart of my personal life, too (for several reasons), so I don’t think I’d ever say I’m not a fan. Though I stopped getting excited about new seasons about 2013. Matt Smith could’ve been given much better plots, and I know a lot of people love Clara, but she ruined companions for me for quite a while. White Fang isn’t at all interested in catching up, either (he left off on his DVD watching still in the David Tennant era), and although he didn’t mind Martha and Donna, he just totally adored Rose and Mickey and Captain Jack, and I completely understand his wanting to maintain those beautiful, precious memories.

Great post. Get all those emotions, and insights, and while I agree, let’s hope we’re wrong, being realistic is important, too.

Thank you! Yeah, I just can’t keep clinging to the unlikely possibility that this will in some way be a continuation of the Doctor Who I know, just in a different guise. Perhaps that could be achieved despite the gender change, but given what I’ve heard about the execution of this series, I really doubt it will be the case. Better to content myself with the eras of the show that I truly love.

Great post. Kinda got a little teary at the end there… and I haven’t even seen the last episode of series 10 yet! I was feeling all ho-hum or somewhat benevolent towards series 11… and then I watched the first couple of episodes of series 10 and lost all desire to watch any further episodes of Doctor Who. And while I do intend to finish out the Capaldi thread, I have lost all respect for the writers and all faith that they have any inkling of WHY people watch their show. And if they do, they obviously don’t care. So… I’ll just stick with series 1-9. Those are MY Doctors, and there’s plenty of creepy, off-the-wall, snarky, poignant entertainment there to keep me happy.

Thank you! And I totally understand about S10. It was especially weak in the early episodes, though I do feel that it improved drastically by the end. It’s worth watching the episode “Extremis”, as that story probably has more Christian overtones than any other Doctor Who episode I can think of, and the finale is one of the more satisfying ones that I can remember. Bill never got the chance to really be fleshed out as a companion, and there were too many social-justice elements at play with her character. But Missy’s character arc, in my opinion, was quite brilliant. I wouldn’t have minded her being the full-time companion instead of introducing a new character right before the end.

One of the things I’ve loved about Capaldi’s arc has been the theme of “forgiveness.” I wasn’t sure about him AT ALL, but that theme in S9 was super powerful when the writers let it be. I miss that.

“You LIED TO ME. YOU LET ME DOWN. Do you think I care so little about you that I would allow it to make any difference?” Still get chills when I think about that line. I want more of that kind of storytelling. Haven’t seen it in S10 so far.

Also, I really liked Clara, and her arc ended on such a downer… it would have been hard to immediately fall in love with anyone after her… but Bill’s idiotic naivete is so annoying I can’t even think of a single good thing to say about her.

(ahem. I don’t have strong feelings about my fandoms at all…. obvs) 😀

Ha ha!! I completely understand. Bill never really clicked for me either. Her exit though…hoo. Brutal. Still gave me feels even though she was never my favorite companion. It’s really hard to compete with Clara.

Yes, that scene was magnificent!! The version of Twelve we got from the end of S8 on through S9 was my favorite. And S9 is probably my favorite season of the show overall, though I actually preferred the S10 finale over Hell Bent. The kind of storytelling you’re talking about was definitely diminished by Clara’s absence, I think, though Missy did get a very strong redemption/forgiveness arc with some truly shocking twists. And Twelve got some more development along those lines as a result.

To be honest I left right after the Clara arch finished. Capaldi never drew me in like the others. I came in with Tennant went back to watch Eccleston, Smith eventually won me over but Capaldi fell short. Clara wasn’t an interesting character for me, but my sister and I were watching these together so we got to the end with, and after that we were done. Neither of us have a desire to go on and the new doctor really isn’t helping matters. I may watch the first episode just to see the Lady doctor, but I have no anticipation of liking the series. It’s hard, being a fan of the show. But hey like you said, I’m turning to audio versions in order to check in on the doctors I actually do like. Dr. Who dramatization for the win!

I agree! And I understand about Clara and Capaldi. They both got off to very rough starts. I think they improved quite a bit before the end, but there were still some pretty significant storytelling missteps here and there. I think that the S11 premiere will likely have impressive ratings because so many people will tune in out of curiosity, but I predict a severe dropoff for the rest of the season.

YES. THISSSS! Just….THIS. You voiced (er…wrote?) basically ALL my thoughts on the subject. In fact, I was just whining with my sister about this very thing. I have zero expectations for this new series. It’s been going downhill for a while, in my opinion. Now, I LOVED Capaldi as the Doctor. Absolutely loved. And Clara is actually my favorite companion. But the storytelling itself of the last 3 seasons or so just hasn’t held the heart that the earlier seasons did.

My greatest fear for this new season is that it’s not going to be a fun story, it’s going to be one politically correct message after another shoved, shoved, shooooved down our throats. The last season was that way. And though I did rather like season 10, I still grumbled a lot about constantly being preached at. I’m all for having a message in your story, but it’s how it’s PORTRAYED. Which of course you know! The earlier Doctor Who seasons had lots of politically correct messages and such too, but it didn’t even bother me because they wove it into fun, GOOD storytelling. These days, they BASE their storytelling on the messages they want to bang against our heads, and THAT’S when I can’t tolerate a story.

I’m also noooot wild about the idea of my beloved Doctor being a female. And yes, not for any stupid sexist reasons. Just the fact that I don’t feel like his character will fit right in female role, and I also fear it’s all, again, just to make a point. But I mean, Doctor Who is kind of ABOUT “Strong Female Characters”. We’ve had a TON. Do we need the Doctor to be female now too to make the point even stronger??? I just…I can’t. Pretty much all TV shows and movies these days are all about shoving messages down our throats. Gone are the days of good, genuine storytelling. *sigh*

But oooops. I did not mean to go on a full out rant in your comment section. ACK. Sorry! XD I just really liked this post. But ahem. Enough of that. Thanks for voicing your opinion! You made such great points. And I’m with you, I’m going to give season 11 a chance, and will totally eat my words if it proves to be good. I’m just keeping my expectations to…nothing, to avoid all disappointment. Heh.

YES! The “grab you by the throat and shove our agenda down it” storytelling has been annoying me to death!!!! Virtually every episode in season 10 has been offensive from a story/plot perspective (maybe with the exception of Knock Knock, I can’t think of anything in the plot of that one that annoyed me) but WOW. SO OBNOXIOUS. I would have quit already, except this post makes me want to see the “powerful moment” at the end of the series that Kyle just hyped 🙂 🙂 🙂

I think NCIS, Blue Bloods, and Hawaii Five-O still have pretty good storytelling. They’re not fantasy/sci-fi, but they don’t usually have an agenda they’re pushing (or if they do, it’s one episode, not an entire season). (I like crime dramas, though… they’re not for everyone)

Another great fantasy show, though it’s finished, is Grimm. I recommend that one. Great story-telling and character development.

LOL, don’t worry about it; all your thoughts are spot-on! And yes, the biggest failing of S10 was the preaching, in my opinion. It undercut the storytelling again and again. I have no desire to see more of that, and yet, it seems to be the direction the writers are taking this year. *sigh* And then, when the ratings are poor, it will be blamed on sexism, which is stupid because about 90% of the comments I’ve seen from FEMALE fans on the gender swap are just as negative as those I’ve seen from men. The only reason they made this change was to prove something that Doctor Who never needed to prove to begin with. There’s no strong in-story basis for it–yes, Time Lords *can* change gender (now), but you can’t erase the fact that most Time Lords in the Whoniverse don’t do that. The Doctor’s personality just fits the male gender. And there are SO MANY excellent female characters in Doctor Who, whose characterization has been enhanced by how they spark off of the MALE Doctor. Making the Doctor a woman could mean that the female companions are going to be even more in the Doctor’s shadow than they ever were before.

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