Doctor Who is a show in stark creative decline.
That is a sentiment which has been echoed many times throughout the 50 year history (34 year history as an active TV show) of Doctor Who. In fact, the show itself once kind of referenced this sentiment in 1988 at the conclusion of its 25th season in “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.” The plot involves an intergalactic circus, which one of the fans (an obvious stand-in for an obsessive Doctor Who fan) describes as not being as great as it used to be but he keeps coming back to it anyway. That fan? Killed off in the very next scene. Translation: suck it, you stupid fans! However, for the most part Doctor Who always manages to right the ship through a steady stream of turnover both in front of and behind the camera. Basically, whenever Doctor Who starts becoming a bad show it stops and becomes good again (as if such a thing is just that easy).
Well, here we are again. We are fresh off of the show’s 50th anniversary, and while its popularity is ever on the rise in the United States its ratings are declining in the U.K. Just like the fan in “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy,” some of us still love the show, sure, but we also recognize it’s not quite the same anymore. Steven Moffat managed to deliver his best when it mattered the most, giving us the astounding 50th Anniversary special “Day of the Doctor.” However, it seems as if since the end of the sixth season a creative malaise has crept in. In general, they have gone to the same dramatic well one too many times (too many mysterious female characters for the Doctor to solve) while also attempting to cram far too much story into not nearly enough space.
Well, perk up. According to Moffat (via Doctor Who Magazine), Doctor Who is returning to uninterrupted 13-episode seasons for not just its upcoming eighth season but its ninth as well:
“We’re not going to do splits (for series 8), and the same format will repeat exactly the following year like that.”
This is a return to the format utilized by the show for its first five seasons since its 2005 reboot, not counting the David Tennant specials. The sixth season aired in two halves, separated by 3 months, while the seventh season did the same, this time separated by 6 months. With the recent mini-seasons, Steven Moffat and company opted not to really scale back their storytelling ambitions, but instead just cram them into slightly more standalone stories limited to around 40-45 minutes of screentime. Hopefully, 13-episode seasons will save them from hanging themselves with too much story line now that they have the option of stretching a story out over two episodes if need be.
Furthermore, so far in various interviews Moffat tends to agree that perhaps the show had let itself become dramatically complacent, thus calling for some definite changes:
“It changes all the time, and it’s keeping ahead of the audience in a way. All shows age and they all age sort of in the same way. You learn how to do it, you get really slick at it, and then you think you’re really, really slick at it and everyone’s started to yawn. And you think ‘oh God, we’re really slick at this but everyone knows what we’re going to do’… So now we’ve got to actually get a bit raw at it and do it in a different direction. It happens on every show – you get good at it and ‘good at it’ is the enemy in the end.”
This informed his decision to cast Peter Capaldi to replace Matt Smith, an extreme change since Capaldi will be one of the oldest to ever play the role whereas Smith was the youngest. Moffat told Doctor Who Magazine:
“There would be little point in making as radical a change as we’ve made unless you’re going to go quite different with the Doctor. The last two Doctors have been brilliant, and have been your ‘good boyfriend’ Doctors. But the Doctor isn’t always like that. There is the sort of Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston end of the spectrum, where he is mad and dangerous and difficult. If we’d cast Ben Whishaw, you’d know what we were doing. You’d think, ‘Well, that’s another quirky young man with entertaining hair!’ And he’d be a brilliant Doctor, but Clara would just think, ‘Okay, you’ve rearranged yourself a bit.’ I think it was time for the show to flip around a bit. The new version of the show is quite old now. It’s very old… We need the kick-up-the-arse Doctor, in a way, to frighten you and make you think, oh, it’s a different show again.”
It is interesting to see him mention Whishaw since he was indeed one of the many rumored candidates for the role, although Moffat has stated multiple times that all of the rumors were a bunch of bunk because the only person he wanted for the role was Peter Capaldi. The “Day of the Doctor” illustrated how similar the David Tennant and Matt Smith Doctors are, and many of the equally young rumored candidates for the role would have likely done something similar. So, perhaps it really is time for a change, and as Thick of It viewers know “mad” and “dangerous” and “difficult” fit Peter Capaldi like a glove. Granted, that could also describe Colin Baker’s ill-fated sixth Doctor, who was so unpopular they fired him after 2 seasons, but surely Capaldi’s career to this point has more than earned our trust.
Season 8 of Doctor Who began production earlier this week. It will continue filming into approximately August, and it is anticipated the new episodes will begin airing in August/September prior to a standard Christmas special on Christmas day. Season 9 will recreate that formula.
Until then, here’s Peter Capaldi’s brief scene from “The Time of the Doctor”: