TV Reviews

TV Review: The World Still Needs Doctor Who

One of the most brilliant, self-sustaining parts of Doctor Who is its built-in capacity for rebirth. Every couple of seasons we get a new Doctor and/or companion, and the show itself inevitably takes on a new feel and tone related to the personalities of the new people. Don’t like the new Doctor? Give it a couple of years and another one will be on the way. Maybe you’ll like them more. Ditto for a new companion.

That’s great for continually drawing in new fans since Doctor Who has to essentially create a new pilot episode every couple of years. For longtime fans, though, it’s easier to catch on to all the tricks and storytelling patterns, to come away from yet another Doctor Who rebirth with the distinct feeling of déjà vu.

That doesn’t actually have to be a bad thing, as it can be fun watching just how hard the writers work to make the old new again (e.g., what new variation on “It’s bigger on the inside” or “What do you mean your name is just The Doctor?” will they come up with this time?). However, you simply can’t share the same sense of wonder and discovery about it that you used to, not when a show is in its 10th season since being revived and 36th season overall.

To recap: After season 9, Doctor Who went away for an entire year. To be clear, it didn’t actually stop production. The tenth season was cast, planned out and ready to start shooting 6 months after Clara and the Doctor parted ways in the season 9 finale and the Doctor finally said goodbye to River Song in the 2015 Christmas special. However, the decision was made to hold the show off the air for an entire year until a forgettable 2016 Christmas special followed by several more months of inactivity before season 10 finally got on with it.

In that gap year, a new companion was announced (Pearl Mackie’s Bill) and both Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi announced their pending departures from the show. Rumors have since run wild about exactly how and when Capaldi’s regeneration will happen (mid-season? right before the finale? not until this year’s Christmas special? will John Simms’ returning Master have something to do with it? might we somehow see a return from a prior Doctor?). Indeed, knowing we are witnessing the end of an era has added considerable intrigue to the new season.

Thus far, though, the first three episodes have been instantly familiar to anyone who’s been through one of these new doctor/new companion transitions before. As a reader of the site recently laid out in the comments section of a different article: “The first episode is all about bigger on inside jokes. The second and third episode all about the doctor having morals or not” with, might I add, vague references to his tortured, morally grey past and reminder that he needs a companion around to keep his moral compass pointed in the right direction

The primary difference is the relationship between Capaldi’s Doctor and the new companion Bill. She’s not a pseudo-love interest (ala Rose or Martha), best pal (ala Donna or Amy) or partner in crime (ala Clara). Additionally, she’s not some mystery which needs to be solved (ala Clara’s first season). Instead, she is a throwback to classic Doctor Who with a 2017 twist: she’s a black lesbian who is quite literally the Doctor’s student, placing Capaldi’s Doctor into more of a grandfatherly role ala William Hartnell, the only other 55+-year-old to play the Doctor. As Moffat told TVGuide:

I remember that we had several meetings about the new companion, the new series arc and all of that. … Because we have the Peter Capaldi doctor, [it’s] a relationship between a much older man and a much younger girl. What do we normally call that? Well, we don’t really want to call it the aging rockstar and his groupie. That would be horrible. What else could it be? It can be father and daughter, absolutely could be that. Although fathers and daughters don’t tend to run off and have adventures together. You know, teacher and student. Educating Rita — the old film and play Educating Rita — I thought was kind of a good starting point for that kind of relationship.

Plus, Bill’s sexual orientation proved to be more important in the season premiere than is normal for a new companion, and the color of her skin directly informed the social commentary of the third episode, the critically applauded “Thin Ice.”

Yeah, but they already did the “it’s not easy to be a black woman time traveler because, y’know, racism” with Freema Agyeman.

True, but ask Adam Jones or American University students if it feels like old hat in 2017 for a sci-fi show to use its platform to comment on xenophobia and racism. With the world being as scary and small-minded as ever, we still have need of Doctor Who to optimistically search for good in the universe, to look at the seemingly ugly (such as the prehistoric creature under the Thames in “Thin Ice”) and find beauty even if the story is framed in familiar big-guy-exploiting-the-little-guy terms. Or to give us yet another misunderstood villain (as in the season premiere “The Pilot”) but with a fresh twist whereby her motivation revolves around the emotional connection and budding relationship between two lesbians. Or to go all Black Mirror and imagine a “the robots have turned on us” future where the robots only communicate through emoji (as in “Smile”).

In truth, I’m not so much making these points to you, the reader, as I am talking to myself. I have been somewhat passively engaged with season 10 to this point, falling too easily into the “been there, done that” trap of feeling like Doctor Who has nothing new to offer me right now. However, part of the long-lasting appeal of Doctor Who, beyond the pure fantasy of a 2,000-year-old alien coming along to take you away from the doldrums of everyday life, is its inherent goodness. It is a series about a wanderlust-stricken hobo flying around on a magic carpet and encountering all of those same Star Trek-esque sci-fi morality plays but getting by on his wits and intellect instead of superior technology or military firepower. I mean, I already knew all of that, but maybe it took Bill’s fresh new eyes and an expertly told story about exploitation (with both the monster and its child victims being exploited by a racist, money-driven white man in “Thin Ice”) to remind me. It’s as if I’ve suddenly remembered, “Oh, yeah. Doctor Who. I love that show.”

Now I can’t wait to see what’s behind that dang vault, how exactly John Simms’ Master will return and what grand end Moffat has in store not only for Capaldi but for his overall era as showrunner.

What about you? How are you liking season 10 so far? Or are you not really feeling the Doctor Who love anymore? Let me know in the comments.


  1. At some point I’m going to have to stop prefacing my comments on Dr Who ,with how I’m not a fan. I’m absolutely a fan now, although I’ve watched plenty of episodes before, and have likes and dislikes as far as various doctors and companions. I even have a couple of favorite episodes. So I’ve begun to rethink the whole, I’m not a fan, statements I’ve been making.

    Well, I guess I’m a fan now. This season is part of the reason why.

      1. I was already a fan of Capaldi, and enjoyed the last season. I like his version of the Dr. He seems more mature, and weary, too, which is appropriate. I liked some of the other doctors okay, but it’s a quality they didn’t emphasize much and I like that Capaldi seems to have captured it.

        But I love Pearl. Since I’m not a person steeped in Dr Who lore, for some thirty plus years, she makes it feel really fresh for me. It’s like I’m discovering all these new things with her, and it’s been really fun.

        And I love their interaction. It’s fitting that she’s his student as it helps rejuvenate him to see his world through such young eyes. And I’m just enjoying Bills new journey.

      2. The season 10 premiere was called “The Pilot” for a reason. The show is starting over again, rejuvenating itself with a new companion. While I have taken a while to warm to it all because my history with the show probably runs too long, I am glad to see that it’s totally working for you, doing exactly what it’s meant to – rejuvenating the show and inviting viewers to see/remember what the Doctor Who world looks like through young eyes.

      3. Latest rumors are the guy from Love Actually and the young black woman who writes and stars in Chewing Gum. However, standard procedure here dictates it’ll be someone no one predicted or at least didn’t predict until shortly before the official announcement is made.

        I’m obviously curious to see how it plays out, but I’m also very interested to see what Chris Chibnall does with the show as the incoming head writer and EP. He hasn’t written for the show since 2012, and the ones he did write weren’t necessarily all-time classics. When Moffat took over Doctor Who effectively became an entirely new show, virtually unrecognizable from the brighter and tonally lighter Christopher Eccleston and David Eccleston eras. I am anxious to see if Chibnall similarly rehsapes the show entirely, or if the differences will be smaller, less noticeable.

  2. I love Doctor Who. I’ve watched it back in the day to the cheaply produced and wobbly sets of the 80s to the revival and even durign those years have noticed the highs and lows. The sudden end of who in the 80s, low. The American comeback movie introducing the 8th doctor played by the talented Paul Mcann.High. Watching the movie then realising the serious misinterpretation of it all. It coud have been worse. At one point the Hoff was tipped to be the doctor with some side kick kid who was going to teach a talking tardis how to rap. What was produced wasnt completely off. Good continuity from 7th to 8th. Good production values. Doctor kissing and running and gettign excited which is so heavily reviewed in the revival. Eric Roberts did his best too. But the story was lame and it introdued issues that have harmed the saga. The doctor is half human and has only13 lives. Things that only got corrrected recently. Anyway revival with Christopher Ecclestone. High. Ecclestone leaves after only one season. Low. Tennant picks up and Who becomes liked by all. High. Tennant leaves and is missed by all and some unknown kid is goign to replace hi. Low. Matt Smith aquits himself but aims at the kiddy market and Amy Pond offers something for the dads watching the show with them. High. Matt Smith also goes after 50th anniversary High. Then we have the 13th. I like Peter Capaldi. I loved him in “In the Thick of It” and would have loved to see his Paul Tucker character be the doctor instead due to his terrifying influence and over use of the F word on people. But what we got instead is a bit of a mess. Ws he tryign to go back to the hartnell era? I felt his first two seasons was actually Clara’s show with the doctor in the background. Moffat is right to reassess the companion relationship due to the age gap and opposite sex but lets be clear why there was a year gap. The BBC is not commercial and does not have the money or commercial governance. A new Director and public outcry has pushed the BBC to make serious cuts. Who is their top show but couldn’t escape the cuts and they cant pay Capaldi the salary he wants. They want cheaper production and pay and Peter has decided to go. thin kthere has been some fan backlash too. The kiddy audience has gone. The mums have no eye candy to look at like they did with the 10th, now the dads dont have anything either except memories of old. So they need to have a rethink fast. All this talk of a woman doctor. i do believe it. They put a few things out there to show cross gender timelords notably with Missy replacing the master (doign a good job of it too). But the beeb wont take such risk so I will wait for Kris Marshall to pick up the role. He isn’t doing anything now and meets the demographic. He is also BBC friendly. I too am looking ofrward to a Simm return, that noisy vaut and the possibility of a mid season regneration..reboot but I suspect that is a trick as the new doctor should really begin when Moffatt leaves at xmas. Seaking of which I am hearing rumours th 1st doctor will come back for the christmas special. If that is true that will more than make up for last years xmas special. Forgetable yes.

    1. I clearly remember watching the dodgy 80s version of the show, so you definitely brought back some memories. Loved that you outlined each Doctor I liekd and some I was just “meh”.

    2. My personal history with the show doesn’t extend quite as far back as you. By the time I got into it, the first three seasons of the revival had already aired. A friend sort of forced it on me, and then I binged the hell out of the first three seasons via DVD and took a deep dive over the ensuing years into the classic era. So, now I have all sorts of Doctor Who T-shirts. I’ve been to a Doctor Who convention, saw Capaldi and Jenna Coleman at FanExpo Dallas last year. All that nerdy stuff. However, my fandom has taken a serious hit ever since Capaldi took over. I loved him on The Thick of It as well as the Torchwood miniseries, but his Doctor is one I can intellectually appreciate but feel no real emotions for. I know the arc he played out with Clara last season was a master class in writing and acting, particularly “Heaven Sent,” but I just don’t connect to his performance the same way I did with Tennant and Smith. I’ve grown to like his Doctor, and will probably miss him. But I’m more curious to see the next Doctor than I am dreading the exit of the current one, which is the complete opposite of how I felt when Tennant and Smith left.

      I was aware of the BBC’s financial challenges, to the point that it seems like for several years now the question has always been whether or not the BBC could actually afford to keep making Doctor Who. I was not aware, however, that Capaldi’s salary might have played a role in his decision to depart. I just assumed it was more the Tennant “I’ve done my three seasons, and now my show-runner is leaving. Clearly, it’s time to bow out” line of thinking.

      Regardless of the merit of Capaldi’s performance or his three years on the show, it seems to me that he will forever be shortchanged as an unpopular choice because the fans were desperate for something more progressive. They wanted a person of color, a woman, or maybe just someone young and fun like Smith, and Moffat went with a William Hartnell-type and then didn’t quite know what to do with him at first. So, I agree that there might be far more pressure to seriously change things up with the next Doctor, and the guy from Love Actually would be the traditional, safe pick, not the shot in the arm the show might need from a ratings and demographics standpoint.

      As for rumors, same here. A British tabloid reported the Christmas special will feature the actor who played Hartnell in the An Adventure in Space and Time movie playing the First Doctor in a surprise multi-Doctor episode. This may or may not also dovetail into the 50th anniversary special when Capaldi’s attack eyebrows made their first appearance, which might turn out to be the last thing his Doctor actually does. There also seems to be some indication that Pearl Mackie might be a one-and-done companion. And Capaldi keeps saying his regeneration will be different than the ones we’ve seen in the revival. Maybe it’ll be way more casual and just, poof, suddenly he’s different ala the classic era. Doubtful, though, since that regeneration sequence we glimpse in the trailer looks pretty revival-era traditional. Now, if only he had a spare hand to siphon the energy into.

      1. Here here. Agree with you entirely. Lets pick up this thread again at xmas 2017 when the speciak has aired and conclude the discussion.

  3. Great post btw…
    I am still feeling the love more than ever before.
    I love Capaldi’s Doctor, I was so excited when it was announced that he’d bagged the roll, and it’s a shame that in the end, the writing and all the expectation meant that all the promise Capaldi offered was never really fulfilled, well in my opinion anyway.
    Bill is like a breath of fresh air, in the same way that Donna and Ace were when they came along. Ace followed Peri and Mel, who were both super good at screaming, but not much else, and well Donna followed the love sick Rose and Martha…not sure where I’m going with this point.
    Anyway loved your post.

    1. I remember Ace. She’s my favorite classic era companion, and in many ways she was the prototype for Rose.

      Bill is certainly a breath of fresh air. It’s weird for me to say that because I quite admired Jenna Coleman’s work as Clara, but her struggles to separate her personal life and Doctor life and then her turn toward unhealthy thrill-seeking kind of beat you down over time. It’s nice to have that burden lifted, and for the show to have moved on to something else.

      1. Ace is my favourite companion of all time. She was also the first one I ever saw, when I watched repeats of the show on a channel called UKTV Gold.
        It’s interesting you see her a a prototype Ace, I agree in some ways, but there’s something really cruel in the 7th Doctor’s relationship at points with Ace, Ghost Light is probably the best example of that. 7 & Ace have a sort of 12/Clara vibe going, and they could just have easily been the Hybrid IMO.
        Jenna is a great actress, and she did a lot with what she had, it’s just IMO Clara and Amy were never fully developed, as people you don’t really believe they had lives before The Doctor in the same way that Rose, and Martha and Donna did, Rory is pretty real though.
        Thanks for replying.

      2. OMG, the Doctor could be so cruel to poor Ace, so much tough love. However, then McCoy would gleefully pun something like, “I’ve got an Ace up my sleeve,” or seem concerned for her mental well-being and you’d be re-assured that though his methods were suspect he genuinely cared for Ace.

        You’re not wrong about Amy and Clara not seeming like they had lives prior to The Doctor, partially because they were both created as mysteries to be solved first, characters to be developed second. Amy’s entire family is freakin’ missing for that entire first season, and she has no memory of them. Clara is a replicant of someone else with a more defined past life The Doctor met in The Snowman. The exact details of their lives simply don’t matter as much as The Doctor figuring out why they seem to be so key to figuring out a mystery. Then by the time that happens and inter-season adjustments were made to give both of them more of an inner-life or better-defined existence away from The Doctor it was really too late because the audience already associated them with The Doctor. Any bit of “um, Amy’s a model now” or “Clara’s a teacher now with a boyfriend” didn’t register as much because their identities had already been defined by their relationship to the Doctor.

        That’s why I’m reluctant to embrace the recent fan theory that Bill might actually be an amnesiac regeneration of Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter from way back, because it feels a bit too “been there, done that” in terms of character-as-mystery-to-be-solved, yet at the same time it’s totally something I could see Moffat doing.

      3. I really hope she isn’t Susan, because I would love Carol Ann Ford to come back, and then get regenerated, so we could have someone younger.
        Not that I’m against age, I just feel that Carol Ann is what almost 80, late 70’s it would be really nice to see her again.
        Also Ian Chesterton is still alive, well the actor…lol…
        Did you watch Class? I sort of wish instead of having a tentative link to Ian, Barbra, Susan and Clara, they’d actually brought an actress in to play Barbra…in a kind of Giles Buffy role…it’s a silly idea, and I know the actress is dead, but I sort of like it.
        All the development seemed to go on Rory, he really did change, and Amy really didn’t.
        The baby River song story sort of killed it for me because you’d never really get over something like that, look at how hard people try to find children who have been adopted, and they were just over it, magic reset button, are baby is gone, fun adventures.

      4. The River storyline was real and serious, and it was where all the sexy adventure stuff sort of grew up, and it would have been nice to see that reflected in the writing.
        Plus the body horror of suddenly being forced to give birth when you didn’t even know your were pregnant is also pretty terrifying.

      5. If you thought the 7th doctor was cruel have a look at the third doctor. Jon Pertwee is a legend but boy did he belittle anyone around him.

      6. mmmmm. Peri. She was something being forced to wear skimpy clothes in the coldest of British weather in many scenes. And poor Peter Davison’s 5th doctor had his regeneration scene literally overshadowed by Peri. Youtube it if you don’t know the scene and the story. In short 80’s chauvinistic producers insisting on poor Peri wearing a low cut top to comfort the dying Doctor. Ahhh the 80s..

  4. I actually thought the prototype for 12th/Bill is River Song and 11th. The only difference is the genders have swapped. but all that flirty and odd behaviour with poor old 26 year old Matt Smith was very testing ground before Capaldi appeared. Cant comment on 7th because there is no way the revived series would risk comparing his stories given his doctor was when ratings were an all time low.

  5. I have another theory. There has been a lot of hype and fans demanding the 8th doctor to return given his ten minute reappearance for the 50th anniversary and his brief onscreen appearance. Moffat said back then he couldn’t do any more with him without it distracting from the new doctor. Fair point but given they even did a petition to bring back the 8th do you think that would be the twist???? Would anyone want to see that or is that separate article? cough cough hint hint

  6. I still somehow scratching my head, trying to find out why people could get very excited over a simple TV show from Britain…-JW

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