No one is more surprised to see this post than I am, believe me. I have been outspoken about my opinion of Doctor Who, and what I saw as its gentle decline from a show I was thoroughly engaged with online and offline into a show that I no longer enjoyed. I made gifsets and read conspiracy theories about Moffat’s intense story arcs. I remember the frustration over the inexplicable extra floor of Amy’s house. I even watched a countdown timer for the entirety of that Saturday leading up to the series 6 finale. But gradually my interest has lessened and I’ve become increasingly disconnected with the show.
This won’t be an academic essay nor an unbiased review. This is just a run down of my relationship with the show over the seasons, and a lot of that does depend on my headspace at the time as well. Besides I got to hand in my dissertation last week (!!!!!) so I’ve been having some time off. Not really feeling like doing more formal analysis just now. So strap in for an incredibly informal look back at Doctor Who from my perspective.
‘Doomsday’ was the first episode of the show that I watched, ironically. Watching it live with a massive fan who was in tears, I failed to grasp the gravity of Rose being trapped in the parallel world but could still tell it was an emotional moment. From then on, when Doctor Who returned, I watched every Saturday, making sense of what was going on and proceeding to adore Martha and Donna (although later finding out that Martha was unpopular amongst die-hard Rose fans made me angry and predisposed to place Rose nearer the bottom of my Companions list, if I have to make such a list). I had pictures of Ten and Donna on my wall at home but it wasn’t until series 5 started with a regenerated Doctor that I fell in love. I was unsure for the first five minutes but fish fingers and custard meant that by the end of the episode I was on board. The pictures were replaced by a full-on poster of Eleven and Amy floating in space, an investment on my part not taken lightly.
Series 5 is my favourite. I love the fairytale motif that runs throughout it – ‘Amy Pond: like a name in a fairy tale’ still makes me smile and conjures up images from episodes where they just travel around having fun. As far as I can remember the end of series 4 with Tennant had gotten pretty heavy with something about saving the universe possibly so it was something of a relief that whilst the Doctor and Amy still ran around saving the day, they also got really excited by the idea of vampires in Venice or meeting Van Gogh.
There was a sense of wonder and innocence that came from the new beginning for the show, the first time in New!Who where a companion and a Doctor had started together since Rose and Nine. The dynamic between Amy and Eleven was and remains one of my favourite relationships on television ever, pulling between friends and soulmates. It wasn’t perfect. And re-watching can be difficult, depending how much I care about editing or dialogue or exposition on any given day. But that music, I Am The Doctor, will still make me daydream about the Pandorica opening or Matt Smith jumping about the TARDIS in his bow tie.
Series 6 was questionable. The pregnancy story-line grosses me out to this day and the River Song stuff felt contrived. And I’ll be honest, by the time we got to ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, it had become draining, something I expect from a show like Game of Thrones (which I gave up in season 4 for that very reason) but not from a show about a time-traveller in a police box. After that, everything with Clara and the first seasons of Capaldi blur for me. I didn’t watch all of those episodes and the ones that I did (because I tried) bored me or made me angry. Disappointing Christmas specials came along every year. The lack of diversity and the often-played-for-laughs exploitation of minorities had irritated me for a while but it was combined by Peter Capaldi’s aloofness and anger didn’t gel for me, and his relationship with Clara was uninteresting. Nothing about her character was able to be pinned down; she seemed to change and evolve depending on what the episode required of her that week. My interest dwindled. I didn’t bother catching up with episodes and still don’t know quite how Clara left or the past seasons continued.
But hearing the news that Clara was leaving and a new companion was beginning combined with both Capaldi and Moffat’s exit after this season, I was curious. I felt as though a fresh start for the show would definitely help and half-heartedly hoped for something different to white woman who falls for the Doctor in one way or another, remaining sceptical for fear of the disappointment I’d come to associate with a show that used to bring me a lot of joy.
Suddenly presented with Bill Potts, a queer woman of colour who was to be played by Pearl Mackie, I was taken aback and suddenly, and oddly, excited for the new season. And she has not disappointed. From the first episode with Bill I’ve clutched the person watching with me, loudly proclaiming my love for her. In these three episodes we’ve seen so many sides to her: the student to the doctor’s teacher, the traveller, the guardian, the ability to maintain her own identity despite those who may disagree or discriminate based on their own prejudices, her unapologetic curiosity, her kindness, her tenacity and her sense of humour.
Not only that but the show itself seems to have benefited from this change. The Doctor’s dynamic with Bill is not romantic in any way, moving smoothly between teacher and student to a familial relationship to mutual partners within these episodes. The dialogue is tighter (shout out to the reference to the show’s own whitewashing…) and the plots are simple leaving more room for the audience to care about characters. Although we have the long overarching plot of the vault (and Matt Lucas is there too for a reason), so far I haven’t seen too much evidence of a long complex conspiracy or organisation intent on destroying the universe, leaving viewers confused, frustrated and pointing out massive plot holes. Instead, every week I am excited all Saturday for watching it that night. The show feels pared back, no less ambitious but instead managing to focus, and much more hopeful, the kind of feeling I associated with Nine, Ten and Eleven. I’m really happy that we get to see that same kind optimism come from Twelve too.