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JONATHAN STORM

 
 
 
 
 
‘Doctor Who’ Just What the Doctor Ordered for Family Viewing in Troubled Times
October 11, 2018  | By Alex Strachan  | 2 comments
 
 
No, the moon wasn’t knocked out of Earth's orbit by a spontaneous explosion of stored nuclear waste. Men are still talking to women, for the most part, days later. A black sun didn’t swallow the world, only to spit out the ghosts of Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. National leaders in the UK — and DC — didn’t suddenly peel off their outer skins to reveal the reptilian monsters within. Cybermen stayed hidden, more or less, the Angels remained frozen in time, and even the Daleks were subdued, their plans to exterminate anything and everything that moves placed temporarily on hold.
 
Doctor Who’s 11th season opened with its first woman in the role — ably played by Jodie Whittaker (top), as if there were any doubt about that — as TV’s most famous Time Lord. It’s the good Doctor’s 13th iteration and, some would argue, the most interesting.
 
Whittaker’s (right) take is certainly the most heavily-hyped — at least since Christopher Eccleston resurrected the role in 2005 after a 16-year absence. (If you’re counting — and Doctor Who is about time, after all — the new season is actually the series 39th overall, though for the purposes of TV annals and archival websites like the exhaustive epguides.com, the “new” Doctor Who is an entirely different series, which officially bowed on March 26, 2005. Now you know.)
 
Sunday’s season opener, titled The Woman Who Fell to Earth — note the nod, deliberate, to David Bowie — also marked the debut of a new showrunner, Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall, who also wrote numerous Doctor Who scripts for previous showrunner Steve Moffat. To these eyes, despite Doctor Who’s enduring popularity, Moffat’s tenure became somewhat obtuse and self-indulgent in recent seasons, with stories becoming more and more convoluted and the series’ mythology becoming as dense as quantum physics at times. Doctor Who, it seemed to me, was in danger of disappearing down a rabbit hole of its own making, increasingly impossible to follow, let alone like. It seemed as if Moffat had fallen in love with his other creation, Sherlock, and was determined to make Doctor Who as politically astute and relevant as that terrific series. For me, Moffat began to push it with the introduction of Hitler as a foil to the good Doctor; as a villain, Hitler is fast becoming this generation’s TV show-killer, as anyone who suffered through recent episodes of Preacher can attest.
 
Whittaker’s official debut as the Doctor coincides with James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli’s public announcement that, no, the next James Bond will absolutely not be a woman, in no small part because it wouldn’t jibe with 007’s record as a rake and unapologetic womanizer.
 
Doctor Who was always meant to be fun — fun to watch, and fun to talk about, even on those occasions when it tried to be serious, if only for a moment.
 
Sunday’s debut was the first of a two-parter, and in this age of the PVR and On Demand streaming, I’m not about to ruin the story for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. Leave that to other sites — TVWW is above that kind of thing.
 
The important thing is that Whittaker played it as if she was born to the role. A woman as Doctor Who — who cares? The transition from Peter Capaldi to Whittaker was seamless; Whittaker’s notable achievement as an actor is that she made it look like no big deal, though in real-world terms it’s a very big deal indeed.
 
Not everyone on social media agrees; as one prominent UK critic noted, there are those in the “red pill Reddit” crowd and some in “the Enraged Community” of Twitter and Facebook users who  dismiss the feminized Doctor Who as, “joyless, resentful, bitter, intersectionalist, feminist/LGBT propaganda.”
 
Oh, dear. Somebody’s taking the new Doctor waaay too seriously.
 
If the numbers count for anything, it’s worth noting that Doctor Who’s UK debut scored a near-record 8 million viewers in that country, second only to Eccleston’s debut in the show’s resurrection in 2005. Doctor Who is a cultural phenomenon in the UK, where it airs on BBC One — available in every home, as though PBS suddenly merged with ABC or NBC. In the US, Doctor Who airs on the cable channel BBC America, so viewing numbers are always going to be at a disadvantage. (Ratings for BBCA show 1.4 million viewers watched the Doctor Who season opener, in line with last season’s opener. Although that’s well off the 6.1 million who watched The Walking Dead’s return Sunday on AMC, Who held steady from year-to-year, whereas Dead dropped by half — 50 percent — from last year’s season premiere.)
 
Still, judging from the interest at Comic-Con and in specialized media outlets like Entertainment Weekly, Doctor Who has a lively and vocal constituency on these shores as well — perhaps not at a Game of Thrones level, but up there just the same. Who knows what kind of a US audience Who might reach if it were on the more accessible SyFy or what USA would do to have Doctor Who as part of their brand. 
And despite the creepy lizard people, imploding dwarf stars and time-bending story arcs, Doctor Who, at its best, is a fun and lively diversion from the sobering news events of the day.
 
It’s also self-referential, in a wry and disarming way — that style of British humor that is both wise and witty without being precious or self-serving, as in that telling moment in the season opener when Whittaker, as the new Doctor, turns to her terrified band of companion newbies and tells them gently, “All of this is new to you, and new can be scary. Don’t be scared. I understand.”
 
Who knew intersectionalist feminist/LGBT propaganda could be so much fun?
 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Zeke
BBCAmerica carries Dr. Who simultaneously. No VPN needed.
While I wasn't in any way against a female Doctor, I was reserved about how they would handle it.
Nothing short of Fantastic!!
I give Chris Chibnall a great deal of credit-- the change of gender was less note worthy than the wonderful story. The Doctor was delightful, full of fun, and seriousness. (were there actually more deaths in the story than usual, though?)
Every bit a Delight. May become my favorite Doctor----
Oct 13, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Leila L'Abate
I imagine a large part of US Whovian viewership either streams from the UK site using one of those VPN's? is it? that allow you to anonymously do so, or from free, but not-so-legal perhaps, and prone-to-malware, US streaming sites....I'd imagine at least 3 million, and they don't get counted by ratings...I'd guess over 1.4 million follow Who fan fiction, as well..I LIKED the complicated intelligence of Moffats plots, mostly, until one episode got way too convoluted in twisted time...And his self-written episodes were MOSTLY my favorites....I also enjoy watching him as Sherlock's brother... I love having a female Doctor, and only a misogynist would find her "joyless, resentful and bitter"...One can speculate on what gender any romantic interest on her part will be....And it will be fun seeing her face off with the again -evil other female Time Lord, Missy, in whatever time vortices they intersect, assuming they bring Missy back, which we all hope they do...
Oct 13, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
 
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