Thoughts on the New Doctor

Philip HarrisChatter, TelevisionLeave a Comment

My earliest memories of Doctor Who are of jelly babies and a long scarf so, naturally, Tom Baker is “my” Doctor. Fandom wasn’t as big a business back then as it is now but I was definitely a fan. I watched each episode religiously, ran down to the newsagent every Thursday lunchtime to by Doctor Who Weekly, had a TARDIS money box and even joined UNIT.


I remained a fan of the show when Tom Baker moved on. I remember Peter Davidson’s celery. I remember Colin Baker trying to strangle Peri. I definitely remember Adric’s sacrifice.

But by the time the show reached the Sylvester McCoy years even I knew things were looking bleak for my favourite show. It was a sad day when I heard there would be no more Doctor Who but I always held out hope he’d return (along with Blake’s 7). The Paul McGann TV movie provided a brief flash of hope, soon dashed by its mediocre reception.

Still, a nugget of the ten year old who’d run round town searching for Doctor Who magazines remained – buried deep in my brain somewhere.

So, when the relaunch of Doctor Who was announced I was cautiously optimistic. And when Christopher Eccleston appeared on screen, chased by plastic mannequins, it felt very familiar. They’d hit the classic blend of story, character and cheesiness that makes Doctor Who so hard to resist. The Doctor was back.

Fast forward to 2014 and I’m a casual fan of the series. It doesn’t always work for me and the vagaries of the Canadian scheduling made the earlier seasons tricky to follow. But the show’s found its true Canadian home on Space and although I don’t get swept up in Whomania like I would have done if I was still ten, I was looking forward to Peter Capaldi’s debut.

Peter Capaldi

And then I saw it. Ouch. What a mess. Even with the extended length, it was a confusing mish-mash of ideas that had me cringing one minute and shaking my head in despair the next. Not a good start.

And it didn’t get any better. The first four or five episodes were as garbled as the first. Sure, there were some high points – Listen was pretty good – but although Doctor Who has always had an element of handwavium and sudden, random, leaps of logic, the writers seemed to have given up on comprehensible plots completely. Time Heist was a bit better and I could see what they were trying to do but it just didn’t work for me. In the hands of someone like Joss Whedon it would have been a classic but again, it was just too jumbled for my taste – too many ideas crammed into a single episode.

We record all of our TV on DVR (or PVR if you prefer) and then watch it later. The order we watch shows is based on how keen I am to avoid spoilers. The Walking Dead gets watched immediately, Elementary when we feel like it. As we made our way through Doctor Who, it dropped to the bottom of that list – the unwatched episode count gradually creeping up. After Time Heist, we focused on shows like Supernatural and American Horror Story and even The Strain. But with the Doctor Who finale this weekend (and the unwatched count quietly reminding us we had a lot of Doctor Who recorded that we really should do something about) we decided to finally catch up with the Doctor’s adventures.

And to my surprise, the last seven episodes were much better. Yes, there’s still a lot of handwavium, the Doctor’s insults seemed mean rather than funny and some of the plots were bizarre (I’m thinking of you, In the Forest of the Night) but it felt like the old Doctor Who. And the two part finale was excellent. Disturbing, exciting, funny, ridiculous, quirky (bananas if you prefer) – everything I like about Doctor Who. Yes, some of the randomness crept back in (an extra dash of foreshadowing wouldn’t go amiss) but I genuinely enjoyed the finale.

Despite the rocky start, I was pretty happy with the first Capaldi season. I’ve never been one to judge the actor playing the Doctor based on how much I enjoy the show as a whole. Beyond their basic acting chops and the quirks they bring to the character, the success of the show hinges far more on the quality of the storytelling. I do like Capaldi’s Doctor though. I like the kind of slightly dislikeable almost anti-hero twist he’s got this time around – there’s shades of Hugh Laurie’s House in there.  Imagine if Doctor Who had the kind of wit and subtlety of that show. That would be something worth watching.

So, I’ll be back next year and if you’re like me and (nearly) gave up on this season after the first few episodes, go back and watch the later ones. There’s some good ideas in there that are worth a look, despite the uneven execution.


[“Thoughts on the New Doctor” by Philip Harris first appeared on Solitary Mindset on 11th November 2014]

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