Doctor Who originally span from 1963 – 1990 before being re-launched in 2005 – a fact few younger viewers of the current revival may be aware of. Even without CGI or complex special effects, the storylines were fresh and new and the aliens were awe-inspiring. An alien with two hearts, saving our planet time and time again? It was unheard of. Now, Doctor Who has to fight harder than ever to be noticed over other sci-fi shows. Does the current season have what it takes to keep it in the spotlight?
The most recent Doctor was introduced through supporting characters Madam Vastra, Clara, and a good deal of explanation as to why his regeneration was so different from all that came before. Supposedly, the reasons lay less in appealing to a new audience and more in an attempt to progress the Doctor’s character. Eccleston portrayed a war-hardened Doctor, Tennant the constantly-in-motion regretful hero and Smith the child inside the Doctor that lives to enjoy every moment. Peter Capaldi seems to be taking the role of the cranky uncle at Christmas dinner and, as with the other Doctors, it seems to take the audience several seasons to warm up to him. Luckily, Capaldi’s co-stars help to combat his initial image.
Clara, the Impossible Girl, was Smith’s companion first, and the almost-love story between them meant that her reaction to Capaldi’s colder, more calculating Doctor would put her on the same footing as the audience. This let us see the softer traits we’ve become so used to in the previous Doctors as she recognized them. The Doctor’s companion often starts out as merely that – one who helps the Doctor. But, not for the first time, the companion is being written as turning into the Doctor, which in itself can come across as disconcerting and perhaps too obvious a ploy to bring out the Doctor’s gentler side. If viewers recall that it was the same with Martha, who went on to work in UNIT, a military-like organisation, then it becomes more of a tradition in the show than a stunt to endear Capaldi to the audience.
Moving on from the characters, other elements of the show do beg the question: has Doctor Who fallen? The iconic sonic screwdriver has been transformed into sonic sunglasses, the reaction of which was “Surely this is just for one episode. They’re bringing the screwdriver back….right?” Maybe, maybe not. Writer Steven Moffat is not confirming or denying the official replacement of the screwdriver, so fans of the device are left unanswered. This may alienate viewers who feel the sonic sunglasses are plain silly, which may be true, but along the way each Doctor has had their eccentricities – Smith in particular loved a good Fez, so perhaps the sunglasses are innocent enough not to cause too much irritation.
Overall, the new gimmicks and tropes of this Doctor’s reign may be annoying, but essentially harmless. There is a fine line between retaining the links to past seasons to keep a current audience hooked and reusing old enemies too much, no matter how good at being villains they are – Daleks included. On Tumblr in particular, there are phrases such as “Ten, your Nine is showing” when Tennant does or says something that was strongly related to traits Eccleston had. In the most recent episodes, there have been times where Capaldi’s Twelve has shown both his Nine and Ten, which acts as a reminder that each regeneration still carries the spirit of the Doctor that people have gathered round to watch in past years. Doctor Who is relying heavily on the coattails of its previous seasons, but if you can ignore the weird gadget alterations and intermittently odd storylines, then the hope and excitement the series has evoked in people for generations remains as strong as ever.
Written by Monica Di-Carlo