Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lucky 13

A big splash was made in geek circles this past weekend, and the ripples are still kicking about -- the 13th Doctor was revealed for the next season of Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker.

The trolls came out from under their bridges to decry the casting of a woman in the role of the Doctor. This criticism was widely and thoroughly mocked: "oh, a shape-changing alien who travels through time in a phone booth that's larger on the inside makes perfect sense, but that one of those shapes would be female is where you draw the line?" The Trekkers rushed to point out that they had a female star of a TV show more than two decades earlier.

I'm all for the progressive selection here, and I recognize the inherent importance of it. I could veer off into an entirely different post about the value of representation and diversity in pop culture, though I expect that's ground my readers understand quite well. As a casual-at-best Doctor Who viewer, I'm excited mainly for other reasons.

First, having quite possibly told every story one could tell in the 50+ year history of the series, why not open up a new avenue of storytelling in putting a female authority figure at the center of it all? I haven't even watched every episode of the reboot, much less made an effort to track down the still-available originals, and it was honestly feeling a bit stagnant to me. (More on that in a moment.) But the potential for a complete overhaul is inherent in the regeneration concept; this new change makes use of that more effectively than any previous re-casting of the Doctor.

Second, I'm actually excited by this particular casting choice. Jodie Whittaker is quite simply phenomenal on the series Broadchurch. If you've never watched that show, it's enough to know that she can break your heart and hollow you out with the depth of feeling she can convey. I'd probably give a chance to any show she was on; the possibility that she might actually pull me more into Doctor Who is a bonus.

Third, the next season of Doctor Who won't just be the first for Whittaker, it will be the first for a new show runner, Chris Chibnall. That name won't mean anything to most people, but he's actually the creator and show runner of the aforementioned Broadchurch. (So in retrospect, it should have been obvious to bet heavily on Whittaker landing the role of the Doctor.)

To be blunt, I find current Doctor Who rather impenetrable. I've watched none of the most recent season yet (partly for lack of enthusiasm), but having jumped on starting with Matt Smith and watching every episode since, I still feel that most episodes feature back story, continuity, and fan service that makes absolutely no sense to me. And it has been made abundantly clear that that's how they want it. So I cheer for the arrival of Chibnall, who in Broadchurch made the most moving detective drama of the past decade. I want to see him apply the emotional centering he found within the "police procedural" format to a science fiction format. And he'll be able to write for a star he's worked with before, to her considerable abilities and strengths, which he already knows well.

In sum, there's practically the potential for an entirely new show here. So much so that I suppose one could charitably forgive a small handful of the trolls as being legitimately concerned that the thing they love might be going away. A small handful of the trolls. Maybe.

I for one can say that I've never felt more interest in Doctor Who -- ever -- than I do right now.

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