I would be hesitant to give myself the full rank of “Whovian” when it comes to my geek status level of the long running British sci-fi series, but I can also say that this isn’t my first trip round the universe in the Tardis either.
I can remember sitting through the lengthy and frequent pledge drive breaks on PBS when I was a kid, waiting for the next portion of an adventure starring 4th Doctor Tom Baker and his impossibly long scarf. I remember the unmistakable mechanical growl of a Dalek and the lumbering walk of a Cyberman, but I was very late to dive into the recent resurgence of the character as I didn’t really think it still had much to offer me.
As it turned out, I was wrong.
The 9th and particularly 10th Doctors are, for me, some of the best science fiction in this or any other universe. The scope, the scale, the borderline cheesy BBC special effects, just great stuff all around.
I did stay with the show through Doctors 11 and 12, but I found with each passing season I enjoyed the show less. While the effects got better, something about the series just didn’t click for me. I think it came down to show runner Stephen Moffat and his take on the Who-niverse. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. Which is fine, because a lot of other folks did like it and, as is generally the case with a long running geek product, if you don’t like the current direction, another is just a few years away.
Enter new showrunner Chris Chibnall and the first ever female Doctor, Jodi Whittaker. A much needed and most welcome breath of fresh air to the series and the character.
After it was established during the adventures of the 12th Doctor, by the transformation of The Master into Missy, that Time Lords can regenerate into a new gender, speculation and fanboy backlash immediately began on when we would see the introduction of a female doctor. Shortly thereafter, Whittaker was selected and a new direction was plotted for the 54 years plus journey of the time travelling adventurer.
To first address the backlash against a female doctor, I get it. I really do. When you grow up a fan and suddenly at every turn another character that you as a young male identified with has been replace, or in this case, become a woman, its a lot. We establish strong relationships with our favourites and change is hard to accept. New costumes, new powers, new love interests, new genders… I get it. But you know what? Change is also good. Or, in this case: great.
Now four episodes deep watching the new season with my kids, I have to say that this Doctor is everything that makes the character special. She is smart, brave, silly, adventurous and most of all, to quote one of her new companions, “The best person in the universe.” What I love about the Doctor is that despite being over a thousand years old, they see the universe and every situation in it with a childlike sense of wonder. They see stars, planets, aliens, the past, present and future with equal doses of “wink-wink” know it all and first day in the big city wide eyed amazement. All of which are traits that Whittaker’s take on the character has in spades.
She also has balls.
The other thing that makes the Doctor great as a hero is that he, or now she, never gives up. She will stare down an entire fleet of Daleks armed with just her signature Sonic Screwdriver, look them right in the eye and walk away victorious every time. In her initial adventures as the Doctor, Jodi Whittaker has shown that side of the character. The side that warns of a last chance before she is forced to take action. The side that will defend earth, her companions and other innocents to her last breath… even if that last breath never comes.
And what would a Doctor be without a companion?
In this case, The Doctor is joined by Yasmin (Mandip Gil) a police officer, Ryan (Tosin Cole) a young man with dysplaxia and his step-grandfather Graham (Bradley Walsh). After being drawn into her first adventure in this form, the Doctor bonds with this unique and diverse group to form a “Team-Tardis”. This new dynamic gives the show an ensemble feel with each of the characters offering a different backstory to explore across the backdrop of their adventures through time and space.
This season has also started off with a very topical approach, with episodes featuring a time travelling racist trying to disrupt the history of Rosa Parks, an American real-estate developer with a grudge against Donald Trump and a look at British colonialism. While some may find these doses of reality more than they want from their sci-fi escapism, I think that they fit really nicely with the themes of the show and tie to the shows roots as a medium for exploring history. It was also an amazing teachable to watch the Rosa Parks episode with my children (boy 7 and girl 10) and have them look at a recreation of historical racism while focusing on an uplifting message and a story of adventure layered over top.
It is also pretty great for my daughter to see a woman be the one inviting others to travel around the universe with her and not the other way around.
So, short story long, I am very excited about the future of the 13th Doctor and her friends. The series feels back to what I loved about Doctors 9 and 10:
Adventure, humour, heart and most importantly, wonder.