I hear a lot of lip service given to the idea that conventions are made to be broken, and to the idea that Doctor Who has no fixed conventions at all in terms of in universe restrictions, i.e., a canon. And those who know me know that I’m very open to the idea of a female Doctor. I also liked Hell Bent, even if the ending scene left me cold. Clara’s arc was a prototype of a female Doctor, and it was great. One of these opinions is overbearingly popular. The others are not.
But Doctor Who is an unconventional show. It once went a period of years without leaving Earth or including one of its most important characters, the Tardis. This was immediately after Star Trek — the program was now in color, and adopted American genre conventions like “science mysteries” and secret government paramilitary agencies. Yes, I know, Quatermass and the Thunderbirds. If we had that era on the show in 2018, Chibnall would be accused of a singularly gauche Americanism. Literally Independence Day Bayformers etc. You know, the era that gave us this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PsgcvIlSeU
But this is an era that was more unlike Doctor Who than any era before it. It is now definitive and beautiful in ways that almost no other era is. It asked us what Doctor Who really needs to have to be Truly our beloved show about a madman in a box — it certainly doesn’t need a box.
Why does it need a madman? All this theorizing over what classes or subgroups of human beings are capable of playing Thirteen, or what subgroups are ontologically bent towards the role — you’d think each recast was a fixed point in time. What would Doctor Who look like if The Doctor simply did not appear in a new season? At all. Maybe the plotline is a season-length take on Turn Left —
but have we been so Hell Bent on trying to recast the old grump before we’ve even seen the lovable Last Christmas with his Ghost that we’ve been missing a more important and fundamental question, one that the show may need to ask in 2017 more than ever before?
What does he provide to his own show that would be fundamentally impossible for writing, acting, score, cinematography, plotting, a quality cast — even a coherent resolution to an arc, sadly lacking underneath all the quirky, pretentious, boyish arm-waving spectacle — to provide were he not present?
Answer this question with care. Each casting tells us something about ourselves, our times, and about the Doctor himself. If we understand how his own show benefits from his specific presence — and does not simply become “Doctor Who set in the Class Universe” (for after all, what is one pretty young thing working out existential angst and finding its place in a larger world if not interchangeable for another? Do *you* remember April?) — we can understand why we should cast the Doctor as a specific actor, a specific human being, rather than another. The role will appear to us to be the philosopher’s stone in the soup, rather than a question of which comedian is the right one for the job from the Beeb’s point of view.
And nothing adds color to the world like a dip back into the black and white world before we knew Him as he is. Atheism can be an act of faith.
Shit. Not even Lawrence Miles dared to troll this hard. The things I do for love.