While the BBC claims the search for a new lead on Doctor Who will have to wait until new showrunner Chris Chibnall completes his work on the final season of Broadchurch, oddsmakers have no problem suggesting names like Tilda Swinton or Ben Whishaw.
My personal favorites are Hayley Atwell and Alexander Siddig.
But beyond the person cast in the role, the executive producer/showrunner also has the tremendous task of setting the tone for the series. In the classic era from 1963-1989, producers like Barry Letts and Philip Hinchcliffe shifted the series away from its children’s show roots into something more terrifying, but nonetheless high quality. Original producer Verity Lambert took the nascent idea for the program and forged the backbone from which it still operates to this very day. And at the end of the classic era, producer John Nathan-Turner’s taste for pantomime led the show to a brighter and more stage-like look; which ultimately contributed to its 1989 cancellation. The new series, with a handful of alternations by Steven Moffat, is still very much the program as defined by Russel T. Davies: a shellshocked Time Lord on the run from his own guilt, vacillating between an idiot in a blue box and the ultimate authority. This has been the status quo for ten years one has to wonder if it is perhaps time to consider some more sweeping alterations than just the lead performer.
The Last of the Time Lords No More
Though Gallifrey ultimately survived the Last Great Time War, the Doctor’s actions in that conflict still weigh heavily on him. Even before his conversation with The Moment, the Doctor considered himself to have the most blood on his hands. As both an internal and external conflict, the Doctor as the Last of the Time Lords has fueled the New Series to some of its greatest moments and led to some of its sourest notes. But with a third showrunner on the horizon, it may be time to abandon this concept and restore Gallifrey to its proper place in the constellation of Kasterborous.
With his home planet still in the throws of a war-madness which even he can suffer from, the opportunity to heal his homeworld – or as much as it can be – might be a place from which to start the new series’ second decade.
As a comparison, the classic series went through a soft reboot in its sixth year with the Doctor exiled to Earth in the 1970s (or 80s depending on who you talk to). Striking on a format somewhere between The Avengers and James Bond, the Third Doctor found himself part of a militarized investigation service and found himself as often at odds with his friends as enemies like The Master and the Silurians. The format change saved the program from declining viewing figures and the sense that the show was too familiar. A similar change to the core format could do well for the current program, particularly if the Doctor can find some real solace from his Time War grief and move on to a new dynamic.
An End to the Fairy Tale
While the Doctor as the damaged war veteran is still central to the New Series, Steven Moffat introduced a fairy tale aspect with the arrival of the Eleventh Doctor and his relationship with Amy Pond. This idea continued with the next companion, Clara Oswald, and into the time of the Twelfth Doctor. The 2015 Christmas special ends with a literal “They lived happily ever after” on the screen; signifying Moffat’s belief that his time with the show was at an end.
The notion works to varying degrees of success and plays on the fact the Doctor is very much a part of British folklore at this point, but it is also often a crutch to explain away lackluster story conclusions. It can be argued that the Twelfth Doctor was meant to push against this with his gruffer demeanor, but he still seems to be trapped in Moffat’s overall view of the Time Lord as equal parts Fisher King and Fairy Godmother.
It also makes it difficult to see the Doctor as anything but the Lonely God of the Davies Era, the President of Earth or the Time Lord Triumphant. Locked into this role, the Doctor appears to have less fun in his travels. But perhaps with the fairy tale coming to an end, Chibnall will find a new tone that lets the Doctor laugh more often.
Oh My Giddy Aunt
I suppose I should admit that my favorite Doctor is Patrick Troughton and it no doubt clouds my judgment on this point, but I find the notion of the Doctor as a chosen one to be quite distasteful. The idea began to seep in around 1988 with the arrival of script editor Andrew Cartmell to the Classic Series, but it became text in the New Adventures novel era — in which he was explicitly stated to be Time’s Champion — and informed Davies’ choice to make the Doctor the last of his race. Moffat would amplify this with his season nine conclusion; tying the Doctor’s reasons for leaving Gallifrey in the first place to a prophecy identifying him as the destroyer of Time Lord society.
But the Doctor, in his purest form, is a Time Lord of questionable standing who ran away from his society in a broken, old time machine. He is not always the smartest and not always the wisest. His main advantage is wealth of knowledge, a trait best exemplified by the Troughton Doctor. Some of that era’s best moments come from the Doctor’s horrified realization that his knowledge will not help. That dawning terror would read on Troughton’s face, often followed by an exasperated, “Oh no!” or “Oh my giddy aunt!” It has been a long time since I’ve seen the Doctor that unsure of himself and it is one thing I’d love to see again … provided of course that the new showrunner would even want to depict the Doctor in that light.
Change … and Not A Moment Too Soon
Of course, Doctor Who is about change. And though I have my favorite elements of the Doctor, what can be more exciting is the unexpected new take the incoming showrunner and Thirteenth Doctor will bring to the program? Troughton’s era pretty much defined the Doctor as a role people play, but each subsequent actor brought something new to the part. From gadgets to spoon-playing to the singular persona of Tom Baker, each offers something wildly different while still embodying the character Troughton defined. Behind the camera, each production team also emphasized different aspects of the Doctor’s universe, offering a deeper look at his shrouded past or charting new corner of the universe to explore What changes would you make if the show was yours to produce? Would you return to some of the Classic Series tropes? Explore your version of the series in the comments below.