[NOTE: Before I begin, there’s something I’ll need to clarify. In recent times, the BBC refers to each year of a television show as a “Series” instead of a “Season.” This can be somewhat confusing; not only are American viewers used to a year of a show being called a “Season,” but many older British shows, including the Classic DOCTOR WHO used to be grouped in “Seasons” as well. So basically DOCTOR WHO was on TV for 26 seasons, and then for 7 series. Or what should be Season 27 of the show is actually Series 1, followed by Series 2, etc. Now, I try to not be that cliche of the ignorant American who insists all European customs should change to be like them. But this is one case where I’m just flat out saying “The heck with it. I’m calling them Seasons.” I have an article to write here with enough timey-wimey convolutions in it. Let’s say I write: “This was the best DOCTOR WHO episode of the Series.” This will leave you wondering if I mean that it’s the best episode of the year, or the best episode of the Revived Series, or the best episode of the entire franchise. So in this article, I will be referring to each year of the show as a “Season,” end of story].
In 2005, DOCTOR WHO was brought back for a new generation in a pilot episode, entitled ROSE, that clearly learned from the missteps of the 1996 movie. This time there was no regeneration, as the writers wisely realized that this would take up too much of the story. The tone was also much lighter and, while standing on its own, remained in the spirit of the Classic Series. The wisest story decision was to tell the story from the Companion’s perspective and keep the Doctor a mystery. But ROSE was groundbreaking in a new way: at long last, the franchise finally had a true “first episode,” an entry point, a gateway for fans to start with when they discovered the series!
The Russell T Davies era is absolutely perfect. You have an enjoyable retooling of the classic formula with new touches. And you have a great leading man in David Tennant (wasn’t that big a fan of Christopher Eccleston, aside from THE EMPTY CHILD, which was just fantastic!). My favorite of his companions was Donna Noble, though ironically she starred in the weakest Davies season, while my least favorite companion was Martha Jones, who somehow starred in the strongest season. The Revived Series also introduced new hallmarks such as the Christmas specials and minisodes, which I’m not a fan of, but more on that later. All in all, I could sense that STAR WARS was an influence on this Revived Series, as there was a sense of mainstream popcorn entertainment that the fanboys could enjoy. Interesting characters were brought in, such as the Face of Bo, and I enjoyed how the Sontarans were reworked from villains into comedic characters. Favorite episodes from this era include THE SATAN PIT, GRIDLOCK, HUMAN NATURE, UTOPIA, SILENCE IN THE LIBRARY, MIDNIGHT, THE WATERS OF MARS, and of course, BLINK. Everyone always raves about BLINK, saying how much they love the creation of the Weeping Angels, but I actually found that storyline to be secondary. What I enjoy about it is the structure of the narrative, its “puzzle-box perfection,” reaching an ending that is in fact the beginning, and how it works as a standalone story. It’s a DOCTOR WHO story for everyone.
Now, onto the Steven Moffat era. This era is notable for having two great leads: Matt Smith as a Doctor whose quite similar to David Tennant, even having a similar voice, but with a touch of more childlike magic, and Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, a well-rounded character and possibly my favorite companion ever. However, the central problem I found with this era is that the episodes started to become way, way, WAY too dense with tons of convoluted plot thrown at you and season-long story arcs. River Song was a good character, but her fragmented storyline just got too convoluted to follow enjoyably. I enjoy Season 5, which was Moffat’s first, as it more of less continues in the adventure-of-the-week style of the Davies era. However, Seasons 6 and 7 kind of fell apart for me, and soon I found myself watching them for the sake of it rather than because of the story. My favorite episodes of this era are COLD BLOOD, VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE GIRL WHO WAITED, and THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN. If the Classic Series was like STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, and the Davies era was like THE NEXT GENERATION, then the Moffat era was like DEEP SPACE NINE: initially enjoyable in that it does new things structurally within the narrative of the franchise, but wears out its welcome and much of it is not remembered after you finish watching. Even the much celebrated DAY OF THE DOCTOR anniversary special struck me as just an okay romp that is mostly forgotten after viewing. I also, quite frankly, feel the entire introduction of John Hurt as the War Doctor to be unnecessary, which leads me to another point.
On November 14, 2013, something historic happened: Paul McGann returned to the role of the Eighth Doctor for the first time in 17 years! The result was great, yet it was sad to see his appearance delegated to a small minisode that most people probably didn’t even see and only the hardcore fans may be aware of! Don’t get me wrong; the 7 minutes of that minisode were superior to the full 90 minutes of the 1996 movie, but I wish they had done more.
Instead of creating this whole new character of the War Doctor, who we had no emotional connection towards, couldn’t McGann have been the one to join Tennant and Smith in DAY OF THE DOCTOR? Wouldn’t that have been a thousand times better? Supposedly Moffat created the War Doctor because he needed an incarnation of the Doctor that would have destroyed all his people. This wouldn’t have worked for the Ninth Doctor (and Eccleston wouldn’t have wanted to come back anyway) and Moffat “just couldn’t see the Eighth Doctor having done this” so he had to create a whole new Doctor. I say he SHOULD have used the Eighth Doctor, whose personality had never been truly defined aside from novels and audio productions. Seeing Tennant and Smith stand alongside McGann and finally accepting him as one of their own would have been a nice way of legitimizing the Eighth Doctor, and McGann, who has been ignored by fandom for so long. Alas, it didn’t happen.
Looking at the Revived Series as a whole, I find it to be a strong work that modernized an old concept and gave it a new audience. More Americans are watching DOCTOR WHO now than they ever have in history. My concern however is how much longer it will last. Had the Davies era been its own standalone series of just four seasons and several specials, it would have been a perfect television series. The Moffat era, while having produced some good episodes, has gone in a direction I’m not too fond of. If the show goes on and on, as it likely will, I fear it will lose its spark and get lost in endless episodes, as the Classic Series did. Well, folks, until Season 8 starts, I’m jumping back in the TARDIS, ready to give the Doctor a break and move on to other ventures in nerd fandom. Join me for the ride, because the journey is so much bigger on the inside.