Recently I have realised something about Dr. Who. No, its not the ‘lonely god theory’. Neither is it that recent Dr. Who is lacking, a lot. But, like Batman in the comics, Dr. Who is caught in a loop.
Batman’s narrative loop is well documented and appears in Glen Weldon’s excellent examination “The Caped Crusade: Batman and the rise of nerd culture”. Batman revolves through Solo Dark Knight, Robin, Batgirl, Catwoman, More Robins, Bat-family, Justice League and back to Solo Dark Knight.
Currently in the comics Batman is without Alfred and his billions. So its broke, dark knight, totally alone. The directives that control this cycle come from DC themselves. It is not just Batman that goes through these cycles. Many characters that have existed for many decades go through similar loops.
Dr. Who Unseen
I did not watch the recent Dr. Who holiday episode. After the final episode of series twelve I was very disappointed. I may have a look at the next season, but, I think the magic is gone. For most of this year I was ruminating over why.
Check out the youtube commentators. They range from caustic. To you must support this because, first female Doctor. Please support Jodi Whittaker. I saw her performance of Antigone for the National Theatre company. Wow! Go watch.
Is it Chris Chibnal’s fault? He is the show runner, writer or co-writer of the recent series. You gotta question his vision of Dr. Who. I do not know if he is a believer. However there is another player which many have overlooked. One that has been there since the beginning.
BBC Waning Interest
The BBC owns Dr. Who. Without the BBC we would not have had Dr. Who at all. Yet the pattern of past Dr. Who is one we should consider. And, like Batman’s many cycles, it occurs in less time than before.
From 1963-1989 Dr. Who went through seven regenerations, Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, Lizard People, UNIT, the Brigadier and one Dodo. What happened was that as the decades passed the interest of the BBC shrank.
In fact there is enough evidence to suggest that many attempts were made to scuttle the series. Colin Baker suggests that the fix was well in by the time he played the sixth doctor. Baker is on record saying he wanted Christopher Ecclestone’s wardrobe. What he got was, unique.
Has the BBC once again grown tired of one of its biggest intellectual properties? The choice of Jodi Whittaker gave the appearance of renewal. Every regeneration does. Yet at the same time the musical themes and cues are gone. Tight head shots in preference over wide screen cgi scenery.
Early stories in series eleven were historical. The very first doctor spent time in historical settings on earth. Even back then a level of educational content was the shows selling point. I liked the episodes Demons of the Punjab and Rosa. Smart.
Then it all got a bit…..i cannot put my finger on it. It was lacking. Which was when I realised the former music was not there. In favour of a minimalist soundtrack. Is the budget not there? It is a question to ask. Because it happened to Dr. Who before.
Differences Make Problems
Unlike Batman’s cycle that appears in the narrative shift. For Doctor Who it appears in the budget, in the special effects, and the wardrobe. At the same time when Game of Thrones had a multi-million dollar budget. Dr. Who was trimming the fat.
One could say that Dr. Who has always been on a budget. Especially compared to the resources HBO can throw around. Yet Dr. Who always continues due to the regeneration of its protagonist. Game of Thrones ended, and they have to scramble with Hedge-Knight and tales within George Martin’s world. Dr. Who could visit Game of Thrones.
Dr. Who is endless. Perhaps that is the problem. There is no narrative shelf life. This makes it hard for marketing and scheduling. Dr. Who has an audience across multiple generations, multiple countries. Multiple television companies, which is a little less of an issue in this age of streaming.
How long do you keep running a show like Dr. Who? At what point does it become stale? Outside of Eccleston’s first season was it ever fresh? Dr. Who is a money spinner. It must be earning its keep and then some. Yet if you are always looking for the next big thing a show that has been running the same protagonist since 1963 is always going to loose.
Nostalgia Runs Dry
Between 1989 and 2005 Dr. Who aged and matured in the minds of those who watched it. Over sixteen years Dr. Who became nostalgic. It was old enough to be remembered fondly. When it came back those who once watched it, did again. They brought their children and grand-children.
The revivals producers Russel T. Davies, Julie Gardner and Mal Young were fans, now in charge of their beloved Dr. Who. Stephen Moffat the following showrunner and Mark Gatiss were also fans. It showed in their knowledge but also in their elaboration and expansion of the Who-niverse.
Moffat’s era expanded and threaded long winding narrative arcs. The most elaborate outside of the Doctor was River Song. A huge story arc told pretty much in reverse. It was risky. For some the mystery of Professor River Song, future archeologist, did not pay off.
By the time Chibnal and Whittaker came to the show was the timless child the only option? I find that hard to believe. What makes more sense is that after fifteen years of Dr. Who, a show about a protagonist that seemingly lives forever, got a bit wiffy.
A new series is coming before the end of this year, 2021. Chris Chibnal is still show runner. Though Maxine Alderton is named as core writer. Jodi Whittaker and Mandip Gil will be joined by John Bishop. Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole have left as of the holiday episode. I did wonder if three was too many companions.
We will find out more than if the series is still woke or not. What the coming series will tell us is wether the BBC is once again loosing interest in Dr. Who. The change in core writer and a new cast member may spark a new direction. It also could just be damage control, trying to fix the recent dilemmas.
I do not wish to see the demise of Dr. Who, again. However as I am reminded constantly show business is a business. It has to make money to continue. A series like Dr. Who that can go forever does not fit with show business which is always looking for the next big thing.
Eventually Dr. Who will be shelved. Be on the watch the next time Dr. Who returns. I am sure the cycle will repeat itself and like Batman it will be quicker than fifteen years.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.