It’s nearly six o’clock and I’m not allowing myself to look at the Doctor Who: Season 26 Blu-ray box set until I’ve at least waved from here. So, I’ve got a couple of things to talk about, and then I can go listen to Sophie Aldred have a natter. (Turns out the couple of things all have something to do with Doctor Who.)
I’ve been very positive about the latest episode of Jodie Whittaker/Chris Chibnall’s run on the show. (I’ll try and keep this spoiler-free.) That is not to say that I think it’s the most artful episode, or one I’d show to people on the fence about the show, but it’s one which has rewarded my decision to stick with the programme.
Because I could, can, and maybe at some point (depending on how it goes) should stop watching it. Even though it’s one of my favourite programmes. It’s the same with The Simpsons, but there, I only have the first nine seasons second-hand, I watch newer episodes occasionally, but feel no compulsion to stick at it, or think not having seen a lot of stuff from the ’00s or ’10s dents my enthusiasm for the show at its best. Sometimes, with no fault of the artist(s), you and the art move away from each other.
As I sidebar, I don’t particularly tolerate the opinion that only the first seven to nine seasons are worthwhile, and the rest is rubbish, which is prevalent amongst many viewers. The Simpsons wasn’t the same show after the first season, or when Sam Simon left, or when Al Jean and Mike Rees left, or when they came back to do some relief episodes, or when any of the multiple turnovers of writing and producing staff happened. The show is only ever as good as it’s writing, and there’s plenty of great writing in the twenty odd years people “don’t like” if you look for it. Not, of course, that you have to look for it.
Because that’s the thing, there’s only so much time. The worst thing you can do with time is spend it watching a show you used to love that isn’t working for you any more.
I count myself as a pretty lucky Doctor Who fan. I would have preferred that it had come back when I was eight – it is a children’s show. In a way, Buffy the Vampire Slayer took the place in my affection where Doctor Who should be, even though it’s not a children’s show (which Doctor Who definitely is). I felt when it began airing again when I was thirteen, I was just a little too old for it.
But I’m lucky that it came back at all. I’m lucky that it combined the classic series with Buffy, which made me love it, and made it easier for me when I did go back and watch the classic stuff for the first time. I’m lucky we got ten seasons in twelve years, and plenty of specials besides, most of which I enjoyed. I’m lucky they were full of both new and surprising things, and things that rewarded long-term views. I am lucky six excellent actors played that role in that period. There are lots of things wrong with all of it, and I fully respect why people came and went during this period. It just so happened there was always enough to keep me watching. And, at the end, was Peter Capaldi’s run, which on the rewatch I realised was a Doctor and a period of stories pitched to exactly me. More precisely, someone (usually male) who has seen all of the modern series, is at least conversant in the classic stuff, and is a big old fan of it all. I don’t think there’s a run of Doctor Who I like more than Series 9, but I would be happy to discover it. (I still haven’t seen most of the classic series – I’m catching up on the spiffy new Blu-ray sets.)
So, when it came to Jodie getting cast, I was pretty delighted. See, Doctor Who isn’t meant to be for me. It’s a children’s programme. The programme isn’t for everybody, but every child should have their way in. I was glad that the show was getting a fresh start, because change is what keeps it on the air so it can reach more kids. (I made the point to my housemates last night that the target audience for Doctor Who weren’t even alive the last time the Judoon appeared, excluding cameos, which makes them a classic monster by any reasonable definition. It was a horrifying moment.)
There was plenty to like about the first new season – the cinematography, the music, the cast, the historical episodes – but it was all a bit restrained and muted for me, and not really what I go to Doctor Who for. I would even say the same for much of the first half of this second season. It’s a clear choice that has been made, and the only reasonable thing to do is respect that.
My attitude before yesterday, and overall my attitude still, is that there’s more Doctor Who out there than you can reasonably get through. Not only the half-century of television, but the books, audios, comics, and god knows what else. There’s stuff in there I know I like, stuff in there I know I will like, and plenty of stuff to try out to see if it’s up my street. If the current TV programme and I part ways at any point, that’s fine, I’m looked after. The producers are doing the right thing by trying to find and serve different and new audiences, and that’s obviously not me, so as long as they’re trying to do that, I’m good with it.
Which is why I was so pleased with yesterday’s episode. It was all the approaches, all at once, completely unexpectedly. There were some nostalgia kicks, some stuff to shock new and old fans alike, and some steps taken that are too long overdue. If you were being cynical, which you shouldn’t, you could point out that not a lot of it was actually new, but remixes of stuff we’ve seen certainly throughout the revival. But the intent was fresh, and shocking, and vibrant in a way I’ve been missing.
At this stage we obviously don’t know how this season, Jodie’s run, or Chibnall’s run, is going to end. I hope there isn’t too much established in this episode that no longer counts by the time we get there. But for now, I’m re-energised about watching and talking about the programme (clearly), and I’m very pleased and grateful to have that chance. Doctor Who and I may yet part ways, but I’m glad that day isn’t happening just yet.