And so the thirteenth Doctor has been revealed:
This is the first person playing the Doctor that I have any kind of viewing history with (Barty Crouch, Jr. doesn’t count for Tennant). Jodie Whittaker has played the part of Beth Latimer in Broadchurch brilliantly. One would like to think that the character will be able to move beyond the grief of the first two seasons, but I’m not sure that will happen (and we’re just at halfway through the show’s third and final season).
The other Broadchurch connection that the next season of Doctor Who has will be its show-runner: Chris Chibnall. While his previous writing for Who hasn’t been all that spectacular (as opposed to Moffatt, who had penned some great stories), his work on Broadchurch more than gives him some cred.
Three questions will hang in the air for me between now and the beginning of series eleven.
- One: how will the change take place? I imagine that the Christmas special, the current Doctor’s last, will be more interior journey than exterior adventure. Will there be much speechifying? Will the high road of kindness simply become the high road of don’t-question-this-decision condescension? Will something intentionally happen to or be revealed about the regeneration process? Will the change come with a shrug and the decision to “try something different?” A significant change should, I think, have a significant and in-story reason behind it.
- Two: what will happen to the audience? “Everyone remembers their first Doctor” is a popular sentiment when reflecting on the franchise. There is an inherent danger in reboots and resets (which Doctor Who has built into its basic premise). Everyone’s first Doctor is also someone else’s last Doctor. Will those utterly opposed to a female Doctor actually stop watching? And will those saying “it’s about time we had a female Doctor” but who might be casual viewers stick around and bring others with them?
- Three: can Chibnall and Whittaker bring new life to the show? Something about the structure and formula of the show has gotten stale. I’m one who usually blames the script. I also think that the show’s attempt at minimizing the complex history of the show (and all things Gallifreyan) has kept it from running in a healthy direction. That leaves only certain tropes to revisit (and revisit them we have . . . often). The decision to do 40-minute weekly episodes brings particular constraints, too. In its recent history, the show has worked best when there was a through-line or genuine theme for the season (Bad Wolf, the Silence, the Girl Who Waited). Chibnall and Whittaker have quite the blank slate, I think. I hope that they can embrace the opportunity in good and creative ways (i.e. no end-of-the-world episodes, no “totally in your head” episodes). Granted, I’m sure I’m a hypocrite on this point (as in bring back more “significant people in history”). Still, the show needs something like a deeper regeneration to take place.
In an interview given with the announcement, Whittaker noted that she is excitedly “stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope.” Hope, of course, works on many different levels. Here’s hoping that Chibnall and Whittaker can deliver.