Doctor Who Beyond the 50th Anniversary
Guest contributor Mike Falino takes a trip to the future.
With all the talk and anticipation about Doctor Who’s upcoming 50th anniversary something very important has been neglected; where does Doctor Who go from there? What happens next? Let’s be honest for a second; if the writing stays good and there are enough loyal fans to make it worth producing, Doctor Who can conceivably go on forever. Perhaps it’s a bit audacious to presume the show will go on for another fifty years but the program certainly is uniquely suited to do so. But let’s not think so far in the future. Let’s just focus on the near future, which, so far as this article concerns, encompasses the next one to five years following the 50th anniversary.
Matt Smith’s Exit
I happen to have enjoyed Matt Smith as the Doctor. I think he has brought a wonderful sense of awkward alienness to the role that, as much as I loved David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston, they just didn’t portray. Matt certainly made the role his own, but did so subtlety, which perhaps some of us didn’t realize until it was too late. Matt has, in effect, reshaped what and who the Doctor is. Not only will he have left an indelible framework that the next actor will have to deal with, but a lot of Whovians will have trouble letting go of Matt.
It has only been a short while since news of Matt’s leaving the show stunned us all. We were fairly certain that he would be around for at least season 8, even hearing it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. But Matt will be handing over the role to someone during the Christmas special and it will be a special moment in Doctor Who history. Matt deserves a lot of credit for making Doctor Who so successful in recent years. There are plenty of Whovians who only know Matt Smith as the Doctor and it is for them that I truly feel; they haven’t dealt with a regeneration before and really have no idea what it feels like to see “your Doctor” go. Matt was brilliant as the Doctor, certainly in my top three all-time along with David Tennant and Tom Baker. His legacy is secured and it is perhaps for this reason that he has decided to bow out gracefully, rather than have anyone suggest he stayed too long in the role. There is little doubt that Matt is leaving at the very top. And really, I can’t blame.
The next Doctor—the Twelfth Doctor—will not be the last either. We will grow to love that Doctor and wonder how it was ever anyone else in the role. To those fans who think there is an actual limit to the Doctor’s regenerations, think again. So long as Doctor Who is profitable they will find a way to curtail that already flimsy “rule” and find more amazing people to fill what is perhaps the biggest shoes in television history.
The Eleventh Doctor’s Regeneration
With Matt Smith leaving the show who will the Eleventh Doctor regenerate into? There have been some rumor-like tidbits, mostly baseless, pointing to a few different actors, and all I can really say is that I’m hoping it is none of them. I don’t have anything against any of the rumored actors per se other than the last three actors to play the Doctor have been getting younger and younger and younger, and I’m actually a bit worried that we’re going to see a teenage Doctor at some point. Once Doctor Who goes Twilight I might lose my mind. Realistically I can’t see the Doctor ever being a teenage actor, but for me it’s getting a bit too close for comfort. There is something to be said for an older, more mature actor playing the Doctor. Maybe that is just because “my Doctor” was Tom Baker. But honestly, it’d just be a pleasant change from the current youthful trend, and would shake things up a bit.
The only problem is that if the Doctor were to regenerate into someone older the writers would have to drop the repetitive “young girl-young man-sexual tension” aspect of the show which is, in all actuality, getting a bit old. I can understand the sentiment of needing to “sexy-up” the show a bit since it permeates nearly every other modern show, but at this point its getting a bit played out. An older Doctor might bring the show back in line with Classic Who by reshaping the dynamics of the Doctor-companion relationship as more of a platonic professor and student on safari sort of thing.
There has also been some conversation about an actress possibly taking the lead. For me this is quite a tricky subject, but not for any anti-feminist reasons. While we know that Time Lords can change their sex (heck, they can apparently change their “everything” as evidenced by Romana I’s regeneration into Romana II) the Doctor just seems like a male through and through. My argument isn’t much more complex than that, and in the long run if the part were cast brilliantly and the story was written exceptionally well to make the transition something special I have no doubt I could accept a female Doctor just fine, so long as she’s British. In truth it might be a brilliant move for the show. The Doctor is in fact an alien, so we can’t limit the character’s possibilities to the bounds of human comprehension. If the Doctor became a woman it wouldn’t change his past at all, it would only reinforce it.
The Companion Situation
Clara, Clara, who art though? Personally, I hope the mystery surrounding Clara Oswin Oswald isn’t fully revealed for some time, certainly not at the end of season seven, and perhaps not till even further down the road. I sincerely hope Clara isn’t rushed in the same way River Song was. Now, some will argue that River had plenty of episodes to develop, but I don’t really think she did. Her entire development was compressed to coincide with Amy and Rory, which left her story to be grouped in and truncated within the timeframe of their arc. Just look at Mels; she should have at least gotten a full episode to herself, maybe more. With Clara, I sense there is something very unique and interesting in the works for her, and I yearn for that drama, tension, and mystery to be drawn out for as long as possible.
There is also the very real likelihood of Clara bridging Doctor’s Eleven and Twelve, which I think would be fantastic. I have always found the most profound moments of the Doctor-Companion relationships occur when a companion stays through the Doctor’s regeneration and goes off with the new Doctor. It would be quite interesting if Clara is not only around for and through the Doctor’s next regeneration, but that her mystery is still completely, or partially intact.
I would really enjoy a companion staying around for several seasons. Also, we haven’t truly seen any companions join the current one and stick around for more than a one-off adventure, or a few episodes. And I don’t count Rory in this category either. I would love to see the Doctor (11 or 12) pick up another permanent companion while Clara is still around. It’s a dynamic we haven’t really seen since Classic Who.
A Return to a standard format
This is an important topic to me as it most directly pertains to my opinion of those who run the show. Simply put, the split format is awful. More precisely, the long wait between the first and second half of the season is abominable. Now, it’s possible it has to do with scheduling conflicts between actors, writers, etc., but I just won’t accept that until it is proven. The BBC has even admitted it was something of an experiment and even they seem to have gotten the message that it was an abysmal failure. There is just no reason to make the fans wait half a year between the first and second half of the season. As good as the Christmas special was that just didn’t fill the hole, or “bridge the gap” as I assume they imagined it would. I’m fine with the number of episodes but the season needs to run in one more or less continuous string. Want to take a month break before and after the Christmas special? Sure, I can handle that. But as it stands now, having to wait half a year between the first and second half of the season just makes me frustrated. It doesn’t fill me with a sense of anticipation in the positive way I presume they thought it would.
The Doctor Who Movie
This is the biggest of all possibilities in Doctor Who’s future, and perhaps the most divisive. It is also probably one of the greatest sources of trepidation for Whovians. We’ve been reassured that early rumors about a possible movie being a “reboot” of the show were baseless. Truthfully, I just can’t see the BBC being that ignorant of how much harm rebooting the series would do to the legacy of the show, as well as the pain it would cause the fans. A show with 50 years of continuity, with such a richly textured history, could never be successfully rebooted. And frankly, why the heck would they? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
I can, however, see a movie coming at some point, and I think that would be fantastic. With the popularity of the show exploding in America and all over the world I can’t see the BBC not wanting to get a piece of that bloated, succulent cash cow known as Hollywood. The only thing is that it would have to include the current Doctor at the time, and in no way tarnish the show’s history. Also, they couldn’t subtract or insert canon on the whim of any busybodies putting their nose where it doesn’t belong. Sort of like how they arbitrarily made the Doctor half human in the TV movie, which has been completely disavowed by most Whovians, myself included. Assuming those stipulations are assured how could a Doctor Who movie not be a good thing?
With the trend in Hollywood nowadays for every new movie to be either a remake or one part of a trilogy it’s a good bet that a Doctor Who movie would be the beginning of a series of movies. That would be tricky, at least so far as spacing in concerned. They wouldn’t be made and released closely in order, so maybe they could be placed in between seasons (although one year is a frightfully quick pace to crank out a quality sci-fi movie). Although unlikely, it is conceivable that we could see a few movies rather than a few series, which would be a difficult pill to swallow for all of us. It could conceivably solve the problem of letting Matt Smith go off and make other movies while remaining the Doctor. I don’t like this scenario at all, unless of course it saves the BBC enough money to technically take a break from Doctor Who while not cancelling it altogether. If that were the case I’d gladly accept a hiatus of the show while they rake in enough dough from movies to fund a return of the series. After all, anything is better than nothing if cancellation is the only other option. But perhaps they’ll just put out a movie, or movies, inline with the series. That would be the best possible scenario, and frankly, one that gives me the chills just thinking about it!
Someone New At the Helm
Steven Moffat won’t be running Doctor Who forever. What he has done for Doctor Who in terms of adding to the history, aiding in the broadening of its fan base, and putting together a fantastic, if not subtly flawed segment of the show’s history, cannot be denied. He has created enduring characters that will always standout within Doctor Who’s pantheon of great characters. But, that said, if it isn’t time already for him to leave, the winds of change are blowing. Honestly, I’m tiring of the Moffat Formula: timey wimey mystery, someone dies, oops, they don’t die, huge epic problem solved with timey wimey solution…or love…sonic something, run to the TARDIS, everyone’s safe and sound, or are they? Dun Dun Duuuuuun…
I believe that if Steven Moffat continues to split his attention between two ambitious projects he loves and feels equally passionate about, not only will he burn out, but both shows, primarily Doctor Who, as it requires the most concentration and effort, will suffer. Doctor Who deserves someone dedicated to Doctor Who and only Doctor Who. I know that sounds harsh, if not selfish, but if you’re going to be the show runner and write several, if not half of the episodes in a season, you can’t be worrying about “finding the time”, as Mr. Moffat has stated on several occasions. Even Moffat himself has said he is closer to the end of his run than he is the beginning.
I think it’s time for someone more objective to take the reigns. Perhaps someone who isn’t a self-professed fanatic of the show could tone down the sense of repetitive grandeur we’ve been getting during Mr. Moffat’s tenure. Maybe Doctor Who needs someone to approach the show as simply a science-fiction show with a rich canon to draw from, not someone who sees it as a toy from his/her childhood to nostalgically play with. Not every story, not every arc, and not every season needs to be part of a grand epic design. Maybe I just have a sour taste in my mouth over the Amy/Rory/River arc because it took so long, the critical elements were rushed, and wasn’t as good as it could have been, but I really feel like its time to focus more on a style similar to Classic Who with just a thread of linking narrative.
With the unfortunate passing of Elisabeth Sladen the successful Sarah Jane Adventures came to an abrupt end. It was one of three spin-offs spawned by Doctor Who. That’s incredible! Not many shows ever have spin-offs at all, let alone three. But with SJA done, K-9 and Company a bust, and Torchwood’s future uncertain after its abysmal most recent season, the field is fertile for the next Doctor Who seedling to germinate.
In recent years three characters in particular seem tailor made for their own adventures. Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax may very well be able to hold their own in a spin-off. Being set during Victorian times I think the show would be a refreshing change of pace. There could always be the occasional jump forward or backward in time with some clever writing just to spice things up. And of course the Doctor could show up from time to time. I envision a program geared directly towards those viewers SJA was intended for, perhaps with a touch more maturity to entice adults. With all the innuendo between Vastra and Jenny, and Strax being oddly amusing, who wouldn’t watch?
Doctor Who the Video Game
As an avid gamer it literally pains me that there is no decent modern Doctor Who video game. All those that have come out are so behind the times it’s almost criminal. With the spectacular graphics, quality voice acting, deep interaction, and rich storytelling of modern games, translating the Doctor Who universe into a fully immersive game world would be as easy as it would be mind-blowingly awesome. Modern video games aren’t anything like they were decades ago, yet all we’ve really gotten for Doctor Who is sub-par puzzle platformers. A Doctor Who game the size and scope of successful game series like Mass Effect, Bioshock, Elder Scrolls, and Fallout would not only be awesome for Whovian gamers but could conceivably grow the popularity of Doctor Who by reigning in fans from a wider, as of yet untapped audience.
I envision a unique new story where you’d get to play as every Doctor, even a few companions, and travel to many different worlds, all different times, encountering all the familiar villains. The Master would be the central villain, of course, which would let you meet him throughout his own history of regenerations. It just seems like there’s a massive story waiting to be told that logistically couldn’t be done on TV, but could easily come together in a video game.
Modern video games are far from the 8-bit MIDI music accompanied jump ‘n shoot side-scrollers of yesteryear. They are a respected and wildly lucrative form of storytelling that provides gamers with a complex world where richly textured characters are as interesting as any on television. It shows a serious lack of imagination by the BBC that this medium has not been fully taken advantage of. The only problem is that high quality games cost as much as a Hollywood blockbuster, sometimes more. I guess they don’t see a big enough market to make a profit, but I think there’s more potential there than they realize.
The Next Fifty Years
Is Doctor Who going to be around for another fifty years? Well, in the hearts and minds of fans the show will certainly live forever. In reality though, five or ten years from now television will not be anything like it is today. Will there be a demand or even a venue for Doctor Who? There will always be series, but it is how they are produced, disseminated, and even conceived that will change drastically as streaming technology takes over as the main way to distribute content. With so much being learned from understanding the viewing habits of people who stream content through services such as Netflix or iTunes, I think a more accurate portrait of the wants and desires of viewers is being painted. I think the future of TV content will be based on what the viewer wants to see rather than what the network executives think we want to see. Doctor Who may actually be a sort of vanguard for this change. The show’s popularity is at heights never before seen. It is safe to say that Doctor Who is now more of a phenomenon, even a way of life, than just another TV show. There’s something to be said for that.
I’d like to think that Doctor Who can make it another fifty years. Heck, who thought it would be around for the first fifty? With so many ups and downs in the show’s history maybe the most important thing Doctor Who has going for it is a fiercely loyal and devoted fan base that constantly years for more adventures in space and time. Nobody knew the show would be a success when it came back in 2005. In retrospect it is easy to say that it was a certainty. But Doctor Who is resilient primarily because of its fans. Maybe it’s just a peculiarity of Doctor Who’s unique design that allows it to be so flexible, diverse, and far reaching. It’s a show that can and has reinvented itself countless times, from the advent of regeneration as a means to keep the show going, to setting the show on Earth during the 3rd Doctor’s time, to its fluctuations between serious and comedic throughout the 80s, to its re-introduction and re-imagining in 2005. Even now during the Moffat era the show is different than it was only a few years ago. And yet, through all its changes and troubles and triumphs, Doctor Who has endured.
I think Doctor Who’s future is bright. With several genres—movies and video games—still untapped, I think the potential growth for Doctor Who’s fan base is nearly infinite. It’s a show that by design can only stagnate by way of unimaginative writing and poor handling, just look at what happened in the 80s. If it is nurtured, respected, and fully embraced by those who produce it I think some of us may live to see Doctor Who’s 100th anniversary.