Is Doctor Who History Repeating Itself?
Guest contributor Kyle Taylor chronicles the oddly familiar cycle the show is going through.
We all know the old saying of “history repeats itself”, and to me it seems there is no clearer representation of this than the familiar cycle that Doctor Who is going through at the moment. What cycle is this you ask? Allow me to present to you the ponderings of a man with too much Doctor Who on the mind:
Farewell to the fan favourite
From 1974 to 1981, Tom Baker not only held the role of the Doctor, he forever left an indelible and unique stamp on it, arguably becoming the favourite incarnation of the time lord for many people. Perhaps due to his unusually long tenure, or to his completely unique take on the character, (or perhaps both) the man in the long scarf and floppy hat would forever leave his image on the world’s view of Doctor Who. With the introduction of a new producer (Jonathan Nathan-Turner) and a new direction for the show, Mr. Baker finally handed over the keys to the TARDIS to a much younger man (the youngest at that time) in the form of Peter Davison.
In the modern era of “Who”, we have a very similar situation. David Tennant, it could be argued, left just as much of an impression with audiences as Tom Baker, despite having held the role for a much shorter period of time. A constant fan favorite in many polls, (and thus the source of much back and forth arguing over his take on the role) Tennant put a new face to the part that connected with fans and sideline viewers alike and at that time was the recognizable face and form of the show to nearly everyone, fan or not. Just like with Tom Baker, the introduction of a new producer (Steven Moffat) saw Tennant hand over the keys of the TARDIS to yet another “youngest to ever take the role” actor in the form of Matt Smith.
So in both era’s we see a fan favourite say goodbye, a new producer step in, and a younger man jump into the role at the same time. I think the Doctor himself would start to pay close attention here..
A new and often debated producer
Our next bit of history repetition lies with the role of the producer. In 1981 Jonathan Nathan-Turner stepped into the role of producer and oversaw the final season of Tom Baker’s tenure. He was then responsible for the era of Doctor Who that gave us Peter Davison, Colin Baker and finally Sylvester McCoy. Turner is and was a source of much debate and contention. While he did help bring the show to a wider audience (he actively sought out American audiences and travelled to conventions in the states quite often) he also takes a lot of blame for the poorer portions of the show’s final leg. Even in midst of his time on the show fans were often speculating if what he was doing was best for Doctor Who.
In our current place in time, Steven Moffat has seen (I think) an equal amount of criticism for his running of the show. Moffat has also, and even more successfully, sought out and attained a larger audience for Doctor Who, and I think it is fair to say it has been a bigger hit during his time than ever before. Like Nathan-Turner he started his run by introducing a much younger actor to the role, and filled up the TARDIS with more companions than previously done. (for Davison it was Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. For Smith it was Amy Pond, Rory and River Song) The complaints surrounding Moffat’s run thus far run the gamut from sexism to over complicated story arcs. The actual issues aren’t important here, just the point that both of these producers have had fans fiercely divided.
Two different producers in two different time periods, both coming in after the show’s most popular Doctor to date, both bringing in young blood to the role, and both drawing a wave of criticism. Curious…
The new young man
Peter Davison was quite a change from Tom Baker. Not only was he actually younger, he very much looked younger. Baby-faced with blonde hair and a kind, if a little exasperated, demeanor, he was the polar opposite of the very alien 4th Doctor. Davison’s Doctor was still quirky, still the smartest man in the room, but he was now equipped with a boyish charm and a desire to move away from the more dangerous situations.
In our current section of the time-space continuum, Matt Smith offered much of the same fresh take on the role. Younger than Tennant, and even Davison, the 11th Doctor had a similar inexhaustible energy like his predecessor, but replaced the occasional melancholy and deep guilt, with an infectious love for all things around him and an irrepressible excitement. Like Davison, he was stepping into big shoes, and was far younger than many would have anticipated, but nonetheless embodied all the familiar aspects of the Doctor, while providing a fresh take of his own.
The “Darker” Doctor arrives
Here is where I think the timelines come closest together, and hopefully end up straying the furthest apart.
Both Davison and Smith gave their all for 3 years and then decided to hang up the long coats. Both Nathan-Turner and Moffat decided to go for something a bit different in their replacements for the Doctor. One, as we know, did not go the way it was planned.
Colin Baker stepped into the role of the Doctor with every intention of taking the role back to the old days. His Doctor was to be darker, less predictable, less friendly. In many ways he achieved this, giving us a grumpy, slightly holier-than thou Doctor who nearly choked his companion to death in his first episode. Sadly, Colin’s tenure was marred by all kinds of nonsense: A terrible costume choice, inconsistent writing, a hiatus forced by the BBC, and eventually a practically non-existent regeneration. The show had a few highlights in his time there, but the possibility of an edgier and more alien Doctor was never allowed to be fully realized.
Now, here we stand on the precipice of a new period for the show, which feels remarkably like the promises the Colin Baker era hoped to fulfill. We have a new Doctor who will be taking the role in a darker, and less people friendly direction. (and who, like Colin Baker, has previously appeared in the show in a different role!) We are saying goodbye the boy faced younger man with boundless enthusiasm, and hello to the patriarch of the TARDIS with the serious face.
Is history really repeating itself? Are we heading into an era of disappointment like we saw with the Colin Baker/Nathan-Turner years? Personally, I say no. Peter Capaldi already has the advantage of no Technicolor dreamcoat to undermine his performance, and a production team who has mapped out their season with what I assume is a high level of precision. What I think we are about to see is the correction of a cycle we already went through. If some better decisions had been made back in 1984, perhaps we would have seen 4 or 5 years of Colin Baker’s Doctor, and a very different view on his time there. I hope, and do strongly believe, we are now finally getting the transition that was meant to happen back then, but with better special effects, a better production team, and now a swarm of rabid fans eagerly waiting to devour each episode. Perhaps the pent up aggression of our former timeline will now be satiated. Bring it on, 12th Doctor!