Doctor Who Needs A Mandalorian Moment

Guest article by Carter J Grayson.

Happy Star Wars day! May the 4th be with you.

Cast your mind way back to 2012, Disney had just announced a new Star Wars trilogy. Fans of the iconic franchise were excited to say the least. A couple of years later, it was announced that classic cast members, including Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were all returning. Fan hype was through the roof. December 2015 finally arrived and the first in the new trilogy, The Force Awakens, was released. Reaction at the time was generally positive, and the film was a massive box office success.

Fast-forward to December 2017 and the second film in the sequel trilogy, The Last Jedi, is released. While the film was again critically lauded, box office sales were down and fan reaction was much more divisive, to say the least! The film’s line about “Let[ting] the past die.” would become infamous. This was particularly evident with how the film treated Star Wars lore and especially Luke Skywalker, the legacy lead character. Many felt it was a bastardisation of previous portrayals. Even Mark Hamill himself expressed disappointment. This was just the biggest complaint though, others felt the film had underwritten and bland new characters, weak villains, and was too P.C.

In December 2019, the third and final film in the sequel trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker is released. At this point the Star War fanbase is fractured. The writers had clearly acknowledged the negative reactions of the previous film and attempted to remedy some complaints. But it wasn’t quite enough. The film received a mixed response both from fans and critics, and ended up the lowest-grossing of the trilogy. The film series was put on pause as a result.

Disney had one last trick up their sleeve though. This was in the form of a little TV show called The Mandalorian, created by Jon Favreau. The series was approached with some trepidation, but fans soon warmed to it. The show appeared to capture what many felt was missing. Most importantly, it respected the Star Wars lore and its past. December 2020 saw the culmination of two seasons of work with the glorious, heroic return of Luke Skywalker. This is the moment that many have considered to have “saved Star Wars”. Indeed, soon after, Disney announced nine (!) new Star Wars spin-off shows.

So why am I recounting this history on a Doctor Who fan site? Well, if you haven’t realised by now, I see several parallels to where Doctor Who has found itself. It’s no secret that Chris Chibnall and the direction he has taken the show in has caused the fanbase to become a very divided place since he took over. If I was to compare franchises, I’d say right now we’re at the post “Last Jedi Stage”. The Timeless Children and its massive canon changes essentially “let the past die”, much like the aforementioned film, and for some that was the final straw.

With Series 13, Chibnall has two routes he could go now. He will either ignore any negative reaction and deliver more of the same (and risk losing even more fans). Or he may attempt to appease some complaints, à la The Rise of Skywalker. I think, like with Star Wars, if Chibnall does go down the latter route, it still won’t be enough to get the lost fans back on board.

So, what I think Doctor Who really needs now is its “Mandorlorian moment”. Hence the article title. What I mean by this is the only way I see Doctor Who having some fan unity again is by a Favreu-esque figure being drafted in to try and take the show back to basics. Someone who can focus first on great stories with a compelling cast, and no divisive elements. Perhaps someone like Neil Gaiman, or maybe even Nicholas Briggs would be fit for the job (if he could somehow fit it in with his Big Finish demands).

All I know for certain is, the 60th anniversary is getting ever closer, and the key question is: do the BBC really want to get there with a fanbase still so divided? Wouldn’t it be better if fans were united and celebrating like they were with the 50th? It’s time for some healing.