Posted 30 October 2008 in Doctor Who by Catriona
I’ve been marking for a week, and am still marking frantically before my next pile of assessment comes in next week, and cruising on the blog a little (thanks to unusually strange conversations and some pretty spring flowers), and I thought, “Do I really want to delve into the fact that David Tennant is leaving Doctor Who after next season?
Then I remembered who I actually am and how much of this blog is actually devoted to Doctor Who and I thought, “Yes. Yes, I do.”
I don’t, though. Not really.
Because this is a potentially divisive issue and I don’t want to tread on any fan toes.
Now, I’m a Doctor Who fan from way back; I’ve said that before, and I’m saying it again, because I’ve seen many Doctors come and go over the years.
And I liked all of them. Yes, even Colin Baker: I didn’t entirely appreciate the way in which the show shifted in that era, I really despised Peri and Mel, and I wasn’t terribly fond of the “Trial of a Time Lord” extended storyline. But I could appreciate how difficult it must have been to play the Doctor at a time when the BBC was uncertain about the show, including an eighteen-month hiatus from production.
I eventually liked Peter Davison, though it took repeats to make me appreciate him: in 1981, I was too devastated by the regeneration of the fourth Doctor to really enjoy the fifth incarnation. But by the time the ABC started showing repeats, I was hooked: I loved, particularly, the way in which this Doctor was analogous to the cool older brother with a driver’s license and the way in which the series showed, for the first time since William Hartnell, the interior life of the TARDIS.
I even liked Paul McGann, despite the fact that I disliked, with a fierce intensity that has lessened not a jot over the years, the liberties the telemovie took with a beloved programme: Eric Roberts as the Master? The suggestion that the Doctor was half human? The seventh Doctor dying from a gunshot wound? The Doctor snogging his companion? (Sigh. It was a more innocent time, was 1996). Oh, the pain will never lessen.
(Admittedly, even some of the Doctors I loved I also disliked at times. The seventh Doctor’s appalling enunciation and tendency to gurn in moments of high stress still irritate me. But balanced against the sheer delightfulness of the “Professor” and the glory of some of those episodes, they seem small problems.)
Bear with me: I do have a point here.
I like David Tennant. I always have. True, I don’t always like the way in which this incarnation has been presented: the implacability in some cruel situations and the occasional near-hysterical joy in chaos have made me wonder where this Doctor is going, whether he’s cruising for a fall or, like Hamlet, pretending to be mad in order to hide the fact that he is, in fact, completely insane.
But I like him. And I will be sorry to see him go.
But this is Doctor Who.
The longevity of this show comes down, in the end, to the idea of regeneration: once you induce audiences to acknowledge that the same character can be played by vastly different actors, then a show can run for as long as the acting and script-writing remain engaging.
(That conclusion requires that we all forget about “Time Lash,” for the time being.)
We all accepted the idea of regeneration in the original series. Sure, some regenerations were harder to accept than others, but even then it was a matter of shouting at the television, “Stop going wavery! You can survive a forty-foot drop from a radio telescope, you wimp! Dammit, what do you mean, ‘It’s the end’? Just stop regenerating!”
It wasn’t a disbelief in the essential fact of regeneration.
But I’m not convinced that the new audiences that this version of Doctor Who has attracted are entirely happy with the idea of regeneration. As I was saying in a discussion with Wendy over at The Spiralling Shape, I’m seeing many comments online along the lines of “Well, the show’s jumped the shark. I’ll never watch it again.”
But if the Doctor doesn’t regenerate, the entire show is at risk.
Russell T. Davies made a bold decision in bringing Christopher Eccleston in as the ninth Doctor, knowing that he would only remain a year. Even then, I recall much discussion suggesting that Eccleston had misrepresented his willingness to remain with the show, because no showrunner would have hired an actor for a single series of a long-awaited return.
But it was a good decision: a fragile, manic, appealing Doctor who regenerates almost immediately? I can’t think of a better way to foreground the nature of the programme.
This, though, is the real test. Tennant is dearly beloved as the tenth Doctor, and anyone filling his shoes has a difficult task ahead of them. There’ll be no shortage of willing aspirants, but the real concern here is with the fans.
The fans have to accept regeneration.
I don’t mean to sound dogmatic on the subject, and I know a lot of the cyber-distress at this point is shock and dismay at losing a favourite Doctor. I sympathise with that; I’m shocked, too. But I’m sticking with that main point.
We have to accept regeneration.
If we ignore the Doctor’s unique lifespan and the ways in which his physiognomy works to extend his life, then we’re inevitably shortening the lifespan of the programme as a whole.