It seems increasingly likely that Jodie Whittaker is in her final season as the titular Doctor in the BBC sci-fi series Doctor Who. The upcoming season will be the show’s thirteenth since it was recreated in 2005. The first few years of the show’s return were great – Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and even Matt Smith did very well in the role, but even by the end of Smith’s tenure the show’s decline had set in. Peter Capaldi, who took over the role after the 2013 Christmas special, endured a torrid time as the Doctor, with three seasons of stories that varied from underwhelming to just plain crap.
Jodie Whittaker, as the first woman to take over the role, came into the series at a time when it appeared to be in terminal decline. And although her arrival coincided with Doctor Who trying to put itself through a soft reboot, the decline continued. After thirteen seasons and more than fifteen years, the revived series has simply run its course. Practically every show has a natural lifespan, and though how long a series can run and remain exciting will vary, it seems clear that Doctor Who is long past that point.
There were issues regarding Whittaker’s arrival in the role, not least the so-called “gender bending” of what has always been a male character, and some have argued that it may be a factor in why her tenure as the Doctor hasn’t been so well-received. But I would argue that, despite the strong feelings on both sides of that argument, it’s almost incidental. The way the character is written and the lack of good ideas for new and interesting stories has been much more of a hindrance to Doctor Who than its main character’s gender.
As an aside, I don’t buy the argument that fans somehow “don’t want women characters.” Look at the response to characters like Captain Janeway in Star Trek or Ahsoka in Star Wars – fans respond incredibly positively to strong women in sci-fi – but they have to be well-written characters first and foremost. If they aren’t, or if there are other issues with the stories they’re part of, fans won’t be interested – just as they aren’t interested in boring male characters or male characters involved in crap stories.
Peter Capaldi is exactly how I would picture the Doctor if someone described the character to me. Compared to his two predecessors, David Tennant and Matt Smith, Capaldi had the gravitas required to truly embody the ancient time-travelling alien. But the storylines he got during his tenure were, as mentioned, uninteresting at best. As a result, viewership dropped, interest dropped, and while some fans may have been somewhat interested in what was billed as a second revival of the series when Jodie Whittaker took over, that interest soon dropped away when the underlying issues with Doctor Who were seen to remain.
Modern Doctor Who has suffered from an overuse of three key villains: the Weeping Angels, the Cybermen, and the Daleks. All three were fantastic in their initial appearances from 2005-2010, but by the turn of the last decade there was a sense that they were played out. Having seen the Doctor outsmart and defeat the Daleks in particular at least once a season for twelve seasons, they need a break.
But the sad thing is that, when the writers in recent seasons have tried to step away from familiar adversaries, the new creations made for the series have just felt incredibly bland. Generic opponents invented for the Doctor and his or her companions have been so completely boring that I honestly couldn’t tell you the names or attributes of any off the top of my head. I’d have to go away and look up who the Doctor and co. have taken on in recent seasons, such is the boring, generic, bland nature of the factions and races created for this once-great sci-fi series.
When Doctor Who was revived in 2005, it was brought back by a team of people who had loved the original show and wanted to see it succeed again. I don’t want to question the dedication and commitment of the writers and producers behind recent seasons, but it doesn’t feel that they’re as interested in Doctor Who as Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss, and even Steven Moffat had been in the first years after the show returned.
If making a big change to the Doctor when Whittaker was introduced didn’t reinvigorate the series, replacing her in the title role won’t help. Doctor Who needs a root-and-branch overhaul, but even then it’s hard to see where to take the series. Its iconic villains have become boring, cardboard cut-out opposition, and since the introduction of the Weeping Angels all the way back in 2007, no new villain has been anything other than a bland, generic sci-fi alien.
Realistically what Doctor Who needs is for the main series to go back on hiatus. The world-building in Doctor Who – at least in earlier seasons – was fantastic, and offers the opportunity to branch out into spin-offs that perhaps could look at the Time War or other key events in the series’ canon. But the main show needs a break. Maybe in another fifteen or twenty years, when another new team of writers have some genuinely good ideas, it can come back. But simply recasting the Doctor yet again won’t cut it.
Doctor Who Season 13 is due out later this year on the BBC. Doctor Who is the copyright of BBC Studios. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.