There was something undeniably joyous in hearing Jodie Whittaker, newly regenerated from the wiry frame and broad Scottish accent of Peter Capaldi (Doctor the Twelfth), suddenly exclaim ‘Oh, brilliant!’ in her own thick, West Yorkshire dialect. Aside from giving me pleasant flashbacks to hearing Christopher Eccleston bounding around the TARDIS in years gone by, finally seeing Whittaker on screen felt like the culmination of something that had been waiting to happen, if you’ll excuse the phrase, for a very long time.
It was, after all, previous Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat who first floated the idea of a female Doctor in the fan-favourite Comic Relief special ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’, which he wrote way back in 1999. The difference being that, nineteen years ago, it was played for laughs. Time jump ahead to 2018 though, and the attitude towards a female Doctor has changed and most fans (emphasis on ‘most’) seem either tremendously excited or generally un-bothered by the decision; accepting that a fantasy sci-fi series that’s been running for more than fifty years now, can afford to shake things up a bit. About time, I say. For me, this is exactly what Doctor Who is about: bringing the fantastical and even the impossible into our living rooms every Saturday night. Though a female Doctor is neither fantastical nor impossible, when the show is taking a chance on some of its stranger, more horror-centric concepts (‘Blink’, ‘Midnight’, ‘The God Complex’), it often leads to magic.
“the genius of the franchise is that it has always maintained a style of its own while being malleable enough to change”
The feeling, then, is that with Chris Chibnall (of Torchwood and Broadchurch fame) at the reigns as lead-writer, we’re in for something of a Doctornaissance. Which got me wondering if a long-running film or television series had ever re-invented itself and ended up being even better than before. Could such a move ever be considered worth it? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first example that came to mind was that loveable philanderer James Bond; her Majesty’s weapon of choice, at least until the Corgis have bred with sharks. With a film series that stretches back to 1962, it’s almost the cinematic equivalent of Who, although it has at times made even less sense, ironically. In total, there have been seven actors who’ve been behind the wheel of the Aston (and yes, I am counting David Niven, even thinking about that casting decision makes me chuckle) but the genius of the franchise is that it has always maintained a style of its own while being malleable enough to change, sometimes at the raise of an eyebrow, to be whatever the audience of the day need it to be.
Moonraker remains the classic example. After The Spy Who Loved Me’s credits rolled, audiences were told, ‘James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only’, except he didn’t. After the phenomenon that was Star Wars re-ignited an interest in space and science-fiction in the heads of all the kids that saw it, Eon and UA pushed Moonraker forward and it released in 1979. Blasting off to the tune of $210 million at the global box office, it became the highest grossing Bond movie ever until Goldeneye in 1995. This is without mentioning more recent changes seen with Daniel Craig’s tenure that has seen the franchise rapidly trying to catch up to an audience demand for more action and greater danger in a post-Bourne world. Casino Royale (2006) succeeds as such (there are scenes that even today would push a 12A certificate, I think), but the flimsy, preposterously titled follow-up Quantum of Solace lost its way in trying too hard to keep up with everyone’s favourite rogue amnesiac. And, while Bond hasn’t done much to address issues of diversity and representation thus far (I won’t mention Pussy Galore and Xenia Onatopp if you don’t) it’s come a ways from Connery and Moore freely slapping their female counterparts in previous instalments. Baby steps, people.
“Regardless of how you may feel about each season on its own, there’s never any doubt that you are watching True Detective”
Finally, my thoughts rested on HBO’s True Detective, a pitch-black crime drama about to enter its third iteration starring Mahershala Ali in the lead. Unusually, the show’s premise and characters have changed every season so far. The first was a redemptive tale of two mismatched detectives in Louisiana pursuing a grisly cult-like serial killer over a twenty-year period, while the second was more of a triptych narrative following three different cops attempting to bring down crime-boss Vince Vaughn (a performance that still haunts me, for all the wrong reasons). So, while the show has taken some dips in quality between seasons if that wasn’t already implied, the pervading atmosphere of the narrative and the consistently sharp writing, both frequently nihilistic in tone, are the key elements that persist. Regardless of how you may feel about each season on its own, there’s never any doubt that you are watching True Detective. The essence of the show survives.
That’s all you can really hope for with Doctor Who at this point, or indeed any re-imagined franchise or television series. If fans followed Star Trek through thick and thin, from troubling Tribbles to whatever the hell was going on in Enterprise, then it’s safe to say that your favourite series will probably be alright too. Then again, there was The Final Frontier, and Dr. Who and the Daleks… well, let’s just hope for the best.