My Favorites: Doctor Who a.k.a. “Nu Who”

*Includes series spoilers, so if you’re not caught up, proceed at your own risk.*

Firstly let me, as a fan, comment on Nu Who’s biggest news, the casting of a woman in the role of the incoming 13th Doctor. My comment is, “Holy shit, I can’t believe they actually did it.” Yes, there were many hints dropped in series 10 and calls for a female Doctor, but I was one of those people who never thought the producers would actually allow the Lord to become a Lady, despite the Master becoming Missy and the character himself alluding several times that he’d be okay with it, and to tell you the truth, that’s what made me okay with it. Although I identify a feminist, prior to series 10, I was one of those fans who didn’t think the Doctor should be a woman—not because I thought a woman couldn’t play the part as well but because the Doctor has been well-established as a male character. But changing him from male to female doesn’t rewrite or retcon what our hero has been through, whom he’s loved or what she can still do. Plus 12 being super pro-female (“We can only hope [the future is “all-girl”]) tickled me to pieces.

I don’t care that people think the move is “PC” (politically correct)—I am fascinated and excited about the casting of Jodie Whittaker, and in truth it is her casting that has solidified my continuing on to series 11 (which I briefly considered not doing because losing Peter Capaldi  is going to hurt so frickin’ much) because I really want to see what a woman brings to a role that has been so historically male. Also, based on that one-minute clip of her reveal, I believe she can do it. When she lowered her hood and the camera panned in on her blossoming smile as she gazed upon the TARDIS, the joy and titillation in her face was simply beautiful. It was evocative. It was wholly the Doctor, and if she can convey that in one minute, I look forward to finding out who 13 is and how she’s going to add to the mythos of the Doctor’s storyline.

Besides, if I want to get petty for a moment (and I do), I now get to laugh at all the close-minded fanboys and fangirls who never thought a female Doctor would come about and who are too stubborn to even give her a try. I mean, really, July 16, the day they announced Jodie Whittaker’s casting, was the “day Doctor Who died”? A woman can’t bring to the part what all these men can? Boys have lost a role model? What is this bullshit? Boys can’t look up to a woman? Why not? Girls look up to male figures all the time—why can’t it be the same the other way around?

Because we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s not the same when it comes to boys idolizing women, that’s why. Some of it has to do with sexualization, I guarantee, and because they’re too busy being hot,  women can’t possibly embody the same type of strength, ingenuity and proactiveness a male role model can. *rolls eyes*

We all need opposite-sex role models; that’s part of how we learn that we can admire and respect people who are different genders than we are. If girls and boys had more access to female role models in power in general, media would be a better medium and the world would be a better place! And while I don’t think a person is outright sexist for not wanting a woman to play the part, to judge that a woman can’t do as well in the part as a man can is an attitude of prejudice and the mark of a narrow mind. If worst comes to worst and the ratings bomb during her run, they’ll obviously just give the part back to a man (like they won’t do that anyway after having a female Doctor), so why shouldn’t she at least have a go? It’s not a big deal if she bombs because so many fans expect her to, but it will be a HUGE deal if she’s amazing because maybe some minds will change. Change. Change is at the core of what a Time Lord is, has been in the nature of the Doctor for the 50+ years the show’s been in existence, and if a fan can’t handle the simple change from a male lead to a female lead for a while, then maybe he or she wasn’t much of a fan to begin with.

Okay, enough about that. This post is meant to center on why I love Doctor Who and why others may love it too, not its divisive decision-making. So allow me to begin…

Twenty-first century Doctor Who, much like another show I love (The Walking Dead), goes down in my TV-watching history as one of the most equally heartbreaking and heartwarming programs I have ever been so highly blessed to come across. I’ve been watching the continuation of the 1963-1989 British sci-fi/drama on and off for 10 years now, but not for the main reasons most Whovians tune in. It’s not for the time-travel plots (which I admit I rarely understand fully because that’s just not how my brain works) or the special effects or makeup or monsters or even just the Doctor himself—it’s for the Doctor’s relationships with his companions and the actors who portray their bonds so authentically and beautifully. Plus Murray Gold’s scores are pretty terrific too.

  1. The Cast. At the moment I’m writing this, I don’t recall having seen a bad performance on Doctor Who, barring those from child actors because I find most child actors to be quite bad. (Sorry, kids.) But the adults are A+. I’d be here forever if I was going to gush about the complete cast of 10 series, so let me make a blanket statement and say that everyone who stars regularly in this drama runs the gambit of emotions, and they all successfully make you feel every inch of every emotion their characters are going through. It’s hard not sympathize with them, even if you don’t like them or disagree with their actions or opinions in the moment. In fact, four of my favorite actors, people whose careers I now follow, come from this show: Peter Capaldi, David Tennant, Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman. I believe that Peter Capaldi (12) is the best overall actor to helm the main role, though I believe David Tennant (10) was best suited as the embodiment of all things that encompass the Doctor, which I say in spite of the fact that Matt Smith (11) was my favorite Doctor. Clear as mud? I promise it makes sense, at least in my head. I don’t think any actor has captured the Doctor’s alien quality, his naked vulnerability or his ferocity better than Peter Capaldi. I found David Tennant’s talents to be best conveyed through the pathos, confident charm and depth of darkness he gave his Doctor. His eyes, his eyes! What he said with his eyes… And Matt Smith was a wonderful successor to fan favorite Tennant (no, I’m not mentioning Tom Baker except to say I’m not mentioning Tom Baker! I’m not talking about Classic Who here!), capturing a similar tone but adding a special touch of whimsical warmth, optimism and understanding, as I believe 11 to be the Doctor most accepting of change so far. As for Jenna Coleman, by virtue of playing the companion who impresses me the most, she was the actress who impressed me the most. She gave Clara enough strength and bite and heart that I admired the character regardless of all her faults and the hate she gets. As the reigning Queen of Unpopular Opinions, yes, I am a Clara fan. Absolutely. And you can’t be a Clara fan without being a Jenna Coleman fan.
  2. The Characters. I have love for all of the main companions: Rose Tyler (specifically series 1 Rose because I didn’t care for her during her romance with 10 nor did I like their romance as a plot point period), Martha Jones, Donna Noble, Amy Pond, Clara Oswald and Bill Potts. I do love Clara, Martha and Bill in particular. However, I love the Doctor the most. I love all my Doctors (and respect all the others who paved the way for the show and the character to continue).
  • The 9th Doctor: I haven’t made it through the whole of series 1, but I’ve always been fond of 9. I can relate to someone forlorn and eccentric, sad but strong.
  • The 10th Doctor: 10 was my first Doctor, the one who introduced me to the Who-niverse, rife with fantasy, fears and wonder. Because I suffer from major depression, I always felt very close to him because of the deep sorrow and regret he carried around (in the aftermath of the Time War, like 9), but at the same time, I didn’t give a crap that he was mourning the loss of Rose because I so disliked their being together. Otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed 10—he was funny, fierce, energetic and smooth, and I credit him with being the first character ever to present to me the concept of reacting to things that are different with awe rather than immediate hostility or fear.
  • The 11th Doctor: This was the Doctor who helped me get through college, which was the worst time of my life and when my depression and suicidal ideations were at their peaks. He gave me so much hope that things could change for the better, that there was still good amidst all the bad, all with his zaniness and tenacity and affection for his companions; he inspired me to keep pushing in spite of all the hellish pain, just as he did, and because he kept pushing, he was able to formulate a plan to reverse the worst decision of his life and save Gallifrey. Eleven got me home, even if we had to go the “long way ’round…”
  • The 12th Doctor: Because of his newly adverse reaction to affection and general grumpiness, when 12 started, I didn’t feel as close to him as I did to 10 and 11, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t love him from day one. My love for him grew as he grew and I came to appreciate him over his tenure as an emblem of strength and didactic compassion. He’s strange, surly, articulate, old-school in both his subtlety and grandiosity, operatic even, and it was a pleasure watching him grow from someone who asked in his second episode “Am I good man?” to someone who’s (currently) adamant against changing his persona for fear that he would have to start the journey to discover he is good all over again. Oh, Doctor. You were good then and you are good now, though you will soon no longer be a good man. Instead you will be a good woman. I just hope she can find the kind of peace that comes from embracing yourself and find it swiftly the way so many of her predecessors never could.

The Doctor confuses me, shocks me and ticks me off occasionally, but he also makes me laugh, makes me think and helps me hope, for which, as a young adult with deep depression, I look up to and appreciate him. I love his genius, his quirkiness, his epic oratory skills (oh gosh, I could listen to Peter Capaldi especially make speeches all day). But the thing I love about the Doctor the most, the one thing that sets him apart from so many other characters even though he’s an alien, is that he loves—loves in so many different ways yet always so dearly, so ardently, and he doesn’t let inevitable loss stop him from loving again or loving still, and I love that.

  • Clara Oswald: I love Clara. She is my favorite companion because I found her to be realistic and relatable in that she had a lot of good points that managed to eclipse her many flaws. I know a ton of people hate Clara—my own boss told me she disliked Clara because she was “demanding and selfish,” which was certainly true sometimes, and that she “had no heart.” Pfft, WHAT? She overrode Earth’s choice to blow up the moon and saved a defenseless creature. She challenged 11 to reclaim his name and purpose when he planned on using the Moment to destroy Gallifrey once again. She appealed to the stony Time Lords to give 11 another regeneration cycle. She tore herself into pieces and scattered herself about the Doctor’s timeline so she could always be there to help him. Finally, she died for Rigsy, an average character, and she did it with dignity, concerning herself only with making sure the Doctor would continue to “be a Doctor” in her absence and how to die bravely like her late boyfriend, Danny Pink, did. Clara has a huge heart; she’s smart, resourceful, affectionate, good with kids. She’s also bossy, smart-mouthed, vain and reckless. She is a full person to me, far from a Mary Sue or a helpless hottie or a fawning love interest (although the argument could certainly be made that she and 12 harbored romantic feelings for each other, but I don’t really subscribe to that interpretation), and I admire her and love her and hope she comes back at Christmas. Again, I’ll be laughing at all the fans who hate her if she is there because I’m an adult like that.
  • Martha Jones: So underrated. So underappreciated! Though she spent a good chunk of her season pining for the man who loved her only as a friend (which generally irritates me as a viewer, I don’t know about you), I still came to love and appreciate this kind, cheeky, bright young woman, this resilient leader who walked the earth to proclaim hope in the name of the Doctor, to save him when no one else could. He could always count on her, his greatest (platonic) support. She was a doer more than a thinker like Donna and Bill, and I think of her as an overall more “independent” companion, if that makes any sense, since she had to cope without the Doctor when he was stuck in the persona of John Smith and when she had to support him financially as he was leaving instructions to Sally Sparrow on how to handle the malevolent Weeping Angels. She was strong enough, independent enough and secure enough in herself to know when to walk away from the Doctor and when to come back to help him. Unlike the way I thought of Rose or Amy or Bill, Martha is a woman, not a girl, and deserves to be heralded as one of the Doctor’s most steadfast companions.
  • Bill Potts: I personally relate to Bill probably better than any of the other companions, even though I briefly studied to be an English teacher like Clara was. She’s played by Pearl Mackie, a biracial actress, and I too am biracial, having a white parent and a black parent, and while I don’t have the afro, I have those eyebrows…in fact mine are bigger. Bill is an LGBTQIA+ character and I’m the “A” on that spectrum. She’s an academic, as I once was, and genre-savvy so she’s kind of a geek; she’s emotional and vulnerable and loves her mum. She even listens to Little Mix! Again, I’m like, “Ooh, me! Pick me! I can relate! Representation is awesome!” But besides all these things, what makes her especially special to me, actually, is her mental fortitude, a trait that’s hardly ever focused on but a poignant point to make given that some of us in the audience wage a mental war every day against illnesses of the mind. It was an image of love conjured up and maintained by her imagination that defeated the Monks and her incredibly strong sense of self and pride in who she was that staved off the complete Cyber-conversion. Bill is an optimist and strong in a way that is not usually identified or praised, and the fact that series 10 took the time to celebrate her for this type of strength pleases and inspires me. She also loves the Doctor, as it was stated explicitly in “The Pyramid at the End of the World”—not romantically (obviously, lol) but as her “foster tutor,” as a man who values each sentient life, who hopes when there seems to be no stars left in the sky, who wanted to spend his time teaching her because he believed in her and because he knew she made the ordinary extraordinary…who chose her for a friend because he saw that she was the type of person who, when she didn’t know something, smiled instead of frowned. Not only do I love the Doctor for the same reasons, I had very close relationships with the majority of my teachers in high school and loved them for what they gave me and how they believed in me as well. Bill reminds me of the best of me: she is youth, she is strength and she is love, and I hope to see her at Christmas as well. (I NEED her and Clara to meet! But if they don’t, I guess there’s always fan fiction for that…)

One more note regarding Bill: It makes me positively livid when people have the nerve to say Bill is strictly the product of “the politically correct/feminist/liberal bullshit agenda” or that she isn’t “hot” enough to be the main companion. I guess all that female characters are there to do is be hot and be white, right? Well, how dare you. How dare you say that 10% of the entire world shouldn’t be represented in this girl’s sexual orientation. How dare you say that close to half the world shouldn’t be represented in this girl’s skin color. How dare you try to undermine, minimize and deny this character’s worth, her unique beauty, the merits of Pearl Mackie, and me and women like me by writing off this non-white character as an avatar of the “politically correct agenda.” You’d best check your white privilege. The world is not 100% white people, so why should TV shows portray it that way? It’s so important for me and women and girls like me to see parts of ourselves reflected in an international televised sensation like Doctor Who, to know that we can be present and pertinent in sci-fi too. Shame on those making these butthurt, bullshit comments. How they infuriate me. I swear I’ve stepped in mud puddles deeper than 90% of the people on the Internet. And again, to take my mind off my righteous anger, I go back to cackling in triumph at the casting of a female 13.

  1. The Doctor-Companion Relationship. The bonds between our brilliant oddball lead and those who connect him with their humanity as well as his own are the heart of the series, in my opinion. With the exception of 10/Rose and 11/12/River Song, I see the Doctor’s relationships with all of his companions as beautiful, fiery friendships and emotionally intelligent platonic love stories. Donna and Martha were his best friends. Amy and Rory became his family, his in-laws. He had a traditional mentor-student relationship with Bill, and whereas Clara also became one of his best friends, she became his equal in every sense, emerging from her timeline as her own type of Doctor, complete with her own TARDIS and companion (Ashildr/Me). I thought that was interesting and befitting of Clara’s character, and it is the friendship between 12 and Clara that’s my favorite. What he did for her in “Heaven Sent,” what he did to get to Gallifrey just to have the chance to save her, takes my breath away, touches me beyond what any romance story has stirred within my heart. When it’s revealed in “Hell Bent” that he died every day (just like that line in that song by Christina Perri, “A Thousand Years”! Seriously, when I’m in an emotional Doctor Who mood, I listen to that song and switch between gifs and pictures of the various Doctors hugging their companions and it makes me want to weep nearly every time) for 4.5 billion years to try and save her, I am a crying fangirl mess. No, as I stated before, I do not ship them. I’ve never been in love and romance rarely interests me, but I know what it is to love your friends. To really love your friends. Twelve loved Clara so much and she him and I them because the way 12 expresses his love is different than his predecessors—much more inward but not a degree less powerful. But love can manifest itself as a destructive force as well, as the Doctor came to find out when he shot a fellow Time Lord to escape Gallifrey with Clara and reached the literal end of the universe, leaving him and Clara with no choice but to part ways to rediscover themselves as individuals and allow the universe to heal itself in the wake of their break. Clara omitted herself from the Doctor’s mind, leaving nothing but echoes of her essence behind. But he remembered her theme, that lovely tinkling, flowing melody of curiosity and warmth, and after several references to her in series 10, his mind (possibly jumpstarted by the oncoming regeneration) booted up an image of her, along with all of his other mainstay companions, saying his name. You’d best believe I about died of emotions when he remembered her because if that were possible, I would have. Now I just need her to be there when 12 regenerates—I want Clara, Bill, and the First Doctor to usher him into the change—and then he can die happy and I can die happy, lol.

Whew! I had a lot to say about this one! Makes sense—I’ve ranked Nu Who Doctor Who as my 13th favorite TV show ever. It’s played an important role in my life so fear, giving me joy as I watched in high school, giving me hope as I soldiered through college and making me think and appreciate certain things about life as a young adult transitioning further into adulthood. It’s just…a real blessing of show and I will be forever grateful to the BBC for airing it in America so we too can share in their fanciful and felicitous phenomenon.

What do you think about Doctor Who? Are you more of a classic-era fan or do you prefer the version currently airing? Who’s your favorite Doctor? Companion? Which was your favorite series? Episode? And (of course I’m going to ask this) how do you feel about Broadchurch actress Jodie Whittaker getting a turn to pilot the TARDIS? I mean, I obviously have my opinion on it, but all comments and viewpoints are welcome so long as they are expressed with some level of decorum, please and thank you. Yes, and I thank you for reading (or perusing or skimming, for which I do not blame you, because this was a long-ass post).

-BP

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