The following contains spoilers regarding the 2017 Doctor Who Christmas Special, “Twice Upon a Time”.
And with that, the sprawling, often brilliant but mostly wildly inconsistent [Steven] Moffat run on Doctor Who is over!
…Oh, right. We’re meant to be talking about the regeneration of Capaldi into Whittaker. Well, that was brilliant, clearly. Not just because it’s a good year to flip the bird to convention and tradition, but because Jodie Whittaker’s turn on Broadchurch was gut-kickingly good, and if you’ve not already been kept awake by how great her new look is, here’s what all the fuss has been about:
The move to have The Doctor, everyone’s favourite timelord (unless you’re a Romana fan, which I sure as shit am) flip from man to woman was met with predictable furore, but mostly, the Who community was excited. The regeneration sequence felt just as it should – The Doctor was confused, then excited beyond belief, then promptly flung out of a flaming TARDIS into a freefall before TO BE CONTINUED hammered the screen. We got a promise of what’s to come – a season of making her way back to the TARDIS, perhaps? – and a whiff of her energy as the new incarnation of The Doctor.
The episode itself was pretty much a tasting platter of Moffat’s best and worst tendencies – nods to the past of Doctor Who, some subtle and delightful (the nod to The Brig’s dad was a lovely reveal), some unsubtle and utterly awful (fuck off, Clara). But one thing it proved was this: Moffat is good at short bursts of Whovian goodness. He’s good at opening doors.
He’s good at moments.
Case in point: Capaldi’s gorgeous regeneration speech. Moffat nailed it with Matt Smith’s regen speech, too; he’s very good at monologues, and when depicting the death-ish throes of a Doctor about to change, he avoided the one thing that shat me about Russell T Davies‘ [David] Tennant goodbye; he made it joyful, and positive, and full of hope. I honestly wouldn’t say no to the occasional Moffat standalone episode under Chibnall’s turn as showrunner next year.
Because let’s face it: as important as casting is in Doctor Who, this glorious, miraculous show lives and dies on the writing, and Moffat almost drove things into the ground. Pearl Mackie’s arc last season as Bill Potts began with promise – normal people are just as important as space-bound demi-gods – and spiralled into typical lazy Moffat excess – nope, wait, she’s a dimension-hopping space lesbian, never mind.
The reason I sat there lamenting Capaldi’s rebirth into Whittaker was because he really only got patches of greatness, and that’s all down to poor show-running and inconsistent scripts, as well as strange moves to turn The Doctor from a hero into an at times barely capable buffoon. But Capaldi’s staggering acting chops, combined with occasional episodes which rank among the best in the history of the show (such as “Heaven Sent”) will ensure people still adore Capaldi’s 12th Doctor for decades to come. Because even when the show was shit, he delivered. And when the show was running smoothly, he was up there with the best.
The reason I’m talking so much about Moffat, and lamenting his shortcomings, is because when he was on form (like with “Blink”, or “Silence in the Library”), he was capable of perfection, and now he’s regenerating, too. Doctor Who gets a new Doctor, but it also gets a new show-runner. Chris Chibnall has worked with Jodi Whittaker, too – and as a bonus, they’ve both worked with Tennant (flashback episodes with the Tenth Doctor, anyone?)! It’s a brave new era for the show, and it’s going to be magical seeing someone approach Doctor Who with a fresh perspective, and without the gender politics and writing finesse of a dildo piffed through a church window.
But Doctor Who is a magical, improbable show, and there’s almost nothing I love more! This is going to be such a breath of fresh air. Jodi Whittaker will be brilliant. Chris Chibnall will be brilliant. But this show lives and dies on it’s ability to maintain a through-line and establish a sense of place, things Davies did (for the most part) faultlessly. It’s ironic that only time will tell how well this new era pans out for Doctor Who.
Paul Verhoeven hosts ‘The Doctor Is In’, an all things Time Lord podcast available on iTunes here. Check it out for chats with the Moff himself, as well as members of the Who community including actor Matt Lucas, Executive Producer Brian Minchin and writer Sarah Dollard.