I love Doctor Who. I’m exactly the right age to have grown up with the 2005 reboot, but even before that, my mum had introduced me to the unhinged glory of the Tom Baker years (and the underappreciated TV movie).
The show has had its ups and downs over the past six decades – more downs than ups, in recent years – but with the return of Russell T Davies to get the show back on track after the wildly uneven Chibnall era, fans have been optimistic about the future of the series. However, new leaks have emerged regarding the current crop of Doctor Who specials that have already soured that optimism and made fans like me very nervous about the future of the show.
If you aren’t a terminally online nerd like me, you might have missed the fact that spoilers have been online for weeks. Even if you have accidentally stumbled across them, it’s possible that, like many other people you’ve already dismissed them out of hand because of how ridiculous and made up they sound. It’s never a good sign when the plot of your highly anticipated show gets leaked and everybody ignores it because “surely nobody would do something that stupid”.
Unfortunately, between the airing of the first special and the official materials that have been released for the next two, the leaks seem to have been all but confirmed as true. If you’re sensitive about spoilers, now is your last chance to turn back (although, if you’re sensitive about spoilers, why did you click on an article with “spoilers” in the title, you masochist?).
According to leaks on Reddit and X (formerly known as Twitter), the 9 December episode of Doctor Who, titled “The Giggle”, which will feature David Tennant’s regeneration scene, and the introduction of new Doctor Ncuti Gatwa. While that was expected, what wasn’t expected was the specific manner in which the Doctor will regenerate.
I love nostalgia as much as the next person, but there’s a limit. After a certain point, we’re being babied
While most Doctors transform into their next form, essentially “killing off” the previous incarnation, Tennant will allegedly undergo a “bi-regeneration”. Essentially this means that, rather than the one Doctor transforming into a new character and allowing a new actor to take up the mantle, as has been tradition since William Hartnell first regenerated into Patrick Troughton in the Sixties, the Tennant incarnation of the Doctor will split into two distinct entities. The Tennant Doctor will remain alive, free to go on adventures with his companion Donna Noble, and the ongoing series will follow the “new” Doctor Gatwa on his adventures.
The plot point, if real, has attracted well-earned criticism from fans of the show, who have pointed out that having two Doctors will automatically make the new, unfamiliar incarnation feel like a cheap imitation (some are referring to him as the “clone Doctor”). It isn’t a great look for the first mainline Black Doctor, and one played by an LGBT+ actor at that.
Christopher Eccleston was my Doctor, not just because he’s from my neck of the woods (he actually went to the same school as me), but because I’ll always love him for kickstarting that amazing new era. Sure, he may have bailed after one season, but it was a hell of a season.
That being said, I know when enough is enough. It would be great to see Eccleston back in the Tardis again, but he had his run (and it was fantastic). Even if he were to come back, I’d only want to see him in a one-off – a multi-Doctor special, or a flashback episode.
Likewise, it’s been great seeing Tennant step into the role again, but breaking tradition to keep his version of the character forever lurking in the background feels like a slap in the face to anybody else who’s ever piloted that big, beautiful blue box. When his character said he “didn’t want to go” the first time he regenerated, I took it as a little moment of dramatic pathos, but apparently it was a threat.
When the BBC revived Doctor Who for a new audience in the 2000s, they didn’t keep Sylvester McCoy on hand milling around in the background just in case this Manc lad with the big ears didn’t work out. If they had, who knows if people would even have been invested enough in the character to justify a second season, which introduced Tennant in the first place?
The BBC’s inability to let go of this specific iteration of their most iconic character is symptomatic of a wider trend in movies and television, where studios are so terrified of creating new things that they hold on to what they know works until the wheels come off.
Disney is still making Star Wars movies about the same 20-year period in galactic history, starring the same 10 characters, half of which we saw die back in the Seventies. Marvel is talking about bringing back a near-60-year-old Robert Downey Jr to revive a character they killed in a movie that was literally called Endgame. We’re getting live-action versions of animated movies that came out just under a century ago. I’m realising a lot of these are Disney (which just bought the rights to show Doctor Who in America). That’s probably just a coincidence.
I love nostalgia as much as the next person, but there’s a limit. After a certain point, we’re being babied. We are being taught, as viewers, to never let go of anything. The fact is, these things that we love are so special precisely because they are transient. They’re here for a little while, and then they go away, and we move on to something new and hopefully equally wonderful. We are completely unprepared for a future where these things we love are gone by virtue of necessity, or worse, kept around at the behest of some soulless AI algorithm.
I’ll still watch the rest of the specials, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Gatwa does with the role. But that lack of a clean break is going to loom large. Maybe Russell T Davies should consider trying something new. Maybe it’s time for a change.