Doctor Who: Tennant outcome

In December 2022 I wrote about the surprising return of David Tennant to Doctor Who, and made a prediction about the theme RTD wanted to explore:

It is my expectation that this return to the role of Doctor is explicitly intended as a continuation of this thread: RTD will frame this as the Doctor’s own psyche giving himself a chance to resolve his resentment and frustration, come to terms with the end of his time as Doctor, and to accept his final regeneration with positivity (just as the 13th Doctor managed to do).
So I think we will see the marvellous Bernard Cribbins (RIP) again, as it was his life Tennant’s Doctor died to save beforehand. And I think his Doctor’s final line will be a satisfying rejoinder to the words that ended his previous incumbency:
“I’m ready to go.”

What we got in November 2023 was:

Never mind that. Just mend
yourself and come back fighting
fit. Cos the whole world needs
you, more than ever.
It’s time. Here we go again.
(final words)

Close enough!

(Source: the amazing Whoniverse section of the BBC script repository)

Doctor Who: Tennant Expectations

David Tennant’s encore in the TARDIS, as the opening salvo from returning showrunner Russell T Davies, is going to be entertaining TV for sure, but also interesting as storytelling.

(I’ve been chatting about this with various people for months, thought I might as well chuck it on the blog so my expectations can be tested against reality!)

RTD has always invited viewers to take a perspective on his writing – the wonderful book The Writer’s Tale, about his process in the later seasons of his last Doctor Who run, offer plenty of insight into his style. To put it simply, he’s a vibes guy, assembling story as a means to hit emotional beats and payoffs, and worrying about coherence and structure as very much secondary concerns.

In the years since he left DW he’s developed his craft further, hitting a peak with the simply marvellous It’s A Sin, which was aimed at emotional turning points but also had an extremely well-crafted narrative form, one that did not follow any standard structure but almost built out its plot from the needs of character. A remarkable piece of work by any measure, worthy of the acclaim that has been heaped on it.

So it’s interesting to speculate about what we will see in RTD’s second era of Who: what will be the well-crafted vibes this time out?

It’s known that the seed of the Tennant return, with Catherine Tate along as Donna, came from one of the lockdown Doctor Who rewatches where all three speculated about doing a return.

My guess is that this became a plan when RTD, having cast Ncuti Gatwa as his new Doctor, found he was staring down a full year of waiting before Gatwa could get out of other contracts and start in the role. With time to fill, a return to Tennant & Tate was right there on the table as an option.

But the idea of a fun reunion wouldn’t be enough for an RTD who had just achieved the highest highs of his chosen artform, and whose skill and reputation had never been higher. I think the motivation for RTD, in making this his opening statement back in the head office, is actually to speak back to his first run on the show, and return to certain decisions of the past, which is to say, certain vibes of the past.

One decision in particular is already featured in the trailer: Tate’s character Donna was left in the show with all memory of her adventures wiped away. This was an extremely controversial move, because the journey of her character had been greater than that of any other companion in the history of the show, and reverting her to a comedic bumbler did not honour her.

(Personally I had no problem with her sad ending, sometimes things just end badly, as RTD was pointing out. But I can understand why many viewers felt protective of Donna and were gutted by her final situation.)

It is clear that RTD is going to give Donna a happier ending this time out, where she can be fully herself again, living up to her potential. Not quite saying “I was wrong about that, sorry folks” – but definitely taking an opportunity to add some joy to the grand story of the show by undoing the sorrow he had once added.

I think that’s not all we’ll see along these lines. Tennant’s Doctor was always deeply flawed, and his final scenes saw him frustrated and angry at the circumstances of his demise, which came he thought too soon. Again, this left a bad taste in the mouths of many viewers, although it was very in keeping with the character RTD had steered for several years.

It is my expectation that this return to the role of Doctor is explicitly intended as a continuation of this thread: RTD will frame this as the Doctor’s own psyche giving himself a chance to resolve his resentment and frustration, come to terms with the end of his time as Doctor, and to accept his final regeneration with positivity (just as the 13th Doctor managed to do).

So I think we will see the marvellous Bernard Cribbins (RIP) again, as it was his life Tennant’s Doctor died to save beforehand. And I think his Doctor’s final line will be a satisfying rejoinder to the words that ended his previous incumbency:

“I’m ready to go.”

EDITED TO ADD: a relevant excerpt from Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook. As noted above, he’s not saying he was wrong about any of this, but he’s taking an opportunity to offer a new emotional experience by revisiting this.

The Next Doctor

Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who, someone new is coming into the role, everyone is speculating (with various degrees of tongue in cheek) about the likelihood of the role being filled by a woman or a black man or by Sophie Okenedo.

I don’t think it’s going to happen, folks. It’ll be a 30-ish white guy you’ve never heard of before.

Okay, it might be a black man. Paterson Joseph is widely acknowledged to have been Steven Moffat’s second pick for the role, and he had a lock on the part right until Matt Smith gave an incredible audition. I’d be surprised though, simply because of the weight of demographics. There are *so many more* white working actors out there, because there are more opportunities, institutional racism, blah blah you know how it works. If you dip a hand into the pool and pull out a wriggly actor, odds are good it’s a white guy. I’ll bet on those odds.

But the new DW won’t be a woman. They might even have auditioned women, but they won’t cast anyone who isn’t a chap. I think this is because the creators, either explicitly or intuitively, sense that a female Doctor will violate something about the show.

…and I think they’re right. Doctor Who is, among many other things, a show *about* men, and their relationship with women. Specifically, its about a certain kind of man, generous-spirited life-advantaged empathetic highly confident antiestablishment, like a genteel Edwardian adventurer with a rogueish streak, or indeed a TV creator, or most of the key decisionmakers in the creative sphere. The female companion is the means by which the show critiques this figurative man. In a sense, for better or worse, Doctor Who is about presenting a redemptive alternative masculinity.

So: there is nothing in the fiction of the show preventing a female Doctor (indeed, the show has explicitly allowed for it, very recently), but coded into Who is a gender-based dynamic that would be upended totally by casting a woman in the lead. For this reason, I don’t think they will.


There are meant to be 13 Doctors (according to one story from the 70s, never mind all the other stories that say different) – that number has seeped into public consciousness and can’t really be ignored. The show will have to confront this limit in order to move past it. Then, I think, it will have an opportunity for conceptual collapse and reimagining; and so I predict a woman Doctor will appear on the scene, but she’ll be the Fourteenth Doctor, at the earliest.

Let me be absolutely clear: I would be SUPER HAPPY if the creators decided to violate this thematic tenet of the show. It is NOT essential to Who. It wouldn’t be the first major violation of the series’ thematic structure (refer: the Doctor is an asexual being). I would be stoked to be wrong. I would watch the shit out of Olivia Colman as the twelfth Doctor, to take the name being chucked around at present. But it ain’t gonna happen, and this idea of a violation is why.

(Yes, I’m being deliberately provocative by calling it a “violation”. I’m a blogger and I sin as a blogger sins.)

The whispers I’ve heard say the next Doctor was cast months ago, in January. I guess we’ll know soon enough.

(Oh, and while talking Doctor Who, Stephanie left an interesting comment responding to the “Steven Moffat’s issues with women” critique in the Friday linky.)

Dune & Doctor Who

Two interesting projects have come to light today, both on the Bleeding Cool news website. They are both ideas I have talked about several times in the past: “someone should do this,” I have said. Now someone is.

The first is a documentary about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s aborted 1970s film adaptation of Dune. I learned about this film through my interest in the making of the 1979 film Alien, which was in many ways born out of the ashes of the failed Dune project. The designs I’ve seen for the film are fascinating, and the weird visionary style of Jodorowsky would have been a fascinating match for Frank Herbert’s dense science fiction epic. The sheer talent involved alone makes this one of the great untold stories of filmmaking, and one I’ve long thought demanded a telling; but now that I’ve seen this first clip, I realize Dune could have been even more of a game changer, perhaps the only real followup to Kubrick’s 2001. This one promises to far exceed my hopes. I’m very excited about this.

The second one has not been confirmed, but strongly hinted: Mark Gatiss is apparently working on a TV drama about the creation of Doctor Who in the early 60s. I am a lot more cautious about this project. While Gatiss is a huge fan of the show and a highly successful TV creative (best known at the moment for Sherlock), he is… not at his strongest working with female characters. (At least, so argues Andrew(Bartok), quite convincingly.)

This matters because the version of this story I have always wanted to see (and have wanted to write, had I the time and airfare budget to research it properly) isn’t about the origins of Doctor Who at all, but instead about the early careers of two remarkable women: Verity Lambert and Delia Derbyshire. Both of them were pioneers (in television production and electronic music, respectively, although that undersells their impact) and both of them were young women in overwhelmingly male work environments. DW was where their trajectories crossed, and they both had a huge part to play in making the show an icon of British culture. There is plenty of other fascinating incident in the origin of DW, and of course the men involved were all quite singular, but to me the Lambert/Derbyshire parallel story has a potential that the rest doesn’t match.

So I’ll watch for more news of this one with caution.

(The first scene of my version of the Lambert/Derbyshire story pretty much writes itself.)

Quick Shots

I miss being able to blog about things in the world. Writing here helps me process and understand things. My comprehension of reality has reduced while I’ve been busy. Anyway, to spare you lengthy tortured posts, here’s some quick thoughts.

Shipwreck: A ship on a reef leaking oil, and the election just changed again. Our PM is under pressure from the media for a change, and he’s not coping. Key has been protected from tough questions his entire premiership for this reason – he can’t handle the pressure while keeping his smiling “nice Mr Keys” persona going. It won’t cause a huge desertion of the National party by voters, but expect Key’s preferred PM #s to drop and the Greens to continue to gather up votes.

OvalBall: I’ve never seen our country like this. The Rugby World Cup really has become a national celebration (even as the promised economic benefits fail to appear, SURPRISE). When we roadtripped up to Hastings and back a few weeks ago, the whole route was lined with festive signs. All Blacks flags in so many windows, flying from so many cars. And so many other flags! And every little town dressing up in global-village finery for the visiting rugby teams. A genuine spirit of love for the game, huge applause for the little-guy teams when they play well. It’s quite a wonderful atmosphere. I’m genuinely delighted. (Of course, if the All Blacks lose to Australia this weekend, there’ll be… well, not riots. But it will be rough. And hard to avoid even if you care not one tiny fig about rugby.)

Occupy: Yes yes, the Occupy Wall St movement has a vast overrepresentation of university-educated hipsters, and elides differences between middle class and working class, and hasn’t articulated unifying principles, and harbours madness on its fringes. It is important to note all of these things. But for heaven’s sake, don’t mistake these concerns for justifications not to celebrate the appearance of a genuine grass-roots societal justice movement that is driving the conversation in the US. (The US being the society whose abject brokenness all other Western societies are striving so hard to match.) There isn’t a completely different movement that does a better job waiting in the wings. This is the shot we get. Wish it well.

Who: loved Matt Smith’s performance this season of Doctor Who, but my enthusiasm for the show as a whole is at a very low ebb. Moffat as showrunner has lost me completely. His big villains are a complete failure of storytelling craft, and the more you try to forgive that, the more holes show up elsewhere. I stand by my earlier call: Torchwood season 4 > Doctor Who season 6.

Lis Sladen RIP

Spare a thought for Elisabeth Sladen, who died yesterday aged 63.

She played the best-loved of the friends of Doctor Who, Sarah Jane Smith, in the mid-70s. The character had such longevity it not only returned recently, but became the anchor for an entire new spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures.

I genuinely felt upset by this news, which doesn’t happen often. But even if you don’t have my affection for her performance and her character (the embodiment of Vonnegut’s injunction that you’ve got to be kind), you should still recognize what is lost with her. There are few television series that provide worthwhile entertainment for pre-teens, and fewer still that give centre stage to a woman over 60 years of age.

This is a sad loss.

Read the thoughts of her young fans here.

Woo-woo Linky

Everyone was either too polite or too stunned to comment on the fact that I went to see Titanic twice on the big screen. Or perhaps you assumed I was coerced or sedated at the time. No. You’re all very kind though. Yes, I did have high levels of post-Aliens residual loyalty to Jim Cameron, but the truth was, I liked it enough to go see it a second time by myself. Because that’s just how I rolled back in ’97-’98.

Business in the age of LOLcats: the New York Times explores the business behind I Can Has Cheezburger. Fascinating.

You’ve already seen Matt Smith joining Orbital to close Glastonbury with their Doctor Who theme mix, right? EDIT: this version is still live

Now, check out Orbital doing the theme at Glasto 2004. And this remix which says its from one of the Orbital DVDs. There are others.

But if you’re talking electronic music and Doctor Who, it’s time to find out about Delia Derbyshire. Start here:

Now this:

That should have you curious enough to seek out more yourself. She’s worth it.

What’s Up Doc – live

Via mundens, a pin-up calendar with a difference

A great Philadelphia article from ’08 about the perfidy of the MBA and how it’s ruining business. MBAs appear to be the world’s only tautological qualification: you qualify for an MBA by qualifying for an MBA, and holding an MBA is a demonstration of the fact that you hold an MBA.

The Sci-Fi air show

Via Pearce: Bruce Campbell’s Soup

Hey, y’all reading Achewood, right? Online comic strip that I’ve called the most important comic strip since Peanuts? The story right now – oh man. It is blowing my mind you guys. If you haven’t read it for a while, the storyline that’s destroying me starts here. (Warning: not for the uninitiated – you’ll probably find it incomprehensible if you don’t know the characters.)

And finally… Country Hip-Hop dancing

They keep stealing my ideas

For a while, a certain breed of writer/Doctor Who geek was near-certain to have a pitch or two (or three) for the Doctor Who: New Adventures line of spin-off novels, by Virgin Publishing. In the 90s these kept the Who mythos alive and, surprise surprise, they were actually very good – inventive, quirky, and boundary-pushing in ways you can only be when your parent TV show has been dead for years and it never played by its own rules either. These were followed by another line of spin-offs by the BBC, which weren’t as good, but were sometimes just as wild and woolly and neat. It’s not just fans who think there was quality in there -a significant number of people who worked on the hugely successful Who TV revival earlier wrote for Virgin or the BBC.

Guilty as charged, m’lud. (Nor was I alone, as a certain award-winning Wellington-based theatrical personage might admit after a few drinks.)

I had, in truth, only three worthwhile ideas for Doctor Who novels.

Only one of them actually got submitted. This was given a bemused but encouraging rejection, as recorded on this blog here. The letter said “the idea of the support group set up for victims of the Doctor’s actions is a little too controversial to use as the basis of a novel.” Roll on the series revival, and the episode Love and Monsters, about a support group set up for victims of the Doctor’s actions. Well okay, not victims of the Doctor, more like fanboys of, but the core idea has a lot of similarities. An UNCANNY number of similarities. Like they STOLE MY IDEA.

This past weekend’s episode of Doctor Who was called The Lodger. I haven’t seen it yet because it hasn’t screened in New Zealand yet and there’s no possible way I could acquire it otherwise. It was about the Doctor going to live in a flat with ordinary people, while trying to make sense of a mystery unfolding around them. Here is the trailer for it:

This is UNCANNILY like one of my other two really good ideas:

An uninhabited bedroom, one of four in a cramped flat in Pilham Street, right on the outskirts of London. An ad goes up at the local video store. Only one person answers it. All three flatmates are there when he shows up to take a look at the place. He’s odder and older than any of them, with a clownish manner and a rolling Scottish brogue. A loon for sure, but probably harmless, and most importantly he has money. So he moves in. He becomes that old guy that some flats seemed to have, only he’s in this flat, not some other one. He doesn’t ever tell them his name, says he doesn’t have one, only a title. The Doctor.

He sure doesn’t seem to sleep very much. Up all night. Once Paul went to the kitchen for water at 3am and the Doctor was in there frying up a scale model of an aircraft carrier, flipping it over with a fish slice and playing the spoons with his spare hand. Paul had drunk his water and gone back to bed.

And then there are those times when the whole flat is asleep except the Doctor, who is in the living room. And he’s talking to someone with a sad, sad voice. She says she’s from the future. She says she might kill herself. She sounds like she means it.

I think it’s clear that they STOLE THIS IDEA too, which is even more sinister because I never even sent this one anywhere.

I have only one good idea for a Doctor Who story left. No, I’m not telling you what it is, are you insane? IT WILL BE STOLEN. They are very good at theft! And no I wouldn’t put it past them. Just look at what Jennifer Aniston and Vin Diesel did to steal GI Joe 2, and how they keep the secret that there are 25 slightly-different Megan Foxes! TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION.


Also, Matt Smith is a great Doctor.

[edit: Megan Fox link fixed. Clicky, it’s worth it.]

The Writer’s Tale

I recently read the inelegantly named Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook. Davies (RTD) is the man behind the recent revival of Doctor Who, taking it from embarrassing forgotten history to pop-cultural behemoth. Cook is the young Doctor Who Magazine journo who sparks up an email correspondence about RTD’s writing process. The book collects this correspondence.

It’s a mighty tome, nearly 700 pages, and it’s fascinating reading. I raced through it. There’s a lot that’s great about it, as RTD writes expressively about his creative process, how his ideas come together, and where the final product comes from.

Although the book claims to be about the writing process, and that’s what I’ll talk about below, most of its length is about the production of the Doctor Who television show and all the challenges and problems involved. The writing focus fades away after the first hundred-fifty pages, never to return; the writing process becomes a scaffold to talk about what it’s like making Doctor Who in the UK in the late 00s. While I think the writing bits are great and useful for any writer, the rest of the book is really of interest only to people curious about TV production or about Doctor Who. It’s sold a lot of copies, so there’s clearly plenty of people in that category, but the writing sadly becomes less important as the book proceeds.

RTD’s time on the show has not been universally praised. His stories have been criticized for being over-stuffed, poorly structured and too reliant on deus ex machina endings. In this book you can see all of those flaws and limitations at work. For example, the sense that RTD doesn’t do endings well is clearly because he writes in sequence and usually doesn’t have a definite climax in mind.

You even get RTD’s defence of some of these flaws. Memorably, acknowledging criticisms that his scripts don’t develop plots effectively but just throw in incident and then race on to the next thing, he says (p679):

What I’m saying is, I can see how annoying that looks. I can see how maddening it must be, for some people. Especially if you’re imposing really classical script structures, and templates, and expectations on that episode, even unconsciously. I must look like a vandal, or a kid, or an amateur. No wonder some people hate what I write. Of course, I’m going to win this argument. (Did you guess?) Because the simple fact is: all those things were planned. All of them were my choice. They’re not lazy, clumsy or desperate. They’re chosen. I can see more traditional ways of telling those stories, but I’m not interested. I think the stuff that you gain from writing in this way – the shock, the whirlwind, the freedom, the exhilaration – is worth the world. I’ve got this sort of tumbling, freewheeling stule that somersaults along, with everything happening now – not later, not before, but now now now. I’ve made a Doctor Who that exists in the present tense.

However, most of these problems are not really dealt with and Cook isn’t interested in going on the attack about them. This is a shame in lots of ways. I would love to see Davies defend himself over the decision at the very end of his final episodes to marry off the two black characters in his ensemble, apparently for no other reason than they’re both black. But this isn’t even mentioned in the correspondence.

I think the book also does a good job showing Davies’ strengths as a writer – his sure-footed dialogue and ability to write to the constraints of TV production, his ability to edit and strengthen the work of other writers, and most of all his gift for great moments. Time and again you see how his ideas begin with one or two key scenes that he is confident will make great telly, and then he develops a script around them. And they are truly great moments. The revival episode of Doctor Who, “Rose”, finished with such a moment that had clearly been in Davies’ head for a long time. I wrote about it five years ago: “The last shot of the episode – that last one second – it just about made me cry.” This bit:

The Writer’s Tale has a website. Download RTD’s scripts!