Featured article by Craig Sightings.

When I first heard that Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker were leaving Doctor Who, my reaction was completely the opposite of what it had been with the old Doctors and showrunners: I was happy. Then when I heard that Russell T Davies was returning (after initially taking the news twice), I was ecstatic. But taking a step back from my personal enthusiasm, it must be said that this announcement is not something the BBC would have done unless it needed someone huge to come back and save a sinking ship. RTD has even said in the past that he will only come back if Doctor Who gets into trouble!

There are still 9 episodes left, but I think it’s safe to say that the Chibnall era was a flop. This decision is the BBC’s tacit admission, and no amount of PR quotes can hide it. Granted, Chibnall took some bold risks when he started out, and at first it seemed to pay off. Whittaker’s run got off to a good start, with huge opening audience numbers of almost 11 million, but it was always inevitable. The transition to a female doctor after more than 50 years was always going to spark a natural curiosity and skyrocketing numbers as a result. The key question has always been whether the majority of viewers would stick around after the first episode of Whittaker? After two sets, the answer is clear: no, they wouldn’t.

Aside from a few slight increases (mostly for promotions, which has always been the case), the odds have been on a downward trajectory for several years. Series 12 ended up being New Who’s least-watched series, averaging just 5.4 million. “The Timeless Children” was the least watched finale at just 4.69 million. Yes, the numbers for the next episode increased a bit with the 2021 New Years special, “Revolution of the Daleks,” but it was still the lowest view of all the specials.

On top of that, the critical reaction to the show has been much more mixed, and fan scores have been largely negative. On IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and fan sites and forums, episodes from the Chibnall era are almost universally ranked the lowest of all. Not surprisingly, Chibnall’s writing, where he prioritized overt messages over storytelling, is inevitably divisive. On top of that, he made some massively controversial changes to Doctor Who canon, fundamentally reviving the origins of The Doctor and Time Lord forever. Not to mention the removal of Torchwood and UNIT as part of a disposable gag. It was all an insult to the series’ legacy and longtime fans.

It’s hard to deny that Doctor Who’s overall profile has gone down since Chibnall took over. Just compare where we are now to the days of David Tennant and Matt Smith. Yes, things started to decline a bit with the last Capaldi era, but Chibnall eventually took it down even further. Doctor Who was an absolute juggernaut, and not just in the UK, but around the world. You couldn’t move for the Whovians. Goods were in abundance and were flying off the shelves. Now the merchandise featuring Whittaker and co is tiny. In fact, when I saw it, it was in the bargain bin. Notice also how David Tennant, the most popular physician of modern times, has often been associated with Whittaker in an attempt to increase sales of Whittaker’s small merchandise.

I think it’s fair to say that Whittaker herself hasn’t had the same followers as other doctors. In all of the “Best Doctor” polls I’ve seen over the years, Whittaker has ranked low or nearly low, usually battling with Colin Baker (who must be happy). The BBC cited a Radio Times poll where Jodie apparently beat all the classic doctors, including Tom Baker and almost David Tennant! Considering the closeness of the relationship between Radio Times and the BBC, I think this is a bit suspect… At best, I would call it an “outlier”.

Would Jodie have been a better doctor with better handwriting? May be. This is something we will probably never know (at least on TV). I very much doubt that we will see it regenerate in 2022 and then return immediately in the 60se just a year later. However, I think some have to entertain the idea that she might have been a bad choice in the first place too. The Doctor is a very specific role requiring a unique brand of actor. Someone with a lot of charisma, a natural eccentricity and eccentricity. I did not see Jodie demonstrate that she had already had the lips for that.

As for the future, RTD is without a doubt the safest choice for a “new” showrunner, although something I had never even considered. RTD is, of course, responsible for the return of Doctor Who in 2005 and overseeing the most popular era of all time with Tennant and co. He’s unlikely to get many objections from fans, and the BBC is hopeful that he can once again capture mass audiences in the same way and reinvent the series all over again. Don’t get me wrong, he has a lot of work to do to make Doctor Who the mammoth that he once was, but if anyone has a chance, it’s him.

However, several big questions remain. Most important of all: who will Russell T Davies be as the Fourteenth Doctor? I think the show probably won’t return to the status quo until Jodie’s era. Therefore, the chances of securing current favorites like Michael Sheen are likely slim. Russell T Davies is a progressive writer after all, so someone like Olly Alexander (whom RTD worked with earlier this year in It’s a Sin) seems a much more likely choice now (although he has already denied it) . There is also a chance that RTD will want to have its own chance with a female doctor, but that will be the riskier option.

I still have a lot of questions… How long will RTD be at the helm after 60? Is his appointment a temporary position to sort out the bigger issues and pass the baton soon after? Will he bring back other former writers like Steven Moffat? And the companions? Will he recognize the maligned Timeless Child revelation (even though he apparently backed it along with many of Chibnall’s more controversial changes)? Does RTD have new ideas or will it rely on nostalgia? How will modern BBC policies interfere with production? Will RTD be the writer of “message first” in 2023, rather than the more subtle and nuanced he was between 2005 and 10?

I could go on, but this article is getting pretty long like this. For now, I’ll leave you with this: Despite some concerns, I’m more optimistic about the future of Doctor Who than I have been in a long time. Please don’t spoil this! This may be the last shot the show has …


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