That little data bit dropped over the weekend. Russell T. Davies, the man responsible for bringing Doctor Who back to television, would return to run the show in 2023, replacing exiting showrunner Chris Chibnall. Chibnall’s run on the show has been marked with more than a few controversies by Old and New Who fans alike…to the point someone needed a five hour video to collect them all plus jokes to keep the thing from getting boring. While I didn’t think Steven Moffatt’s run was terrible the show has never really had the same charm it had before. And by before I mean the classic series before Davies takes over.
While I found Chibnall’s run to be boring a few episodes in and then I heard of how it got worse right up to that Timeless Child nonsense (did the Doctor need to be the Timeless Child and the one responsible for regeneration?) (the answer is no), I wasn’t exactly a fan of Davies’ previous run. I’m still of the personal opinion that Davies only brought Doctor Who back in the hopes of the BBC restoring their worldwide science fiction hit would allow him to create the show he really wanted, Torchwood. I am not a fan of that show either. I did like the few episodes I managed to catch of The Sarah Jane Adventures but that’s the closest I’ve come to enjoying the Davies’ era. The thing is Davies made a lot of mistakes in his version as well, and it just ones the showrunners who followed also made in their own way. Granted, I don’t know who was responsible for increasing the show to an hour or dropping the serialized format in favor of a season long subplot, but that’s personal preference. Admittedly anything a critic comments on is based on personal preference but before we sing Davies praises let’s not forget stuff he did wrong.
That Ugly TARDIS Console Room Design
Yes, Chibnall’s concept is the new leader of “ugliest TARDIS design ever”. It’s like he tossed a few ideas in and didn’t care if they worked, and when you’re coming off of arguably the best looking Console Room in New Who the elevator goes through the floor when it comes to ranking them. The best thing you can say about that console is that it has a cookie dispenser. Unless she somehow saves the day by tossing a biscuit at a Dalek (11 held them off with a piece of candy so let’s not pretend they wouldn’t at least try it) I’m not going to be impressed. My own TARDIS idea would have a crystal in the center but not that jagged monstrosity, the pylons are like a parody of the TV Movie TARDIS, and will any of the New Who Doctors buy a few more light bulbs please? At least in the second Moffat TARDIS it worked because of all the other lights around it.
That doesn’t mean that Davies’ “Coral TARDIS” is somehow great in comparison. That’s like saying the Peter Cushing movie TARDIS control rooms are better than the Chibnall nightmare. The Coral TARDIS just doesn’t look good…though at least it fit in the story given the Doctor’s mood at the time and the difficulty of finding spare parts. Even the fabrication must have limits…or why else have a typewriter for the first Moffat TARDIS? Davies’ TARDIS was also really dark, and more foreboding that it should be. The TARDIS takes you to exciting adventures but the Doctor has to live there. Brass walls, the coral pylons that give it its name, and the green coloring of the center column make it someplace less magical once you get over it being bigger on the inside and able to take you anywhere in time and space. It’s not a console room I want to hang out in on those long treks between adventures. It’s kind of scary. Which is par for the course in Davies’ first run.
Making The Mundane Scary
Davies and Moffat shared the same problem: the theme for their run was a bit too specific. Classic Who managed to have a more open theme. Some producers leaned more towards, comedy, others more towards horror, and so forth, but those were more general tones. Moffat treated the Whoniverse as a dark storybook fantasy, and this informed much of his run. In Davies case making the mundane scary was his route. The dark is scary. Statues are scary. Both of those were Moffat stories so I’m surprised he didn’t continue on that trend, but that was how Davies approached the show. I can’t say it didn’t work. The only time I’ve ever been truly creeped out in the franchise was…
And I’ve been watching Doctor Who since the last season of Tom Baker. I got into this show because it didn’t scare me to nightmare. I’m surprised that transformation didn’t cross that line. See, I can give credit where it’s due, but that was how Davies approached this show. Wait, that was Moffat, too. I’m even more surprised now. And no, that doesn’t mean you can blame him because Davies used to glee off on that concept when he did interviews for Doctor Who Confidential, the behind-the-scenes show that I hear the BBC no longer does. Shame, that. Also remember WHO came up with the plots in this series…Russell T. Davies. That’s what showrunners do, at least on this show. Davies came up with the plots, and his writing team would create stories around them. Moffat may have overused the Weeping Angels and River Song always annoys me, but the plots they came from were out of Davies’ head. This is probably the only thing I have few complaints about from his head.
Doctor Who versus Christmas!
I’ve seen interviews where Davies talks about how he doesn’t like Christians, and being an open gay man and leftist whose work is saddled with sex gay and straight that’s not really a surprise. He also doesn’t seem to like Christmas. Through the handful of Christmas specials he’s worked on Davies’ stories made Christmas in London more and more dangerous to the point that by the time of Voyage Of The Damned the city was abandoned every Christmas to avoid the next alien attack. After that we had stories set at Christmas but it was just another Doctor Who story that could have been set on February 3rd or even in the summer for all the time period mattered. At least Moffat tried to put the Christmas back into the Christmas specials while Chibnall said “@$%# Christmas” and didn’t even bother with one.
Playing off the “make the mundane scary” Davies upped the ante and made Christmas itself into a weapon, from the “pilotfish” that were never properly explained and only showed up twice dressed as plastic Santa Clauses to someone using a Christmas tree to attack the Doctor and his friends (somehow I don’t think the Sycorax even knew he was there to be attacked), he made Christmas decorations into the threat. Even The Racnoss ship was shaped like the Star Of Bethlehem. If Chibnall is to be scorned for ignoring Christmas altogether in favor of New Years, at least his Christmas wasn’t the enemy. Moffat may have saved Christmas, Chibnall avoided it, but Davies will probably take the opportunity to attack it again, and that does not sit well with me at all, seeing as Christmas is my favorite time of the year.
The God Doctor
One thing that has bothered me since all the way back in Andrew Cartmel’s run is the idea that the Doctor has to be special. While I don’t know how much of the “Other” idea seen in the novel Lungburrow was from Cartmel’s actual attempts, the idea there, as with the Timeless Child and “the question that should not be answered” was to put mystery back into the Doctor himself, and I suspect the Time War may have at least gotten some help from that silly notion as well. How much do we really know about the Doctor? He had a granddaughter so presumably he had a daughter or son, which he hits at in the video clip from earlier in this article. Was he married? What was his life like and what events led him to decide to see the universe? That’s mystery enough for me. The problem with these mystery “restoration” attempts is that it tries to make the Doctor some special being, somehow responsible for the history of Time Lord society or of some major importance. Why can’t the Doctor just be an ordinary alien from the upper crust of society who got bored and wanted to travel, only to learn he could be helping the people he came across in his travels and stopping really evil people, robots, cyborgs, and whatever the Daleks are? What’s wrong with that?
Davies didn’t bother with the mystery, outside of the Time War. He took the opportunity to kill off or evilize the Time Lords through Rassilon’s return, leaving the Doctor the last Time Lord until the Master came back. And died. And came back. And turned into Succubus Skeletor for some reason. With the Master returning the Doctor wasn’t special so he ends up through technobabble taking over the Master’s network because Martha got everyone on Earth to think about The Doctor at the exact same time…which is somehow harder to believe than Succubus Skeletor. The Doctor’s character drama was fine around these events but it seemed no matter what the only time people failed/died is when they didn’t follow the Doctor, and it wasn’t just the enhanced Sonic Screwdriver that made the Doctor at time to appear all powerful. This was more a problem under Tennant’s period, but if Christopher Eccleson had been treated better and stayed around he might have become the Time Lord Victorious. The thing is I like Tennant’s Doctor in general but he kept getting written as the most powerful being around. Good thing the White and Black Guardian didn’t show up or he’d be more powerful than them too. What didn’t help was…
The Death Of The Time Lords
While I’ve seen videos complaining that the Time Lords took a drop in status in later years of Classic Who, that could be easily fixed. The Time Lords were still referred to as very powerful beings, and the fact that most were still trying to use their power responsibly in light of Renegade Time Lords like the Master or the Rani, or the “timescoop” days of tyrants like Rassilon, brought back because the Daleks were seen as the worse threat during the Time War, showed that they had potential. I mentioned the White and Black Guardians earlier, gods who would be above even the introductory version of the Time Lords in “The War Games”, but the UK comics seemed to do a good job of finding a nice balance between “god” and “dudes with really cool tech”. They could be an antagonist to the Doctor without being a real threat.
Not so much under Davies. The Time War corrupted them, as shown by bringing back Rassilon. The jerk may have helped create time travel technology and abused it to the point that if they ever said he purposefully left Omega behind in the other dimension in hopes of getting the fame, glory, and power for himself I’d be convinced rather easily. They became a threat to the Earth the one time they managed to escape the last battle, which the Doctor was forced to timelock, with the War Doctor presumably destroying the planet in the regular timeline before “The Day Of The Doctor” rewrote the event. (Yes, I know that was a Moffat idea born of necessity. Work with me, people.) From there the Time Lords were back, but still were the villains in their rare appearance during Capaldi’s time as the Doctor. (Strange given how they helped the previous Doctor reset his regeneration counter.) Moffat showed how the Time Lords could have been used on the show, and while limiting the effect of the God Doctor/Time Lord Victorious the Doctor could still overcome them because he was that clever. Only he used his power for good…depending on your view of Clara and locking a moment in time so she could run around with the immortal girl in a TARDIS diner of course.
This is a use that Davies tossed out and later so would Chibnall. Had Davies not come along an animated web series with Richard E. Grant voicing the Doctor would have told a different story, and the Time Lords would be a looming problem as he and the Master for some reason went on the “road” together. Long story short, Master got hit with his own shrink gun, didn’t die, and used a robot to get around in like that one guy in Men In Black. The whys, much like the stuff Davies introduced and all the “restore the mystery” thing, would presumably be answered in later episodes. Instead “Scream Of The Shalka” was all we got. Instead, the Time Lords become this mythical figure we know the Doctor was exaggerating when he told others about them. They weren’t the most noble people even before the Time War and it’s possible the Doctor was romanticizing his lost people out of grief, but a whole story opportunity was tossed out with the Time Lords and are again thanks to “The Timeless Children”. That episode really screws a lot up. However, this isn’t the issue I’m more concerned with, but the fate of the Doctor’s Companions. See, Davies had a few problems but one really ruined things for other Companions.
The Rose Tyler Problem
No, this isn’t going to be all about trashing Rose. I mean, I’m about to do just that but that’s only part of the problem. Rose is not always that likable. She mistreats her boyfriend because interracial romance is a ticket to die, usually for the black person so Mickey dodged a laser there, wasn’t always that bright, got captured a lot until she went to another dimension and trained to be a badass, and there’s also pretty much everything she did in “Tooth And Claw”, my least favorite of any Doctor story. (Not that the Doctor himself didn’t look terrible but nobody came away unscathed unless they got to die early enough. I’ll save that rant for another time.) That’s just the cliff notes because Rose’s failures could be it’s own commentary However, it isn’t Rose herself that’s the issue here…for a change.
When Billie Piper left the show Davies seemed to take it harder than the Doctor did, and he used the Doctor’s sadness over Rose’s departure to show it. Davies was really invested in the Doctor/Rose romance (then why did you create Mickey just to torture the poor kid like that…and no, having him marry the other black Companion doesn’t make up for it…it only proves my point of interracial romance on New Who) so when Piper decided to move on in her acting career we got two other Companions and they got the short end of the stick. Piper was around for three seasons but her replacements only got one, though Donna did have her first appearance in one of the Christmas specials. Donna was a fan favorite Companion, not kowtowing to the Doctor and sometimes acting as his conscience in a way that Rose and Martha weren’t able to. She didn’t worship the God Doctor or fall in love with him (remember when that was so much the exception that Grace in the TV movie having romantic chemistry with him felt weird to some fans?) but did sometimes have to realize the Doctor was right. If anything Donna was the counter to the God Doctor…so naturally she had to have her mind erased the moment she had any chance of becoming his equal like a modern Romana. Martha at least came out of her time with the Doctor stronger, while Romana…I mean Donna (they rhyme so much I wrote Romana when I meant Donna) underwent the magic reset with only her father remembering what she had become under her time with the Doctor.
Let’s talk about Martha before Zack Snyder ruined that name forever in geek conversation. The first replacement after Rose, Doctor Martha Jones did get stronger, but only after living in the shadow of Rose Tyler. This was made worse Martha also wanting to hook up with the Doctor, but she eventually got over it after finding her personal strength and rather than remain in Rose’s shadow she outright left…to marry the other black Companion because again, interracial romance is not allowed even if the Doctor wasn’t still heartbroken. (The Doctor looks like a white Earth man so it counts. Captain Jack however could bed anything that wasn’t a black person, unless he did something different in Torchwood, which continued the trend when Ianto had a black girlfriend turned into a Cyberman. And before you mention River Song, that relationship is so convoluted thanks to living on separate timelines most of the…time…it’s not exactly a GOOD exception, is it?) She basically had to stop traveling with the Doctor for her own sanity. Then she forgot the medical profession and became a UNIT agent. Not even a UNIT doctor so I guess Harry Sullivan doesn’t have a new friend. Davies just wouldn’t let anyone take Rose’s place, leading to the “specials only” season featuring only one-shot Companions.
Here’s my last problem with Davies Who, though thankfully not as egregious as the others. and the best example of it is the aforementioned “Tooth And Claw”–where our “heroes” are celebrating how they get to fight werewolves while said werewolf kills people, and Rose tries to get Queen Victoria to say “we are not amused” and win her bet with the Doctor–and the Slitheen–space nudists who get giddy over their own farts, a side effect of shoving their bodies into the skin of dead fat people so they can pretend to be human. I should not be watching Doctor Who and hear the line “do you mind not farting while I’m trying to save the world”! Then there’s the Doctor himself. Every Doctor in New Who is sarcastic and a bit sporadic but it started with Davies’ run. Every Doctor had his own unique traits until New Who but this one seems prominent in every Doctor, and both Moffat (who shares a favorite Doctor but apparently not for the same reasons) and Chibnall decided this quirky aspect would remain in all of their Doctors as well. Can we stop doing that now?
Otherwise the immature jokes when Captain Jack isn’t on screen are scattered enough to be tolerable overall. Davies likes to be quirky. Look when the Ninth met Rose. Rose takes everything in stride but I sometimes wonder if she really grasps the situation. This is the same girl who left her boyfriend alone on the street after he almost died and is freaked out to run off with a guy who resembled all the stories she was told about his dad. (Watch “Father’s Day” with a critical eye and tell me I’m wrong.) But the Doctor, despite taking it seriously, doesn’t really give that impression, like Eccleston is trying to be Tom Baker and not quite succeeding. Actually, the worst “quirky” offender is his take on William Shakespeare, which Davies gleefully made into a diva type on purpose. The Doctor has met old Billy S. before, but in his later years and this is not the way for us to finally see one of those meetings.
It’s possible that after all these years Davies has matured as a writer and this won’t be as big an issue as it was, but there are concerns that he’ll fall back into old formulas to reclaim the audience who came in on his version. You know, like how The Force Awakens rehashed old Star Wars tropes like the Rebellion/Resistance. Davies left the show for a reason and just because he brought the show back doesn’t necessarily translate into doing the show well. John Nathan-Turner by his own admission was on the classic series way too long as the guy in charge at the BBC at the time was trying to kill the show, and forcing the producer to stay on was one of his tactics. Will Davies actually come in fresh ideas, a decent Doctor as Jodie Whitaker has decided to follow other actors’ example and leave with Chibnall, and a TARDIS that doesn’t look like Rainbow Brite was assassinated and took color with her? Time will tell and I’ll be curious to see what he does and scared of any Christmas special he does. However, I’m not looking forward to this change either. This will either regenerate the show or kill it for good. “Time” will tell.