Making an Entrance – Which Doctor Did it Best?
What a Doctor’s’ First Scenes Say About Them
“Run!” “Hello! New Teeth, that’s weird.”, “Legs! I’ve still got legs!”, “Kidneys! I’ve got new Kidneys! I don’t like the colour!”
Since returning to television in 2005, Doctor Who has gone through four incarnations of the Doctor. Soon to be five. As we anticipate Jodie Whittaker’s entrance into the show at Christmas, I’d like to take a look back at how the Doctors have been introduced so far.
But I also want to look at what these entrances say about the Doctor. And, also, what they say about the writers, and about the way the audience interacts with both.
I may go back and look at the classic era Doctors in another post later on.
The Ninth Doctor is introduced immediately as someone on the run. Appearing out of nowhere, springing into action, and inviting Rose (and the audience) to run away with him. To run from danger, and towards the unknown. He gets her to safety, shows off a little bit, and then encourages her to “run for your life!”
Christopher Eccleston and Russell T Davies had probably the hardest jobs of all. They had to bring the show back, they had to give the Doctor an entrance and make the audience fall in love with him. They do this by immediately having the Doctor connect with Rose – the audience’s natural view point.
The Doctor engages with Rose’s questions as she tries to work out what is going on. He isn’t dismissive, nor is he patronising. There is a level of aloofness, and a desire to not allow himself to get connected – and given what we later discover about the Doctor it makes sense – but he cannot help himself.
We learn a lot about the Doctor in this short scene. He helps people, without question, without hesitation; he knows what is going on, but likes to hear what other people think; he is a bit weird, and dangerous. All in a scene less than three minutes long with only a few lines of dialogue.
When we meet the Tenth Doctor, the first thing he does is say ‘Hello’. He addresses Rose before he does anything else. Briefly, he checks his new body and assesses it before finally reaching out to his companion again.
The whole scene focuses on the experience from Rose’s point of view. She has a lot of questions and the Doctor realises this. He goes to great lengths to help walk her through it, despite the trauma he himself must be going through. It is all about reassuring Rose – and therefore the audience – that he is the Doctor, and everything is going to be fine.
He takes her concerns seriously and does what he can to reassure her. This was incredibly important as, for a large portion of the new audience, this was the first time they had seen a regeneration. Davies had to write assuming some people would have no idea what was going on, and so the scene is a step by step guide to accepting the new incarnation of the lead character.
It places the focus firmly on Rose and how she reacts, and has the Doctor acting as a guide, and doing his best to comfort her, and us, and walk us through. I think this says a lot about Davies’ view of the show. We, the audience, along with the companion, are travelling with the Doctor, along side them. Not simply spectators to his weird antics, but partners in time.
As weird and quirky as the Doctor could be, there was the acknowledgement that he was still interacting with normal people who had normal reactions. So, when something as wild as a regeneration happened, there was a lot to react to.
“Legs! I’ve still got legs!”
With the Eleventh Doctor, Steven Moffat took over. The regeneration scene has the Doctor on his own in a rapidly exploding TARDIS. Understandably, this results in a much more Doctor-focussed introduction where he quickly assesses his body – briefly wondering if he had at last become a woman – and then whoops as he is flung into danger.
Other than he has to instantly deal with a crisis, and does so with glee, we don’t learn a lot about the Eleventh Doctor here. He is spirited, loves danger, and throws himself into it. Which is something but it might be fairer to look at his first interaction with his to-be-companion, Amy.
The Doctor’s quirkiness is the overriding focus here. Amy plays not so much an audience view point, but more of a ‘straight man’ to the Doctor’s ‘funny man’ in some sort of comedy double act. Given Steven Moffat’s background in comedy, it perhaps makes sense that this is the sort of character interaction he is most comfortable with.
There is some amount of connection he tries to establish with Amy; he asks if she is scared, he offers to help. But he spends a lot more time saying quirky, funny things. This very much sets the new tone of the show going forward for Moffat’s tenure. Less of a sci-fi drama about characters, and more of a mix between comedy and hard SF.
This may not be some people’s cup of tea, but it was probably necessary for Moffat to establish his ‘stamp’ on the show as soon as possible to make sure we knew there was a new sheriff in town.
“Kidneys! I’ve got new kidneys! I don’t like the colour!”
For Capaldi’s introduction, it is a much shorter version of Matt Smith’s, to some degree. Lasting less than a minute, Capaldi has very little time to establish who his Doctor is, and I imagine they hadn’t quite hashed that out yet behind the scenes.
Much like with Smith, Capaldi’s Doctor spends his first moments examining his new body and, comically, comments on the fact that he doesn’t like the colour of his kidneys. The TARDIS spins out of control – for as yet undisclosed reasons – and he tells Clara to stay calm before asking her to help him fly it.
I do quite like that one of the first things the Twelfth Doctor does is ask for help. I remember being quite hopeful that we were about to see a Doctor much more willing to let others help him, that he would not be dismissive of his companions as the Eleventh had a tendency to be at times.
In Deep Breath we get our first real look at the Doctor and his initial scenes are used mostly to establish how clever and quirky he is. He forgets peoples’ names, he calls Clara ‘the not-me one, the asking questions one’, and he insults Strax. The new Doctor’s brash and dismissive attitude creates something of a distance between him and the other characters, and thus between him and the audience.
This might go some way to explaining why some people have had a hard time with the Twelfth Doctor. Much like the Sixth, the brash and harsh attitude of his early stories leaves many feeling disconnected from a character they once loved. But, again, like the Sixth Doctor, he has grown since and become a much better character. It is a shame that people switched off.
A New Doctor At Last
So what about the Thirteenth Doctor? What can we expect from Jodie Whittaker’s introduction? Well, time will tell, it usually does. My hope is that Chris Chibnall, who takes over as the writer for next year and beyond, will find something that connects with the audience immediately.
Given that we won’t be having Bill next year, it seems unlikely she will witness the regeneration, and so Thirteen will emerge alone, as Eleven did. It will be up to Whittaker and Chibnall to use those first moments to help a confused and frightened audience into the new era, with a new face.