Ever since the show came back to our screens in 2005, I’ve noticed a theme and approach to the character of the Doctor as being a sort of metaphor for the show itself. Both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have alluded to this in one way or another and I’d like to take a look at some of these instances and what they might say about how each show runner has seen the show as an entity.
She doesn’t know about the Doctor, and after an explosive introduction becomes curious. The only source she can find is Clive, an older man who obsesses over the Doctor in his shed. His family is surprised that Rose is even interested in the Doctor.
The whole thing feels like a slight dig at the old clichés about Doctor Who fans – reclusive, nerdy, older men. When asked who the Doctor is, Clive tells us;
The Doctor is a legend woven throughout history. When disaster comes, he’s there. He brings the storm in his wake and he has one constant companion […] Death.
Later, the Doctor himself is asked to explain who he is, and he responds;
I can feel it. The turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour, and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at sixty-seven thousand miles an hour, and I can feel it. We’re falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go… That’s who I am. Now, forget me, Rose Tyler. Go home.
This idea of the Doctor as a legend comes up time and time again. It wasn’t nearly this common in the original series. For those of us who grew up in the 1990s, and early 2000s, Doctor Who was a lot like that – a legend spoken about in nostalgic sighs. It was once so vast, such a gigantic part of our culture, and then it faded. History became legend, legend became myth.
The Doctor invites Rose to come with him on his adventures, and so invites the audience to join as well. This was a big impression I got from Davies’ time on the show. These were adventures where you were invited to join in with the Doctor and his companions. You got to know the characters, you followed them step by step with very few gaps in the story. We lived with them and grew with them. Every time the Doctor held out his hand and said “Come with me.” it was as if he was holding it out to us.
What’s more, both when Christopher Eccleston regenerated into David Tennant, and when Matt Smith regenerated into Peter Capaldi, we had the companions there to act as the audience reaction. They use phrases like “but he’s not MY Doctor”, and they go through the turmoil of adjusting to the new face, and the new persona. Much as we do whenever the change happens.
Perhaps an even starker parallel for the Doctor as a metaphor for the show itself comes from when Steven Moffat took over. In The Eleventh Hour the Doctor lands in young Amy Pond’s garden. Together they have some fun, see some strange and dangerous things, and Amy’s life is changed forever as she becomes obsessed with this odd alien who dropped in. But then, he disappeared. He went away seemingly without reason, promising to come back soon, but it wasn’t until she was all grown up that he did come back.
Similarly, Doctor Who fell into many people’s lives when they were young. They were whisked away on strange and dangerous adventures that sparked the imagination and led to a life long enthusiasm for the characters and the concepts.
But then it disappeared. The BBC put it on ‘hiatus’. For sixteen years. With only a brief respite in the form of the dashing Paul McGann in a TV movie, the show seemed to have vanished from our screens forever.
And then it came back! Exploding into our lives with freshly regenerated life, bubbling with energy, a new start, a new Doctor, and a new TARDIS. The same thing happened to us when we watched Matt Smith running about in David Tennant’s raggedy clothes for the first time. And Amy Pond’s life reflected the fandom’s life.
With that, we saw Steven Moffat’s vision of the show. The Doctor was more of a character, a larger than life and often more strikingly bizarre person who was simultaneously a wacky clown, and the darkest nightmare of monsters across the galaxy. This was a Doctor who we watched, a Doctor who was witnessed. We may walk with him, but not alongside him. I never quite felt the camaraderie of the previous years for some reason. Never felt invited to be a part of it. Ironic, perhaps, as this is the age of the Doctor Who Experience, where the audience can literally take part in the adventure. But that is a minor gripe of my own personal tastes.
So what do you think? Do the writers sometimes use the Doctor and his companions as a stand-in for the show itself and the audience? Will Chris Chibnall continue this tradition?