Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Oh My Word! Jodie Whittaker, the Doctor; Genesis Who; Sydney Newman, and Regeneration

Oh my word!

I'll admit, my first reaction to the announcement of a female Doctor was simply "good grief!" It felt like a joke, one big silly prank designed to shake the fanbase until the name of the true Doctor was revealed.

The news, which I first heard through a friend on a social networking app, was broken on Sunday 16th July 2017 following the Men’s Wimbledon Final in the UK. Immediately perusing the Web, I noticed mixed responses from fans. Many were jubilant, others appalled by the decision to cast Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. Some comments were downright nasty. And then there was a press release in which the actor herself said, "I’m beyond excited to begin this epic journey with Chris [Chibnall] and with every Whovian on this planet. It’s more than an honour to play the Doctor. It means remembering everyone I used to be, while stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope. I can’t wait".

The hashtag #NotMyDoctor had begun circulating on Twitter and Instagram; the BBC even received complaints from viewers. Eventually the British television corporation issued a statement saying, "The Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey, and it has been established in the show that Time Lords can switch gender". Amusingly #NotMyDoctor is still in use today, and it seems those people against Jodie's appointment wish nothing good for the show - actually hoping it fails so they can feel smug about it all.

Though much positivity and praise for the actor was being generated, I still wasn't convinced, and blamed previous showrunner Steven Moffat for Hell Bent (2015) and the on-screen regeneration of the General: the Time Lord had been shot by the Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and, as a consequence, regenerated from male to female. Having been played by English actor Ken Bones for the tenth incarnation of the character, the General (also called Kenossium) was replaced by T'Nia Miller and the life of the eleventh persona began.

And, of course, who can forget Missy, a female incarnation of the Master portrayed by Michelle Gomez? I had persuaded myself that Moffat had ruined the show by introducing such a dreadful concept!

Then I had time to think about it and digest what the change would mean for both myself and the show that I have loved since a young age. Yes, I'm one of those middle-aged men from the classic era - Peter Davison was my Doctor. These past many years - since 2010 - I have had the privilege of chatting with various blog authors of Doctor Who fansites, I adopted an existing blog myself in those early years: Nebula One News. There was no shortage of female fans, and interest in the show had grown enormously as each new Doctor arrived.

Sadly, my own enthusiasm for Doctor Who waned a little and the blog closed. A new site launched in 2012, Regent Times, though its success was short-lived. It seemed that my love of blogging was over.

"I feel like I’ve been handed this amazing world..."

Jump to 2018 and, oh wow, what on Earth is happening? I'm full of ideas and enthusiasm again! I'm actually writing, designing web pages and feeling good about this. I could say that I've reached a moment in my life when everything is coming together. I wish. What has awoken, however, is all thanks to Jodie Whittaker, the Thirteenth Doctor. Though there has been a slow trickle of promotional pictures and trailers for Series 11, I've been awestruck by Whittaker's public appearances and passion: this is someone who wants nothing but the best for both the show and its devoted legion of fans!

I've read Jodie's various online interviews where she's said, "I feel like I’ve been handed this amazing world and they’ve let me be like a kid in a toy shop and go off with it..." and "I’m playing a Time Lord who’s essentially an alien and inhabits different bodies and this one is female (Marie Claire).

I've learned to embrace changes in Doctor Who since the 1980s, as it is the one constant along our journey with the show. The Doctor has been a role model for many, whatever the incarnation, and will continue to play that most important of parts.

As Jodie also shared in the interview, "I hope that as I could be your next-door neighbour – I’m not physically someone who could do extraordinary things – I won’t seem like an unattainable hero to kids. This is someone who loves science, who’s hopeful and who doesn’t look a particular way".

Didn't originally make the grade...

In a letter dated 6th October 1986 and addressed to then BBC Controller Michael Grade, Doctor Who co-creator Sydney Newman had made several suggestions as to how the series could proceed following its then turbulent period facing a possible axe and falling viewing figures. Actor Colin Baker had currently been associated with the role. The Canadian film and television producer was adamant that "The copyright in any ideas expressed will be mine. Should you accept these ideas the fee I would accept would be in the form of my being taken on and paid to be its Executive Producer or similar, to make sure the concept is properly executed".

It was his opinion regarding "The Characters" which is interesting, "(4) At a later stage, Dr Who would be metamorphosed into a woman. This requires some considerable thought - mainly because I want to avoid a flashy Hollywood 'Wonder Woman' because this kind of hero(ine) has no flaws - and a character with no flaws is a bore. Given more time than I have now, I can create such a character".

It has also been reported that actor Tom Baker, who played the role of the Time Lord from 1974-81, had said at a press conference in 1980, "I certainly wish my successor luck, whoever he or she might be". From what I can tell both Baker and then showrunner John Nathan-Turner had devised the comment as a piece of mischief, to keep the actual identity of Baker's replacement a compete surprise.

It didn't seem like an impossibility then, and it doesn't now. I've just looked up Regeneration and read, "the process by which Time Lords and others renewed themselves, causing a complete physical and often psychological change". And then there is, "Regeneration released massive amounts of a hormone called lindos in moments of extreme trauma, and it was this hormone which triggered regeneration... During regeneration, a Time Lord experiences a surge of pure regenerative energy, as their entire system was rewritten and their universe moulded into a new shape, with their very biodata being rewritten in the fabric of space-time".

It certainly isn't unfathomable to consider that during this violent and unstable process a being's entire gender could be altered.

Final thoughts

As we approach Sunday 7th October 2018, and the debut of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, I am fully embracing what is to come from Jodie Whittaker. As current showrunner Chris Chibnall says, "New Doctor, new home! Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is about to burst into Sunday nights - and make the end of the weekend so much more exciting. Get everybody’s homework done, sort out your Monday clothes, then grab some special Sunday night popcorn, and settle down with all of the family for Sunday night adventures across space and time. (Also, move the sofa away from the wall so parents can hide behind it during the scary bits). The Thirteenth Doctor is falling from the sky and it’s going to be a blast."

My childhood used to be homework done and school uniform being ironed as I sat on the sofa to watch Battlestar Galactica, my last weekend treat before school. Now it's the Doctor - who could ask for a better treat than that?