So Doctor Who has been back for a few weeks now and depending on your circle of friends either this new season has been a triumph or just more of the same … which makes it pretty much the same as every other season, or part-season, or Christmas Special of the last few years. The reason why this is at least moderately newsworthy is that this is the first season with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, and while pretty much everyone with taste celebrated at the news that he would be replacing the much-loved Matt Smith, it was also seen that the casting of an older man in a role that had, for the last two Doctors at least, seemed to be at least in part designed to keep young women watching, meant that changes were coming.
What those changes were going to be was yet another mystery: would Capaldi’s Doctor be a darker, scarier figure? Would Doctor Who shrug off the emotion-heavy tales of the previous years and return to a more science-fiction format? And so on and so forth, as pretty much every fan dissatisfied with the series’ current direction put their hand up to announce that this new Doctor obviously meant the series would become exactly what they had always hoped it could be.
Obviously even with a new direction Doctor Who could never become all things to all people: the big disappointment to those hoping for change is that so far it seems as if pretty much nothing at all has changed. Normally this wouldn’t be a surprise: Doctor Who is still a relatively successful show. But it’s also a show that pays at least lip-service to its fan base (fans being what brought it back in 2005 after its cancellation in the early ’90s), and in recent years a growing number of fans have been grumbling about the show’s focus on stories based more on stringing “big” moments together than telling an actual story, companions that are massively central to the plot yet don’t actually seem to have any character beyond “feisty” and “good with a one-liner”, season-length plots that promise much but collapse in a puddle of muddled self-referential twaddle, and so on.
They’re subjective complaints, but they’ve been consistent ones, and prior to this season a few heavy hints were dropped that the production team had paid attention to the grumbles. And yet, as previously stated, to date we’ve pretty much had more of the same. It’s still a fun more of the same mind you, and with a new Doctor to bed down it’s hardly surprising that we’ve had a run of traditional Who stories (Victorian-era adventure, Dalek story, light-hearted historical romp, creepy horror tale). But unlike a lot of children’s entertainment, Who fans tend to stay Who fans as they get older, which means the show itself has to evolve; simply changing the lead actor every few years isn’t going to cut it forever.
While it might be too early to judge, the fact that we’re almost a third of the way into the new season without any real changes suggests that whatever changes there are will be minor ones. And if they can’t make big changes with a new Doctor, when can they?
By Anthony Morris