The BBC has announced that Chris Chibnall (pictured, center), executive producer of Doctor Who, and his star, Jodie Whittaker (pictured, right), will . A trio of special offers until next year would announce the departure of the couple from the long-running series. This, therefore, seems like the ideal time for Dr. Who to go through the radical rehearsal he desperately needs. I disagree with a recent piece that says the series has to be turned off for a while, but it’s a very clear time for the show to redevelop.
This is partly because Doctor Who under Chibnall was so futile: the work of a pre-job manager, although popular and rewarding, always left me cold. My initial somewhat calmed by the news resulting from the production of the 11th series of the revived series. Chibnall is also credited with hiring the first two color writers on the upcoming show sixty years history. The fact that many episodes had an explicit focus on material social history hinted at a bright new direction for the series. The woman who fell to Earthalso, it was a brilliantly certain debut and everything looked good.
And then, yes. As much as Chibnall has managed to give birth to some truly inspired ideas, the quality of his performance is appalling. He struggled to draw the four leading characters and didn’t offer them the right stake to tackle. With all the emphasis of the era on diversity, the content of each episode looked far back. I wrote about Chibnall often appearing to make an argument contrary to what he thinks he is making. Unless he provided to say that a polite protest is the only good protest, that Amazon’s attitude toward staff is actually good, and that we can all benefit from the spoils of colonialism.
Of course, the choice of a woman in the central role sparked the usual jealousy one corners of the internet. Unfortunately, I think all the actors involved have done wonders trying to make everything Chibnall writes credible. And Whittaker’s departure before she could work with another executive producer will be another tragically lost opportunity in this era. I hope this ill-intentioned critique will not force the production team to make a “safe” choice for the next doctor.
Big secret yes Doctor Who is endurance is both the suppleness of his premise and its ability to rediscover itself. Every few years, often as the show’s creative team changed, it would become an almost completely different show. You could argue that this lack of sentimentality is the case since the first change of mission in the show, which occurred in fifth episode. The revived show used a version Buffy, the vampire slayer template from 2005 and is starting to wear out a bit thin.
It didn’t help that the Series 11 was designed to avoid any dense show background, the Series 12 was incomprehensible to anyone but fans from time to time. Chibnall, after all, dedicated his series to confirming the gaffe in production in the episode that aired on January 24, 1976. (And thus the Doctor became the Lord of Time the equivalent of Jesus, which is contrary to everything we have learned in the last six decades.) This was the worst kind of self-assured fan fiction and hardly a bold new direction for mainstream drama.
Unfortunately, the media environment has changed and competition has intensified beyond any belief. The BBC no longer has a monopoly on conversation as it has done – at least here in the UK – and has been dwarfed by giants who broadcast videos. Netflix, Amazon, Disney and others also have the wealth to offer the kind of creative freedom that once made the non-commercial BBC stand out among the crowd.
The knee-jerk reaction, I’m sure, will be requiring Dr. Who to jump into a movement driven by recent Marvel streaming shows. That would be a mistake, because Who’s at its best when it pushes itself away from any genre show that’s creeping into the mainstream that year. Financially, the BBC cannot compete with these mega-franchises, but the quality of the writing and its unique sensitivity can. The only thing the series could learn from these shows is how to turn each episode into event.
This could mean that the show is becoming a series of occasional specialties with a longer duration, like the celebrated film of the week. Or it could, like the 2021 season influenced by COVID, be a shorter series of episodes that are closely related. Chibnall could indeed come across a template that helps revive the show in the future, but I personally hope for something more radical.
For example, if Doctor Who can’t succeed as a great, hour-long stand-alone drama, then why not go back to a series of short series? Netflix’s Russian doll and the BBC I can destroy you both are examples of (excellent) half-hour dramas that offer a departure from the current dramatic drama template. It also helps Dr. Co has been shown in this format for 25 of the first 26 seasons, and offers new – or on at least differently – methods for structuring the story.
It could also make it easier to get drunk during a long second life on a streaming platform. Think about it: how many times have you bent over watching a long episode Crown because it’s too much time to invest outside of your day, but you’ll be happy to burn four episodes Brooklyn Nine-Nine without objection. You could even get Michael Coel to write it, though at this point I’ll settle for anyone who isn’t called Chris Chibnall.
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