I first fell in love with Doctor Who when I saw reruns of series one with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. I was drawn to the adventure and to wonder, as well as to the emotional depth I found in the Doctor. Eccleston played him as bitter and angry, but slowly changing as a nineteen-year-old human taught him to see the good in people once again. David Tennant continued that emotional journey, adding even more complexity as audiences watched him struggle with the reality of making friends, only to lose them repeatedly. Was their loss all his fault? Was he a truly a hero or had he been the monster all along?
David Tennant is my favorite Doctor precisely because of the emotion intensity he brings to the role. Even though Doctor Who is a space and time travel adventure, at its heart, it has always been about the relationships. The Doctor finds travelling companions because he is lonely, but also because he is constantly surprised and impressed by how resilient, brave, and kind humanity can be at its best. His belief in humans is arguably what often brings out their best. They want to live up to the vision he has of them.
I am drawn to the hope inherent in the show by virtue of the Doctor’s belief in the best of the humanity. But I also am moved by how that hope is so often tempered by the Doctor’s self-doubt. He exults in the danger and the adventure of saving worlds, but he has to recognize, at the end of the day, that that same danger hurts people he cares about. People who would have never been in danger if he had not brought them there. The riddle of the Doctor is that he loves life-threatening situations and that he somehow makes other people love it, too. He delights in things that scare the average person.
Characters in Doctor Who often express anger and disgust that he seems to be enjoying their peril. But the Doctor never loves that people are in danger. He loves being in situations where he can discover new things–meet new life forms, witness an event never before seen. And he manages to share that joy and wonder not only with his companions, but also with audiences. Many sci-fi shows present aliens as the enemy. And there are plenty of dangerous, violent aliens in Doctor Who. But Doctor Who also suggests that there can be a world where humans and aliens live side-by-side learning from each other and sharing the stars.
When David Tennant left the show along with executive produce Russell T. Davies, I was sad. They had created a TV series that repeatedly urged viewers to think of life as a grand adventure, with something wonderful always to be discovered. I had hopes for Steven Moffat’s takeover, though. I had enjoyed his writing on episodes like “Blink” and “Silence in the Library” and thought he would make an excellent showrunner.
As time went on, however, Moffat’s writing made me lose interest in Doctor Who. The way he seemed to try to make the bulk of his female characters “sexy” bothered me, as did the fact that his Doctors seemed to chose his companions, not because they were ordinary individuals who could prove themselves extraordinary–think Donna the temp using her secretarial skills to solve mysteries and type at speed to save the world–but because they were “special.” The girl with a crack in her bedroom and the universe in her head. The Impossible Girl. You couldn’t be anyone travelling with the Doctor anymore. You had to be a girl with a mysterious past who was going to prove to be a major plot point.
Additionally, the female characters under Moffat’s reign so often seemed more like cardboard cut-outs written to suit the plot, more than they seemed like actual people with lives, families, and backgrounds. It was difficult for me to understand who they were as characters because that would change from episode to episode. And their sexuality was repeatedly emphasized in ways that were uncomfortable, like that was one of their main selling points as a character, rather than their bravery or their cleverness or their kindness.
I stopped watching Doctor Who sometime during series seven. I tried again when Peter Capaldi took over as the Doctor, but was disappointed by his apparent hatred of humanity, which seemed antithetical to everything the Doctor stands for. I haven’t really watched Doctor Who since, except for two episodes with Jodie Whittaker. Now I’m beginning the show again. But, as I finish watching David Tennant’s final episodes, I cannot help but wonder if I will still be disappointed with the same aspects of Moffat’s writing.