Doctor Who is showing his age. His ratings are down; critics are bored. The problem is this. Classic Who, which ran from 1963 to 1989, reinvented itself about once every three years. There was hippie Who, gothic Who, scary Who and silly Who. New Who has been running since 2005 and only really had two producers, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. Moffat tried to make the series darker but stuck to Davies’s overhauled premise. And what seemed fresh 12 years ago is clichéd today.
Zany camera work? Check. Soaring strings? Check. Mumbo-jumbo science lectures? Check. Shouty cockney companion? Check, check, check.
From time to time New Who remembers it’s a sci-fi show and explores something conceptually interesting – but in keeping with most modern television, it doesn’t trust the audience. It assumes we’re basically thick, so it goes for soapy, yucky melodrama that’s resolved within 60 minutes. It’s EastEnders in space.
And just like EastEnders, New Who puts politics before entertainment. The Doctor’s latest companion is a lesbian. To be clear: there ain’t nothing wrong with being a lesbian or there being a lesbian in Doctor Who. It’s just hard to see the necessity. Doctor Who has featured several gay characters since it regenerated in 2005, which underscores the point that it’s still doing the same damn thing that it’s been doing for 12 years – and long after homosexuality ceased to be controversial for most viewers. At what point does inserting a gay character into a soap and screaming: “Look, we’ve got a gay character!” actually become a form of homophobia, because it perpetuates the idea of difference?
New Who’s look is too old and its politics is too old. And so, say the critics, is the actor. That’s rude: Peter Capaldi is only 59. The problem isn’t his age – kids identified perfectly well with previous Doctors William Hartnell (55) or Jon Pertwee (51). The problem lies in these ancient scripts and fogeyish producers.