On Monday at 11AM, Dragon Con panelists waxed thoughtful about the return of RTD (that’s Russell T. Davies) to the Whoverse as showrunner and writer. Davies famously relaunched, rebooted, and reimagined Doctor Who for the 21st Century in 2005 and when he introduced David Tennant as the 10th Doctor. He left the show in 2011, and panelists Caro McCully, Mike Faber, and BewitchedRaven and moderator Rob in the Hat couldn’t help but wonder if he’ll return the series to glory using his storytelling mastery and the talents of the 14th Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa.
“It was a blessing having Doctor Who back,” Faber said of the 2005 return, whose success he credited to Davies’ ability to balance vision and original lore. “He brought it back in a grand fashion.”
And yet, all three panelists were skeptical of the first new episode in 2005, titled “Rose” and featuring Christopher Eccelston as the 9th Doctor. It was the second episode, “The End of the World,” that won them over. That episode was the whole package, according to McCully, as it had humor, seriousness, and the Big Bang, not to mention a delicious villain in Cassandra, who had great dynamic with Rose. BewitchedRaven felt that the new series really found its footing in “Father’s Day.”
Since Davies, the show has cycled through two other showrunners and three additional Doctors (Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi, and the current Jodie Whittaker). Whittaker, they all surmised, has suffered from poor writing and lack of support, causing the show to wane and lose the interest of the global fanbase Davies helped build. Davies, for example, turned Doctor Who into a franchise with multiple spinoffs (Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Chronicles) that all tied back to the parent show.
“It’s like it’s plateaued in its writing,” McCully said of the current rendition. “[Whittaker] kinda got the shorter end of the stick.”
“They haven’t done [Whittaker] and her version of the Doctor justice,” BewitchedRaven said, noting that showrunners have lost valuable partnerships with other writers and the bigger story tie-ins that made series-long arcs and spinoffs possible.
Faber echoed all this and hopes that Whittaker’s Doctor is vindicated, and that Davies, in his return, uses the right writers and resources to return the show to another “golden era.” Still, all the panelists were quick to point out great episodes (“Demons of the Punjab,” “Rosa,” Spyfall”), including many set in historic moments, in which Whittaker shined. BewitchedRaven pointed out that history-based episodes can be a crutch in a lackluster season because audiences are already bought into the event.
McCully reminded everyone of Davies’ skill at the “timey wimey” and how it affected all subsequent series until it got diluted, hoping it will start fresh again with his return. She also wants his return to usher in more spinoffs—perhaps something with U.N.I.T, which BewitchedRaven supports.
“He understands that this universe is bigger than just the show,” Bewitched Raven said, noting that she’d also love to see spinoffs for the Doctor’s Daughter, the Shadow Proclamation, and the Paternoster Gang. Faber added Graham, Missy, and the Fugitive Doctor spinoffs to that list.
When talking about the new Doctor—Ncuit Gatwa—everyone was enthusiastic. “I’m excited,” Rob in the Hat said.
“He’s gonna bring the humor back,” McCully said, likening him to Tennant.
Gatwa is a Rwandan-Scottish actor who has most recently appeared in Sex Education, for which he won a BAFTA. As Faber pointed out, as a teen he grew up with the new series and can balance light and serious material. “The Doctor needs that in his personality,” Faber said.
BewitchedRaven feels that the choice of a younger, person of color will help keep the show progressing, and Faber just wants to fall in love with Gatwa as the Doctor, noting that the relatively unknown actor doesn’t bring a lot of baggage to the role, which better allows the audience to get to know and accept his version of the legendary Doctor.
“I think we’re in for a ton of fun,” Faber said. Indeed, timey-wimey will tell if RTD and Gatwa can re-enliven one of TV’s most iconic and joyous shows.