The following contains some spoilers regarding Seasons 1-6 of the new series of Doctor Who.
Writer, producer Steven Moffat has played a key role in two of my favorite shows in recent history, Doctor Who and Sherlock. While they are both good shows they also demonstrate my issues with Moffat’s work.
I recently found out he worked on Jekyll and wrote for the classic Doctor Who parody “Doctor Who - Curse of Fatal Death”. In my mind he is undoubtedly brilliant. His talent is not in question; however, there is a trend that affects my enjoyment of two of my beloved shows. At least Doctor Who was my favorite sci-fi show till recently. Refer to my post “Doctor Who? More like Doctor Whatever” for more about why I am no longer watching the new Doctor Who.
As a disclaimer I know that Moffat is not the sole cause of these infarctions. It just so happens that I have the same issues with both shows and he happens to play a large part in both. Along with my fondness for the more recent incarnation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary sleuth I also appreciated Jeremy Brett’s portrayal in the 1984 BBC series. They are both engaging shows with wonderful actors.
However, I have noticed how the age difference of the lead actors makes such a difference in how I see the shows. It begs the question -- how is the new Sherlock so smart? Lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch is in his mid 30s. Brett was 51 when he started his 10 year run as Mr. Holmes. Dr. Bell, who Holmes was based on, was decades Cumberbatch senior.
Even the most learned, well-studied genius could not account for his depth of knowledge and more importantly his amount of experience. Holmes is not just a know it all, he’s a done-it-all. The new Holmes and Watson look more suited to be solving crimes with Nancy Drew. I can’t help but wonder of all the things to change why Moffat chose to make everyone so very young. Why not be a maverick by changing ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability and so on? If you are going to mix it up why not really mix it up?
With all the advances of modern technology, amazing source material, a bevy of British Actors to choose from he still went with young white males. At least he didn’t throw in a random woman as "something for the dads”…well not until he got his hands on Doctor Who.
Steven Moffat’s reign over Doctor Who started with season 5 of the newer series when he took over for Russell T Davies as showrunner. This is a case where the show’s casting has taken its toll on me.
Every companion from the new series had some humble beginning and arose to amazing heights of their own to the point where they didn’t need the Doctor. When they left neither they nor the doctor were the same. Each transformation was notable.
- Rose came of age over the course of two seasons from being a shop girl to sacrificing herself saving “our” world, a parallel world, and seemingly giving up a chance to be with her beloved Doctor.
- Martha, the only person of color to be a companion, became a doctor, married (twice?), lead a unit in UNIT, saved the world and nearly destroyed it for the good of human kind.
- Captain Jack was a rouge bandit traversing the universe thieving and running amok on a self destructive path. His metamorphosis made him into the selfless leader of Torchwood 3 even though it has caused him to lose lovers, family and friends.
- Donna was a grown-ass woman to start with. She could keep up with the doctor from the very beginning. Let’s not forget it was her humanity that was a perfect mix for the doctor and what he was missing “…that little bit of human—that gut instinct that comes hand-in-hand with planet Earth” (Season 4, Episode 13 "Journey's End”). She went from being the best temp in Cheswick to…well being the best temp in Cheswick again but we know, even if she doesn’t, that her influences both big (becoming Doctor Donna) and small (turning left) have helped humanity across galaxies.
The turnaround with each character is profound and moving.
Then there is the new gang.
- Amy went from being a kiss-o-gram to being a model.
- Rory went from being mistreated, and/or ignored by Amy all the while he was pining for her to being mistreated, and/or ignored by Amy all the while being married to her.
- River Song is the token grown up. Even she has to be Lara Croft to be passable on this show.
I don’t want to argue the merits of the new Who cast. They are all good actors but as the Doctor referred to them himself I can’t help but wonder if they have been limited to being “The Legs, The Nose and Mrs. Robinson”. He might as well have called them The Stripper, The Sad Sack and The Senior Citizen as that is the feeling the show is giving off.
Freema Agyeman -- gorgeous woman of color. Openly gay John Barrowman turns heads of both genders straight and gay alike as a pan sexual “51st Century Kind of Guy“. Captain Jack is not lying when he refers to Ricky, a handsome black man (played by Noel Clarke), as Beefcake. Catherine Tate is one of the most well known successful comedians in Britain and has even taken her comedy chops to one of the most popular American television shows in the States, The Office. It has been proven over 4 seasons that there is indeed room for stunning, varied and funny adults in the TARDIS.
There are so many more inclusive ways to make the show appealing to a larger audience. Torchwood and Sarah Jane adventures (both created by Russell T Davies) have managed to be more progressive and accessible than the Moffat’s Doctor Who. With the casting of the new Who Companion, Jenna-Louise Coleman, I realize that the casting will be more of the same.
Is older better? Not necessarily. Is verisimilitude important to me? Not particularly. I can (and prefer to) suspend my disbelief to enjoy television. I would watch a show about a young smarty pants detective and his doctor sidekick. I would watch a sci-fi show about a young Doctor with an adorable couple as sidekicks. I would notice the glaring lack of diversity in both shows but as concepts I could buy it.
The challenge of taking on institutions like Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who is knowing it’s a part of many people’s childhood that they want to pass on to their children. Many of the children watching the Doctor from behind the sofa will not see themselves and/or many populations of the world around them represented. It saddens me that I have to tolerate or completely cut out potentially amazing shows because of the sin of omission. In a world where there can be a 900+ year old, space man that can travel throughout space and time in a police call box that is bigger on the inside it’s a pity that there still isn’t room for more of the diversity.