Over the past few days, I had some catching up to do, as until last week, I hadn’t finished Doctor Who Series 11. I just couldn’t be bothered, as every time I tried to finish it, something more interesting would make its way to Netflix or Amazon. But with both the return of fan-favorite Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) and a new, secret incarnation of The Doctor (Jo Martin), as well as the return of The Master (Sacha Dhawan) in Series 12’s opening episodes, I had to get caught up to see what all the fuss was about.
Other than Series 12 actually having the gall to focus on The Doctor, the main character of Doctor Who, and add a little more to the lore, the controversy surrounding the inclusion of Martin’s Doctor has been about absolutely nothing. Here’s why.
It’s been a recent trend, perhaps starting with 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” for major franchises to cast women in roles traditionally given to white men, as well as minority actors, as these groups have been traditionally relegated to side roles in major franchises. Whether or not big studios actually care about diverse casting is up for debate, but it is laudable that big studios have recognized the harm of casting predominantly white men, and have made steps to get better representation in television and in film.
Diverse casting has been done well, and not so well, with the worst offenders (such as the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot), hiding behind their diverse casting choices to excuse lazy story writing and wooden acting. It’s been popular for long-established properties, like “Star Wars” and “Doctor Who” to cast a woman or minority actor as the lead to a new installment, as they have a literal galaxy of possible stories to explore, and to be completely honest, not all of those stories need to focus on white men. Truth be told, the race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender of a show or film’s lead actor or actress doesn’t really matter; whether or not they give a good performance and have an interesting character to play does, but I do understand how some fans get frustrated when a studio expects a high-five and praise for making a diverse casting, when they failed to make a good product.
Doctor Who Series 12: Episode 5 has stirred the pot, as Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor meets a previously-unknown past incarnation of herself, played by Martin, who is a black woman. There have been fan outcries against Martin, despite the fact that she was brilliant in her debut as The Doctor, as it is pretty much certain that her incarnation of The Doctor was from the classic era (1963-1989), a time period that some fans are under the impression that modern Who has made a vow to leave alone, despite the fact that a few two Christmases ago, the show literally featured the First Doctor (originally played by William Hartnell between 1963-66, and later by David Bradley in 2017), which retconned some of his personality traits and background.
The thing is, Martin’s Doctor is actually really good, portraying a serious, no-nonsense Doctor that has more flashes of the relentless, angry-eyebrowed 12th Doctor played by Peter Capaldi, than the childish (though at times, tortured) depiction of the 11th Doctor played by Matt Smith, which Whittaker seems to closely emulate.
PROBABLY DOCTOR 2.5
Critics of showrunner Chris Chibnall’s inclusion of Doctor Ruth, who has a classic-era TARDIS, have claimed that he is wrecking the continuity of classic Who in order to tell his story with Martin. There’s this awful rumour online that Chibnall is planning to introduce the fact that there were 13 previous incarnations of The Doctor before the First Doctor who were all women, of which Martin is one of, which many think would disrespect the classic era of Doctor Who, and is honestly something no one asked for. Thankfully, there is little to no evidence to support that claim in-show, at least not in any way that would connect to Martin’s Doctor Ruth (the unofficial name the internet gave to Martin’s Doctor, as the character originally goes by the name of Ruth), especially considering the fact that spoilers when we see her TARDIS, it is stuck in the shape of a British Police Telephone box, which happened after the First Doctor stole it from his homeworld of Gallifrey.
The most likely explanation is that she’s a hidden, secret incarnation of The Doctor between Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor and Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor, seeing as she doesn’t recognize 13’s sonic screwdriver (at least in the ways 13 uses it), and we never actually see 2 regenerate into 3. 2’s regeneration is surrounded in mystery, as he is forced to regenerate against his will by the authorities on Gallifrey, and he has some unaccounted for time before we see the newly-regenerated 3rd Doctor fall out of his TARDIS and into his first episode. We also never definitely see him regenerate on-screen.
Eagle-eyed fans noticed that the coat 3 was wearing in his first scene has eerie similarities to what Doctor Ruth wears at the end of “Fugitive of the Judoon”, which is incredibly suspect, as the incoming Doctor is often seen wearing their predecessor’s clothes, as regeneration changes only their body. Chibnall already alluded to the fact that Gallifrey wasn’t what The Doctor thought it was in Series 12, Episodes 1 and 2 (“Skyfall” Parts 1 & 2), so it’s not out of the question that the Second Doctor was forced to regenerate into Martin, and forced to do shady stuff for the Time Lords, before having her memory wiped preceeding or during regeneration. Martin’s Doctor would also have to be an extra regeneration, else The Doctor would know using simple mathematics that she had a whole lifetime unaccounted for.
The BBC already casted Reece Shearsmith as the Second Doctor in the 2013 docudrama “An Adventure in Space and Time”, of which Bradley debuted as the First Doctor, and Jon Pertwee’s son, Sean Pertwee bears a striking resemblance to his father, and has the acting chops to match it. So if the BBC wants to write a story in between the two, they already have the perfect starting and ending points in Shearsmith and Sean Pertwee.
And it’s not a bad direction at all, especially considering how very little we actually know of Time Lord society, especially how its infamous Time War was started. And I’m going to call this now, despite the fact that Gallifrey seems destroyed at the end of “Skyfall: Part 2”, it’s not completely gone, because Chibnall isn’t foolish enough to undo all the Doctors saving it at the end of the 50th anniversary special, and because Gallifrey is too interesting of a place, as are its Time Lords, for the BBC to bury forever. It is literally impossible for them to leave them alone.
Just look at how many times The Master has seemingly died forever, only to come back in a few seasons, because he’s just too good of a villain.
We’ll probably get a story similar to 2017’s “Twice Upon a Time” with Whittaker’s 13th Doctor and Martin’s Doctor Ruth, with cameos from Shearsmith and Sean Pertwee as the Second and Third Doctors, probably in the Series 12 finale.
If anything, I’m concerned that Martin will overshadow Whittaker, as her Doctor has a keen sense of authority and brutality often seen in moments of great struggle and adversity other Doctors have shown that Whittaker lacks, which is my largest criticism of her Doctor. She also has to follow up Peter Capaldi, whose 12th Doctor gave us captivating monologues like his anti-war speech in “The Zygon Inversion”, and his “who I am is where I fall” speech in the Series 10 finale, not to mention the lengths he went to (dying over and over for four and a half billion years) to get to Gallifrey, and protect his companion. Whittaker’s 13th Doctor has not had to go through such adversity because the stories Chibnall wrote for her so far didn’t need her to, and it is my opinion that she will only be considered one of the great Doctors when she does.
Great Doctor performances come when The Doctor is written into a situation that leaves him/her incredibly vulnerable, with a lot to lose, and is forced to do the right thing despite the fact that doing so might mean certain death or loss in one way or another. It’s when The Doctor’s integrity is put on the line that an incarnation of The Doctor establishes themselves, and if she is going to leave her mark, Whittaker’s 13 needs to be challenged like 12, 11, 10, 9 and the War Doctor (arguably, even 8) before her, within the framework of the show, with no companions to hide behind. It’s when the show dares to peel back the whimsical exterior of The Doctor and explore the tortured soul within is when it stands among the best in television.