20 July 2017

Why The 13th Doctor Makes Total Sense

It was at about the time of the 50th Anniversary that I first noted how the path of the Doctor's regenerations, completely by accident, make a huge and logical character arc. The announcement that Jodie Whittaker is to become the first female doctor has received polarized responses but, man-baby whinging notwithstanding, it does make complete sense.

Let me take you on a short journey which you probably won't care much about but may while away a couple of minutes.

The Doctor's Arc

The uber-arc for the character of the Doctor falls into four parts.

Part One: The Man Who Knew Better AKA Classic Who

In this part of the arc the Doctor is a brash, alien being who has rejected the aloof nature of his people, the Time Lords, but is uncertain how to become anyone else. This part of the arc covers Hartnell to McGann thusly.

  • Hartnell: Assuming the persona of an older, wiser man the original doctor meddles and shouts his way through adventures finding that his mantle of academic authority is too harsh for the persona he wants to project.
  • Troughton: In his first regeneration he pushes things into harmless clown a little too far, deciding, overall that he would like to be seen not as a stick-in-the-mud, or as a trickster but more of a man of action leading to...
  • Pertwee: Employing cars, gadgets and, occasionally, light violence to adventure his way through exile the Doctor backs himself into a bit of a corner. Adventurer is a fine persona, but maybe too limiting.
  • Baker the First: At last a persona he can really embrace, somewhat clownish, ostentatious, pompous but endearing, this Doctor has that Willy Wonka trait of abivalence and humour meaning you're never quite sure what he's thinking. In the end though, too entrenched.
  • Davison: A more staid persona, and notably much younger than before. Almost a mantle assumed to see how people would treat a younger, less flamboyant version of himself.
  • Baker The Second: All that underlying creepy weirdness, repressed during the Davison regeneration floods through the Doctor, he is almost a sociopath, he begins to not like himself.
  • McCoy: Sinking deeply into almost self-parody, the initial Doctor becomes a sinister clown, manipulating even his assistants in order to achieve his ends. He learns how to control his manipulative side.
  • McGann: The Doctor believes he is complete, he becomes a handsome man just before middle years, urbane, sophisticated, but always thinking ahead and with just enough flamboyance to communicate the other-ness he wears as a badge of honour, then, the Time War.

Part Two: The War Doctor

The Doctor's persona is tested in a war with the Daleks. He does things he never thought he would do. He becomes traumatised.

Part Three: A Good Man AKA Nu Who up to Capaldi

This part of the arc covers a Doctor who has tried to be a hero, but has seen things, and done things in the Time War that have radically re-defined what a good man is within the Doctor's psyche, this part of the arc plays between the poles of trauma and aspiration from Eccleston to Smith thus.

  • Eccleston: The Doctor emerges from the time war damaged, trying to assume his old jaunty demeanour but prone to fits of rage and fury that scare even him. He relies on his companion to ground him and retreats into a fantasy version of himself.
  • Tennant: Outwardly this doctor continues the pattern of his eighth regeneration but inside he is wracked with an unstable emotional angst. He clings to this persona but it slowly crumbles.
  • Smith: Back to his other persona, the clown, now more integrated with his dashing, heroic side. At last, in what is supposed to be his final regeneration the Doctor begins to wonder what else he might have done. He faces mortality for the first time. He wonders if he was all that he could have been. He wonders what he might do differently if he had it all to do again.

Part Four: Second Chances

Given a second chance the Doctor is, at first shocked into a kind of summation of all that he has been, at first unable to overcome the cold, callous personality and slowly rediscovering a deeper verison of the good man thirsty for re-definition and open to new experience.

  • Capaldi: Surprised by a second parcel of regenerations the Doctor reverts into a kind of ur-Doctor, brash, callous, self-important. As the shock of the new wears off he discovers the good man is still there and now with a world of opportunities to push the boundaries of what he can be, he is determined not to waste a second cycle of regenerations.

And that leads us up to the present time. In a way if you look at this madly re-inventing persona, trying to have authority and power (with a side of responsibility, natch) while at the same time being a kind of heroic facilitator, occasionally falling prey to a worrying harsh brutality, you can see it so clearly.

In the Doctor's worry about what kind of hero to try to be and a natural concern about some of the traps and dead ends from the first cycle of regenerations it is completely appropriate to head straight into the most fundamental difference the Doctor has perceived. This time lord has widened the possibility in its personal development and there's no reason to suppose that femaleness is where the Doctor's new comfort in experiencing life as something other than the first idea will end.

Man-baby whiners may want to buckle up, the ride looks set to be bumpy from here on out, gender and racial identity wise.