New Year, New Who(s)
Celebrated writer and producer Russell T Davies is back in the showrunner’s seat for the new season of Doctor Who, and we’ve already been treated to three blockbuster episodes heralding the return of David Tennant’s widely acclaimed Doctor. In the ‘The Giggle’, the most recent – and climactic – episode of this triptych, the mythos and narrative of the Whoniverse takes a quantum leap into a startlingly fresh new era for the enduring 60-year franchise.
It’s a welcome revival of good scripts after the first female Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker, sadly experienced the issue of women not being facilitated by script writers to ‘boldly go’ into mainstream science fiction. This correlated with (if not clearly caused) a significant fall in viewing figures.
Davies has never been short of innovative ideas, and a stellar one (literally) emerged with the arrival of the new Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa. The episode was filmed in June this year, and on watching the BBC ‘making of’ supplement meticulously documenting this, I started to get the sneaking feeling I was watching something I’d seen before, but not in Doctor Who.
In a new narrative convention for the mythos, the Doctor ‘bi-generates’ instead of simply regenerating into a new incarnation; the old one splits off from the new one, so there are two of them. It’s a fiendishly clever innovation, both artistically and commercially. Run out of ideas for the current Doctor? No problem. Go back to the previous one now living peacefully on Earth in retirement and give him an adventure. He’s even got his own Tardis, because that bi-generated, too. This plot twist also brings the possibility of the ‘old’ Doctor meeting up with previous companions, so we can also catch up with them in later life. It’s a great recycling project.
And of course, this means falling viewing figures can be immediately addressed. It’s an obvious reason why the most popular Doctor from the re-booted 2000s ‘Whoniverse’, also referred to as ‘NuWho’, was chosen to be the other half of this first bi-generation.
As the Doctor travels in time, there’s also no reason why they can’t meet up with previous versions of themself. This has already been used as a plot device in ‘special’ episodes. And an intriguing ‘Fugitive Doctor’ brilliantly played by Jo Martin has already been introduced, although her story has not yet been fully explored. Hopefully, she can be given at least a mini-series of her own. The future for the ‘Whoniverse’ looks bright.
Where did I see this before?
But to come back to the point, where did this sneaking feeling of ‘I’ve seen bi-generation before’ come from? And then I remembered. David Cameron walking down Downing Street. Ex-prime ministers don’t just retire now it seems; they hang around waiting for bi-generation. But in this case, it’s old guy Cameron who gets the travelling brief (albeit not in space and time), and young guy Rishi Sunak, who, getting the terrible approval ratings, gets to stay at home.
Reflecting further, Cameron is no Tennant. For that, the Conservatives would have to go back to Margaret Thatcher, and for that, they’d need a Tardis of their own. Cameron, the man who walked away from the mess he had made of the EU referendum (the resulting disastrous Brexit process going on to become the Conservatives’ – and the country’s – own Time War) is the bi-generation to be kept up Tory sleeves to save the day as Sunak’s approval ratings continue to fall? Really?
And, in terms of this still ongoing Time War as Sunak’s government drag us ever backwards, what is Cameron going to do about Sunak’s current attempt to interfere with the timeline and undo Britain’s historical role in setting up the European Court of Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Nothing it seems, thus far.
Regeneration in 2024?
Bi-generation is clearly a great idea in fiction, but not so useful in reality. The concept of Tennant and Gatwa joining forces on future Doctor Who adventures holds much promise. Conversely, in 2024, we will hopefully see Sunak hand over the keys to No 10 to a brand-new prime minister and walk away into the distance forever, whilst the British government fully regenerates, and starts to get to grips with the wreckage created by its predecessor.
In a political analogue with the Time War in the ‘Whoniverse’, there is no time in the past many of us would like to see more quickly consigned to the scrapheap of bad memories than the musical chairs government of 2015-24, over which time more hapless contenders have changed ministerial seats than Doctors have flown the Tardis. Let us hope, above all, this is one welcome regeneration the New Year will bring, so the future for the UK begins to look brighter, too.