Doctor Who: Saying Goodbye to Thirteen

The news has broken that in 2022, Doctor Who will be saying farewell to both Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor and Chris Chibnall as the series’ showrunner.

(Daily Doctor Who #249)

Rumors have been abounding about Jodie Whittaker leaving for ages now (I even mentioned that back at the start of the year here) but Chris Chibnall also going takes me by surprise.

The report from the BBC says that there will be a six episode season later this year, followed by three specials next year to close off the era. Before this, I thought the next season was eight episodes, so I’m not sure where that misunderstanding came from. But if new report is true then the upcoming season later this year will be a six part adventure continuing adventure, featuring Mandip Gill and newcomer John Bishop along with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. And then next year will have three presumably standalone episodes, similar to David Tennant’s last run as the character in 2009 (except that there was also a Christmas special in 2008 which was part of that run, and a New Year’s special at the start of 2010.

I’m not a particular fan of Chris Chibnall’s approach with the show, nor a particular fan of Whittaker’s Doctor (although I always felt she had unrealized potential), but it still saddens me that they are both leaving so soon. I want to like the show, and as poorly as I think some of the story ideas have been conceived, as underdeveloped as I think the characters have been, as unnecessarily preachy as I think some of the scripts were written, I keep hoping that the next time I’ll like it better. And now, with so few episodes remaining, it’s harder to imagine that they will find a way to discard the series’ recent weaknesses and capitalize on its recent strengths and make something that I think is genuinely great.

It’s sort of like how I’d have felt if you told me that Star Trek: The Next Generation was going to have only nine episodes in its third season, and then that’d be it.

I also feel full of doubt that Chris Chibnall will be able to satisfactorily deal with the narrative and emotional fall-out to stew of plot twists that Series 12 was built off of. Is he really going to make sense of the Timeless Child, the destruction of the Time Lords, and the mystery of the Fugitive Doctor during this time? I do not feel confident.

When both Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat stepped down as showrunners, they left the show with a sense of fresh new opportunities, in spite of all the mythology-shaking plot twists that they introduced. Future writers could do stuff with the Time War or the Silence if they wanted to, but they could also move beyond those ideas if they want to. Right now, Chibnall’s Doctor Who feels like it is just full of stuff that a future writer is either going to have to fix or undo. So, can he bring us to a place of hopeful optimism for the show that will continue beyond him, by the time he is done? To date, he hasn’t made me confident about this. But again…hope hope hope.

It also makes me question the immediate future of the show. Long gone are the years when one could reasonably hope to see a season on TV each year. And thanks to all sorts of things, when those seasons do arrive, they seem to be shorter and shorter. As 2023 approaches there’s a lot of online chatter about what the show will do for the series’ 60th anniversary. Given that currently we are heading into this time without a leader or a face to the program, it feels like the answer is, “Not much.” But maybe all this will seem different when / if a new Doctor and showrunner are announced.

Anyway, I hope nothing but the best for Chris Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker as they move onto other projects. They are both obviously talented–the first season of Broadchurch proved that, if nothing else. And they are both enthusiastic for Doctor Who–they’re appearance at the online comic con made that clear.

Here’s hoping they bring all that to the screen in 2021 and then stick the landing in 2022!

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