Doctor Who returns: New Doctor, new direction... right?

As the BBC Time Lord regenerates into Peter Capaldi, Stephen Kelly hopes the show will regenerate too

The Time Lord is a’ changin’ – and, hopefully, Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who is as well. In a couple of Saturdays’ time, a new era will dawn for the sci-fi favourite as Peter Capaldi takes over the Tardis proper from Matt Smith. And many fans are welcoming the shake-up: for although Smith, with his youthful charisma and ancient eyes, will go down as one of the greats, his final series was an underwhelming farewell; disjointed, hollow and, as sci-fi magazine SFX put it, “the creakiest run of episodes since 1988”.

With the casting of the older, grizzled Capaldi, though, comes the chance for the show to regenerate stronger, wiser and less weird about women. Here, from the perspective of a grown man saving for a Dalek (RRP £3,495), is what Moffat needs to do.

Allow the Doctor to act his age

At 56, Capaldi is one year older than the first Doctor William Hartnell, making him the most mature actor to play the role so far. As such, it’s an opportunity to mature the show with him and make the drama more serious, introducing events that have genuine consequences and dialogue that is true-to-life rather than a collection of empty speeches and quotable quips, as it has been of late. Capaldi, too, should be given licence to unleash that snarl he made famous in The Thick of It; it’s time for fans who only know the Who reboot to see the enigmatic, alien side to the Doctor that has been restrained under the more down-to-earth likes of Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Smith.

Saying that, Doctor Who is not Battlestar Galactica: it thrives off its Pixar-like ability to simultaneously work on one level for adults and another for children. To gear it too strongly to either of those groups would be disastrous. Nor should the Doctor confuse other- worldly with nastiness. That, along with the fact that he looked like Mr Tumble, is what doomed Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor, whose attempt at dark edginess instead merely made him abrasively dislikeable.

Flesh out Clara’s character

At the beginning of Series 7, Jenna Coleman’s Clara was established as a mystery to be solved: the so-called “impossible girl”, different versions of whom the Doctor had bumped into throughout time. Therefore, the show got wrapped up in what Clara was, rather than who – rendering her more a plot device than character.

The mystery now, though, is solved – with the revelation that Clara had scattered herself throughout history after jumping into the Doctor’s time stream. That means, in Series 8, there is now scope to expand on her character; to let her show – not tell – us that she is a “bubbly personality masking [a] bossy control freak”, to let us see her life beyond the Doctor and give the talented Coleman the tools to really make us care about her character.

Write women better

When on form, Steven Moffat is the best writer working in television today – a fierce imaginative force with the power to make dialogue sizzle and plots stun. Yet one criticism continues to dog Moffat’s work on both Doctor Who and Sherlock: his portrayal of women.

Objectively, such critique is supported by a recent study showing that 89 per cent of the episodes written by show-running predecessor Russell T Davies passed the Bechdel test (on the portrayal of women characters), compared to only 57 per cent by Moffat. Subjectively, I’ve despaired as I’ve seen the Doctor’s companions diminish from Donna Noble’s “most important woman in all of creation” to Clara’s “impossible girl”, or Amy Pond’s “girl who waited”; those whom, as feminist website Jezebel put it, “outwardly appear feisty, sarcastic and clever, [but] tend towards being shallow, unambitious and dependent at their cores”.

There are defences: Moffat has written a great, non-companion female character, Alex Kingston’s River Song, and why wouldn’t his companions’ lives be overshadowed by a man who, you know, can travel through time and space? Though neither argument can explain away the eleventh Doctor’s dubious attitude to women – more on that to come – or storylines where, to quote leading feminist blogger Zoe Stavri, “the plot was resolved by motherhood being the source of women’s strength and womb-magic saving everybody. [Another episode] was about a woman in a box who was occasionally taken out for men’s amusement.”

Whatever your opinion, it’s safe to say such issues could be tempered if there were more women writers on the show. Since Doctor Who’s revival in 2005, however, there has only been one – Helen Raynor – out of 22 men.

… and stop making the Doctor a lecher

At the end of “Nightmare in Silver”, the penultimate episode of the last series, Matt Smith’s Doctor watched Clara walk out of the Tardis before saying, “impossible girl: a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt just a little bit too… tight.”

Sexual tension in the Tardis is hardly new, and yet given that the eleventh Doctor started out as having an awkward, almost asexual aversion to sex, it was a jarring line – and one that felt like the lustful end-point of Smith’s shift into a blokey bloke bloke. Take the 2012 Christmas Special “The Snowmen”, in which he protested: “Do you think I’m going to start investigating just because some bird smiles at me?”; or “The Crimson Horror”, where he forced a kiss on a gay married woman; or “Journey To The Centre of the Tardis”, where he implied that he had put the machine in “basic mode” because Clara was “a girl”. Women, eh, lads?

Fortunately, Capaldi has already said that there will be “no flirting” between him and Clara in Series 8. It’s a step in the right direction, as while Doctor Who still has work to do when it comes to women, the Doctor is still one of the most important role models children, and especially boys, have: a hero who teaches them the values of intellect and empathy over macho violence and prejudice. He doesn’t need to teach them sexism as well.

Keep it simpler

Matt Smith’s three series were defined by a long-term story arc, involving cracks in time, aliens called the Silence, the identity of River Song, the Doctor’s name and the fabled planet of Trenzalore.

For a show traditionally rooted in stand-alone stories, it was an ambitious move, and one that – at first, at least – paid off marvellously, with an engrossing array of big questions and shocking reveals. But then, somewhere towards the end of Series 6, Moffat’s hydra-like plotting became convoluted and erratically paced; so enthusiastic was he to introduce the next big villain, mystery or idea, nothing had time to breathe.

Just look at the Silence, for example: foreshadowed as a big deal throughout Series 5 and then finally revealed (although not entirely explained) in Series 6, they were then ignored for a half-series of stand-alone episodes. Their mystery, which it turns out is part of another mystery, was then explained in one single line in Matt Smith’s final episode “The Time of the Doctor”: 60 minutes in which unresolved questions such as “who blew up the Tardis?” piled up on top of each other and suffocated to death.

If anything, of course, the fact that Moffat has too many ideas should be admired. But if even hardcore Doctor Who fans, who gleefully twist their minds into timey-wimey knots week in, week out, are getting confused, it might be time to rein it in a bit.

‘Doctor Who’ returns with Series 8 opener ‘Deep Breath’ on Saturday 23 Aug

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor