Doctor wossname, you know, that one

      2 Comments on Doctor wossname, you know, that one

So, the Chibnall/Whitaker era of Doctor Who has come to an ignominious close, and none too soon. I blame Chris Chibnall, or perhaps I blame the BBC—at any rate, I certainly don’t blame Jodie Whitaker, who was fantastic in the part, and whose Doctor I suspect I will miss more than several recent incarnations. The writing of individual episodes has been bad, though, and the writing of seasons has been worse, and the general running of the show (31 episodes in five years!) has been awful.

Anyway, I am not really inclined to write an entire review of the final episode of that era (with the instantly forgettable because utterly meaningless title “The Power of the Doctor”) but I do want to complain about a specific aspect of the way the show deals with its history. Six former companions appeared in the episode, and four former doctors. Well, five. Ish. Sort-of.

What’s the rule about which characters make an appearance and which do not? Here’s the rule, as far as I can tell: characters (including incarnations of the Doctor) can make an appearance in the show only if the actor who played that character is still alive (and agrees to make the appearance). If the actor has died, then the character may not appear. It would be disrespectful to the deceased actor and unacceptable to the fans to simply hire someone new to play an old character.

Except for William Hartnell.

We can’t hire someone to play Liz Shaw and make them up to look like Caroline John, no. And we certainly can’t hire Sean Pertwee or Michael Troughton to do cameos in their fathers’ roles. Nope. Out of the question. If the actor is dead, we can maybe repurpose some archive footage, but absolutely not recast.

Except for William Hartnell.

Because, evidently, screw that guy. We can hire a succession of random actors to play that incarnation. Richard Hurndall! David Bradley! Peter Cushing! Just put some rando in a wig, it’ll be fine!

And, I mean, it’s not like I want someone other than Elisabeth Sladen to play Sarah Jane Smith. But it’s incredibly awkward, in the world of the show, to have no in-universe explanation for why, as the Guardians of the Edge wear the faces of the First, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors—they honestly didn’t even bother trying to explain why those particular faces appeared and the others did not. And in the absence of an in-world explanation, the real-world explanation appears to be that it’s only OK to re-cast the First Doctor, because screw William Hartnell.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

2 thoughts on “Doctor wossname, you know, that one

  1. Chaos

    I have no stake in this whatsoever and apologies in advance for armchair-opining-the-obvious, but is it possible that the thinking is more like “we need the First Doctor to be represented because it’s the first one, and if we skip that one, we can’t imply continuity back to the beginning of the show” than “screw that guy”?

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      [dons scarf and question-mark collar pins]
      Well, actually… the Chibnall era has retconned a pre-First Doctor, with an actor that is very much alive and making guest appearances, so they can go back to the beginning of the Doctor without going back to the beginning of the show.

      Also, the reasoning, in reality, is almost certainly not “screw that guy”, but that re-casting the first Doctor predates the rule about not recasting for actors who had died. In fact, I think the casting of Peter Cushing predates the Doctor regenerating (and those movie are… kinda non-canonical? I think maybe the movies exist in universe as movies about the Doctor? Although I don’t believe it’s ever explicit, at least not in the tv scripts) but certainly in 1983 they just went ahead and recast the First Doctor in a way that implied that it was fine to recast the Doctor for such specials. I suspect the “rule” about not recasting probably stems from the 1993 charity thing (which I’ve never seen), where the various actors donated their time so it wouldn’t have made much sense to “hire” someone to play the First or Second Doctors. By the time the new show was doing specials, somehow there was a rule, and also somehow the guy who had already been an exception stayed an exception.



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