Doctor Who is coming back! As a Doctor Who super-fan, this pleases me greatly. 2016 was a long year without the adventures of the Doctor for company. Christmas's Return of Doctor Mysterio was a welcome oasis, but while highly enjoyable, there's no substitute for a thirteen episode run to satisfy a true Whovian. If you're anything like me, you're marking the days till April 15th. However, in the meantime, speculation has gone wild, and, as designated super-fan, I will respond to the speculation with the benefit of my all-encompassing nerd-knowledge.
Warning: mild potential spoilers ahead
Capaldi's out. Who's next?
The big news is, of course, that Peter Capaldi is signing off as the Doctor at the end of this year. I've enjoyed Capaldi's crotchety take on the Doctor immensely, but this is his third season playing the character, and three years is the mode tenure of a Doctor, as per Patrick Troughton's oft-quoted advice to Peter Davison.
But who will play the part next? As always, the speculation is boundless and pointless. No really, it is. Every time we get a new Doctor the bookies go nuts, and we do the same boring dance. Will it be a woman? Will it be a non-caucasian actor? Will it be this or that ridiculously famous person? No. It never is. It will almost certainly be a caucasian male actor who is very good at their job, probably not a mega-famous superstar, probably not someone who has played a similarly iconic character in TV or film, almost certainly not someone who has previously had a recurring role in the show, and definitely not a previous Doctor. Odds are it will be someone that British people kinda know, and that a few Americans might have heard of. That has been the trend historically. You probably will not really know who the new Doctor Who actor is, but their tenure as the Doctor will define how the world sees them.
Pearl is in. What will she be like?
Pearl Mackie is joining the TARDIS crew as new companion Bill. According to the series trailer she works as a dinner lady, knows the Doctor through him being some kind of a professor, and quickly gets swept up in his adventures.
Our first look at the new companionBBC
There is very little to be gleaned so far on the subject of the new companion beyond inferences based on her costume, a brief monologue, a few short clips, and one longer clip. A few people have speculated that she is going to be annoying, and that the writing is trying too hard to make her quirky… it really is too soon to say on any of that. After all, I thought I was going to hate having Catherine Tate as a series regular, and she has turned out to be one of my favorite companions of the modern Who era.
Her big distinction, as has just recently been announced, is that she will be the series' first openly gay companion. I would argue that John Barrowman's all-but-explicitly-declared pansexuality as Jack Harkness technically did that first (he did share a kiss with Christopher Eccleston's Doctor, after all). But let's not split hairs, here. The representation and diversity aspects of this are quite welcome to the series, and anyone upset that the new companion is a mixed race, gay woman is not someone I want to be friends with.
The most interesting things about her, from a Doctor Who historian's point of view, are the parallels between her and classic series companion Ace. Bill has a 1980s feel to her (and awesome 1980s hair), a jacket with patches sewn on to it, and calls the Doctor "Professor" at least once in the trailer. These were all hallmarks of Sophie Aldred's Ace… though Bill has yet to be seen carrying a bag of Nitro 9 around with her. There's a good chance I'm drawing false conclusions here, but the fact that classic series writer Rona Munro (who wrote Ace's and the classic series' final story Survival) has penned one of this season's episodes is fueling the fire on this for me.
A few people have wondered whether Mackie will exit the TARDIS with Capaldi. This is technically possible, but there has been nothing conclusive announced so far, and it seems like they'll want something to ease the transition between Capaldi and the next Doctor. Bill could well be that bridge. On the flip side, incoming producer Chris Chibnall may want a clean slate to draw on, like Steven Moffat did when he began his tenure. As I said, it remains to be seen.
Most importantly, I'm looking forward to seeing what a new actress and a new character brings to the table.
Speaking of Moffat…
Steven Moffat, after seven years as show runner, is stepping down and letting Chris Chibnall take over. Like a lot of the fandom, I have had mixed feelings about Moffat's tenure. He brought back some aspects of the classic series that had been missing under Russel T. Davies, he kept the show alive in face of BBC interference, and he has, either directly or indirectly, created some of the modern series' best episodes and greatest moments. He has, however, also produced some of the most convoluted, confusing, and dull stories of all time (Hello, Hide). Throw in to that a few stories with worrying allegorical implications (ahem, Kill the Moon's abortion metaphor) and occasional flutterings of sexism (he writes a lot of female characters who are defined by the men in their life) and you have a tenure with distinct highs and lows.
Showrunner Steven MoffatBBC Images
As a long term Who fan you learn to take the rough with the smooth, so I find it hard to hold a grudge against Moffat in the long term. What's most interesting right now, is to wonder what he's going to do in his final season. We know a few of his favorite monsters are coming back, and at least one classic series oddity will be making a return (We'll get to them in a minute). We can also assume that his and Capaldi's departure will end up in the writing thematically. Exactly how is still up in the air, but given Capaldi's penchant for moody gravitas, I would put down money that Moffat's going to play in to that like a hot-topic customer. Expect many frowny eye-brows from the Doctor.
The Ice Warriors are back
If you're a classic series fan you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're less familiar, remember that big green guy on the Russian submarine in that one episode? Those guys.
I have mixed feelings on this. I didn't love Matt Smith's ice-capade episode, I thought it added too much unnecessary lore to the Ice Warriors, and essentially turned them in to bio-mechanical Klingons. Given that all that's now been established, it's likely they'll have to carry it forward. That said, I have loved the Ice Warriors in the past. Seeds of Death is probably their best appearance. It features them en masse, hissing, scheming and menacing, and that's how I like them. Details leaked have them being seen on Mars, apparently in a Jules Verne meets Zulu story penned by series favorite (and Sherlock) writer Mark Gatiss. The Zulu element worries me, because it implies we're going to be dealing with their newfound warrior-heritage, but I'm optimistic for one key reason: The Ice Lords will be back. This has me excited because I love their design, and because it implies that we will see a lot of Ice Warriors. We can infer this because the Ice Lords are the upper level of the Ice Warrior caste system. No point in being a lord if you have no one to lord it over. So we will likely see an Ice Warrior army, which is something I'm all in favor of.
An Ice LordBBC
The Movellans are back
It's only there for a second, but in a frame from the new series trailer we can clearly see a Movellan laser weapon, and the outline of their distinctive disco dreadlocks. The Movellans are enemies of the Daleks, only seen once before, in the Tom Baker story Destiny of the Daleks. They are a race of robots that rival the Daleks and bring them to a stalemate, a stalemate that can only be resolved by the Daleks digging up their creator Davros and putting him back in charge.
It's blurry, but it's definitely MovellansBBC
Honestly the Movellans weren't great baddies, but then Destiny of the Daleks wasn't a great story. It was the awkward love child of a past-his-prime Terry Nation (creator of the Daleks) and a young, in-slightly-over-his-head, script editing Douglas Adams. I have a lot of love and respect for these two men, but this was by no means their greatest, most insightful work. It is notable mostly for turning Davros in to a recurring villain, rather than just a one-off baddie (for better or worse).
The Movellans look like the goofy humanoid robots you expect from cheap sci-fi and, while they have some personality, there isn't a whole lot to them. So what to make of their return? Well, it could be the setup to an interesting Dalek story: the resurrection of an old foe that nearly bested them, perhaps the only other species, besides the Time Lords, that could do it. Maybe the Daleks and the Doctor need to team up to defeat the Movellans, before they become too dangerous for either party to handle.
Or, this could be a callback to the Time War. After all, which side would the Movellans fight on in that war? Would they side against the Daleks, their greatest enemy, or against the Time Lords, who would likely to turn on them as soon as they had destroyed the Daleks? There is a final, interesting, and very Steven Moffat option, of course… maybe they're not the focus of the story they're in at all. It could just be a one off shot as fan service to show the Daleks being destructive, before cutting back to the main story. I would not put this past Moffat, if he really wanted to tease us with a Movellan-heavy story in the trailer he could have had them featured more prominently. Time will tell. Always does.
Missy is back
Michelle Gomez' female version of The Master is set to return, as detailed in an on-set video. Now, I like the Master being a woman. I think it's great fun, and Michelle Gomez is always a delight. I didn't love the ending of her first outing as the character, but I enjoyed her second tremendously. Even if she did get relegated to the sidelines a bit by the end. Her portrayal actually feels a lot closer to the classic series Master than Jon Simm's did. In that she turns up regularly, seemingly at random, and tries to ruin the Doctor's life, all whilst being seemingly obsessed with him. Jon Simm's Master felt like a response to David Tennant's Doctor. Which it was. True, Missy is also a reaction to Capaldi's Doctor, but she is used plot-wise much more similarly to Roger Delgado's original version of the character, in that she is just an unavoidable fact of the Doctor's existence, rather than the ultimate uber-villain.
Missy, the now-female incarnation of The MasterBBC
My hope with her return is that they are keeping her in that vein, and bringing her back with some madcap scheme that the Doctor will have to unravel, possibly involving Autons. Because there's nothing that quite tops the list of greatest Master moments for me better than the scene in Terror of the Autons where the Master has a plastic chair (under Auton control) eat a disorderly underling. It's pure campy gold, and I want to see them do that again. My fear is that Steven Moffat will overcomplicate things, as he often does, that he will flaunt his subversion of expectations like an Ascot fascinator. He's done it a few times now: overplayed the 'timey-wimey' card, had four different plot twists when two would have done, and left an episode feeling crowded, over ambitious, and underwhelming (Hi, Wedding of River Song). We shall see what happens.
It is also possible that Missy will once again be teaming up with the Cybermen, because…
Mondasian Cybermen are back
Cybermen are a Doctor Who staple, and have been in the Modern Series of Doctor Who since the second series. However, they came back with a twist. The Cybermen of the new series were different to the Cybermen of old, in that they were born in an alternate universe under completely different circumstances to the Classic Series Cybermen. The Cybermen from days of yore hailed from Earth's twin planet Mondas. And they originally looked a heck of a lot goofier than the Cybermen we came to know and love. Way back in their first story, The Tenth Planet, they looked less like robots, and more like mummies with spotlights strapped to their heads. Are you the the type of person who misses that? Well, good news! That old, old design is coming back.
Scary? Not scary? Hard to tell...BBC
I don't quite know what to say on this one. Moffat talked, when he first took over as showrunner, about bringing back old school Cybermen, but he seemed mainly concerned with the tone of the stories they appeared in. He said he wanted them to be more mysterious, less militant, as they became under Davies' eye. I thought we'd seen him play out this vision in the Cybermen stories he's already done as show runner, bringing it to a head in Nightmare in Silver, where they were adaptable, scheming, and almost cyberpunk in look and feel.
Capaldi is allegedly the driving force behind the throwback look. He claimed in a 2014 interview to be a huge fan of the old-school Cyberman mode. My guess is this story is a pairing of Capaldi's nostalgia with Moffat's. A gift from Moffat to Capaldi of getting to play with toys from his childhood, and a gift from Moffat to Moffat of getting to play with one of his favorite show runner tools: off-beat shock value. I'm equal parts uneasy and optimistic. Uneasy, because Moffat has played the shock-gambit game with us before and failed (ahem, Let's Kill Hitler). Optimistic, however, because if this is a story he's wanted to tell for a while, and that Capaldi is heavily invested in, I feel like they're going to get it right. Much like they did with this past season's The Witch's Familiar. Here's hoping.
Is Peter Jackson directing an episode?
Probably not. It'd be cool, but probably not. Jackson's a busy guy who's used to having a giant film crew to work with. There's not a lot for him in the world of TV. He'd only have reputation to lose by directed an episode of Doctor Who.
Jackson and his would-be castBBC
Not convinced? Well, imagine this: Jackson directs an episode of Who. It's the best episode ever. Great. Peter Jackson is still a great director. We all knew that. The balance of the universe remains where it is. Now imagine: Jackson directs an episode of Who. It's average or worse. People wonder why. Maybe Jackson's not so great, maybe he couldn't work to the BBC budget, maybe he can only work if he has the resources of a studio behind him, maybe he's not that talented after all… You see the issue? If he succeeds he stays where he's at, if he fails while "slumming it", he could fall very far indeed.
Matt Lucas is a permanent fixture this year
Matt Lucas' Nardole, seen in The Husbands of River Song and The Return of Doctor Mysterio, is going to be a regular companion.
Matt Lucas as NardoleBBC
I'm interested to see where this goes. I didn't love the character's first appearance, but mainly because I didn't love that story as a whole. In that instance it felt like cheap stunt casting. His second appearance, however, was much more fun, and he served as an excellent foil to Capaldi's Doctor in Mysterio. Lucas is a great performer and a long time fan of the show, so there's plenty of promise here.
There have been rumors of Jenna-Louise Coleman coming back again for another round of Clara. This doesn't seem likely. Clara's arc was pretty well done at the end of the last series, trudging her back in again would likely ruin the development we saw in the character.
I'm in no rush to have Clara come back either. I never bought the 'Impossible Girl' character arc. I thought it was weak, and resolved poorly. Her relationship with Danny Pink was more interesting, but the stories they were in together turned both those characters in to killjoys, which I didn't enjoy. Her emotional independence and growth in the most recent series saw her at her best, and most engaging. However, at the end of two and a half seasons it felt distinctly like the writers had no overarching idea of what they were trying to do with this character. To that end, her eventual maturity, while earned and compelling, felt like a good repair to a bad foundation. So, in that spirit, I feel like we should all leave well enough alone, and accept that Clara's not coming back, and that she shouldn't come back.
We know headlines, but we don't know details. Which is the way the publicity machine works. My guess is we're in for a bit of a fan blowout, what with all the fan service we already know to expect, and the definitive knowledge that we are at the end of an epic, if occasionally shaky, era of Doctor Who. Moffat has even gone on record to say that this latest season will "Reboot" the series. Which is daft to say, because it feels like every single one of Moffat's series as show runner has tried to reboot the series. He has constantly tweaked the format, re-written lore, deliberately subverted established Who precedents and worked to make the series as unpredictable as possible. I have loved some of it, and I have loathed some of it. But this series it feels like the gloves are coming off, Moffat's hunkering down, Capaldi's champing at the bit, and we are all set to enjoy the best possible version of the Doctor Who that Moffat has in his head, and has been trying to make since 2010.
Here's to that!