Two weeks ago the BBC announced the return of Russel T. Davies as the writer and potential showrunner for the long-running sci-fi programme Doctor Who. The decision has been positively received by fans of the show, but what does it mean for Doctor Who’s future?
Davies rebooted Doctor Who in 2005 after its axing in 1989, and the show grew in popularity under his leadership. He revitalised it before- but for loyal fans and the BBC, the question remains: can he do it again?
In the wake of his recurring successes since stepping down from Doctor Who in 2010, with shows like Cucumber, Years and Years, and his most recent triumph It’s a Sin, Davies’ past and current successes make him the perfect candidate to rejuvenate the beloved series. But what makes this selection from the BBC so exciting for fans is his triumphant past on Doctor Who itself.
Let’s be honest, Doctor Who has been steadily declining over the past five years, with recent episodes attracting under five million viewers. This is half the amount of views they were getting during Davies’ initial tenure. The “reboot era” of the show at its peak in 2008 was attracting 8 million viewers per episode, but within three years of Davies stepping down from the show, it steadily lost 2.2 million views.
This is not what the BBC wants for the show as a business, but Doctor Who fans appear to have lost their enthusiasm. What made the reboot era of Doctor Who so endearing was how it completely took over pop culture. Everybody watched it because it catered for everyone. Although it was shown pre-watershed on UK television, the show was infamous for terrifying children and making them hide behind the sofa. This was a part of a golden era for the BBC, in which Saturday night television had elements for every part of the family. On the surface, the show was a comedically camp sci-fi story that embraced silliness and didn’t take itself too seriously, but its brilliance sprouted from its darkness. It wasn’t afraid to shock and upset its audience.
Doctor Who, like many shows with multiple series, evolved over time, and that was partially what made it so exciting- a new face of the show, new characters and a new theme. But this would also prove to be the reboot’s downfall. The show became too childish and in doing so, alienated the rest of its audience. It forgot that most of its hard-hitting episodes, like ‘The Empty Child’, were terrifying for adults and children alike. This element was key under Davies and a big reason for its takeover of British popular culture.
Don’t get me wrong – since Davies stepped down, the show has made some bold and exciting changes, the most prevalent being the introduction of a female Doctor with the casting of Jodie Whittaker in 2017. But sadly, the impact of such a choice was limited by the writing, and as good an actor as Whittaker is, the weakening storylines and decreasing love for the show limited her role.
So, is Davies’ restoration to the show a desperate grasp from the BBC to salvage a once admired and obsessed-over series, or is it a genuine attempt to restore an iconic programme by re-hiring its initial saviour? I guess we’ll have to see, but as a fan of the show myself, I can’t wait to see what Davies brings.
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