If you’ve been watching series 7B, you may be noticing it’s a little bit on the heavy side with nostalgia. Mentions of Susan, an adversary not seen since the third Doctor, TARDIS gadgets that are just as old, referencing the Eye of Harmony. The list is growing exponentially. With the 50th anniversary fast approaching, it’s completely understandable. This show has a history to draw on that no other show on TV can match.
But the newest episode “Hide” has brought something to my attention. The Doctor makes a reference to a “blue crystal from Metebelis 3” and Matt Smith pronounces it much like it’s written. Meh-teb-el-iss. Yay phonetics! But the internet has gone into a virtual uproar because this contradicts the way that Jon Pertwee as the third Doctor pronounced it in “Planet of the Spiders”: meh-ta-bee-liss. Now 40 years and separate actors is not excuse for such a blatant disregard of canon, right?
I for one fail to see the problem. But it got me thinking of the previous two offerings we had. There were some who thought the fantasical whimsy and radical departure from the norm made “The Rings of Akhaten” was the greatest episode ever. Still others who were enraptured by “Cold War” and it’s tried and true formula. But I’ve begun to notice the thing that separate these camps is tenure. Classic whovians are drawn toward the familiarity of “Cold War” while the new to Who crowd trended to “The Rings of Akhaten.”
There is one universal truth when it comes to this show: you don’t mess with our show. We as a fandom are very protective over every aspect of our show. We each have “my” Doctor and “my” companion, “my” episode, and “my” writer/director/showrunner etc. This show gets into your blood and can become a deeply personal investment. So how does this play into the divide between this ideals?
It’s widely regarded that the first Doctor you watch becomes your Doctor (with the notable exception of “Tennant Fever”). I think it goes beyond that though. If you began watching with Patrick Troughton or Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker, you were used to a set formula. An episode to set up the plot, one to three episodes to build tension and show how hopeless the situation is, and then an episode for the Doctor to see the solution and wrap up the story. But if you came to the show in 2005, you know that the only constant is change. First we change Doctors, then companions every time we turn around, the Doctor, companion, and TARDIS are all new. Nothing is sacred
So when we get episodes like “The Rings of Akhaten” newer whovians see the bold new direction as an exciting change of pace and a possible harbinger of something bigger. While classic fans see something that doesn’t fit any of their check boxes for what Doctor Who is all about. And inversely, classic fans see “Cold War” as a homecoming, an old friend in your favorite hang out spot with your favorite brew. A comfortable familiarity that tells you everything is ok. But the newer of our numbers scratch their heads and say, “haven’t wee seen this already?”
So are we forced to be a fandom divided? should we just accept that we’ll be enamored with about 50% of the episodes we see? I say thee nay! What we need is a balance. We don’t need Lost style stories, where every facial expression should be scrutinized for relevance, but we as an audience have moved past the “monster of the week” style of story telling. This is obvious with the “lightbulb theory” that was running rampant during series 7A. What we need is stand alone episodes with continuous story elements. “Bad Wolf” was a great example of this, though at the time no one knew to look for it.
But that’s all out of our control as fans, what is there we can do to bridge this gap? It’s simple really. We need to break out of our comfortable bubbles and accept that we’re both right. This show has always been about change. From the first regeneration, it has been about nothing else. But it has a pedigree like nothing else on TV. We didn’t get to 50 years without doing something right. The important thing is to realize that there is something positive to be gained from every episode, you just have to be willing to look for it.
And thank your lucky stars that “Love and Monsters” is behind us.