Georgia Harper has been revisiting twenty-first century Doctor Who for the benefit of a discerning audience. First published in the print edition of The Tides of Time number 42, November 2018.
This summer, every single Doctor Who episode since the programme’s revival in 2005 was made available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Also this summer, there was a prolonged heatwave which, suffice to say, my brain translates roughly as “the end is nigh”. The result: me, hiding away in my room, giving a running commentary of yet another episode to the population of Facebook group Time and Relative Dimensions in Shitposting (highlighted elsewhere in this issue by William Shaw).
Eventually, to get around my own indecisiveness, I started letting them choose the episodes too. Ideally, this is done via open poll in the Facebook group. The winning episode gets liveblogged, the rest stay on the list for next time and eventually get their turn. If other discussion of a particular episode piques my interest, that gets thrown into the mix as well. As it turns out, there’s a lot to be learned from diving back into old-New Who almost at random, and even more so from putting your viewing choices into the hands of others…
Some episodes deserve a better viewing
Sometimes, we scramble to watch Doctor Who on or near broadcast even when the circumstances are… less than optimal. In hindsight, I really didn’t give my full attention to Listen the first time round, with it airing on a particularly difficult night at the very start of my year studying in Paris. Unfortunately, the same applied to Sleep No More fourteen months later, broadcast in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks that claimed dozens of lives in the city.
Other times, I only have myself to blame for the half-remembered first viewing – attempting to watch The Time of the Doctor at 2am when the Christmas festivities were over, or judging Clara Oswald’s proper debut in The Bells of Saint John by her terrible crime of not being
Rory Amy Pond. On second viewing, I appreciated all of these stories that little bit more. (Well, maybe not Sleep No More…)
That original broadcast was longer ago than you think
We all have our favourites, which we tend to revisit time and time again (and sure enough, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Heaven Sent have already been covered), but it’s great to have that little push to try something different. It might seem like only yesterday that Rose first reached our screens, but it turns out that it’s been over a decade since I first saw Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks on broadcast –- no wonder I barely remembered it! It’s even been five years since Clara’s first series (including Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, which I hadn’t seen since broadcast until it won a poll), which makes me feel like I must have been on my own trip into the time vortex.
The subtitles leave a lot to be desired
In Sleep No More, trapped mid-chase by a computer who insists he sings to it, Deep-Ando is clearly heard saying “Oh ffff-!”. BBC iPlayer’s subtitles, which I left on to make quick screencap based shitposting easier, report this as “HE SIGHS EXASPERATEDLY”, which is not what happens.
As someone who doesn’t need subtitles to understand the programme, I was more than a little alarmed by how much gets shortened or, worse, omitted entirely. Earlier series seem to suffer particularly badly from this – The End of the World’s subtitles leave out the 4000-degree external temperature that almost hits Rose, before mis-transcribing the words which begin the main arc of the series: “Indubitably, this is the Bad-Boo scenario” is what appears on the screen. Thirteen years on, is it really that difficult to fix?
The poll respondents enjoy winding me up – with great results
The first time I asked members of TARDIShitposting to suggest an episode to liveblog, it was very explicitly framed with “please distract me from the heatwave”. In that poll, Dalek won a narrow victory over… er…42. The joke’s on them, because when I eventually did watch it, it became one of my highlights of the liveblogging quest. The more thermally-challenged Planet of the Ood and Thin Ice also featured that week, whilst The Snowmen has remained on the list for so long that it might actually be relevant again by the time I get round to watching it.
The episode you complain about isn’t THAT bad
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Hell Bent on broadcast – it had a very tough act to follow in Heaven Sent, and after the drama of the previous two episodes, it was jarring for Clara to be, for all practical purposes, alive and well after all. Revisiting the episode almost two years and many, many debates later, though, it was surprisingly easy to set that detail aside and comment on, well, all the other brilliant things going on. Delving further back, the much-maligned Love and Monsters – for which I abandoned my first liveblog attempt after the wi-fi went down, only for it to immediately come back once I’d turned off my laptop – was surprisingly fun, at least for the first half. Even The Time of the Doctor, which still hasn’t fully convinced me, features Matt Smith doing an excellent job of essentially playing a different character for most of the episode.
That said, an additional, more analytical viewing won’t save every episode. I still couldn’t get past In The Forest of the Night’s questionable take on mental illness and neurodiversity, The Time of the Doctor’s lax approach to tying up the loose ends of the Eleven era (and surely it should have been the War Doctor in that room in The God Complex?) and Sleep No More… in general.
It’s a chance to revisit the new showrunner’s previous work
When Chris Chibnall was revealed to be taking over from Steven Moffat in Series Eleven, many were sceptical. For me, those misgivings were firmly replaced with excitement as soon as the new Doctor lifted her hood (more about that on pages 9-10), but otherwise, I’d have been greatly reassured by the reminder that 42 and The Power of Three are both, in TARDIShitposting parlance, Top Episodes. Chibnall’s back catalogue isn’t all Cyberwoman!
At the time of writing, the full post-2005 run of Doctor Who is available on BBC iPlayer until the end of the year. That really isn’t far away, so I’d recommend you take the opportunity not just to revisit your old favourites, but to discover new favourites. Making your viewing decisions a democracy, and then documenting your every thought as you go, is certainly a more complicated way of doing it, but it’s a lot of fun. And who knows, maybe I’ll really enjoy The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe when it inevitably wins a poll.
Probably not. But maybe.