Brainiac On Banjo #015: Doctor Who – Without A Punny Headline!

The Doctor: Why are you calling me Madam?
Yasmin Khan: Because… you’re a woman?
The Doctor: Am I? Does it suit me?
Yasmin Khan: What?
The Doctor: Oh yeah, I remember! Sorry, half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scots man.

Jodie Whittaker/Doctor Who
at Comic Con 2018 Photographed by Andrew H. Walker/Shutterstock for Variety

We don’t know how to handle pronouns these days. That’s a transitional process as we evolve our language to more inclusive and less presumptuous forms. In the case of Doctor Who, that’s not as much of a problem. There have been 13 Doctors thus far — give or take — and the new one is the first to be a woman, at least as a matter of outside packaging. We really don’t know how Gallifreyan genders work, and their men and women alike are mostly brilliant and largely insufferable.

Yesterday, Jodie Whittaker debuted as our current Doctor, and did so pretty much all over the world, at pretty much the same time. Now that’s the way to launch a series. OK, I’m a fanboy and I’ve been watching the show since it first crossed the Atlantic. I haven’t seen an actor turn in a less-than-great performance in the lead role, even in spite of some less-than-great stories. More to the point, I haven’t seen a transitional episode where one Doctor regenerates into another that was less than entertaining by the standards of its time. In these two considerations, Whittaker fits in perfectly.

What is different is the look and feel of the show. Most certainly, it is Doctor Who in every logical respect, but it is as different as, say, the Daniel Craig James Bond movies were from its predecessors. This is as it should be. Writer/Showrunner Chris Chibnall kept the most important post-regeneration elements, such as the Doctor’s initial identity confusion, and, in this case, brief gender confusion. Also kept are her trying on tiny bits and pieces of previous personalities for size and relevancy. We did not see the new Doctor rush to the wardrobe to seek out new trademarkable attire. She wears the same designs worn by Peter Capaldi in his final episode throughout the first story. Nor did we see, at least in the initial BBC America broadcast, the new logo and opening. The more-or-less traditional show theme was played over the closing credits… in England.

We did not see what Doctor 13 (the Gallifreyan, not the DC Comics ghostbuster that nobody cares about) did with the TARDIS… because we did not see the TARDIS… wherein lies the thus-far-unresolved plot. Most important was the Doctor’s lack of the Sonic Screwdriver. Needing one, she did what any “Real Man” would do if he could: she made her own. And she made it better than all previous models.

And, yes, the story did pause to (very) briefly have a bit of fun with the name “Sonic Screwdriver.”

This time around, the Doctor has three companions – not referred to as such – and this beckons back to several previous incarnations where the Doctor shared her TARDIS with more than one other. But this time, her friends are of a very diverse mixture, all quite working-class.

Let’s start with the companion character with the most interesting real-world pedigree: Yasmin Khan, played by Mandip Gill. On Doctor Who, she is a young policewoman trainee of (I gather) Indian heritage, who is no relation to the well-known British India historian, or to the well-known author, food and travel writer and cook, or even to the well-known Princess whose father was Prince Aly Kahn and mother was Rita Hayworth and is a philanthropist known for her work in expanding our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease. The Doctor’s Yasmin has a lot to live up to.

Then there’s her former schoolmate, Ryan Sinclair, played by Tosin Cole. He’s a warehouse worker who isn’t thrilled with his life but keeps an open mind. He’s not adverse to action, and his skepticism is equal to his curiosity. He knows great personal loss, and it shapes his worldview.

Finally, there’s Ryan’s stepfather, a cancer survivor who drives a bus but is not named Ralph Cramden. Instead, they call him Graham O’Brien, and he’s played by Bradley Walsh of Coronation Street and Law & Order: UK fame. Graham starts out quite the disbeliever, and he winds up quite the believer, willing to go along with the plan and try to make sense of it as he goes. We’ll have to see if he’s the adult in the team; Doctor Who sometimes has one, and the Doctor herself frequently needs one.

You may have noticed a whole lotta diversity in the cast, and this extends to the supporting cast and day-players as well. If that sort of thing bothers you – note: in the future I may resort to calling you a bad name – just wait until you see the rest of the season. I’ll stipulate Chris Noth may be your standard white American CIS man, but Alan Cumming is not.

When I saw the Wonder Woman movie, my favorite part was not on the screen, it was on the faces of the girls who were in the audience. It hadn’t dawned on me that female empowerment can result in a massive, and a massively happy, expansion of the vital sense of wonder. Doctor Who is swimming in these same waters, not alone mind you – it doesn’t all fall on Whittaker’s shoulders – but there is every reason to expect this show to produce that same result.

I’ve enjoyed Peter Capaldi’s work ever since I saw his brilliant short, Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life. I have no doubt I shall enjoy his future endeavors as I have those of David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Christopher Eccleston. Right now, it is Jodie Whittaker who is the Doctor, and I feel fine.