This week I’m taking a break from the currently airing shows and will catch up on some Doctor Who news, extending to another work by current Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat. Incidentally, note how much of the Doctor Who news comes from leading newspapers in Great Britain, where events on the series often is big news.
Doctor Who has been able to continue since 1963 by having the lead character be able to regenerate should he die, paving the way for another actor to play the role. In a 1976 episode, The Deadly Assassin. the fourth Doctor (played by Tom Baker) revealed that he can only regenerate twelve times. The writers never suspected that he could use up all thirteen lives. Now that we are up to the eleventh Doctor and it appears the show will continue for several years, most fans have probably assumed that they would work in a way around this limitation.
With current show runner Steven Moffat being a big fan of the original episodes, I had hoped Moffat would stick to canon here (not that the show has ever been that consistent) and have the Doctor find a way around this limitation. There is precedent for this, as the Time Lords once gave the Master a second set of lives for helping the Doctor. Instead of trying to find a way around the limitation, the show is simply ignoring the old limitation. The Guardian reports:
Fans have always thought that the 13th doctor would be the last, thanks to a 1976 Doctor Who episode, The Deadly Assassin, featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor in his fourth incarnation, and revealing for the first time the regeneration limit. But a passing comment in a children’s television programme later this month is set to rewrite history and cast the Doctor, iconic hero of the world’s most successful and longest-running science fiction series, as immortal.
The moment comes in the CBBC spin-off show, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which stars former companion Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Matt Smith, who plays the current Doctor Who, guest stars in a two-part episode called The Death of the Doctor, to be screened on October 25 and 26. While the Doctor and Clyde Langer, played by Daniel Anthony, are in the process of outwitting spooky vulture undertakers the Shansheeth, Clyde asks how many times he can regenerate. The Doctor indicates that there is no limit. The action continues.
Fans of the show have been expecting an official moving of the goalposts for some time, but it was anticipated as part of the Christmas special, rather than in an after-school slot on the CBBC channel.
Back in 1976, 12 regenerations must have felt like a safely distant number to pluck from the ether. Now, however, with Smith playing the character in his 11th incarnation, circumventing the rule has begun to feel rather urgent. As JK Rowling hinted last week, once a hero has conquered the world, it is hard to put him away for good: we may also see an extension to the seven-book Harry Potter franchise, despite its very final ending and Nineteen Years Later epilogue.
All of the regenerations have been male, but at one time there actually was consideration of having a female Doctor according to The Telegraph:
Sydney Newman, who devised the long-running science-fiction show when he was head of BBC drama in the 1960s, was asked to help after the show suffered a slump in ratings in the 1980s and was taken off air temporarily.
He told Michael Grade, then the controller of BBC One, that the ailing series could only be saved by regenerating the Time Lord into a Time Lady.
Mr Newman criticised the direction the show had taken, but insisted that it could be revived by turning the lead character into a heroine.
Had the advice been accepted, actresses who could have been considered for the role include Frances de la Tour, Joanna Lumley and Dawn French.
Instead, the BBC played safe and replaced the incumbent Doctor, Colin Baker, with another male actor – Sylvester McCoy, a little-known children’s entertainer.
The idea included a transition period, returning Patrick Troughton to the role.
Mr Newman urged the controller to temporarily reintroduce Patrick Troughton, a former Time Lord, to steady the TARDIS and pave the way for the most radical change in the show’s 23-year history.
He wrote: “At a later stage Doctor Who should be metamorphosed into a woman.
“This requires some considerable thought – mainly because I want to avoid a flashy, Hollywood Wonder Women because this kind of heroine with no flaws is a bore.
“Given more time than I have now, I can create such a character.”
He called for the female time traveller to be accompanied by a trumpet playing schoolgirl in “John Lennon-type spectacles” and her graffiti-spraying “yobbo” elder brother.
The plan was not tried, and the full idea wouldn’t have worked as Patrick Troughton died six months after the letter was written.
The show took years to recover, with Matt Smith being the third Doctor since the show was revived. The duration of Smith’s tenure has been a subject of rumor ever since he started playing the role. Nobody knows how long he will stick around, but he has expressed interest in doing a movie (although the BBC says this is unlikley for budgetary reasons):
Matt Smith has revealed that he would be thrilled if the BBC decided to make a Doctor Who movie.
The actor, who joined the show at the beginning of the year, admitted that he would love to star in a film adaptation of the BBC One show.
He told the Daily Star Sunday: “I’d definitely be up for staying on if they did a film –
hell yeah. I would be thrilled if there could be a movie version – I want them to do it.
“There is something brilliantly televisual about Doctor Who but I think it could definitely work as a film.”
The sixth season (since the show was revived) will start with a two-part episode taking place in the United States in the 1960’s. It will be written by Steven Moffat and Alex Kingston will be returning as River Song. The BBC reports:
Scenes will be filmed in the Utah desert for a story set in the late 60s in which the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves on a secret summons to the Oval Office.
The episodes have been written by new series boss Steven Moffat and co-produced with BBC America.
Production starts in Cardiff this month with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.
Alex Kingston will reprise her role as River Song.
Moffat said: “The Doctor has visited every weird and wonderful planet you can imagine, so he was bound to get round to America eventually.
“And of course every Doctor Who fan will be jumping up and down and saying he’s been in America before. But not for real, not on location – and not with a story like this one.”
It has been announced previously that series six has been split into two blocks, with the first airing on BBC One in spring 2011 and the second block showing in autumn 2011.
Another BBC series by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss will be premiering in the Unites States this month (although I bet most Doctor Who fans have already found ways to get a hold of the BBC episodes). Masterpiece Mystery on PBS will start airing Sherlock on October 24. Three episodes (and an unaired pilot) were done for the first season, with the show renewed for a second.
The series updates Sherlock Holmes stories to modern times but manages to remain faithful to the originals. Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the title role, also seems remarkably like Doctor Who, leading to rumors he might be given the role should Matt Smith leave. He lacks a Tardis, but does have a companion. In this case Dr. Watson has a blog instead of a journal. Sherlock especially seems like The Doctor in the first episode, A Study in Pink, which is based upon early story in which Sherlock Holmes was more eccentric. I’ll avoid talking about any specifics of the stories which have not yet aired in the United States.