NuWho and Character Continuity

I am breaking with my usual rules in two regards: (1) I’m posting about the current series of Doctor Who, and (2) I’m posting very shortly after the stimulus for the initial thought, so without my usual careful thought processes! Let the reader beware! Suffice to say, this post below will be plastered with spoilers – and after my earlier attempts to make the post spoiler free zapped 700 words (ooops) I’ll instead advise you, in the manner of news reports before sports results, to “look away now” if you haven’t watched Dark Water.

In some ways I am glad that my earlier words got zapped – typing it was very cathartic and helped clarify my immediate kneejerk reaction to the revelation that “Missy” is in fact the newly regenerated Master – in feminine form! Am I a bit peeved? Well … perhaps!

What I eventually landed on was quite a positive note – this is a golden opportunity for Steve Moffat and the team. If Michelle Gomez can persuade the viewers that she is fundamentally the same character as Roger Delgado, in the same way that Peter Pratt, Geoffrey Beevers, Anthony Ainley, Eric Roberts, Derek Jakobi and John Simm did, then they have settled once and for all the age old debate “could the Doctor ever regenerate into a woman?” If they succeed, then Moffat deserves plaudits for his vision, and Gomez recognition for taking on the biggest challenge since Troughton was asked to replace Hartnell.

I say “if” because I think my scepticism is wholly justified. When I earlier commented on lost serial The Power of the Daleks I captured how jarring it was in 1966 to see Hartnell become Troughton. In the same way – and frequently tell people that my best friend’s dad still has not forgiven the BBC for not keeping a Hartnellesque Doctor. I imagine these fans watching Tom in his scarf with his jelly babies, or Peter with his cricket bat, or Colin in that coat – and they think “Billy would never have done that!” So I fully accept that change and transformation is all part of what makes Doctor Who such a great show, and allows it to continue and grow.

But the point is – you still see Bill Hartnell in Tom, even when is at his most child-like. Even in my most loathed of incarnations (that’s David Tennant in case you haven’t already worked it out) you sense it’s the same Doctor. Whereas Missy – well, frankly she’s just been a bit odd. I have challenged my own thinking on two grounds – we cannot diss the clothing (thanks John Nathan Turner and the technicolour disaster coat) and it is possible the slightly loopy style reflects some of the insanity that Simm played the role with. But I just cannot see Roger Delgado at all in the way Gomez portrays the Master.

I will stick my neck out a little here and risk instant wrath – part of the issue is that gender sharply defines personality. It’s important what I am not saying here – I am not saying that a woman could not play the role of the Doctor – I think Maggie Smith or Judi Dench would be absolutely amazing as imperious time travellers. What I mean is – they wouldn’t be William Hartnell. And I think that’s what bugs me about Missy. However much I try to persuade myself that regeneration allows as dramatic a personality change as Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi and therefore gender is small beer in comparison … I’m not yet persuaded that’s the case.

So Mister Moffat – it really is over to you. If Death In Heaven is showstoppingly fantastic, and Gomez knocks our collective socks off as the Mistress, then I will eat humble pie with the best of them, and begin the petition for Maggie Smith to succeed Peter Capaldi. I’m not holding my breath though …

I would love comments so do tweet me at @dantalksdrwho

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