A unified theory to explain the casting of every new Doctor Who

So, your friendly neighborhood post-apocalyptic fake mailman has been hanging out in this place called Bridge City, which I swear to god is run by Tom Petty. He won’t admit it, but he keeps singing “Free Fallin’” and it’s driving me goddamned crazy. If I don’t hear “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” soon I’m throwing him off his own damn bridge.


Who’s Next

Dustin W.:

I saw Neil Gaiman’s thing [here] where he talks about the new guy being the best successor to Matt Smith and it’s better to have a female/black Doctor next time. But what the hell? [Peter Capaldi] is an old white guy, and the Doctor has been an old white guy at six times before. Over HALF of the Doctor’s regenerations have been old white guys. What’s the benefit of having yet another one?

Okay. I have a theory, but it requires me going back to the beginning of the nu-Who in order to explain.

So Russell T. Davies relaunches Doctor Who in 2005. People, if they remember Doctor Who at all, remember the character as a old man — sometimes stodgy, sometimes fussy, sometimes eccentric. Davis wants to not only modernize Who for modern audiences, but also wants to shock people into watching the show, to give them a Doctor they're surprised by. Which is why he casts Chris Eccleston as a leather jacket-wearing Doctor, one ready to throw down and scrap when the situation calls for it.

Eccleston leaves, and Davies needs a new Doctor. He’s established that Doctor Who can be cool, so what’s next? He wants people to love the Doctor again like they used to back in the day. The solution is a Doctor that’s likable, affable, charismatic, and, most importantly, more human than any Doctor has been before. He’s casts Tennant perfectly, and his charismatic performance helps turn Doctor Who into a phenomenon again.

So then Stephen Moffat comes on board, and Doctor Who has been cool and lovable again. What’s next? To make the Doctor weird again. The old Doctors had an edge to them, where you weren’t quite certain you could trust them, and Moffat figures — rightly, in my opinion — that the Doctor needs both his eccentricity and that edge again, now that Tennant has done the necessary job of recementing the character in popular culture. Matt Smith’s Doctor is weird and wacky and odd and definitely has that edge.

Which brings us to the present and Peter Capaldi. With the previous incarnations, the Doctor has been cool, human and weird. What’s left? What would Moffat want modern audiences to see the Doctor as next? What aspect of the Doctor would Moffat want to bring back out?

The answer, as it turns out, is that he’s old. The Doctor is several centuries old, and he’s weary, and he’s seen a ton. Smith has done a great job at indicating this, despite his youth, but it doesn’t change the fact that all three Doctors since the relaunch have been reasonably young guys. The one thing the modern incarnation of the Doctor lacks is that visual indication of age and wisdom and authority, something only an older guy like Capaldi can bring. Capaldi would have been a disaster as the Ninth Doctor, because modern audiences would have felt that the new Doctor Who was simply more of the same old stuff that had initially caused people to lose interest. But after establishing the Doctor’s coolness, his likability, and his weirdness, you can go back to an old dude to stress the Doctor’s experience — and with that, I think you’ve completed the picture, and revealed the full Doctor to modern audiences.

And at that point, as Gaiman suggests, you can do anything. You’ve truly brought Doctor Who back in its entirety, you’ve gotten people to watch and revealed the Doctor’s character fully. When Capaldi leaves, you can do anything. Female Doctors. Black Doctors. Asian Doctors. Child Doctors. Anybody Doctors.

Such is my theory. I may be overthinking it, and I may be overestimating the reasons behind the casting, but even if it wasn’t intentional I think it still has the same effect. I think this is why Neil Gaiman feels like a female Doctor would be more effective after Capaldi’s Doctor, and I think I agree. Would the world have ended if Ruth Wilson had been cast as the new Doctor? By no means, but I can see a certain benefit to waiting one more incarnation. Of course, if the next Doctor is another white dude, then we should all probably freak the fuck out.


A unified theory to explain the casting of every new Doctor Who

Culture Shock

BattleScarred_Sciatica:

Dear PostMaster General of the very apocalypse,

Why the fuckity-fuck do we not yet have an Iain M. Banks Culture movie?

Well, I was about to talk about the general dearth of scifi movies, and then I remembered this year alone we had Oblivion, Elysium, After Earth, Ender’s Game, Gravity, etc. So it actually seems like we’re doing pretty damned well. In fact, since so much of modern movies is about providing spectacle, seems to be scifi is in pretty good shape for the time being.

But what do those movies all have in common? Earth. It’s appears in order to make big scifi movies nowadays — and making small scifi movies is pretty difficult — it has to be partially set on Earth (or in the case of Gravity, very near Earth) to keep mass audiences invested/interested/unconfused. When was the last time we had a scifi movie set entirely on another planet? Hell, even Prometheus had a bit of Earth at the beginning.

And Banks’ Culture books have a problem in that the Culture isn’t human. They’re almost all aliens. A movie starring nothing but aliens set on a distant planet? No major studio is going to make that movie. …unless the Culture is changed to be all humans, and is set at least partially on a utopian Earth. As a Banks fan, would you accept those changes to see the Culture on the big screen, or would you prefer Hollywood just leave it alone? Because I’m pretty sure that’s the only way a Culture movie will ever get made, at least for the time being.


A unified theory to explain the casting of every new Doctor Who

Flash Forward

Andrew R.S.:

Do you know anyone sane who prefers Barry Allen’s Flash to Wally West?

Do you consider Geoff Johns sane? Remember, he also prefers Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern to Kyle Rayner, so make sure to take that into account. Which is why in the current DC universe Wally is dead or missing and Kyle is sidelined to the New Guardians while Barry Allen starred in Flashpoint and Green Lantern is the Hal Jordan show.


A unified theory to explain the casting of every new Doctor Who

Rim Job

Sergio I.G.:

Given that stateside Pacific Rim flopped, I wonder...,Isn't it already a cult film? Wasn't it even before it premiered? The only downside i see is we'll never get a sequel, will we?

I don’t know. I don’t feel comfortable calling any film with a $200 million budget a cult film, and I certainly don’t consider any film that made $300 million worldwide to be a cult film. A cult film is generally something that the masses missed, that slipped between the cracks, or that most people have forgotten. Plenty of people saw — and enjoyed — Pacific Rim, just not enough to do much more than earn its production and marketing costs back. And no, I don’t think breaking even is going to be enough to warrant a Pacific Rim sequel.


A unified theory to explain the casting of every new Doctor Who

Keep Your Guard(ian) Up

Kiah P.:

I don't understand marketing, so this might be obvious to someone who does: Why is most of the Marvel cosmic stuff out of print? With Guardians of the Galaxy coming to theatres in just one year, you'd think Marvel would be cranking them out, trying to raise their visibility to mainstream Americans. I mean, we all saw Avengers, and when Thanos showed up at the end, there were twice as many "Who the fuck is that?"s to nerdtastic squeals.

I get the impulse to re-release Annihilation and all that like, the month Guardians comes out, but it seems to me like it'd be easier to sell your movie if people had any idea who it's characters were more than a few weeks in advance. So what am I missing? I'm excited for the movie and want to spread the love, but all the stuff I'd normally direct people towards to get them pumped is out of print!

You have an incorrect assumption of the relationship between comic books and comic books movies. Comic books don’t promote movies; movies promote comic books. Comic books sell far too little to make any kind of an appreciable addition to a movie’s box office. Marvel could flood the bookstores with Guardians of the Galaxy trades, and even if they were only picked up by people who had heard of GotG somehow but were not fans, they would only be a blip in terms of ticket sales.

On the other hand, when Guardians of the Galaxy comes out next summer? Assuming people like the movie, they might be inclined to buy some comics. That’s the point that Marvel will want to have GotG books on stands. And, although they may not have a lot of the old material out, Marvel very recently started a new GotG series which 1) is doing pretty well for itself and 2) will almost definitely be collected in a trade paperback or two once the movie hits. Oh, and while Marvel isn’t putting out all the old material, they have recently made two “best of” collections; look for Guardians of the Galaxy: Tomorrow’s Avengers if you just want to introduce the team to a friend of something. Just don’t think Marvel is sweating over whether he/she buys a ticket or not.


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!