Back in July 2017 the BBC cast its first female Doctor. Whilst the then current Doctor, Peter Capaldi, had felt like a gift to the shows older fans; the casting of Jodie Whittaker was definitely a nod to the future.
A short film was aired during Wimbledon on the BBC to reveal the new Time Lord; within seconds of its airing the complaints began.
It felt like she would never have a chance amidst so much of a backlash. There was no way she would win anyone around. Yet although these voices were loud, if you looked closely they were not the majority. In fact if you scrolled through comments you soon realised that the angry voices were just being pick out by the British gutter press.
For the British rightwing press the casting of a female Doctor was just animation against a BBC that was far too liberal for their liking. Almost immediately they started to predict the shows cancellation.
So has Jodie and new show runner Chris Chibnall destroyed the beloved franchise?
First off let’s look at UK overnight ratings, as this is the detractors’ main weapon of choice. Between 2005 & 2010 each episode was pulling between eight to ten million viewers per episode. Since Jodie’s first season she has pulled five to seven million per episode. For a more recent comparison the Capaldi era pulled six to eight million. Both Whittaker and Capaldi then pull another one to two million per episode via streaming platforms such as BBC I-Player.
The first argument in Whittaker’s favour is that in the age of streaming overnight ratings are no longer a good indication of a TV shows popularity. In fact when you look at the audience share statistics then it looks a lot better. At the shows peak its audience share was in the early to mid twenties. In the Capaldi, Whittaker era, via Matt Smith era the show regularly has a share in the mid to late teens. In the world of modern TV this is still seen as quite an achievement. The second argument you can make is that a show that has been running (since its return) for fifteen years, is naturally going to see a dip in ratings.
Overseas the ratings situation looks even better. The show gained a larger audience in America, Canada, & South Africa during the Capaldi years. Jodie has managed to maintain these viewing figures.
In fact Doctor Who makes the BBC more money from overseas licensing then any other of its fictional shows; over the last five years the BBC have regularly made between three and four hundred million pounds a year on airing licensing alone. Put on top of this the money from merchandising, which has actually increased during Jodie’s era and you can’t see how the BBC aren’t going to be cancelling the show anytime soon.
The move to Sunday and a lack of a Christmas special have also been pointed out as evidence of the shows waning popularity.
The BBC’s explanation that the move to Sunday was due to a change in viewing habits this was now the primetime slot for drama. Unfortunately moving the start time each week does have worrying similarities to what happened towards the end of Doctor Who’s original run. The explanation for the lack of a Christmas special was that the writers felt they were running out of ideas. This did seem to grate a little. A New Years Day special and then only the start of series twelve is what we’ve had since. Rumours of a 2020 Christmas special were floating around post season twelve, although the Covid 19 lockdown may have scuppered those plans.
The next bone of contention is the writing. After each episode the fury is vented and low audience scores litter both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. Surely this is a good indication that Jodie and Chris just aren’t working?
Look more closely and you’ll find an organised group of Jodie/Chris haters. They will bombard these and other similar sites with negative reviews and comments within seconds of the start of any episode. Many even admit that they don’t even watch what they’re reviewing. Look a little closer again and you’ll find some of these reviewers are also posting on incel forums. So for sure some of this negativity is based on misogyny alone.
That is not to say that every episode has been perfect, but the reviews from the press and even sites such as this have been much more favourable. Season eleven might have been a little hit and miss, but twelve was quite strong. In fact apart from the dreadful Orphan 55 episode, I was really impressed with the twelve season.
So is it the fault of show runner Chris Chibnall? He is the head writer for the show, oversees the story arch for each season, and he did cast Jodie.
For Chris it has been just as hard. Accusations that the show has become too woke have dogged him almost from Jodie’s casting. The last two seasons have seen the show tackle racism, consumerism, climate change, and populist isolation style politics. Cries of ‘what has happened to my show, Doctor Who has never been about politics’ has been focused on the Chibnall era. Yet this does overlook that from the start Doctor Who has always mixed both political and social issues. Unfortunately again for those worrying about the shows politics these messages have always been from a liberal perspective. For some examples please see my review of the season twelve episode Praxeus.
So if the ratings are not as bad as they first look and the reviews have somehow been hijacked what else is there?
Some people just don’t like Jodie’s Doctor. It didn’t help that it seemed nor did the TARDIS after Capaldi’s regeneration.
Let’s be clear that we all have our favourite Doctor and for some there is one that they’re not so keen on. Most seem to have a favourite, but still enjoy the others.
But there are some people who do just do not like a certain Doctor. During Matt Smith’s first season he faced a backlash just for being young and not David Tennant. This quickly then turned against his female fans who surely must have only been watching because they fancied him. Maybe, but who cares if they were at least they were watching. How many then went and watched the Tennant and Eccleston eras or even ventured into the classics. To be honest the whole unfair backlash against Matt’s female fans is more than likely partly the reason some don’t like Jodie; there were more than a few comments about her looks when she was cast.
So what are the reasons given for not liking Jodie? Mainly that she’s plays the part too comedic, some feel she is playing a dumbed-down version of the Time Lord, whilst others just find her personality a little too all over the place. In the end peoples opinions are their own.
Overall Doctor Who is more than safe from cancellation and I can’t see either Jodie or Chris facing the sack anytime soon. Doctor Who’s press backlash started soon after the fiftieth anniversary episode and has built ever since. Jodie was always going to face opposition due to her gender and this has been overblown to suit a narrative. Chris was brought in to modernise the franchise and move the arch forward into new directions. Not everyone is happy with Chris’s work, but again the numbers of those who are upset have been overstated to support those who oppose his direction.
Over the last three years a number of social media groups have sprung up. They all have similar names on long the lines of ‘Doctor Who fans who actually like the show’. Here the support for Jodie and Chris is strong.
Just like with every other Doctor post her regeneration Jodie’s era will be looked at with a more subjective eye. What people will see is not only are Jodie and Chris taking the show forward to the future, they are with more than a few nods to its past.