Doctor Who has been a fixture in science fiction for the better part of the last 50 plus years. It began as a joyful, campy display of some of the most laughably terrible special effects television had to offer. Since then, its status as British cultural icon has led to bigger budgets, scores of fans, and worldwide recognition.
Its rebirth began back in 2005, when Russell T. Davies brought the show back after a nine year layoff. Christopher Eccelston was the face of the first new-look Doctor, followed by David Tennant a year later, Matt Smith after him, and most recently Peter Capaldi.
Steven Moffat took over for Davies not too far into the new run, and so the modern Doctor Who continued to evolve. Lately though, things have started to fall flat. Even the most die-hard of fans found themselves losing interest late into Matt Smith’s role on the show, something only exacerbated when Peter Capaldi took over full-time.
So what exactly has befallen the once-great sci-fi epic?
1. The Doctor got meaner
Fans familiar with the progression of the Doctor are familiar with the defining personality traits of each modern doctor. Christopher Eccelston was a stripped-down version of a previously flamboyant character, beginning a walk down a decidedly grimmer path for the Doctor’s personality. David Tennant after him was kind yet stern, with sharp features to match. He always carried with him a certain guilt over the burden of being the last of the Time Lords, leading into the reactively younger and more carefree Matt Smith iteration.
Finally, we were left with Peter Capaldi, the more mature and notably older version of the Doctor. It was more than a little jarring to go from the warm, goofy demeanor of Smith to the crotchety and sometimes mean-spirited Capaldi version. This in turn made it hard to adjust for fans, leading many to jump ship mere episodes in to the latest season.
2. Each successive storyline got harder and harder to follow
The latest season featuring Capaldi was by far the most convoluted and difficult-to-follow of any we’ve seen in the Davies/Moffat era. A basic rundown: The Doctor is regenerated to kick off the season, and immediately is forced to handle the problem of a dinosaur terrorizing Victorian London. The rest of the season follows the intrigue surrounding brief cuts to minor characters post-death appearing in what looks like a heaven-like white void run by a mysterious woman known only as Missy. Later it turns out that Missy is in fact the Master, the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, in charge of an army of Cybermen set to take over the world as we know it.
If that makes your head-spin a little, don’t worry: You’re not alone. As Moffat has delved into the Doctor Who mythos every season, it’s become more difficult than ever to understand what’s happening. A show centered around a regenerating, quasi-immortal, time-traveling alien is complicated enough without any window dressing. Throw Moffat’s story arcs into the mix and things get positively mind-numbing.
3. The 50th Anniversary episode felt all too final
There was a huge build-up to the standalone 50th Anniversary episode. It was meant to pay homage to five decades worth of Doctor Who, while simultaneously laying the groundwork for Matt Smith’s departure. In doing so though, the tone almost wrapped up too much, and in many ways didn’t inspire much of a feeling of “yes, there’s so much more story to tell now.” Of course the series has continued to soldier on past the 50th Anniversary, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that we already got everything we wanted and needed.
4. The barrier to entry has never been larger
Part of the beauty of existing within a fandom is sharing it with newcomers. Doctor Who is an entirely different animal though. Instructing someone how to watch this show for the first time requires a laundry list of requirements: Start with the first David Tennant season, go back and watch the Christopher Eccelston Doctor later, be prepared for two great seasons of Matt Smith, and then one really disappointing one right after that, be prepared for a singular Christmas special unrelated to the main story, and also the main character changes actors every 2 to 3 seasons, so be prepared for that. For anyone starting out, just thinking of all these requirements is absolutely exhausting at the very least, and at worst it’s insanely excessive.
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