Saturday night was the premiere of the seventh season (series) of the new Doctor Who on BBC America.  The show returned not with a whimper, but with a bang.  A whole series of bangs, in fact, along with the greatest threat the Doctor has ever faced: a room filled with every Dalek from the series’ 49-year history.  But this episode continues to mark a turning point in the show’s history… a leftover from the end of the last season.

 

In the 49 years that the show has been on the air, Doctor Who has been waging an uphill battle against convention.  No, I’m not talking about the show’s premise or its use of time travel.  I am, instead, referring to the name of the show itself.  The name, Doctor Who, has more-or-less remained one of the most trivial aspects of the show itself.  By virtue of the name of the title character, the Doctor, one immediately is forced to ask “Doctor who?”  In fact, several characters over the course of the series have off-handedly asked this very question.  For the most part, at least until the Cartmel Masterplan of the late-’80s, the question was generally asked to the camera right before we cut away to something of significantly greater import.

That said, it has been the ongoing bane of many a Whovian over the course of almost a half-century when the public-at-large merely assumes that the character’s name is “Doctor Who” because, well, that’s the name of the show.  We are then forced to explain how the two are not connected.

With last year’s season finale, “The Wedding of River Song”, we were told that the first question, the one that must never be answered, hidden in plain sight is… “Doctor Who?”  Or, to be more precise, “Doc Tor Who?”

“Asylum of the Daleks” ends on very-much the same note, this time with the Doctor himself uttering that same question, in the very same stilted manner.

If not for this, I would have been very happy to dismiss the original presentation as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fans.  After all, it is the first question.  It’s the first thing we see in the first episode, before a single line of dialogue is spoken.  It’s the first thing we can read at the start of almost every episode.  It’s been sitting in plain sight for all of us to see for almost five decades.  So why not mess around with it a little?

But now, it is clear that this is going to be the theme of this season of Doctor Who, leading into the show’s 50th anniversary.

I am perfectly willing to believe that this might be a strange attempt by Steven Moffat to completely throw us off.  That perhaps the staccato way in which the question is asked belies some secret meaning to the question, and that it may not actually be a question asking who the Doctor is at all.  If that’s the case, I can’t wait to hear what kind of explanation he’s got for this one.

If, however, he is going to tackle the question of just who the Doctor is, you’d better grab a hold of something really quick, because this should be a doozy.  The problem with tackling this question is that it is one of those things that can be a defining moment for the series and for the character himself.  Much like the aborted idea of “he’s half-human,” it could conceivably be retconned out if it turns out to be a dud of an idea, but let’s be fair… no one wants to have to do that again.

Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.  I know that Brian would be much better at explaining this than I, but here’s a brief rundown of Who-gone-wrong…

In the late ’80s, the show’s producer decided to try to reintroduce some mystery into the character of the Doctor.  It was felt that too much information about his backstory had been revealed and that he needed to be mysterious again.  An ambitious plan was conceived and drafted by then-script-editor Andrew Cartmel, cunningly dubbed the “Cartmel Masterplan,” and then not-so-subtle clues were dropped in what turned out to be the final season of the original run of Doctor Who. The whole shebang was meant to lead one to believe the Doctor was “far more than just another Time Lord.”

After the show was cancelled in 1989, the series of original “New Adventures” novels published by Virgin Books delved into more of the Cartmel Masterplan, ultimately generating an almost biblical backstory for the Doctor. All of this… this weighty “canon” was originally going to be shoehorned into a Doctor Who feature film and even survived to some of the earlier drafts of what would be the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie starring Paul McGann.

Ideas abounded about the Doctor being one of the founding members of Time Lord society whose origins are shrouded in mystery, etc. etc. etc.

While not many on the inside would have ever said this out loud, let’s be fair for a second and all admit that none of this would have helped the (at the time) fledgling series attract new viewers.  As we at the Podwits have often said about other series, this would have threatened to have Doctor Who get swallowed whole by its own continuity.

It’s weird to me that it has taken the new Doctor Who seven years to accomplish what the original series took 30 to do, namely to go from a show about a guy named the Doctor who travels in time and space, to being about a Time Lord named the Doctor who is a crusader for what is right and happens to be much more than anyone could possibly expect.

Again, all of this could be moot if Mr. Moffat is, in fact, trying to pull a fast one on us.  Nothing would make me happier than to see all of this hoohah be a flash-in-the-pan so that we can enjoy a raucous celebration for the show’s 50th anniversary, filled with fan-wank and all the glorious guest spots we could hope for (assuming that’s a tack they’re willing to take).

But if not… I warn us all… this could very well be the jump-the-shark moment in the new Doctor Who.

Oh yeah, and I really did like “Asylum of the Daleks” on the whole… though I swear we really need to retire all the errant forms of “timey-wimey” before I have an aneurysm.

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