Before the 2023 specials, I was cautiously optimistic that Doctor Who could come back from death. There had been a number of concerning pieces of information that had come out in the lead up to these specials and the next series, but I remained hopeful.
The specials were a mixture of underwhelming, mediocre, and infuriating – not so much a problem if only one episode is like that, but all three were. Together, they were the worst writing I have ever seen from Davies – by far.
We’ve now been given a Christmas special – which I’m treating as the first episode of the next series, even though I think officially it’s not. I was optimistic about Gatwa as the Doctor – particularly in contrast to Jodie Whittaker, who was shit. But this optimism was misplaced.
This was one of the worst episodes of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen. (In fairness, I didn’t actually watch a lot of the Whittaker run – including that episode with all the ‘timeless child’ bollocks – my sense of how bad those episodes are comes from watching other reviews – it’s a much less visceral sense.) I award this episode 0 out of 10. I don’t think I’ve ever given anything 0 out of 10 before.
This episode completely and utterly shattered the immersion. You know those shatterproof rulers you used to have in school? Remember how ear-splitting the snap was when you did try to shatter it? That’s what this episode did to Doctor Who. This episode was so unlike Doctor Who, that when I was watching it, it was like I was watching another show. It was like I was watching one of Davies’ gay shows: Queer As Folk, Cucumber, It’s A Sin. Everything about it – the pacing, the aesthetics, the tone, the setting – was just like from one of those shows. This wasn’t a new series of Doctor Who – this was a new series of Queer As Folk.
The moment in the episode that exemplified this the most was the Doctor dancing in a nightclub, wearing a low-cut tank top and a skirt. (People will say that it’s a kilt, but to me its form appeared closer to a skirt – and given the gender-bending obsession of Russell these last few episodes, it seems plausible.) This moment is what drops the score to 0/10. There was actually one good thing in this episode (just one), but this nightclub scene was so bad that any and all remaining points are deducted.
I’ve already seen the qwerties of Twitter desperately trying to defend this shit. All the arguments boil down to the same thing: the qwerties like going to nightclubs themselves so they want the Doctor to as well – because god forbid the qwerties watch any character who isn’t identical to them.
The Doctor spinning around, arms in the air, grinning like a woman from HR getting kompromat on an employee at an office party, wearing a tank top that would be considered racy even in the queue for a glory hole, all while the most bland, directionless, meaningless, tuneless, non-music echoes in the background, and support dancers surround him, screwing their faces as hard as they can in a desperate attempt to suggest profundity, is a moment that shows us a character that is in no way connected to the actual Doctor at all. This is not the Doctor. This is so utterly incompatible with anything we have previously seen of the Doctor’s character, that all we can conclude is that this is not the Doctor. The immersion has been snapped. We are no longer watching Doctor Who – we are just watching Ncuti Gatwa dancing in a nightclub. That’s it.
Gatwa should be utterly humiliated by this. The absolute worst thing for you, as an actor, should be the audience not seeing the character – only seeing you. If that happens, it shows that you have utterly failed as an actor. We are not supposed to see you; we are supposed to see the character. This episode, in my opinion, seriously damages Gatwa’s career. I would hope that his agent is shouting down the phone to Russell at this very moment for allowing this to go out on television.
Nothing – nothing at all – about Gatwa as he appears here is reminiscent about William Hartnell’s portrayal of the Doctor. It’s laughable to even mention them in the same sentence. As I say – this isn’t Doctor Who – it’s an extra episode of Queer As Folk. Even worse, this moment has fuck all to do with the rest of the episode – it’s just there to make a statement.
The rest of the episode is little better: an inexplicable voice-over at the start (Russell seems rather keen on those at the moment), a lot of wasted time and dialogue (this episode could have been 15 minutes shorter), a grotesque set design for the apartment (it looked like the 70s had thrown up all over it), some pointless and unrealistic dialogue from the supporting actors (and some ghastly acting too – particularly from the actors who played the next-door neighbours).
Gatwa’s non-character claims to discover a new kind of science in this episode: the science of luck. Once again Russell is showing his recent lapse into unoriginality here – he did a similar thing in that episode about Shakespeare in series three. Gatwa’s non-character also claims to be ‘learning the vocabulary of rope’ as he tries to understand some knots. He’ll be gutted to discover that topology has already been studied and well understood for decades.
There is one good thing in this episode, and that’s the CGI for the goblins – they’ve done that very well. The goblin king is also fun and well-designed. (Although again, Russell shows his unoriginality – this goblin king is very similar to the one in The Hobbit.)
Unfortunately the goblins are ruined by their giving us a musical number. An overly-heavy beat and a trumpet that sounds like an Argos keyboard isn’t something anyone with a mental age greater than three wants, Russell. You might think that couldn’t get worse, but it does – with the addition of an autotuned Gatwa and side-kick (I forget her name – she’s quite a forgettable character).
There’s a hilarious moment when a woman in the nightclub shouts ‘Give us some willie!’ at a man pretending to be a woman on the stage. I think it’s supposed to be ‘Give it some wellie!’ – the perils of enunciation.
I’m surprised that the qwerties weren’t outraged by the goblins in this episode. After all, the qwerties insist, time and time again, that Rowling’s use of goblins in Harry Potter was antisemitic. In this episode, goblins are not only present, but they literally steal and eat children. They are also the cause of all the misfortune in everyone’s life. Why on earth the qwerties aren’t screaming antisemitism at this episode, I don’t know. (But consistency of position was never their strength.) I also notice that no-one asked each other what their ‘preferred pronouns’ were in this episode. According to Russell, this is bigotry, so I guess we are supposed to consider all of these characters bigots.
And all the remaining time in the episode is just filled with virtue signalling and The Message.
That was an absolutely atrocious episode. With that episode and the three that preceded it – all of which had a multitude of serious, serious flaws – I am forced to conclude that Doctor Who is well and truly dead. Completely and utterly dead. There is no point watching the rest of Gatwa’s series. I won’t be watching it or reviewing it.
Doctor Who should be cancelled. What the franchise needs is to be left alone – for at least a decade. Leave it alone; do nothing with it. Whoever picks it up again after that will be someone entirely different – hopefully someone who hasn’t been infected with this idiocy virus. It’s rare that I will outright call for a show to end, but now I am: cancel it. This also represents the downfall of Russell T. Davies. He has written many excellent shows over the years: Queer As Folk was well-written for what it was (I just don’t want Doctor Who to become it); Cucumber, A Very English Scandal, and It’s A Sin were all fun; and of course, the first four series’ of New Who. But these episodes have been an absolute disaster. Russell appears to have lost his talent.