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Hot Girls are Frustrated by the Coup D'Etat Going On At Doctor Who
"This is the future".... no, that's David Tennant
Last week, Doctor Who Twitter was in a tizzy over the release of the most recent Doctor Who Magazine cover, pictured above. If you follow the show even slightly you’ll know that the series recently aired a regeneration episode - that is, a changing of the guard from one actor playing the Doctor (in this case, Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor) to another, which signifies both a literal and thematic shift in the series as the show reorients once again to complement whatever new actor has been selected for the Doctor.
Heading into Jodie’s regeneration special, though, there was some debate over who that next Doctor would be, and it seems that fears weren’t unfounded- because when Jodie said her final goodbye and launched into her regeneration, it wasn’t Ncuti Gatwa, the previously announced 14th Doctor who appeared when the glowing regeneration energy faded - instead, it was David Tennant. For a large sect of Doctor Who fans, the surprise (ish) return of David Tennant is being hailed as something to be celebrated - but for myself, and those who have loyally followed the Jodie Whittaker era of the series, the way the return of Tennant (and by association the departure of Jodie and the lack of Gatwa’s introduction) is being handled is a questionable set of decisions that seem to signify a lack of respect and pride for the inclusivity the series has been slowly chugging towards.
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Now, if you’re not currently keeping up with the show but have been aware of it in the past, David Tennant is a familiar face- he famously played the 10th Doctor in the early days of the show’s 2000s reboot, and his turn as the Doctor is often regarded as the best of the franchise, or at the very least, the performance that saved the show and helped re-integrate it back into the mainstream.
Since then, three actors (barring the War and Fugitive Doctors, which I won’t get into here because that’s an entirely different can of worms) have taken on the role - Matt Smith (11th Doctor), Peter Capaldi (12th Doctor) and most recently, Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. Each has had a solid three-season run, capped off by a loving swan song episode that teased the upcoming Doctor in the final moments. Even three regenerations past, though, Doctor Who as a series has seemingly never lost its fascination with David Tennant - he returned to the role alongside Matt Smith in the 2013 50th anniversary special, marking the first time a NuWho Doctor has reprised their role in the franchise.
So David Tennant was so well-liked in the fandom and by production that he returned for a special. That’s fine - it’s not as if actors returning to reprise the Doctor is unprecendented - it happened plenty of times over the course of Classic Doctor Who (pre 00s, that is) and several actors who previously played the Doctor returned in cameo appearances for Jodie Whittaker’s most recent regeneration. But at the end of the aforementioned regeneration special, the series did something it’s never done before - when Jodie said her goodbyes and burst into regeneration energy, David Tennant was the one who took her place - marking the first time that the Doctor has regenerated directly into a previous actor.
Now, it’s difficult to put into words just how significant a regeneration is to Doctor Who as a series - there’s a reverence among fans and an understanding that regenerations are important, significance episodes that stand as both a final celebration of the departing actor’s talent, and an optimistic welcome/first impression for the actor who will be taking the reigns going forward. As such, in the months approaching the regeneration special and following the announcement of Ncuti Gatwa, fans of the show were given time to prepare to see Jodie depart and Ncuti become our next Doctor - after all, he was announced on social medias as the next Doctor.
Ncuti’s announcement was an exciting day for Doctor Who - and why wouldn’t it be! The fandom was elated to see an actor many young fans are already familiar with - his turn as Eric on Sex Education is beloved by Twitter, and he also makes for the franchise’s first out queer actor to take on the role - not to mention the first Black man to play the Doctor. Though it hurt to say goodbye to Jodie, the fans could feel melancholy knowing that at least the show would be in good hands with Ncuti as the lead - something to look forward to and get excited for, considering we’d get our first taste of Ncuti’s Doctor after Jodie’s final moments.
Ncuti would also be the first Doctor under returning showrunner Russell T Davies (who rebooted the show originally back in 2001), who was set to replace departing show runner Chris Chibnall, who oversaw the entirety of Whittaker’s era. Chibnall as a showrunner had a mixed reception (to put it lightly, but I won’t get into that there), so for many fans like myself, the return of RTD (the man who basically saved Doctor Who in its modern form) with a queer, POC doctor at the helm was an exciting new direction for the show that could come off the heels of the first female Doctor’s regeneration.
But where does David Tennant slot into this, if Ncuti was announced as the next Doctor? As with his return for the 50th anniversary, it had been previously announced that David Tennant would once again return for the Doctor Who 60th anniversary, reuniting with RTD to create trio of special episodes to celebrate the occasion. Doctor Who anniversary specials tend to be tangential, standalone stories with high-stakes and feature-length runtimes, so though fans were surprised to hear of Tennant returning (if the series followed the pattern of the previous specials, this upcoming anniversary would’ve featured a Capaldi/Whittaker duo, which is a hypothetical episode I would KILL to see) it wasn’t exactly coming out of nowhere.
But, crucially, there was always the unspoken understanding among fans - not dispelled or encouraged by production/Doctor Who social media teams - that Ncuti would be the fourteenth Doctor, and that David Tennant would simply be returning as the 10th Doctor for the anniversary specials, which would take place as side adventures and wouldn’t interfere with the passing of the torch from Whittaker to Gatwa.
Surprise! What, were you expecting someone else? As the regeneration episode began to creep closer and closer, though, rumbling began among fans - haha, wouldn’t it be crazy if Jodie Whittaker regenerated into David Tennant? Can you imagine how crazy it would be that instead of Ncuti is her trademark rainbow tee shirt and trousers, it was David Tennant? Though initially the attitude online was that it’s something curious to consider but entirely unlikely, the rumblings began to grow into more genuine speculation, and soon it was seeming like a genuine prospect. Rumblings turn to speculation turn to flat-out rumors: is David Tennant really coming back?
Though many welcomed a possible return, other fans (like myself) began to consider the larger optics of Tennant’s return to the series. It’s no secret that much of Jodie Whittaker’s era has been treated with distaste and disdain by large portions of the fanbase, mainly those who initially took issue with a female doctor, or who dislike the writing style of new show runner Chris Chibnall. The Whittaker/Chibnall era of the series endured constant criticisms of pulling in poor viewership, delivering lackluster characters, and forgettable, haphazard episodes - claims often leveled with a heavy and not-so-thinly-veiled dose of misogyny.
While it’s always critical to remember that Doctor Who is a veritable institution on the BBC and that its viewing figures (though less than previous seasons) were nowhere near poor, and that Whittaker were actually fairly well-received in polls from the general public, fans of the Whittaker run are constantly fighting an uphill battle to legitimize that era of the series to fans who claim it doesn’t compare to the previous incarnations and show runners.
With that in mind, the return of David Tennant (especially with RTD as his showrunner) began to take on a new refrain from fans: Tennant and RTD were coming to ‘save’ the show and ‘fix’ it from the mess left behind by the Whittaker/Chibnall era. There were widespread discussions on Twitter that those who hadn’t kept up with the show were excited to start watching now that it was getting ‘good’ again - prompting Whittaker/Chibnall era fans to become defensive of how the current state of the series was something to be fixed.
Suddenly, Tennant’s return didn’t feel like a celebration of the anniversary - it felt like a dismissive gesture from the powers-that-be behind Doctor Who: a signal to fans that the BBC and production recognized how ‘bad’ the Whittaker era was, and was going to course-correct and revitalize the series with the return of Tennant/RTD. Not only that, but the return of Tennant was beginning to overshadow the press surrounding Jodie’s departure and Ncuti’s introduction. A frequent complaint among defenders of the Whittaker era was that it was promoted and advertised poorly, so for the franchise to *finally* be getting press and making headlines again - but for the return of a previous actor/showrunner combination, and not an acknowledgment/celebration of the upcoming regeneration episode, felt like a slap in the face.
So, Jodie stands on the cliff, sticks her arms out, and regenerates not into Ncuti, but into Tennant - and not only that, but her clothes disappear and Tennant’s signature suit returns. This seems like a minor detail, but there’s always been a tradition in Doctor Who that a newly regenerated Doctor spends the majority of their first episode in the tattered remains of the previous Doctor’s clothes, only to forge a new identity for themselves with a new costume at the end of their first episode.
But when Tennant regenerated, we didn’t see him don Jodie’s coat, trousers and Tee - for the first time ever, breaking from tradition, her outfit simply shimmers away into one of his classic suits. For viewers already wary that this new era of the series was trying to erase or forget Whittaker/Chibnall, nothing felt quite like the immediate and obvious slap in the face of erasing Jodie’s clothes away so Tennant can wear the familiar outfit fans know and love.
Now, the moment would already be strange as it is, but then, seemingly for no reason, Russell T Davies felt the needs to make a lengthy and BIZZARE comment on the situation in the aforementioned Doctor Who magazine - remember, the one where the cover proclaimed the first female doctor regenerating into a straight white man instead of a queer Black man was ‘future’? I debated even including this ridiculous development (this is long enough as is) but it’s such a strange and uneccecary occurrence - made even odder by the fact that Davies is an out queer man and has a history of producing groundbreaking queer media like It’s a Sin and Queer As Folk - it feels like a disservice not to tell you all about it.
Not tell you about it- you can read it for yourselves. Here’s the statement Russell T Davies felt was worth publishing in the most recent issue of DWM, regarding David Tennant not regenerating into Whittaker’s clothes:
There’s probably 80 trillion parts of this statement I could dissect, but let’s ignore the fact that RTD himself has dressed men in women’s clothes over the course of his tenure as show runner on Doctor Who - a gag was made when the Master took every human’s body over on earth, with actor Jonn Simm doubled into several women’s clothes.
Let’s then also ignore that the Doctor themselves has been pictured in women’s clothing before - the third Doctor donned drag in the Classic era.
Let’s also ignore that David Tennant himself has dressed in drag numerous times across his stage and screen career - including on a BBC-produced and aired program.
This is, of course, also ignoring the ridiculousness of the statement itself - the insinuation that a man wearing women’s clothing (if Jodie’s t-shirt, wide-legged trousers, and lace-up boots, which were specifically designed by Whittaker to invoke androgyny can be considered women’s clothing) is somehow inherently a mockery of Drag. Let’s also RTD’s specification that “Knowing that David was coming in, I was absolutely certain the clothes would regenerate”, which would seem to imply that had it been Ncuti, the clothes would not have changed - a suggestion which I sincerely isn’t invoking some kind of idea that it would’ve been different because Ncuti is queer.
No, for me the most ridiculous part of the tone-deaf, bizarre, and utterly unnecessary statement Russell T Davies put out about how he didn’t want a man wearing woman’s clothes to be perceived as a mockery of drag, was that no less than twelve minutes before David Tennant would’ve been wearing Jodie’s clothes, another man, Sacha Dhawan, was wearing them.
RTD put out an entire statement about preventing David Tennant from wearing a t-shirt and trousers on the BBC was preventing Doctor Who from receiving transphobic and homophobic criticisms from the conservative British public (a brave decision bordering on martyrdom, we salute you Mr. Davies), when Sacha Dhawan spent the entire second half of the regeneration episode IN JODIE’S CLOTHES.
I realize (as Substack is warning me about the email length limit) that I’ve veered wildly off course from my initial subject - how the bait-and-switch of Tennant for Ncuti feels like a disservice to the latter. For the entirety of the show’s tenure, getting to take the reigns from your predecessor post-regeneration is a huge honor and time of celebration for any new actor, and to see Ncuti robbed of that chance - in favor of Tennant, who’s already experienced all the love the fandom has to offer- is heartbreaking.
Not only that, but I must also acknowledge the specific language used around Tennant’s return - to label him as “the future” of Doctor Who when he is taking the place of what would’ve been the first queer Black man in the role feels incredibly tone deaf. There is nothing progressive about Tennant’s return to the show - and coupled with Davies’ statement about costuming, this new era already feels like a step backwards, not forwards.
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