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Who's Who? (London Evening Standard)

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With a gay companion and rumours of a female lead, the Doctor's next regeneration is the most timely yet

EUROPEAN Unions can crumble, global leaders will come and go, even the Great British Bake Off may find its greatness has diminished, but there will always be Doctor Who. The first episode aired in 1963 and 26 full series followed until 1989, when bad scheduling and falling viewer figures led the BBC to suspend production. The time-travelling Tardis then remained dormant until 2003, when a saviour arrived in the form of Queer as Folk creator Russell T Davies.

He gave us four series and two new Doctors (Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant) before handing the baton to Steven Moffat in 2010. Moffat's hugely successful run, much of it concurrent with the similarly massive Sherlock, which he also writes and produces, continued Davies's proudly progressive tone and bagged several awards.

However, the upcoming series, which starts on Easter Saturday, Apri115, will be his last, as fans prepare to welcome new showrunner Chris Chibnall and an as-yet-uncast new Doctor to replace Peter Capaldi.

On Sunday lucky audience members at the BFI & Radio Times Television Festival at the BFI Southbank will see a sneak preview of clips from the new series, plus a panel discussion with Capaldi, new companion Pearl Mackie and executive producer Bill Minchin. It's all change at Doctor Who —but then hasn't regeneration always been kind of the Doctor's thing?

The new companion

When relative unknown Mackie was first introduced as the Doctor's new companion, Bill Potts, in a two-minute introductory clip last year, the Twitter reaction was not overwhelmingly positive, with some confessing to finding her a bit, um, annoying. Those Bill-sceptics should be sure to tune into her first full episode, which reveals a more fully rounded character who's easy to warm to.

Previous companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) always seemed to know what was going on (thanks, as it later transpired, to her "Impossible Girl" status — long story) but Bill is a totally unpretentious newbie. She asks all the silly questions so we don't have to, such as "What's a Dalek?" And if you're from another planet, why have you given your Tardis an English-language acronym? And, most importantly, "Doctor what?"

Bill is also ace for another reason; she's the first openly gay companion the Doctor has had. Although as Mackie and Moffat have both pointed out, in 2017 is that really such a big deal?

The new merch

The Who Shop, the world's only Doctor Who-dedicated emporium, is in London, of course, tucked away behind West Ham's old Boleyn Ground stadium in Newham. Visitors may pore over the half-century's worth of televisual treasures housed in a — yes, you guessed it — Tardis-like interior.

Objects coveted and collected by owner Alexandra Loosely-Saul include a three-inch Dalek pin given to her by her brother in the Seventies ("I thought it was the bees' knees") and an air-filled, life-size, punchable Dalek, sadly lost in the intervening years. "I think, perhaps, a council worker might have had his eye on that and it walked out the door, unfortunately."

These days popular items include the Funko Pop! figurines and with a "Bill" edition expected any day now, to please Doctor Who's surprisingly knowledgeable, surprisingly young fanbase. "On a daily basis we see an age range right across the board," says Loosely-Saul. "They're telling me Pat Troughton [second incarnation, 1966-1969] is their favourite Doctor and I do a double take because they're like eight- or nine-year-olds. How fantastic is that? They're educated little souls with a good imagination and they love it."

The new fans

This broad appeal will come as no surprise to Brian Minchin, the show's executive producer since 2013. "We've always known that for Doctor Who to thrive, it's got to work on Saturday night on BBC1," he says.

Like many of those who work on the show, Minchin is a long-term, serious fan: "So yes, we can be tempted sometimes to bring characters back, or we find writers making in-jokes, referencing an episode in 1982, say. And we go, like, 'Oh well, let's just take that out then'. We try and police ourselves quite rigorously, actually."

As well as crossing age brackets and bridging the divide between casual viewers and obsessive Whovians, the show's reach is impressively global. As a BBC moneyspinner, it was only ever rivalled by Top Gear. "You feel that responsibility because right around the world people are willing you to make amazing episodes and get everything right," says Minchin. Yet still they're always on the lookout for new recruits. If you've never seen an episode before, series10's opener, The Pilot, makes for an especially enticing introduction and that's by design. "I think it's one of our most welcoming starts," says Minchin.

The new showrunner

Have you been keeping up with Broadchurch? Not as closely as the Doctor Who team, we'd hazard, because Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall will soon be taking over from current head honcho Steven Moffat, with this year's Christmas special acting as their handover.

What can we expect from the Chibnall era? Lingering shots of the famously picturesque Gallifreyan clifftops? A long diversion into the technicalities of the Time Lord legal system? Or perhaps Olivia Colman as the new Doctor?

"He's keeping his cards very close to his chest, so it's quite hard to speculate," says Minchin, but then, "Chris has all of time and space to play with, really. I think it will be fantastic."

The new star

Chibnall will also have to make his biggest decision right out of the gate — who to cast as the show's new lead. With a woman at No 10 and his old Broadchurch colleague Phoebe Waller-Bridge the odds-on favourite, there's a feeling that Chibnall might be about to break with tradition and cast the first female Doctor.

Not everyone would be celebrating. "Oh, God forbid, no! Oh, absolutely not!" says Looseley-Saul. "I hate to say that, as I am a woman running my company, but it would ruin it for me, personally. Doctor Who is your favourite uncle. You always have aunties that you absolutely love but your favourite uncle is your favourite uncle."

The new medium

It's not just Doctor Who that's currently negotiating a period of uncertainty — so too is TV as a whole. Yet this show seems particularly well-suited to ride out the existential threat of internet streaming and mobile devices. It manages to be perfectly suited to the small screen while simultaneously operating on a grand scale — note the new series' use of pop culture metaphors to explain the illusion of time.

There are still other shows which can unite the whole family around a TV set but very few of them also inspire huge online communities dedicated to discussing arcane

story details. For individuals, industries and entire galaxies, Doctor Who's secret to handling change is the same: embrace it as the only constant.

Caption: Time for a change: clockwise from far left, Pearl Mackie as the Doctor's new openly gay companion Bill; departing Doctor Peter Capaldi; Alexandra and Kevan Looseley-Saul of the Dr Who shop in Barking; new showrunner Chris Chibnall; Phobe Waller-Bridge, who is odds-on to be the first female Doctor

Caption: The BFI & Radio Times Television Festival runs at BFI Southbank this weekend; Brian Minchin, Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi will appear on Sunday and the new series of Doctor Who starts on BBC1 on April 15.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Jones, Ellen E (2017-04-07). Who's Who? (London Evening Standard). London Evening Standard p. 20.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Jones, Ellen E. "Who's Who? (London Evening Standard)." London Evening Standard [add city] 2017-04-07, 20. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Jones, Ellen E. "Who's Who? (London Evening Standard)." London Evening Standard, edition, sec., 2017-04-07
  • Turabian: Jones, Ellen E. "Who's Who? (London Evening Standard)." London Evening Standard, 2017-04-07, section, 20 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who's Who? (London Evening Standard) | url= | work=London Evening Standard | pages=20 | date=2017-04-07 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who's Who? (London Evening Standard) | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 June 2024}}</ref>