14 July 2017

Looking for the 13th Doctor

So in less than two days’ time we’ll know the identity of the actor who will play the next Doctor. An epic looking trail- essentially our first look at what we might well call the Chibnallverse (go on, you love it!)  -revolves around enigmatic shots of various well known objects emblazoned with the number 13. We’ll find out after the Wimbledon Men’s Single Final on Sunday. What is it with Doctor Who announcements and sport? Surely few people follow both but we had Bill introduced in the middle of a Cup Final! Anyway that means we have only a short time to indulge in random speculation. 147(!) names feature in the betting odds and you can also bet that dozens of others have been mentioned around the fan and media worlds. This public search for the actor is of course different from the real life one which you suspect has featured far fewer names and dealt with those who could and would realistically want to take on the role. So how have we got here – and what will the new Doctor be taking on other than monsters?

Whether he was supposed to or not Peter Capaldi kicked off the search by announcing back in January that the next series would be his last. This is the moment of course when the media start to lose interest in the incumbent other than wanting to know “the real” reason they are leaving. Looking back it seems to have been a mistake to have announced it so soon because there has been far more talk this year as to who the next Doctor will be than about what the current one is doing. A shame as this year’s series was excellent but seemed to be of much less interest than who the next Doctor would be.
Ben Whishaw was the first of several actors who were “a shoo in” and “favourite” to become the 13th Doctor and also the least likely. Apart from the fact he would probably command too high a salary and wouldn’t want to commit most of the next three years to one project and is already part of another even higher profile franchise, he is renowned as a fairly private individual. His time at the top of the tree was quickly terminated though by the arrival of Kris Marshall.
His being linked to the role was perhaps more realistic in terms of a career move but seemed to spring entirely from the news that he was leaving Death in Paradise. The lazy assumption made was that he had vacated one show for the other. However the most recent series of Death in Paradise – including Marshall’s character’s departure- was completed last year long before even Peter Capaldi knew for sure he was leaving. In December Capaldi was still “unsure” whether or not to stay. That aside though Marshall has remained in the running ever since and unlike many linked to the Doctor role has said nothing publicly on the subject. It’s a sort of unwritten rule that those actors who talk about how they want to play the Doctor are never on the short list.

The erstwhile My Family star though has had to take second place in the overall babble of speculation to Phoebe Waller- Bridge, star of Fleabag. Names not all of us had heard of till this started but the actor has been at the vanguard of the `Next Doctor should be a woman` crusade which has been spoken by many a current and former associate of the series and a number of media commentators. Few of them may know that the concept of a female Doctor was originally a gag courtesy of Tom Baker when he announced his departure back in 1980. It has taken some considerable time to gather traction though despite John Nathan-Turner repeating the claim when any of his Doctors moved on. Even when the return of Doctor Who was first announced back in 2003 all the main candidates rumoured were male. Yet subsequently its been gaining currency to a point where if you were to add up all of the polls and the betting odds and everything else (which incidentally I haven’t!)) you’d find her at the top of the pile. Not only is she rating so strongly in the betting but people really, really seem to want her to get the role. How much the latter is driving the former isn’t clear. The twist is that she has now said three times publicly she doesn’t want it, it’s not her, please don’t waste your money betting on me. This is not a vague teasing sort of denial but pretty categorical to reverse from. For a while she shared the female Doctor baton alongside Maxine Peake who was rather more effective in dismissing the idea. You just don’t argue with Maxine Peake do you?
Of course once you open the door on an idea it’s hard to close it and people started to say- Well if the Doctor can be female, surely she can be non white? Enter Sacha Dhawen, never actually at the top of the betting- and probably less well known to the wider public – but someone else a lot of people think would be a great Doctor. He has however said publicly he’d be interested so...
The other aspect that seems to have driven the speculation is that the next Doctor will be someone whose worked with Chris Chibnall. I’m not sure why that would be the case –or that the decision will be his alone to make- but it has given rise to the likes of Andrew Buchan and even Olivia Coleman though I’d say that if it really is someone with Chibnall previous Jonathan Bailey is a decent bet. Anyone who saw him in Leonardo a while back will know he could carry off the Doctor effortlessly. Yes he has been in Doctor Who but that seems less important these days after Peter Capaldi.

In recent weeks there has been little dying down of the speculation though you suspect that enterprising agents have been dropping names all over the place. Luke Treadaway for example became the subject of a story from none other than Radio Times that he was the “frontrunner” for the part even though he had not been till that story! His sarcastic one word Tweet of a response “Sure” says enough. Unless it was a double bluff and he meant “Sure I am the new Doctor”! More recently Tom Rosenthal emerged as “the frontrunner” and has been more amusingly dismissive on Twitter. Sadly though not a sniff of the next Doctor action for either of my preferred candidates Lee Ingleby or Robert Emms.

In the past week or so- before today’s trail- two names have risen near the top. They are Jodie Whitaker and Matthew Baynton. Out of all the front runners this year they are two actors I could see really taking on the role. Less fortunately there’s been a surge for Paterson Joseph.
Of course whoever it is only has less than two days left to back out to know what is it like not to have your career dominated by one role. The one certainty that each Doctor actor has to carry with them forever is being described as “former Doctor Who” even if they appear in the most amazing version of Hamlet ever. They will also have to behave themselves. So far none of the Doctors old style or new has found themselves in public hot water. Marital transgressions aside of course; nowadays Patrick Troughton’s complicated private life would be all over the tabloids. As it was it didn’t come to light till decades later.  Not only that but the new Doctor will have to move to Cardiff - or maybe Salford if rumours are to be believed that the entire production is moving North. For some people that could be a deal breaker if they have kids etc.
So there we are. The latest top 10 betting list tonight incidentally is as below. Of course this may be an indicator of absolutely nothing at all and the next Doctor is actually some actor no-ones’ heard of.

BTW if you find the choice alarming, check out the Featured Post opposite about how to deal with change in Doctor Who!

  1. Kris Marshall
  2. Paterson Joseph
  3. Jodie Whitaker
  4. Matthew Baynton
  5. Alexander Vlahos
  6. Andre Scott
  7. David Harewood
  8. Luke Treadaway
  9. Phoebe Waller- Bridge
  10. Tom Rosenthal


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