Favourite old children’s show survives gender transplant…

THERE is only so long you can put up with being held in a half-nelson by Brexit and Trump, that sweaty double act with the bad breath and worse manners. Thank the star-pricked night then for Doctor Who (BBC1, Sunday).

Having work to do and being the owner of a family hatchback rather than a Tardis, I couldn’t be in two places at once this morning and have only just managed to swivel into the blogging chair.

It wouldn’t be true to call me a diehard Who nut, although this family sci-fi show has my loyalty. It would be true to say that I have watched since the first episode went out in 1964 – a date more distant than the beginnings of time to the students I teach on a Monday morning (18; how can they only be 18 and when did antiquity grab me by the ankles or perhaps the knees?).

A predictable Who-ha greeted the news that Jodie Whittaker would be the new Doctor. Some Daily Mail types grumble-grouched about the effacing of a male role model; some predicted that a bit of gender fluidity in the role presaged the end of time and all that.

Thankfully, Whittaker briskly brushed off such doubts and doubters with a lively, funny and very Yorkshire performance. The West Yorkshire-born actress was part of the deal for new writer Chris Chibnall, who brought Jodie with him. The pair earlier worked on Broadchurch.

Jodie Whittaker quickly addressed the gender switch. When someone remarked that she was a woman, she said: “Am I? Does it suit me?” And that’s all that needed to be said, although she did have a coda: “Oh yeah, I remember. Half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman.”

She spent most of a busy first episode wearing Peter Capaldi’s tattered cast-offs, before being kitted out in her own clothes.

Not everyone will be happy, and the tone was a little uneven, and there were an awful lot of assistants, and that was confusing. But the effects were sweepingly cinematic and, best of all, the Doctor being a woman was in a sense no big deal. The wandering spirit of the time-troubled nomad survives.

The best compliment to pay Jodie Whittaker is that in the end she just seemed like the Doctor. Fans will always have their favourites. I thought Capaldi was great and liked Tom Baker back in the dusty folds of time. Christopher Eccleston was a brilliantly jarring choice, but he wasn’t happy in the role.

Whittaker borrows a few stray atoms from David Tennant’s performance; not a bad move, as Tennant is many fans’ favourite. Mostly she was herself; mostly she just got on with it.

The story was the usual splendid nonsense, with duelling high cranes and a monster who went all dental on his victims and decorated his face with their extracted teeth.

By the end, the Doctor and her companions were left dangling in space, looking for the Tardis. The BBC reports that 8.2 million viewers tuned in, a healthy figure for a fiftysomething show. Steven Moffat was a clever, witty writer who conjured up the darkness for Doctor Who. But he also took the show down of maze of complications, and sometimes the cleverness got in the way.

Anyway, winter approaches, there is far too much on television, and now Doctor Who adds another note to the must-watch list.

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