Naturally, when I watched this year’s annual Christmas disappointment – i.e. Doctor Who – the things that bothered me were variations of the usual questions, like: does anybody find these topical references to the economic downturn anything other than utterly embarrassing? Did nobody edit this script before the actors started learning these long, long scenes of dull exposition? Did Russell T. Davies really think that multiple John Simms wearing dresses was the doom-laden cliffhanger image befitting the penultimate episode of David Tennant’s Doctor? Doesn’t Bernard Cribbins deserve better? Doesn’t Timothy Dalton deserve better? And, generally, why oh why oh why oh why…?
But I was already resigned to the whole two-parter being the uncomfortable enema that the series so badly needs, and everything this year has led me to prepare myself for such questions. The question that I wasn’t expecting almost slipped me by at the time of broadcast but is now possibly the most concerning thing about the whole episode, and it is this:
He said what about Good Queen Bess?
So unlikely it seemed, I thought I must have imagined it – so I went and checked it out. And I hadn’t imagined it.
What David Tennant’s Doctor says is this (in his most irritating mockney): “Got married! That was a mistake. Good Queen Bess. And let me tell you, her nickname is no longer…” (does his most irritating mockney oops-missus-I’ve-been-naughty face).
Unless I’m totally misinterpreting Russell T. Davies here, what he wrote for the Doctor to say was the pre-watershed equivalent of “then I shagged Queen Elizabeth”. And whilst I think I am accurately imagining Russell T. Davies chuckling to himself as he knocked the line out, a little chunk of my childhood died when its meaning really dawned on me.
The Doctor has never been interested in sex. When Paul McGann kissed his companion in 1996 a lot of fans kicked up a fuss, though in actual fact it all turned out to be all rather innocent. The new incarnation of the series has had various female companions boringly fall in love with the Doctor and he has formed some strong attachments to them, though this isn’t necessarily a problem as love is a noble thing.
But by making the Doctor a person who casually refers to the notches on his bedpost (whether he did it within wedlock is hardly the point), he has become something that the Doctor has never been before – someone I despise. Tennant’s Doctor was already headed in this direction: he’s vain, a show-off, effortfully trendy – the cool kid in the playground rather than the outsider the Doctor ought to be. But now he is the kid who brags about how many girls he has casually felt up behind the bike shed, which is either misogynous or simply shows a lack of respect for other people (the brush, incidentally, which tarred all gay people in T. Davies’ Queer as Folk). The most sinister thing is that Russell T. Davies, who clearly finds nothing at all objectionable about such bragging, has snuck this character up on us bit by bit, delivering the final blow as a casual one-liner that actually exacerbates the nastiness when you analyse it.
It goes further than a loss of innocence; it makes the Doctor, who has always stood for moral values, respect and equality, a terrible role model for the very people who adore him. I’ve been told by various people that they think David Tennant is the best Doctor ever; sorry folks, but I simply can’t wait to see the back of him.