On Doctor Who's 2023 Children in Need Special, and Soft Reboots

So, I was privileged to watch the recent Children in Need special mini-episode of Doctor Who, just in time for the show's sixtieth anniversary, and I realize now that it's been years since I've reviewed Who on this blog. So, why don't we do that? Normally, I'd warn about spoilers, but the episode is available on YouTube and only takes a few minutes of your time to watch, so watch it below:

There is not much to say, here, actually. The mini-episodes of the Children in Need episodes are typically light and somewhat comedic, serving as an appetizer for the feast to come (Doctor Who returns on November 25! Yay!), and this mini-episode serves up just what is needed. Everybody is in top form, and this madcap and somewhat silly presentation works for me. It certainly worked for my kids.

Then there's Davros, played here by Julian Bleach, who has played this role with aplomb throughout the show's revival, except wearing a lot less make-up, and without the Dalek chair. He is critical to this mini-episode, because his performance makes this episode. Even without the make-up and the chair, he is clearly Davros in his soul, and he is able to deliver some comedy without undercutting his menace. Because of his performance, we have a sense of history here. Most fans automatically assumed that we're seeing Davros before the accident that scarred him and put him in the Dalek chair.

However, producer Russel T. Davies notes that this isn't just a one-time thing. In an interview with Radio Times, he stated that it was his intention to redesign Davros, get him out of his wheelchair, and move away from the trope of disabled people being evil. And, fair enough. (Although, as an aside, Russell has also suggested that the Daleks need some resting, which suggests that this may be the only time we see Davros for a while, if at all. As a further aside, though: if Ncuti Gatwa doesn't face the Daleks at some point during his stint as the Doctor, it will be an unfortunate asterix to his career, so Russell had better make sure the Daleks return before Gatwa's Doctor regenerates).

But all this is why I think this mini-episode may be hinting at something deeper in the coming mini-series. We already have the mystery of why Jodie Whitaker's Doctor regenerated into a third David Tennant (and why the clothes changed with the regeneration, which never happened before). The trailers all suggest some mysterious influence is coming to wreck things, and Donna is somehow a part of that (is it the Celestial Toymaker's influence, or something more? We'll see).

Then, at around two minutes and forty seconds, the Doctor utters this line: "Stop it! Look! I was never ever here! Never! The timelines and the canon are rupturing. I'm just going to go."

It's a throw-away line, except, I don't think that it is.

At this point, Doctor Who is moving into a new production era, masked by the fact that it's being helmed by a returning Russell T. Davies. Disney is now the official co-producer and distibutor of the program outside of the United Kingdom, and it looks like they want to start fresh. The first series after the 60th anniversary specials will not be referred to as "Series 14", but "Season 1". These and other signals suggest that the new producers want to make Doctor Who more accessible for new viewers at this point, which means not over-burdening them with continuity. With timelines and canon rupturing, we may be looking at a series reboot.

Years ago, I'd have been horrified at this thought, but the series underwent a soft reboot in 2005, and we all know how well that turned out. And, if we're honest with ourselves, the show has been doing a soft reboot almost constantly. It's just that the show's writers and producers have been very good at capturing the core essence of what Doctor Who is, using what continuity can enhance each tale, but not being beholden to it. How many times have the Time Lords been wiped out, only to return? How many histories have been rewritten? And, this is Russell T. Davies at the helm. He's done this before, and there's no reason to think he can't do it again.

The good stuff of the past sixty years isn't going to be abandoned; Russell T. Davies has already stated that the Timeless Children and Flux plots will be acknowledged rather than just written away. But there's no way that Russell is going to treat the last sixty years of continuity as a set of shackles. Instead, he'll use it as a starting point, pick a direction from there, and go.

Seeing what I'm seeing here, he's excited about doing just that, and I'm excited to watch.

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