Let’s face it, Doctor Who is a superhero – and superheroine – now. A full-on, outright superhero. He didn’t use to be. In the original show, he was an adventurer, stumbling from one situation to the next, a vehicle or a format for generating stories in the old pulp tradition. He was a pastiche of an old Victorian hero, a patrician with an air of authority designed to reassure the audience that he would sort things out and make everything all right at the end. Depending on who was writing the scripts at the time, he was usually as hapless and vulnerable as everyone else with only Plot Armor protecting him – he was the title character and hero, so, of course, he wasn’t going to die, but he often came close and sometimes survived by the skin of his teeth. By the time the original show was canceled in 1989, it was the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) who was beginning to become more than just a cipher who just showed up at an adventure.
It was when Russell T. Davies revived Doctor Who in 2005 in the post-Buffy era that The Doctor became more of a superhero, especially by the time he became the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant). He had his TARDIS, his costume, and his sonic screwdriver; he was a genius, an alien, the hero who steps in to save the day. That became how Davies, Steven Moffat, and Chris Chibnall presented The Doctor, the one who takes charge, the one who actively works to figure out how to save the day, and, of course, makes speeches. Speeches are a thing for superheroes now. The BBC YouTube channel put together three moments featuring The Doctor being The Doctor this weekend. It’s a slightly odd selection, but it kind of makes sense.
First, you get The Tenth Doctor and the one big speech Davies wrote for him in the Christmas Special “Voyage of the Damned” that became the rallying call for him. It was The Doctor and the show fully embracing their identity, at least after slowly teasing it for three series. Shortly after that, Davies killed off Kylie Minogue in the story, possibly the only death scene she ever played, and it was on Doctor Who. On Christmas Day, no less. By the time Steven Moffat got to work with Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, he gave him probably more speeches than any other Doctor ever got. The Doctor under Moffat got a lot of barnstorming speeches, and in Capaldi’s first series, he gets his first here in “Flatline” where he finds his role as a protector, a fighter of monsters.
In “Prisoner of the Judoon,” Chris Chibnall didn’t give the Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) a big speech. Instead, he gave one to the Fugitive Doctor (Jo Martin), a previously unknown – and new – Doctor. It’s a classic superhero crossover moment like The Flash of Earth-1 meeting the original Golden Age Flash of Earth-2. Two Doctors meeting for the first time and discovering they’re the same is a classic superhero trope. “I am the Doctor” is a declaration of so many layers, of a promise, of intent, of identity, of mission, of heroism.
Who chooses the theme of these Doctor Who compilation videos anyway? How do they decide? Do they get bored? Were they given the job as a punishment? Or are they fans? We wonder how they make their selections, but that might be a bit too “media commenting about media,” which we’re already doing.