Who’s That Lady

If Only Jodie Whittaker Could Get Rid Of The Commercials

I watched the premiere of the new Doctor Who series. It debuted in real time, alongside the showing in England, which meant that the hour-long episode aired for me at 12:45 PM Central, convenient enough for a Sunday. But it didn’t end until 2:20. We literally had five minutes of commercials to go along with every seven minutes of the episode.

Are you bothering my friend Neal, playground bully? 

Watching this live meant something for me, because I was a Doctor Who fan in America long before it was cool, or at least socially acceptable. There was a time when Doctor Who, at least outside of the U.K., represented the intelligent underdog overcoming tough odds.  I got myself a nice playground whipping when I dressed up as Tom Baker’s Doctor for Halloween in seventh grade. That coat was awfully hot in Phoenix for October.

Then Doctor Who became a nerd afterthought. After it re-debuted in 2005, it became a mega-media cultural buzzsaw. After a few delightful seasons with David Tennant it THEN, surprisingly enough, turned into a terrible, lugubrious, needlessly dark, over-plotted cosmic soap opera, desperately in need of a regeneration.

Now The Doctor is a woman, which, I suppose returns her/him/they to the status of intelligent underdog, though there’s certainly nothing underdog-ish about Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. She’s funny, quick, and altogether tremendous to watch. If I had to guess, and it would be a pure guess because I couldn’t bring myself to watch any of the fan panels or pre-coverage, she’s studied Baker and Tennant, the two best Doctors, given them a mild feminist twist, and gotten on with the business of saving the universe.

The premiere was basically a family-friendly ripoff of Predator. It had some mystery and some dark overtones, and a small amount of soapiness involving the companions, but nothing along the lines of “so and so is the key to cosmic love” or any of the other crap Steven Moffatt threw into his bad final seasons.  And now Doctor Who is female, which seems like a big deal, and is, of course. The episode contains several lines like “you’re becoming who you’re becoming” or some such thesis statement virtue-signaling crud. But at the end of the day, the Doctor is saving lives and providing a galactic moral compass. Whitaker does slapstick and derring-do as well as Tennant ever did. Despite its monumental cultural significance, the transition seems easy and natural.

However, I don’t recommend watching the show live on Sling TV if you have to do anything else that day. BBC America is exploiting this cultural moment for maximum profit, and it’s mind-numbing. If you can fast-forward through the commercials or wait for it to come to streaming, I would recommend that. Or just crank up your TARDIS. That’s what the Doctor would do.

Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of ten semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He's written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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