To any fans who’d wished for Russell T Davies to return as Doctor Who showrunner and correct where they thought the show had drifted off course since his absence, it might be a case of ‘careful what you wish for’. Oh? You wanted Doctor Who to be like it was in the olden days before it got ‘woke’? Let’s resolve Davies’s first episode with a trans woman of colour chanting “Non-binary”. You wanted Doctor Who to retcon all of Chris Chibnall’s changes to the canon? Well, we’re going to make his plot points key emotional touchstones for the new specials and series – and then invent bigeneration.

And now the next step in Davies’ campaign against those who want Doctor Who to be like it was in the old days (whenever they were), is to make pronouncements about the show’s genre.

“The show is taking a sly step towards fantasy, which will annoy people to whom it’s a hard science-fiction show,” Davies told the Radio Times. “Episode two next year is wildly fantasy. Completely making up scenarios on-screen that we’ve never been able to show before.” Although Davies qualifies that with, “But the following episode is proper hard science-fiction.”

Now, to a certain extent, this is no big deal. Doctor Who hasn’t really been hard science fiction since the Daleks went and busted Sydney Newman’s “No bug-eyed monsters” rule in 1963. Steven Moffat’s entire era might as well have been Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi taking it in turns to bellow the word “Fairy tale!” into the audience’s faces. The Doctor has literally met Santa Claus.

Doctor Who has given us hard sci-fi and pulp sci-fi and haunted house stories and high fantasy and portal fantasy and murder mysteries and blockbuster action movies. The TARDIS has never moved through time and space as much as it has between genres.

And yet, even in the few short episodes of Davies Who 2.0 that we have seen, the Doctor has been taking definite steps towards the fantasy genre. However fantastic (in the genre sense) Doctor Who has been before, he has never actually taken part in a musical number with baby-eating goblins aboard a flying pirate ship.

The rules are changing.

“But That’s Just a Superstition?”

Often fantasy stories begin with the crossing of a threshold (sometimes one with a sign that says “POLICE TELEPHONE FREE FOR USE”), a sense of a boundary being violated, a line between the world we understand and a world where anything can happen.

And in the second 60th anniversary special, “Wild Blue Yonder”, Donna and the Doctor face off against evil doppelgangers from beyond existence, and in a moment of desperation the Doctor tries to convince them that they cannot cross a line of salt.

It’s a superstition and a bluff, but at the end of the episode, the Doctor hints that invoking that superstition so close to the edge of the universe could have had a wider effect.

Of course, the most immediate effect was that the Toymaker broke back into our universe, single-handedly becoming responsible for every continuity error in the history of the show (“I made a jigsaw out of your history. Did you like it?”), and murdering soldiers to a Spice Girls backing track. He was banished, but even then, we were shown it was not the end.

The Toymaker’s powers defy any explanation, even by Doctor Who standards. The Doctor suggests “If I told you he manipulates atoms with the power of thought, would you believe it?” before discarding that explanation as not even approaching the truth.

And even when he is defeated, the Toymaker still leaves enough residual power to allow the newly bigenerated Doctor to split his TARDIS in two by whacking it with a cartoon mallet. More than that, his last words are that his “legions are coming” – hinting at waves of more fantastical enemies on the horizon.

“Like Magic!”

Okay, but the Toymaker is old news. Since “The Church on Ruby Road”, we’re all about Goblins. And Doctor Who has always been the “and the kitchen sink” of genres – fantasy elements aren’t actually all that new are they? So what has changed?

Well for starters – they’re called Goblins now. They could have just been aliens, or Goblinoids. The Doctor could have spouted off a name for them the same way he looked at a werewolf and pronounced it a Lupine Wavelength Haemovariform. But he didn’t. He said they were goblins. Goblins who feed on coincidence, and ride in a pirate ship, who use rope like we use electricity.

Of course, the Doctor is quick to point out this isn’t magic.

“It’s not magic. It’s a language. It’s a different form of physics,” he tells Ruby, who answers, “Yes. Like magic!”

And if you think about it, once technology gets sufficiently advanced, is it even possible to distinguish it from magic? (Ooh, that’s clever. You can quote that if you like)

Maybe that is the big difference. As Doctor Who keeps running, one of its recurring problems is the Doctor has been everywhere and done everything, and that can get in the way of the sense of exploring that is the heart of the entire show.

With the Toymaker’s legions and the breaking of the rules of reality, suddenly the Doctor can be out of his depth again. When he encounters the “language of rope” he doesn’t know it, he figures it out super quickly, because that’s what he does, but isn’t that the point? A Doctor who is clever rather than knowledgeable, who is learning the rules on the fly.

Aside from Davies’ comments about episode two of the new season, we can already see from the trailer that the next season is going to be leaning into this. The Doctor tells Ruby there are “powers beyond the universe”. We’re going to be getting a villain played by drag queen Jinkx Monsoon (an incredibly Doctor Who name already) wearing a piano keys dress that hints at us finally getting the full-blown musical episode some of us have been crying out for. We are going into fantasy territory that will be new to the series, the viewers and the Doctor.

And of course, all of this is leading up to The One Who Waits, the one whom even the Toymaker, with a power level that sits comfortably alongside Star Trek’s Q, does not want to mess with. Doctor Who fans have been well-trained and we’re already flicking through our little Rolodex of old villains looking for suspects (not to mention how they link to the mysterious Mrs Flood), but what if we’re facing something brand new?

It might be just what Doctor Who needs.

“The Church on Ruby Road” is available to stream now on BBC iPlayer in the UK and on Disney+ around the world.

The post Russell T Davies Leaning Into the Fantasy Genre Is Just What Doctor Who Needs  appeared first on Den of Geek.

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