My opponent in this debate makes the extremely valid point that "you really can't be British and ignore the cultural phenomenon that is Doctor Who." I don't know any Who fan, old-school or new-school, British, American, Canadian, Australian, or hell, Martian, who wouldn't agree with this. Doctor Who has never been nearly as big of a deal in the United States, where it was relegated to public television stations at unusual hours of the night or morning, to be discovered by bored kids searching for treasure on one of the few channels that was almost never forbidden. For American fans growing up in the eighties and nineties, Doctor Who was absolutely an integral part of our childhoods.
Rachel then goes on to say that classic Doctor Who "lost the plot," becoming "more about the Doctor's costume than a serious drama." That is where we must, alas, part ways. Because as far as I'm concerned, not only did Doctor Who hold onto itself all the way through to the bitter end...which wasn't an ending after all, since it was followed by the New Adventures and the Missing Adventures and the TV movie and the Big Finish Audio Adventures. Just like the Doctor himself, Doctor Who never truly died.
It just regenerated.
See, I don't believe that there's such a thing as "classic Who" and "reboot Who," any more than I believe that the First Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor are totally different men with totally different histories and backgrounds. They are the same being, renewed and changed to suit a new time, a new set of challenges, and a new sort of storytelling model. Times change. It's unavoidable. And as with anything that gets involved in a wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey sort of thing like television standards, Doctor Who had to change with them.
So this is my position: I am not going to insist that any single Doctor is better or worse than any other single Doctor (although I naturally have my preferences, and they're pretty much all prime numbers, which amuses the crap out of me). I am not going to argue that any Companion is better than any other, or that any one story defines "the true spirit of Doctor Who." Instead, I'm going to try to explain why this is all a single line, one that loops and twirls back on itself like a ball of yarn getting all twisted and tangled in the wind.
Summer Belongs To You
So there's this show which has absolutely nothing to do with Doctor Who, despite having several time travel episodes and occasionally making Doctor Who-related jokes, because the show was created by enormous geeks and I respect that. It's called Phineas and Ferb, and the basic conceit is that these two boys, in an effort to have The Best Summer Ever, create amazing machines and have incredible adventures every single day for the duration of their summer vacation. The theme song flat-out says: "There's a hundred and four days of summer vacation, then school comes along just to end it, / So the annual problem for our generation is finding a good way to spend it..."
Some of the adventures are pure hammered awesome, like when the boys built a roller coaster and threw a musical to go with it, or when they built a giant robotic shark, or when they staged a come-back tour for their mother, who was a 1980s pop idol (and who else feels old now?). Other adventures are sort of forgettable, which is why I can't think of any to list here. But they're all part of what makes Phineas and Ferb such an awesome show, and part of what makes it so much fun to keep watching. You know they've built things before, but what you're here for is the thought of what those crazy kids are going to build next.
So, Doctor Who. See, there's this old alien dude, right? He's lived a long time, and he's tired, and he's pretty sick of being surrounded by idiots...and he has a granddaughter whom he loves very much, and he doesn't want her growing up like this. He wants her to see the world. Hell, he wants her to see all the worlds, in all the times, forever. So he steals a time machine, and he steals his granddaughter, and they take off running like their feet are on fire. And it. Is. Awesome. Those early adventures (the ones that survive) were the sort of storytelling and narrative that was appropriate for the time. This was an era where adults didn't admit that they wanted to watch the big blue box bob through time and space, so they pitched the show at kids--an investment that would eventually lead to Doctor Who becoming one of the only shoes to raise its own fanbase, aside from the soap operas.
Time Makes You Bolder, Children Get Older...
...and we were all getting older, too. As the core audience for Doctor Who grew up, they brought in new threats, new storylines, and yes, a new Doctor. The Second Doctor didn't have a granddaughter to educate. Instead, he had Companions to annoy, and a whole big universe to pick apart with a grin on his face. The stories got more adult, the scripts got more complex, and everything got a lot more immediate. For all that Doctor Who was a black-and-white show at the time, it was going through its own version of what happened when our four-color comic book heroes discovered that sometimes, it was okay to have a shade or two of gray. It wasn't an overnight change. Neither was our way of looking at stories.
The Doctor was always, and is always, a trickster-hero of our time, rather than one for his own. When we needed him to be a teacher and a father-figure, he was. When we needed a romantic, he was that. And when we needed a hero broken enough to let us past his walls, he was that, too. He changed because we changed. We changed the way we wanted our stories to be told, we changed the things we wanted those stories to contain, and we changed our expectations.
Absence Makes the Heart Go Wander
So here's the big deal breaker for some people, at least where the classic/reboot divide is concerned: the gap between the TV movie and the 2005 series. And it's true, in the United States, there wasn't much that got you your Who fix during that time. But the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann, confirmed canonical in the new series) was there the whole time, keeping the adventure alive in the Audios from Big Finish. The Time War was set up in those stories. The fanbase was kept active and engaged by those stories. And when the time was right to change again, Eight became Nine, a war became war's aftermath, and a big blue box appeared again.
Doctor Who changes. That's what it does. And without denigrating either classic or new Who, I say that the changes are what makes it all one story, and what will continue to make that story awesome.
-- Seanan McGuire