Doctor Who’s Season 1 “reset” is confusing – but it makes sense

Leon Miller
An image of Ncuti Gatwa.

Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies caused a stir recently when he unveiled plans to “reset” Series 14 of the long-running sci-fi show as “Season 1.” Many fans of the franchise reacted negatively to the change, on the grounds that it will make Doctor Who’s chronology even harder to follow. They make a fair point – but that doesn’t mean the Series 14/Season 1 switch-up is a bad idea.

To understand both sides of the debate, let’s quickly recap Doctor Who’s broadcast history. The show debuted on the BBC in 1963, with its first batch of episodes branded “Season 1.” It went on to run for a further 25 seasons, wrapping up with the four-part serial “Survival” in 1989.

From here, Doctor Who went on a long hiatus that was only briefly interrupted by a failed attempt to restart the show via a TV movie in 1996. The franchise wouldn’t fully return until 2005, through a revival show spearheaded by Davies. And the name of the revival’s initial outing? Doctor Who Series 1.

This era of Doctor Who – dubbed “NuWho” by fans – stayed true to the “series” naming convention for the next 18 years, and was on course to carry it forward with Series 14 in 2024. But then Davies announced incoming leading man Ncuti Gatwa’s first foray in the TARDIS would break the mold, and Doctor Who canon would soon have two Season 1s.

Doctor Who’s Season 1 “reset” is confusing

It’s not hard to see how this could cause problems, not just for long-time Doctor Who devotees but for franchise newcomers, too. Regardless of whether you’ve spent decades jumping between the classic and revival-era shows or asking for recommendations on where to start with both, not being able to immediately and effortlessly identify the right episode from the right season will be a pain.

Say you want to debate the merits of Season 1, Episode 4 with another Doctor Who buff – first, you’ll both have to confirm which Doctor’s tenure you’re talking about: William Hartnell’s or Gatwa’s. The same goes for if you’re queuing up what you think is the very start of the franchise, Season 1, Episode 1, “An Unearthly Child” only to launch the first installment in the Gatwa run, instead.

Heck, even Doctor Who’s creative team can’t keep things straight. In a recent Doctor Who Magazine interview, Davies teased his plans for future seasons of the show and referenced “Series 7” when he meant to say “Season 7”. So, for those of you keeping score, Davies was talking about the hypothetical Doctor Who Season 7 and not 2012-2013’s Series 7 – or 1970’s Doctor Who Season 7, for that matter.

It’s beyond confusing and it’ll presumably only get worse the longer the Doctor Who’s new, post-“series” chronology continues and more season double-ups occur. Yet for all the headaches the franchise’s revamped terminology is likely to cause, this decision wasn’t necessarily the wrong call.

Doctor Who’s Season 1 “reset” makes sense

Why? Two reasons. First and foremost, there’s the Disney bit of the equation. The House of Mouse recently inked a deal to stream all newly-created Doctor Who content (starting with the 60th anniversary specials) on Disney+ outside the UK and Ireland. The upshot of this is that a lot of people are about to discover the show without access to any standard episodes prior to Series 14.

So, it’s a smart move on the part of the BBC and Disney to reframe Series 14 as “Season 1,” to avoid alienating prospective viewers put off by the prospect of starting a show so late in its run. Now, is this a case of the Disney deal messing about with Doctor Who convention to suit its own needs, as some fans have already described it online? Absolutely. But it’s ultimately in service of growing the show’s audience – and hey, at least it’s not a reboot.

It doesn’t just benefit Disney, either. Recasting Doctor Who Series 14 as “Doctor Who Season 1” also aligns with the BBC’s own roadmap for the franchise’s future: the Whoniverse. An unabashed attempt to replicate Marvel Studios’ blockbuster success with the MCU, the Whoniverse is a BBC iPlayer portal that brings Doctor Who’s classic and revival eras together under a new, unified brand.

This, coupled with Davies’ “reset” remarks, strongly suggests that the BBC is keen for a fresh start once Gatwa’s first season finally kicks off. That doesn’t mean ignoring the franchise’s legacy, but simply repackaging it for the post-MCU age. And what better way to do that than by restarting the show’s numbering from scratch? After all, it’s not like the 2005 revival was billed as Doctor Who Season 27!

So, yes, Doctor Who’s Season 1 reset is undeniably confusing – but it sure does make a lot of sense, too.

For all the latest Doctor Who content, be sure to check out Dexerto’s full coverage here.

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