Book Review: Doctor Who: The Good Doctor by Juno Dawson
[Meta Note] Some familiarity with Doctor Who is required to understand this review, namely the basic character of the Thirteenth Doctor as portrayed by actress Jodie Whittaker.
One thing that I’ve always loved about Doctor Who is the way that people unfamiliar with the Doctor and how they operate react to them, and so I loved that The Good Doctor starts off from the perspective of someone utterly bewildered about what is going on. Come to think of it, a great deal of The Good Doctor is spent simply trying to figure out what is going on. Part of this is because when readers are dropped into the story we seem to be strolling along at the end. We’re dropped into the second half of the last act, where the Doctor is making her dramatic speech about peace and love, brokering a treaty between two contrasting species (the colonizing humans and the native loba, who resemble dogs) and then, after making a few quips, jumps into the TARDIS and leaves.
But it’s not that simple.
The Good Doctor is about the consequences of what the Doctor leaves behind after all of their adventures are done. The Doctor is, at heart, a hypocrite, because they claim to never interfere, but cannot help but meddle. And above all else, The Doctor hates, absolutely hates looking back. But, in the case of The Good Doctor, she has to, because Ryan forgot his phone on Lobos and they need to go back for it. And that is when the real story starts, because in the 600 year accidental time jump, the story arc that got tied up with a nice little bow has been warped and twisted. Rather than a peaceful and equal world, recovered from the civil war that the Doctor and her friends thought they were leaving behind, there is instead a world ruled by a religious cult of humans who worship a god called “The Good Doctor,” restrict the actions and the rights of women, and subjugate the loba as a slave class.
There’s a lot that this book has going for it. But there are also some problems. The conflict between the humans and the loba is racial inequality taken to an extreme, but the problem with doing that is that the loba and the humans are distinct species, and in framing the difference as the same as the difference between white people and people of color (which is done at a point in the book when the reader follows Ryan’s internal monologue) POC are equated to an entirely different category of being, who are literally descended from dogs, and humans (aka white people) are held up as being pure and replicated from the image of their god, The Good Doctor.
Furthermore, the loba are not able to rise out of their oppression alone; while there is a resistance, their methods are seen as ineffectual, and it is only when the Doctor and her friends—who are humans, or at least appear so—come back down from the heavens to right the wrongs of society that they are able to literally rise up from where they have been hiding themselves underground.
Another frustrating part of this book is one that I am torn on. Part of the 600 years of miscommunication is that Graham is remembered as The Good Doctor and The Doctor herself is forgotten. Over the years, not only are the loba oppressed, but so are women, and as a consequence The Doctor is not treated with anything resembling respect, and only disdain. On the one hand, it’s good to see how The Doctor reacts to being treated differently in a female regeneration than they were in their male regenerations. On the other hand, however, in a book that is already trying to do something very complicated with religion and with race, adding in female subjugation seems a bit unnecessary and old hat. That’s not to say that I think that gender discrimination doesn’t exist, or shouldn’t be represented in media; I just think that the way it plays out in this book is very tired, and seems like it’s going through the motions. What I want to see is a potential future where the prohibitions on sex and gender aren’t quite so stringent. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, and I don’t doubt that this couldn’t be the excellent story it is without some of these elements that I’m being critical of, but I nevertheless will continue to be critical, because I don’t think it’s too much to ask more of our media, and I equally don’t think it’s impossible to still enjoy a problematic fave. (Though that depends on how problematic it is. I have limits.)
For all my misgivings, I do think that this book did a solid job of tackling some tense issues, particularly with regard to the Doctor’s complicity in catastrophic events and what happens to the tattered worlds they leave behind. The show has also done a pretty good job of this—in season one of the new series, when the Ninth Doctor arrives on Satellite Five for the second time and realizes that the chaos he, Rose, and Adam left behind allowed for the Daleks to take control over humanity. Or consider how, in the language of the Gamma Forests, “doctor” is a word that signifies a great warrior. What the Doctor has come to mean and come to represent is a dynamic question, and one that this book digs into in ways that I enjoyed.
All in all, I highly recommend this book to those who enjoyed the latest season of Doctor Who, and while it would be difficult for someone without at least a little background to pick up this book and read it, anyone with even a passing knowledge of Doctor Who would have a good time perusing the pages.
 I was a little horrified when I re-read this and realized that I was channeling Davros during the season 4 episode “Journey’s End” where he gloats: “The Doctor. The man who keeps running. Never looking back. Because he dare not out of shame.”