I kind of felt that S2 was a bit stronger for me. S3 didn’t really go anywhere and the Kreese stuff almost undermined the character in a weird way, whilst trying to make him more sympathetic/believable.
I’m not a fan of nuWho particularly, or the current Doctor, but I think you’re conflating some things here which aren’t really related.
First off, the gender thing - the Doctor has never been solidly “masculine” as a presence - some Doctors have been, but not hugely so. Multiple Doctors bordered on a sort of asexual/gender-queer deal, so I don’t really see how this is is an issue - and the problems you highlight in the same paragraph are unrelated to it. Indeed, several of those women in the shows you mention are significantly more “traditionally masculine” than, say, 6 or 7, and certainly no Doctor is more “macho” than Sarah Connor (I mean, fuck, Ace is more macho than almost any Doctor). People have been expecting a female Doctor since the 1980s, too. I know because I was a kid in the 1980s and huge Who fan and we all just assumed it would happen (it wasn’t something anyone dreaded back then). Of course we also assumed Who would keep running through the 1990s - had it done so I suspect we’d have seen a female Doctor before the '90s were out.
Likewise 13 regenerations was a late-on decision (1983?) that wasn’t particularly important or justified in Who lore. It was an arbitrary thing that one writer came up with, and then limited the other writers with. Treating it as holy writ, when loads of other canon, much more established canon, was shrugged at when changed, seems to suggest to me that it was a fan-created problem. I know that when I was a huge Who fan as a kid, this was not something that came up - it was not something even written about in Who books/guides we had. It would have been better if some idiot hadn’t thought it was a good idea in 1983, because they were unable to conceive of the show running that much longer. I also would bet money that about 90% of people who rattle on about 13 regenerations would have only had praise for the decision had, say, the current Doctor been Ben Wishaw, Rufus Sewell, or for that matter, Natalie Dormer. I think the major problem a lot of men have with the casting direction they went with is that Whittaker is neither a dude, nor sufficiently smokin’ hot (soz any fans she has, but…), and they would have been fine with either. I mean, if Catherine Zeta-Jones had got in as 11, I don’t think there’d be any “Ugh/sigh a woman Doctor” at all.
Not saying that’s you. Am saying that 90% of people who complain about “13 regenerations” though!
The more light-hearted tone vs the frequent quasi-horror of the original seems superficially more like an actual change, but covers all of nuWho. In fact the episodes with the current Doctor skew a darker than most of the nuWho series, and including some of the episodes most notably tonally and stylistically similar to 1980s Doctor Who.
I might also point out that you might not be necessarily appreciating the degree of cultural change here. You say you prefer the “horror-movie” vibe to the “adventure” vibe, and I totally get that, but if you look at movies contemporary to Doctor Who, especially in the 1970s and before, I think you’ll see that the “horror” vibe you detect in Who is actually present in “adventure” (and particularly sci-fi) movies of that period, by and large. That, to someone of that period, there perhaps wasn’t really a difference. There doesn’t really seem to be much of an arguable difference until the late 1980s. Even in the early 1980s, pure adventure stuff like Indiana Jones has a massive horror-movie vibe, perhaps more so than Who. So I’d say Who up to the late 1980s was just adventure, it’s just that adventure back then included more elements we now associate with horror.
In the later 1980s, where adventure movies have started to get more light-hearted and sometimes kid-friendly, more of a gap does start to open up, as with Seven, Who remained fairly creepy and weird. But that sort of thing got Who ended. And even at the time, people were saying stuff like that Who was dark and depressing. And hell, when the internet appeared a few years later, Who fans much older than me derided that last series as “too dark”. It was only with post-nuWho revisionism that it seemed like it was suddenly “normal” and nuWho was too light.
I’d argue nuWho reflects the equivalent movies from its period that most of earlier Who did. And remember I don’t like nuWho much, but it seems to me that there’s a good match-up, and not