Jan 06

Spitfire Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Several years ago, I would write a review of the latest Doctor Who episode on my Facebook account shortly after the episode was broadcast. I remember feeling the need to voice my opinion on each episode, I’m not sure why. If I missed a status I would write two the following week. Whilst that habit died out when I started this website in 2015 I think that the most recent series, and the soft reboot of Doctor Who as a whole, is definitely worth talking about.

In January 2016 it was announced that Steven Moffat’s final series of Doctor Who would be series ten. This announcement came after the conclusion of series nine which is generally regarded as one of the weakest series by fans so the news was met with excitement. Moffat’s writing fluctuated between amazing and dreadful with his weakness being over the top series arcs. If you want to learn more about my opinions on Moffat’s handling of Doctor Who and to a lesser extend his run over the BBC’s Sherlock you can read my open letter to him by clicking here.) Moffat’s departure announcement was shortly followed by another. Peter Capaldi revealed that would be leaving his role as the Twelfth Doctor after series ten. This meant that fans would have a new Doctor, a new companion (as Pearl Mackie who played Bill Potts was only contracted for one series) and a soft reboot of the show. This, of course, started rumours of who would play the new incarnation of the Doctor. It was widely believed that new doctor would either be a woman or an actor of colour. Names from Judi Dench to Idris Elba, Kris Marshall and Richard Ayoade were discussed by the media. Then, during the 2017 Wimbledon Championship’s Men’s Finals it was announced that Jodie Whittaker would be the new Doctor. Her reveal trailer is below:

 

This casting choice was met with positive reactions around the globe. Jodie Whittaker is a fantastic actor and was in the public’s consciousness from her work in Broadchurch (in which she’d worked with the new show runner Chris Chibnall) Attack the Block and The Smoke. Soon her companions Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien (played by Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh respectively) were revealed. With fans eager to see the new TARDIS crew and watch the new adventures, did the reboot meet their high expectations?

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From left to right – Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill), Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), The Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh) and Grace (Sharon D Clarke)

Let’s start with the positives.

Jodie Whittaker is a brilliant Doctor. Her performance has been likened to that of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor and she has a role model for young female fans across the globe. Guardian journalist Zoe Williams described her as “the revolutionary feminist we need right now”. In our culture recently rocked by the Me Too movements, Whittaker’s Doctor couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Some fans have criticised her performance, claiming that she portrays the Doctor as clueless and dim-witted. While I don’t disagree with these complaints completely I don’t believe Whittaker is at fault. I think that Chibnall’s writing is the issue. The situation is similar to Hayden Christensen’s performance in the Star Wars prequel films. Although Christensen was a proven actor his performance was hampered by a subpar script and he received backlash for it. David Tennant, who is arguably the most popular Doctor since the revival of the show, was disliked by fans until well into his second series. Whittaker admitted that taking on the role of the Doctor was daunting and she was well aware of the hate out against her (to quote Russel T Davies in his book Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale “A lot of knifes will be out… They always are… for successful women”). If you want to see some of this negativity scroll through any comment section from the official Doctor Who media outlets. If you want to see Whittaker’s inspiring positivity in the face of these haters please watch the video below

I also loved the new dynamic of the TARDIS crew or team TARDIS as I think they are called. In the past the Doctor would normally have either one or two companions where as in the new series the crew consists of three, all of which are treated equally by the Doctor. This is because they all joined the TARDIS at the same time. Although some companions are stronger than others (more on that later) I want to talk about Ryan in particular.

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As far as I’m aware Ryan is the first companion in Doctor Who history or a character in the main stream media that has dyspraxia. I created a video about dyslexic and dyspraxia last year (which you can watch by clicking here) but I am thrilled that Chris Chibnall included this. Very briefly dyspraxia is a hand eye coordination condition. It makes tasks such as driving, tying shoelaces and as Ryan showcased in The Woman Who Fell to Earth riding a bike, difficult if not impossible. In the rare instances dyspraxia is shown on TV the writers normally “solve’ the problem by having the character overcome their difficultly by the end of the episode. This implies the problem can be solved and is rather insulting to those of us who are dyspraxic. These situations are mockingly referred to as inspiration porn so I was glad that at the end of the first episode Ryan still wasn’t able to ride a bike and that in future episodes such as The Ghost Monument and Kerblam! he showed discomfort with tasks such as climbing a rope ladder and riding on a conveyor belt.

Although the decision to have a more diverse cast has been branded “BBC political correctness” by some, I liked the decision. I found it strange that of all the beings in the galaxy the Doctor chose to travel with young female humans. The programme has always been a soap box for the writers to criticise the modern world. Russel T Davies used the show to talk about same sex relationships during his reign, Moffat launched an attack on US president Donald Trump using the voice of the Twelfth Doctor and Chibnall is making a statement about sexism and equality through Whitaker’s Doctor and the companion Yasmin Khan. The fact that Yasmin is a) not white and b) a Muslim shouldn’t be an issue.

I’ve had two nit-picks about previous series that I’m glad to see were resolved by Chibnall. The first was that for a two thousand year old alien the Doctor really likes modern day London (modern being whenever the episode is set) however the new series was set in Sheffield which has previously been overshadowed in TV and film by larger cities such as London and Manchester.

My second issue had been that previous show runners tended to shy away from stories that involved lovecraftian horrors (The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit and The Rings of Akhaten being rare examples that prove the rule) so I’m glad to see that these were addressed, albeit it not always well in series eleven. I was glad to see that the episodes also varied in their locations on Earth rather than being tied to the UK.

Likewise I liked the new format of the series. I believe that the show should always change and evolve to suit the modern audience. This may sound blasphemous but if Russel T Davies was still the showrunner people would be arguing that the old format would be feeling stale. I don’t mind the fact that the episodes are single parters or that we no longer start the episode with a cold open, a scene before the opening credits. I thought that the flashes of guest stars at the end of The Woman Who Fell to Earth was exciting.

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Although there has been lots of negativity aimed at the new series (and it isn’t a perfect series by any means) I don’t think all of the negative criticism is justified.

People have complained that the show is no longer “British”.

The Doctor is an alien that travels anywhere and anywhere in all of time and space.  We’ve seen the Doctor have adventures on other planets, yet alone other countries. The only thing British about the show is that it is made in Britain and if you want to get technical about it, the show is mostly filmed in Wales.

People have complained it’s no longer kid friendly.

While Russel T Davies’ scripts were more family oriented (with the two offspring shows The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood being aimed for a younger and older audience respectively) even some of his scripts were accused of scaring away younger viewers. Tooth and Claw and Midnight are two notable examples with David Tennant’s final episode The End of Time Part Two being accused of traumatising children. Like Davis’ scripts, Chibnall has balanced the tone of the series with lighter episodes such as Kerblam! to darker episodes like It Takes You Away.

People complain that the TARDIS only travels in the past.

I first saw this complaint at the end of Kerblam! when the trailer for The Witchfinders was first broadcast. Before this point only two episodes out of eight (Rosa and Demons of the Punjab) had been set in the past. The complaint itself is moot. The TARDIS is a time machine. Of course the show will go back into the past! The Doctor has been doing that since An Unearthly Child!

The new sonic screwdriver looks like a dildo.

Interestingly the comments I saw of this came from overweight middle aged men.

The new Dalek design sucks.

While I also thought that the Dalek was too skinny and looked a bit… odd, this Dalek formed its outer shell from a scrapyard and it is a one off.

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As much as I will defend the series, it isn’t perfect.

I believe that the biggest issue with these series is the scripts. I had such high hopes for Chibnall. I’d loved his work in Broadchurch and his previous Doctor Who Episodes like 42and The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. I was a huge fan of Torchwood that according to Russel T Davies himself Chibnall run for the first two series of while Davis worked on Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures. To put it bluntly, the dialogue is crap. It’s as though Chibnall binged watched TV and thought that is how humans actually talked. The series itself started on a high. The first two episodes, The Woman Who Fell to Earth and The Ghost Monument were fantastic but the other episodes including the finale The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, were mediocre. They weren’t bad but they weren’t amazing. I wasn’t bored, watching Doctor Who should never feel like a chore but I wasn’t glued to the screen either. Some of Chibnall’s plot ideas such as exploding bubble wrap and sentient universe, an omnipotent being of unlimited power, taking the form of a talking frog are questionable to say the least.

Although I praised Ryan as the strongest companion there are flaws with others. Graham is at least interesting as he is the oldest companion I think, in human terms anyway, to board the TARDIS as a full time crew member and the dynamic between him and Ryan is fun to watch even if the dialogue lets them down. Yasmin Khan, however is incredibly underdeveloped. Although we saw moments of genus in her character in Arachnids in the UK and Demons of the Punjab she wasn’t given a lot of room to shine. At the moment she feels like a tag along, an extra face.

My final point, although perhaps this is more of a personal gripe, is that although we had a fantastic TARDIS interior reveal at the end of The Ghost Monument, we didn’t see much of the machine’s control room until Resolutions.

I think the biggest problem Doctor Who faced, which in turn resulted in viewer numbers declining, was the TV schedule. I’m not sure how this happened but instead of being broadcast on a Saturday evening during prime time TV, the series was shunted to Sunday evening. Maybe this was so the kids can talk about the show and act out their own scenes in the school playgrounds the next day while the episodes are fresh in their minds? Maybe it was something the BBC had no control over? I’m not sure why this decision was made but I hope it  will be reversed when the show returns in 2020.

 

There seems to be a pattern of fans creating backlashes against popular franchises in recent years, look no further than Justice League and Star Wars: The Last Jedi both released in 2017. I have no problem if somebody doesn’t like something like a film or TV programme in general. It’ll be a very boring world if we all liked the same thing. However I loathe when people claiming they are “true fans”, leave obnoxious comments and create fake outrage because they don’t like a certain show. Forgive the use of a cliché but they magnify every small fault and create a mountain out of a mole hill. If you don’t like something then don’t watch it. It’s that simple.

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Jodie and friends, I thought you were brilliant. I can’t wait to see where the TARDIS takes us in 2020.

I’ll award series 11 seven TARDIS’ out of ten.

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What did you think of Whittaker’s Doctor? Let me know in the comments below or on any of my social media and I’ll see you next time.

 

 

 

 

 

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