Spitfire Review: The Thirteenth Doctor’s Era

Spitfire Review: The Thirteenth Doctor’s Era

I had such high hopes for the Thirteenth Doctor’s era. Back in 2017 everything looked promising. The chequered showrunner Steven Moffat was leaving, Jodie Whittaker, a fantastic actress that I admired, was cast as the Time Lord and previous Doctor Who and Torchwood writer Chris Chibnall was taking control of the programme. It had so many things going for it, I was ready to fall back in love with Doctor Who.

But if I had to describe the Thirteenth Doctor’s era in one word it would be… disappointing. I’m not saying that the past three series have been complete disasters but the few positives there have been are outweighed by the sheer number of criticisms the show has faced. Today I’m going to be performing an autopsy, as it were, over the past three series reviewing what worked well, what didn’t and perhaps more importantly, why.

Be warned: The following contains spoilers for Doctor Who: Series Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen.

The Good

I have always defended the acting of the main cast of Doctor Who and I will continue to do so. Although many have accused the Thirteenth Doctor of being bland, beige and a ‘blank slate’ (to be fair some of those points may be accurate in series eleven) I found Jodie’s Doctor more optimistic and joyful than her predecessors. It’s a refreshing take on the character compared to the previous grittier incarnations. That isn’t to say that Jodie’s Doctor lacked a depth. In series twelve and thirteen Jodie was given darker material to work from and as a result her Doctor began to feel more well-rounded rather than a Mary Sue with one character trait.

The acting of the Thirteenth Doctor’s companions has also been brilliant. I liked how the relationship between Ryan and Graham progressed from distrust to a partnership as alien hunters. Although Yaz was the most underdeveloped companion in series eleven, from series twelve onwards she became a mini-Doctor in her own right, acting like the Doctor during The Doctor’s absence. The original trio of companions served as the avatar for the audience around the globe, Ryan represented the underprivileged, Yaz stood for the strong female leader and Graham served as the surrogate for older viewers.

It is also worth noting that the current cast (with the exception of a teenage Chris Chibnall) have steered clear of negative press and are generally brilliant people. Although you could argue that this is to be expected of people in the public eye, in light of John Barrowman’s on set antics (if you don’t know what they are I’ll let you Google them) my view of the Davies era has soured somewhat. I’m glad to see that this stain will not affect Jodie’s run. As stated above, Jodie’s Doctor is more family friendly that previous incarnations and more intractable (more on that in a moment). During the Covid-19 pandemic Jodie Whittaker filmed the following video on her personal mobile in her bedroom wardrobe. It was later posted on all of the BBC’s social media platforms.

She made the video, without prompting, just to assure scared children that everything was going to be alright. With that video she won my heart.

Although the BBC have always used the character of the Doctor outside of the medium of the TV industry, the Thirteenth Doctor has been more intractable than previous incarnations. During the marketing for Flux, fans were given the Doctor’s phone number to report alien sightings at train stations across the UK. Jodie also appeared in character at children’s hospitals and left fans personal voicemail and video messages.

I love the fact that Chibnall addressed one of the main criticisms of the show during his tenor as show runner. To quote Amy from The Big Bang Theory:

For someone who has a machine that can travel anywhere in time and space The Doctor does have a thing for modern day London.

Since its revival in 2005, Doctor Who has been very London centric with a majority of the modern day stories taking place within the capital. Although Moffat addressed this to some degree by allowing Peter Capaldi to keep his Scottish accent and having the TARDIS visit Scotland on several occasions, I am glad to see Chibnall moved the modern day setting from London to Sheffield, a city that has been continuously overshadowed in the TV climate. Likewise, I was pleased with the decision to take the TARDIS crew to locations previous show runners have not tread such as India and America’s Deep South. People complained that visiting such locations makes the show less British but if you have a magic box that can take you anywhere and anywhen why would you choose to limit yourself?

I believe that the best episode of Whittaker’s era was her first, The Women Who Fell to Earth. Writing a regeneration story is always difficult as there is a lot of tick boxes to fill in a fifty minute time slot. The writer must tackle introducing the new Doctor, who will be behaving erratically for at least part of the episode, a new TARDIS, a new screwdriver and in some instances new companions. Chibnall broke the social norm by delaying the introduction of the TARDIS until the following episode and focusing on the three companions rather than the Doctor. This is a very bold move and for the most part it worked well. Funnily enough I think Whittaker’s second best episode was, The Ghost Monument in which we finally discover the new TARDIS. Rosa was perfectly acceptable but the rest of the first series consisted of sub-par stories with no connecting plot. Credit should be given to Spyfall, Fugitive of the Judoon and Ascension of the Cybermen. As Chibnall, like Davies and Moffat before him, was brought up on classic Doctor Who he placed several references to this in his episodes and although I am by no means an expert on classic Who, I can appreciate the effort.

The Bad

There’s quite a lot of bad, isn’t there?

Although I praised the acting of the cast I think, like the Twelfth Doctor before her, Jodie was let down by poor scripts. You can read the scripts for series eleven, twelve and thirteen alongside a cluster of other Doctor Who scripts, on the BBC’s Writer’s Room website which you can access by clicking here. They are a perfect example of how to write and how not to write Doctor Who. Although the concept and ideas behind some of the episodes are sound, my main issue is the poor dialogue. Although the role of companion has always been to ask questions it did seem that that was all Yas, Graham, Ryan and Dan did in their first respective series. The cast spoke like AI robots pretending to be humans. What infuriates me is that I don’t understand how this problem happened. Although half the episodes were written by individual writers Chibnall would have had the final edits on all scripts. In his previous writings (Broadchurch or the Eleventh Doctor’s The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood) the dialogue was fine.

Another criticism aimed at the show is accusations that the BBC have been pandering to public pressure and making the show ‘woke.’ To be woke means to be alert to injustice in society, especially racism and in its worse incarnation being politically correct. While I don’t think that Doctor Who is particularly woke (there are far more woke shows out there and is to be woke even a bad thing?) I think it is guilty of ticking boxes. As stated above each companion was created to appeal to a different demographic. The Thirteenth Doctor’s original TARDIS crew had one white female, one black female, one black male and one white male. When a homoaromatic character appeared their sexuality is often the first thing announced about them. Case in point, Richard the security guard from Resolution had twenty five seconds of screen time and says the following:

Today, just me. Most secure digits in Yorkshire. That’s what I tell my boyfriend, anyway. I probably shouldn’t be telling you that, I’m new at this.”

While I have no issues with characters of different sexual orientations appearing on main stream shows (I always believe in more diversity) I don’t think that it should be their only character trait. Davies, and to a lesser extent Moffat, wrote several well developed non straight characters into their episodes whose sexual orientation is a part of them, not their defining characteristic.

While we’re talking about the LGBTQ+ community let us discuss the relationship between Yas and The Thirteenth Doctor. Since the programme’s revival in 2005 it has showed a broad spectrums of different sexualities. For example, Captain Jack Harkness and River Song are confirmed omnisexuals while Bill Potts, companion of the Twelfth Doctor was lesbian while The Doctor themselves are often described as Asexual. While the classic series stayed away from romance (To quote Sixth Doctor actor Colin Baker there is “No hanky-panky in the TARDIS”) the reboot has been accused of promoting the gay agenda. While I think the gay agenda remark is ridiculous I don’t support the relationship between Yas and the Thirteenth Doctor. While I’m completely fine with the idea of a same sex relationship within the TARDIS (imagine the power that relationship would have on a flagship BBC programme) I simply think that Yas’ admittance of her feelings came too late to have any real impact. Yas admits her romantic feelings for The Doctor three episodes before the end of the Thirteenth’s Doctors run. If Yas had showed hints of these feelings when she was first introduced and have this relationship hinted at throughout the three series I would be more open to the idea. To put it simply, too little too late.

Although I’m not a fan of his writing on the show I would describe Chibnall as a bold writer. He takes big ideas and he runs with it. As I stated above he wrote a non-traditional regeneration story and it came together really well. Sadly, Chibnall’s other ideas were not as great. Although I can understand his reasoning to remove all known monsters from series eleven and striping away a connecting plot thread in order to attract fresh viewers, this only served to alienate (pun intended) older fans. Introducing a previously unknown incarnation of The Doctor (similar to how Moffat introduced the War Doctor) was a bold move and was intriguing until we receive a lame answer… I don’t like the Timeless Child twist (the fact that there have been an infinite number of forgotten regenerations before the First Doctor) as it retcons too much previously established Doctor Who lore. It robs the urgency from The Day of the Doctor as instead of Thirteen Doctors saving Gallifrey there should have been hundreds, if not thousands. It undercuts the heroic sacrifice of the Eleventh Doctor in his final episode The Time of the Doctor and it makes the character of The Doctor a god. It is likely, due to the backlash this plot point received, that is will be retconned or forgotten but it is damaging none the less.

13. Unlucky for some

For better or worse Jodie Whittaker’s time in the TARDIS has come to an end. In conclusion, although the Thirteenth Doctor had the potential to be phenomenal she was dragged down by poor scripts and as a result became mediocre. Frustratingly, I think she will become lost in the shadow or previous and future Doctors. I’ll remember her as will her legions of dedicated fans.

Now my thoughts (and the rest of the nation’s) turn to the 60th anniversary special.

And of course, our thoughts turn to the 14th Doctor

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