Now that we have reached the halfway point of Doctor Who Series 11, the Blogtor Who team give their thoughts on the Series so far. Which episodes have been a hit? Have any been misses? How is the first female Doctor settling in? What about the Doctor’s new friends?
You can read more about the team behind Blogtor Who on our About us page.
So, here we are at the halfway point of Series 11! I’d be very surprised if any doubts about Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor still lingered at this point. From the very first moment she crash-landed on our screens, she’s proved herself to be a perfect blend of former Doctors, with the addition of her own unique spark. The Thirteenth Doctor carries through previous incarnations’ cleverness and wit, plus their fascination and wonder at the universe. However, this Doctor is refreshing in her ability to admit she doesn’t have all the answers, instead choosing to work alongside her companions to figure things out. I feel that having a team of companions has really strengthened this series, but it does mean that each of them have to fight for the spotlight to an extent. I can’t deny that I’ve loved seeing Graham and Ryan grow closer together episode by episode, but this has often been at the expense of Yaz. Despite this, the trio undeniably have far more depth to them than other companions have had in recent series, which is something I’m very glad of.
In terms of story, although it has slightly faltered in the middle, this series has seen some incredibly strong episodes. Unusually, the head writer has written (or at least co-written) every episode so far, meaning that we’ve now got a very good sense of Chris Chibnall’s writing style. My primary (but minor) gripe with Chibnall’s scripts is that they suffer from an excess of exposition much of the time. It’s clear that his focus is more on the characters and their relationships, rather than whatever threat they’re up against. This has meant that we’re lacking in compelling villains at this point in the series – none of them have been instant classics for me at least. But this greater focus on character has meant that we’ve been treated to some incredible performances from guest actors. Vinette Robinson’s outstanding portrayal of Rosa Parks (and by extension, ‘Rosa’ as an episode) is without a doubt the highlight of this series so far in my eyes.
As with any series of Doctor Who, Series 11 was never going to be perfect, but I feel it’s been relatively strong overall up to this point. This strength has only been supported by Segun Akinola’s magnificent score, the beautiful new TARDIS interior, and stunning cinematography and direction. I eagerly await the second half of this series, as we get to see where and when other writers take the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan, and Graham…
Five episodes into the series and I’m concerned. Series 11 has been reduced in size to ten episodes, the shortest series since the show returned in 2005. Any hope that a reduction in length would see an increase in quality seems dashed. Chris Chibnall has been sole writer on 4 out of the 5 episodes thus far and co-writer on the fifth. That co-write credit, ‘Rosa’, is without question the standout of the series thus far. Meticulously accurate to real history and generating an uncomfortable environment for viewers. It was Doctor Who at it’s very best. But even that story was flawed with what proves to be a handicap for the entire run thus far, no decent or convincingly threatening villain.
Currently this series is crying out for the Daleks or Cybermen. An established monster that is a threatening menace. So far we’ve had Tim Shaw, who was immediately mocked and only memorable for teeth on his face. Next we had snipers who couldn’t shoot a target feet away and some floaty bandages. More recently we’ve had oversized CGI spiders that were distractingly unconvincing and the laughably nonthreatening Pting. Perhaps the most effective was the white supremacist from the future who lacked any other form of motivation. This is not the monster era of the late Sixties!
This series has yet to catch fire for me. When there are moments that allude to a fresh direction, The Doctor being without the TARDIS and her friends unable to get home, it is quickly undone. Instead, there is a return to what was established in 2005. A trip into the universe. A trip to Earth’s past. A trip back home to check in with the family. My hopes of a new and fresh direction for the show have been utterly scuppered. The cast of characters are appealing and enjoyable but there is simply too many of them. For too many episodes we’ve clamoured to see more of Yaz. Up against the hugely impressive Bradley Walsh, even Jodie Whittaker is failing to stand out. They work well together as Team TARDIS but there is simply not enough space for each of them to thrive during an episode.
Whilst I am enjoying the Thirteenth Doctor, I feel that Whittaker is still finding her character. Her energy is fantastic, although the way she points her sonic screwdriver is overly elaborate. But so far I am not seeing a unique incarnation, only a generic Doctor. Quirky and intelligent but lacking a hint of the alien. She just needs a big moment. Matt Smith’s, “Hello. I’m the Doctor.” or the “I am talking!” Stonehenge speech. We came close with her speech about anti-matter in ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum‘.
Overall, the first half of Series 11 has been a set of largely average Doctor Who, with ‘Rosa‘ being the positive exception and ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum‘ the crushing disappointment. Enjoyable but not extraordinary. Hopefully the concluding second half of the series will have an equivalent to ‘World Enough and Time’. Something truly outstanding that cements Jodie Whittaker as not just the Doctor but the Thirteenth Doctor.
What’s interesting to me about Series 11 is how much of a reset its been. In a way, it’s as if the past ten seasons never happened. You could quite comfortably move directly from 1989’s Survival to The Woman Who Fell to Earth. (Come to think of it, watched that way even the ‘white haired Scotsman’ line would just suggest the Seventh Doctor having quite a long off-screen tenure). In a way that was inevitable as the themes and storylines of the previous decade had probably run their course. Despite repeated attempts to move away from it, particularly under Steven Moffat, the show always moved back to the Doctor as a man tortured by doubt over his actions in the Time War.
The clean break this season has instead given us a Doctor who feels completely unburdened by history. And, if she occasionally seems to doubt her own abilities, has no introspective self-doubt about her morality. In Whittaker’s spark and charismatic energy we have a Doctor who seems to genuinely love her travelling life.
This strategy of going back to the original template and evolving it for the 21st century all over again has meant a return of some long lost bits of the Doctor Who formula. Whittaker’s Doctor really does feel like ‘just a traveller’ who wanders through and gets stuck in where she has to. Likewise the dread of being cut off from the TARDIS is again a recurring plot point as in the past. In Rosa we got a historical with only the very faintest hint of ‘pseudo’ about it. Under Chibnall, Doctor Who’s old school educational remit is back in force. Even sci-fi episodes like ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’ include a lesson on the science fact of anti-matter.
All this reinvention isn’t completely without a downside though. Five episodes in, we’re halfway through the season. Yet it feels like the show is still establishing the baseline on which to build, or twist into new shapes. Back in 2005 Russell T Davies grabbed the audience by the throat with the single line “I fought in the war! I couldn’t save your planet! I couldn’t save any of them!” and, aided by Christopher Eccleston’s intense and damaged performance, created a compelling mystery about just what had befallen the Doctor since we last saw him, an arc that would still be propelling the show in 2016’s Hell Bent.
In 2018, as good as most of the individual episodes have been, it would be hard for anyone to argue that the ‘Timeless Child’ and the vague threat of the T’Senza’s return can match it. This has been a solid, high quality start of the Chibnall/Whittaker era. But what we need now is this era’s equivalent of ‘Dalek’.
Series 11 crashed onto our screens (and through a train roof) just over a month ago and so far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the majority of it. We’ve had a variety of story types and settings; from contemporary alien-on-earth adventures, to historicals, to pure sci-fi. The first episode started strongly and set out Chibnall’s main MO of very real and grounded character writing, brilliantly executed by the actors, especially (and surprisingly) by Bradley Walsh. My high point of the series so far has been ‘Rosa‘. A fantastic episode with great writing, an intriguing plot and some great emotional beats. The low point of the series so far for me was ‘Arachnids in the UK’ which suffered from some dodgy side character writing and pacing issues including a massive anti-climax of an ending.
I’ve enjoyed Jodie’s Doctor over this run of episodes. She is certainly a very fine Doctor, but she hasn’t yet had a stand-out moment, something to really wow me. She’s good, but she’s not topping my “Best Doctor” rankings yet. I’ve also enjoyed having three companions along for the ride but do feel a bit like Yaz has pulled the short strew in character development stakes so far. Both Graham and Ryan have had some meaty stuff with the death of Grace and their developing family bond. Yaz hasn’t had anything comparable. All three actors have done a great job with what they have been given though. And I hope at least two of them stay on for series 12.
If anything could be said to have been consistently at top quality through the first 5 episodes it has been the music. Segun Akinola has done a great job refreshing the sound of the programme with a haunting new arrangement of the theme and some brilliant atmospheric incidental music.
It was a strong start to the new series that dipped a bit in quality over the last few episodes. But every series has a few of those so It doesn’t worry me over all. And it’ll be exciting to see what the rest of the series, with a whole host of episode that are not written by Chibnall, brings.
I’m sorry but I feel Rose tinted glasses must be mandatory in your office. Much as I had high hopes and an open mind going into this series I am now wondering if this series can be saved. It’s been utterly boring, stories lack purpose and too much ensemble making the Doctor feel weak. My daughter who has loved Doctor Who since it retuned was enthused by the casting of Jodie Whittaker until last week when she sighed towards the end and said it was getting worse and preachy…. Is this the beginning of the end?