Doctor and Companions

Suzanne says … let’s review Series 11

In a few years time, when we look back at series 11, we will remember that it wasn’t just any other Doctor Who series, but that it had quite a strong sociological impact on the fanbase. This is the reason why I wished to write a different kind of review for Series 11, one that would include the most significant aspects of the show both on screen and off-screen, with some opinions gathered from fans.

When Chris Chibnall took over from Steven Moffat, he promised us some big changes for Doctor Who, and he delivered.

His first obvious change was to cast a female actor to play the Doctor, and that had a lot of fans cringe (including me). Being a woman myself, I just don’t understand why iconic characters have to change gender, and why this is considered a step towards equality between man and woman. Turning Hulk, Watson or Higgins into women isn’t an improvement. There is a medical name for this: it’s called transsexuality. A real improvement would be to create an original female character who would become as iconic as the Doctor is.

This was the first wave that hit the community, and many efforts were made to justify that choice, or to neutralize its effects. “The notion of gender doesn’t exist for an alien such as the Doctor” was a sentence I read quite a few times, and yet even the official teaser managed to contradict this statement by using the glass roof breaking symbol.

However, we all have to admit that it was a bold move from Chibnall, and that he will be most certainly remembered for it. Let’s also not forget that change can sometimes be for the best, and that we should always keep an open mind about it (something I wrote about in an earlier article, here).

New showrunner willing to make drastic changes equals new Doctor, new companions, new monsters, new writing team, new TARDIS interior, new composer, new airing slot… and I probably forgot a few other changes!

Everybody was excited to see what Series 11 would be like. We were eager to see that newly regenerated Doctor in action, we wanted to see what had become of the TARDIS. The excitement temporarily quieted down angry voices and heated arguments that had spread over social medias.

The Woman Who Fell To Earth

But after The Woman who fell to Earth was aired, those voices grew stronger; those who loved the episode against those who disliked it. It felt a little like Classic Who versus New Who all over again, and an ugly face of the Doctor Who fanbase was revealed to the world. Suddenly, having an opinion became unpopular, and social medias became a war zone, where factions fought each other, not really caring for collateral damage. The whole fanbase was shaking, and Series 11 did nothing to help fans build a UNITy again.

It was clear from the first episode that Chibnall was aiming at gaining a new audience, and I truly believe that he succeeded, because Series 11 is really different.

As Neil, a Doctor Who fan points out on Twitter:

Series 11 feels like a return to the Tennant era of sorts.
A more family focused tone, that everyone can get something from. There’s a wonderful emotional heft with the companions, and rather than a big grand series as arc, seems to be the focus of the series. I love it.

After years of intricate stories arcs, psychological twists, we get a fresh show, with a set of one-shot stories (almost), allowing us to get properly acquainted with the Doctor and her companions. Or did we?

While a lot of fans stand with Jodie Whittaker, their main complain lies in the poor writing quality.

Legeon Henderson, another fan, says:

For me the biggest issue with S11 is a huge missed opportunity. I’ve always been against a female Dr, but it’s happened and that’s that. However, for me, JW’s Doctor could have been so much more if only the writers had found a new and not copied characterization. NOT JW’s fault!

Seemant K has a similar opinion:

#JodieWhittaker is amazing as the Doctor. The storylines, plots, dialog are all blah so far (sorry Chibbers)

It’s quite interesting to see how fans would protect the Doctor (and the actress) impersonating him, when Jodie Whittaker’s acting is part of the problem. My biggest issue with her characterization is that she desperately tries to impersonate Tennant’s and Smith’s Doctors. What’s the big deal about that you might ask? The Doctor is now a woman trying to mimic male versions of the Doctor! See where I’m getting at here? What is the point in being a woman if you try your best acting like a man?

At this point, I must admit that I like Krystal Moore’s version of the Doctor much better in the fan made Doctor Who Velocity. Her Doctor feels genuine, with a proper continuity and respect to Doctor Who previous eras.

The team behind Doctor Who Velocity also shared an opinion on Series 11:

Incredible cast, great art, & sloppy scripts trying to give everyone what they want (except Rosa, Punjab, Kerblam). Invest less on marketing & more on a writer’s table that has a cohesive vision for the story.

Marketing and communication have played an important part in Series 11. While Chibnall has been very secretive about every aspect of the series, Doctor Who has never been so advertised and merchandised, which in turn contributes to making Doctor Who even more popular.

doctor who it takes you away review graham

Speaking of popularity, one companion stole the show, and became unanimously well loved by fans: Graham O’Brien. Until now, I haven’t found or read a negative review about Bradley Walsh’s portrayal of Graham, which isn’t very surprising, considering he is the best written character. Sadly, this only contributes to illustrating how poorly written the other companions are. Apart from following the Doctor’s orders, Yaz is pretty non-existent, while Ryan still has a few good scenes, but not enough to justify the presence of three companions. In fact, many jump cuts actually prove that three companions are too many.

In The Tsuranga Conundrum, Yaz, Ryan and Graham simply seem to vanish while the Doctor walks around the ship, and the audience has no clue as to what they did or where they were. In The Witchfinders, Yaz was supposedly the last one to enter inside the TARDIS as the team is about to leave, but she simply disappears from the screen instead!

Luckily, we still have the graphic arts to comfort us with, with one exception: the new TARDIS interior, that simply looks like a dead spider (maybe it was meant as a tribute to Arachnids in the UK where the Doctor makes inexplicable choices that are off character). Apart from the TARDIS (and the fact that the vortex makes me feel sea sick), visual effects are spectacular and this is one aspect of the show Chris Chibnall got right.

doctor who ghost monument

Still, this new era feels like a huge disappointment for me. I had higher expectations and while I kept an open mind throughout Series 11, my hopes went down as the episodes went by. In fact, I even surprised myself hoping that the Doctor would regenerate every time she found herself in harm’s way, thinking: “ok, they tried to change everything, but it clearly didn’t work. Can we get something a bit more Doctor Who-ish now?”

Also, while I like the occasional reference to social issues, I don’t watch a show to be reminded of what happens in the real world. It’s quite the contrary in fact. I want to take my mind off reality when I watch science fiction. Chibnall stated that he wants to tackle social issues, but I don’t like the idea that he is going to use Doctor Who as a tool to raise awareness.

the doctor falls

While I refuse to consider Series 10 as the finale Doctor Who season, like some fans did, I’m saddened by the path the show is now taking. As I re-watched The Doctor Falls the other night, I found myself crying even more than the eight previous times I watched that episode, simply because I realised that we didn’t have a single mind-blowing episode during Series 11. We got bits of great scenes, and some good ideas that were partially exploited, leaving us with the feeling that we could have got more. It’s very frustrating, because it largely contributes to the disappointment I’m feeling right now.

I honestly believe that a one-year gap is not a bad thing after all. We all need to recover from Series 11 and from the storm the fanbase went through. But most importantly, we need to reconnect with our fellow fans, and become this caring community where tolerance wasn’t an empty word.