|Posted by SonicR on October 26, 2018 at 3:30 AM|
The beginning of a new era of Doctor Who is always somewhat of an exercise in trepidation. Having grown accustomed to the previous status quo, with a well-established Doctor and a well-established showrunner, change can be difficult to handle. But as Doctor Who has shown over its almost 55 years, change is an essential component of the programme, and is the reason it is still around today. The big question, then, is whether the show has changed too much for its good? Only time will tell. But for now, three episodes into Series 11, it is clear that the show has changed considerably.
The most noticeable change is, of course, the fact that the Doctor is now female. The idea first teased in the 1980s, then spoofed in the 90s, has finally become a reality. I was not particularly excited by the announcement last year, and had still not completely warmed to the idea by the time Series 11 was due to air. Three episodes in, and I’m still not convinced it was a good move, or at the very least, that Jodie Whittaker was the right pick for the role. She’s certainly a talented actress in other roles, but her Doctor simply feels very forced, like she’s playing someone playing the Doctor, rather than just playing the Doctor. ‘She’s trying too hard’ would be a good summary of how I feel; I get the impression that her Doctor is meant to be eccentric in a vein similar to David Tennant or Matt Smith, but she can’t pull it off. Eccentricity is something that came very naturally to Tennant and Smith, but Whittaker is struggling, and it shows. To be fair to her, though, she’s not helped by the writing.
Both of the previous showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat, had a background in writing comedies before they wrote for Doctor Who, and that resulted in sharp, witty dialogue that conveyed a lot of information in as little time as possible. Chris Chibnall, on the other hand, excels in character dramas, and has become very clear in the two episodes that he’s written by himself so far, dialogue is not his strong point. It’s often clunky and awkward at best, and downright cringe-inducing at worst (“Biology!”;), adhering very closely to a format of question, exposition, question exposition. This is great for letting the audience know what’s going on, but it gives the episode a very stilted pace.
A final observation of the first three episodes is that Doctor Who still has yet to solve its tendency to lack good villains and monsters. This is somewhat understandable in The Woman Who Fell To Earth, which has to introduce both a new Doctor and the new companions. For The Ghost Monument and Rosa, on the other hand, their absence goes a long way to highlight how much better those episodes could have been had the antagonists been decent. In both, they feel like an afterthought, tacked on out of obligation, with no real intent to develop or explore them in any way.
Needless to say, my initial impression of Series 11 have been distinctly negative. While not terrible television – there are far worse shows out there – they are all reminders of how much better Doctor Who can be when it tries. All I can do now is hope that the remaining seven episodes are all marked improvements.
The Woman Who Fell To Earth
A largely unimpressive story that was the weakest introduction of a new Doctor since the show returned in 2005. As expected, how the Doctor survived a fall from a height many times the height of the one that triggered his fourth regeneration is completely brushed aside in favour of rapidly advancing the plot. The new companions are quite well-developed, with Bradley Walsh’s Graham being the standout. The Stenza, T’zim-Sha, had an effective design, but failed to do anything to establish him as a serious threat, and was removed from the episode quite cleanly and quickly. By far the highlight of the episode was the funeral scene at the end, which explored emotionally mature themes in a way that Doctor Who has rarely done before.
The Ghost Monument
The idea that the TARDIS was the ‘ghost monument’, a monolith that appeared every 1000 solar cycles on a planet before disappearing again was a fantastic one. Unfortunately, the episode failed to explore it in any meaningful fashion, instead choosing to focus on two characters completing a race, with the Doctor and companions tagging along in an effort to get off the planet. Numerous, more interesting plot elements are mentioned and ignored, with random robots and flying pieces of cloth showing up, doing nothing, before being defeated – all within the space of 3 minutes of their initial appearances. Finally, to cap the whole thing off, the two participants in the race decide to agree to tie for a win, and we get what is possibly the worst TARDIS interior since the 2005 ‘coral’ one. The cinematography, too is bizarre, with wide, gorgeous shots showing the South African countryside only gracing us at the end, after 45 minutes of close-ups.
Doctor Who has never shied away from dealing with contentious issues, and nor should it. The result is the best episode of the series so far – though admittedly that isn’t saying much. Rosa addresses issues of racism in a mature, realistic way, and the episode is all the better for it. However, its villain is weakly developed, and given no motivation beyond being a racist ‘just because’. He created obstacles for the protagonists, and once that job was complete, was removed from the plot in an extremely underwhelming way. The less said about the pop song at the end, the better. Graham is still the most interesting of the companions, but Yas is criminally underdeveloped, a major blunder that will hopefully be corrected in the very near future. The dialogue showed a marked improvement on the previous two episodes as well, no doubt due to the co-writing credit of Malorie Blackman.