In July 2017, it was announced that Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor would be regenerating into a woman, played by Jodie Whittaker. At the time, I wrote a blog post expressing my concerns about changing the gender of a character who has always been male, wondering whether this had only been done for the sake of diversity, and whether the character would feel too different as a result.
As for Chris Chibnall taking over from Steven Moffat as showrunner, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, for all the great episodes that Moffat had produced in the past, he had definitely outstayed his welcome by Series 10 and I was sick to death of the devices he kept using. On the other, the episodes that Chibnall had previously written for Doctor Who had been generally mediocre – easily the best had been Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and it’s hard for any writer to go wrong with a title like that.
But Series 11 is now behind us, and I can personally say that I enjoyed it very much, especially compared to the massive disappointment that was Series 10.
In terms of overall quality, Series 11 was much more consistent than the typical Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat-helmed series. Of the ten episodes, I gave seven a score of either 7 or 8, and the lowest score that any episode got was 6. In other words, there wasn’t much that was truly spectacular, but there were no bad episodes either.
It was also surprisingly reserved by Doctor Who standards: there wasn’t much in the way of grand spectacle, and episodes generally felt relatively grounded and gritty; even the necessary sci-fi elements weren’t too flashy. Comedic moments were limited; I admit that I would have liked a bit more fun sometimes. But I was happy to see Chibnall experiment with a new approach as long as the stories were entertaining and the overall concept of Doctor Who wasn’t thrown out of the window, which they were and it wasn’t: we still got the usual ingredients of aliens, monsters, and a variety of adventures through space and time. Meanwhile, after the Davies and Moffat eras, it actually felt like a pleasant change to have each story standing on its own without a series-long arc to keep thinking about (aside from the opening and closing episodes having the same villain, and possibly the ‘Timeless Child’ reference in The Ghost Monument which was never brought up again).
A common complaint about this series was that it was too politically correct and preachy. The historical episodes – Rosa, Demons of the Punjab and The Witchfinders – all had a strong theme of prejudice. The villain of Arachnids in the UK is clearly supposed to mirror Donald Trump. And the New Year’s special all but stated that UNIT’s activities had been suspended due to Brexit. Some of these were a little too on-the-nose and I can understand why people might be irritated. But honestly, the stories didn’t tend to suffer from any preaching, and I felt that some of the anti-division messages really couldn’t do any harm for today’s audience. The aforementioned historical episodes were among the most compelling of the season, with any alien presence tending to be less interesting or important than the exploration of the people involved; for Series 12, I wouldn’t mind seeing a historical adventure or two in the First Doctor style, featuring no aliens at all.
The Thirteenth Doctor
For all my pre-series concerns about the Thirteenth Doctor, I was delighted to find that Jodie Whittaker nailed it from the word go. The Doctor does still feel like the character we know, with the same wisdom, the same motivations and mostly the same moral code. But of course, every incarnation of the Doctor has their own unique traits as well; Thirteen, especially when compared to Twelve, is essentially a friendly neighbourhood Doctor. She’s cheerful; she’s energetic; she’s generally mindful of other people’s feelings; she has no difficulty expressing compassion and feelings of the heart; and aside from the occasional selfish lapse, she is a pure hero (or heroine, rather). I found it very easy to warm to Thirteen, and I hope that Whittaker gets the chance to keep up with the average tenure length and stay in the role for at least another two seasons.
Graham, Ryan and Yasmin
The Thirteenth Doctor’s three companions – Team TARDIS, as they were officially labelled – were good, but could have been better. Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill all gave terrific performances; Walsh was the standout, maybe because he’s older and more experienced, or maybe because he was given more challenging emotional scenes. The characters themselves were a likeable, competent bunch, and some of the character development they experienced (i.e. Graham and Ryan’s relationship) was good. But there were still some problems.
As characters, Graham, Ryan and Yasmin rather felt like the series as a whole: there was nothing bad about them, but neither has there been much so far to make them truly memorable in the pantheon of Doctor Who companions. Maybe it’s because there are three of them and despite my initial hopes to the contrary, sometimes it’s hard for everybody to get enough screentime to shine in. And out of the three, it’s Yasmin who suffers the most in this regard. From the beginning, she feels like the odd one out in the trio, given that Graham and Ryan have a family connection and Yasmin is just an acquaintance; if any member of the team is left without enough to do, it’s usually her; and despite two episodes focussing on her and her family, she hasn’t had as much clear character development – her feeling that she wasn’t able to exercise her full potential at her job hasn’t really gone anywhere, for example. Team TARDIS may also suffer a little from having an interchangeable dynamic; the characters work well together, but nobody really has a clearly specialised role. Hopefully some of these issues will be addressed in Series 12, now that Series 11 has done the job of properly introducing the team.
Best and Worst Episodes
01. The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (9/10)
02. Demons of the Punjab (8/10)
03. Rosa (8/10)
04. The Tsuranga Conundrum (8/10)
05. Arachnids in the UK (8/10)
06. The Witchfinders (7/10)
07. The Ghost Monument (7/10)
08. The Woman Who Fell To Earth (7/10)
09. Kerblam! (6/10)
10. It Takes You Away (6/10)
Best episode: As I’ve already said, this wasn’t a season for grand spectacle, and The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos was more low-key than the typical Doctor Who series finale, particularly in the absence of a series-long arc. But it was still a consistently enjoyable adventure with high stakes, excellent usage of the characters, and a proper feel of bringing the season to a close – an excellent all-rounder. It’s a close race with Demons of the Punjab, though, and I have a feeling I might change my mind later on, but this is where I’m at right now.
Worst episode: There were no bad episodes this series, just a couple of relatively slow ones. It was a hard choice between Kerblam! and It Takes You Away, but ultimately Kerblam! had a much better ending, while It Takes You Away’s emotional payoff suffered from being too predictable.
How This Series Compares
Incredibly, judging purely on my average episode score, Series 11 comes in above Series 4 in my ranking.
Series 9 – 7.6
Series 11 – 7.4
Series 4 – 7.1
Series 1 – 7.0
Series 5 – 7.0
Series 8 – 6.9
Series 6 – 6.8
Series 3 – 6.5
Series 7 – 6.5
Series 2 – 6.3
Series 10 – 6.3
Like Series 11, Series 4 had no bad episodes in my opinion (not counting some of the specials that marked the end of David Tennant’s tenure the following year); however, it also had 13 episodes as opposed to 10, which impacts the significance of the mean average, so the comparison is a little uneven. If I were to follow my heart rather than episode scores, I would still say that I liked Series 4 better. Still, that doesn’t change my opinion that Series 11 was a fine series, and I would be feeling optimistic about Series 12 if not for the fact that it’s more than a year away, which makes me worry about how much faith the BBC continues to have in Doctor Who.