Science Fiction & Fantasy

My Thoughts on Jodie Whittaker’s First Season as The Doctor

Her first year is over already, except for the season special which will broadcast on New Year’s Day rather than Christmas Day. I’ve never been able to figure out whether the seasonal special is supposed to be a swansong for the last series (especially as the last three regenerations have taken place then) or an opener for the next season (for the same reason but as a lead in rather than a full stop). Either way, the first 10 episodes are now finished and here is my verdict.

Source: bbc.co.uk

The Doctor

My initial concern about her was that I’d never seen her do the daft and quirky role essential to playing The Doctor. But within a few minutes she’d slipped easily into that role and made it her own by the end of episode one. Her comment “Does it [being a woman] suit me? Because half an hour ago I was a grumpy silver haired Scotsman” (or words to that effect) put us on the right path. The mocking of “Tim Shaw” was perhaps the single moment that convinced me. I think we’ve yet to see the grumpy or haunted side of the Doctor. We need that, in my opinion. Let’s see her bad temper, please! I’m glad we have addressed The Doctor’s other flaws though: our favourite Timelord is a liar, a hypocrite, and sometimes the ends justify the means with deadly consequences.

I have no idea if Whittaker was a fan before, but she clearly understands the tradition of the character, it’s 50+ year history and she has shown willing to respect the basic character traits required. So far, good job!

The Companions

I have mixed feelings here. For me, Yazz started strong but showed several critical weaknesses. She is supposed to be a Police Officer, but does not display the presence of authority that we might expect. It’s perhaps not her fault, she’s sandwiched between two people with a much stronger connection and whose friction perhaps sometimes dominates the side stories. We met her family in Demons of the Punjab; that was her strongest episode.

Bradley Walsh as Graham is great. I liked him in Law & Order UK, although to me he will always be a comedy actor. I like Ryan, but neither character would be as strong without the other. It’s their relationship – its faults and its bonding – that makes them stronger. Graham was Ryan’s nan’s husband. She died in episode 1, pushing together two people in mourning at the death of the same person, but with no blood connection themselves. Ryan struggles to see Graham as his granddad while Graham desperately wants to maintain his only remaining link to his late wife. It’s an interesting dynamic.

The Stories

Many have been middle of the road. Few of the stories truly stand out for me with Kerblam! being easily the best. Doctor Who has always addressed political issues, and this has been no exception. Kerblam! took aim at both the soul-destroying nature of the modern workplace that treats people as a commodity, and anti-capitalist anarchists with no plan beyond causing damage and destruction and damn the consequences in one succinct story. The story of Rosa addressed racism and, of course, the problems that Doctor Who wants to avoid – changing history. There was a similar message at the heart of The Witchfinders where The Doctor breaks one of the character’s unbreakable vows – she changes history and unleashes a menace as discussed above.

The season finale was a bit of a damp squib. It lacked the sense of occasion, the epic scale of the Doctor. And that is basically my niggle about the whole series. It lacked scale. It’s not that the stories were small in scope – that’s been done before – it’s that there lacked ambition. There was also a lack of a running thread. There were no big enemies. It needed that grounding of the familiar. We may get that in the New Year Special which many media outlets are reporting will see the return of The Daleks. Sadly (and frustratingly) this will be The Doctor’s only outing in 2019.  They’re taking yet another year-long break.

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