Image Credit: Gellinger (Pixabay)
Image Description: A Frog, a la It Takes You Away
A new series of Doctor Who is always a good excuse for the members of Oxford WhoSoc to start speculating. Series Ten had much for us to contemplate. What was in the vault? What would cause the Twelfth Doctor to regenerate? What would happen to Nardole and Bill? What could we expect from the Master and the Mondasian Cybermen? Series Eleven, in contrast, had no returning monsters to look forward to, and no series arcs; we knew this from the repeated statements of Chris Chibnall himself. The trailer was mostly just clips of Team TARDIS walking together in many different locations. Even the episode titles and synopses arrived only gradually by a process of dripfeeding, typically just a few weeks in advance. Eventually, I came to realise that, with so little information available, musing about the meanings of these titles, was the closest we could come to speculation this time round.
For me, despite the novel yet cheesy Sex Pistols pun, the title Arachnids in the UK suggested an uninteresting Hollywood B-movie, the prospect of which made my heart sink. More hopefully, the prospect of giant spiders recalled the giant maggots in The Green Death, and so I wondered if they too would be the by-product of pollution. Aliens and nefarious science experiments were also possibilities. I wanted to see what others would predict though, so I went to An Unearthly Chat (the in-society Facebook Messenger chat group – Eds.) to find out by making a poll “Arachnids are…” and adding some options. After the episode aired, we noticed that only I had vote for the most accurate “pollution” option so I was declared the “winner”.
The next poll was created three episodes later for The Witchfinders. Witches are a common feature in sci-fi and fantasy franchises. Like giant spiders, they had already occurred in Doctor Who, in this case as recently as Series Three’s The Shakespeare Code. Would they be evil aliens, as in that episode; misunderstood aliens, as in The Ambassadors of Death; or even humans with psychic powers, as in The Fires of Pompeii? If Rosa and Demons of the Punjab were a signal that historicals in this series would be gritty portraits of the worst of mankind’s past, perhaps all we’d see would be pointless cruelty of stronger humans towards weaker humans. For this reason, I included and selected a poll option that said that witches were “nonexistent,” but Bethan Hughes added her own option “clever would-be scientists and healers persecuted by the fearful,” In the end, this was the closest match to the truth. Of course, in retrospect, this fitted well with the prevalent theme of Series Eleven that humans are the real monsters.
Perhaps the most unexpected moment of speculation came the day before It Takes You Away, when the Instagram account of BBC America shared a photo with the remarkable instruction “Do not wait until Monday,” implying that the episode must be watched live. We wondered why this must be. The most popular option was that there would be “a massive cliffhanger” to introduce the finale; the subsequent excitement on social media would then spoil the event for those catching up later. In the end, Chibnall was true to his word about the episodes being self-contained. The second place option proved to be the most accurate: “an important development in the Doctor/Yaz/Graham/Ryan relationship,” This matched the moment when Ryan finally addressed Graham as Grandad. However, nobody foresaw that Grace would reappear. Perhaps more inventively, a couple of us had suggested the episode might have multiple endings, or an interactive element, like the Black Mirror episode Bandersnatch which was released by Netflix three weeks later.
Although Resolution was the episode that really closed the series, we still regarded The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos as the season finale. For this episode, we voted on whether there would be a returning villain. I, and a few others, were inclined to think there wouldn’t be, as there hadn’t been a series arc leading up to it. The majority disagreed, however, and Victoria Walker in particular, applying her experience as Series Eleven episode reviewer for the Tides blog, correctly predicted that it would be the Stenza.
For Resolution, the real series finale, the single word title was a noun so abstract that my poll options were exhaustive in order to catch every possibility. It could be a spaceship, a weapon, an alien species or “another object of some description”. The initial two letters ‘Re’ seemed to be a sly confirmation that, as some had suggested, the story had Daleks. Most people thought the title meant that the plot arc of the four friends travelling together would be resolved, either with a death or, more likely, an amicable parting. In the end, it was Ryan’s feud with his Dad that was resolved, and none of us saw that coming.
Although the predictions were mostly just for fun, they also give us the opportunity to judge how imaginative Chibnall and his writers were. Evidently, as we can plainly see, the return of the Stenza and the nature of the arachnids were predictable, but the second reappearance of Grace, and the eventual forgiveness of Ryan’s Dad, were not. Although I didn’t expect that our speculation would be in the form of five polls until it happened, it was fun to take part in them and I look forward to more polls for Series Twelve.