Team, gang, fam? WhoSoc Reviews Series 11

13-11-replacement

Image Credit: Matthew Kilburn

Image Description: Jodie Whittaker

By Francis Stojsavljevic

After each episode of Series 11 aired, WhoSoc’s faithful 2018/19 publicity officer (your humble author) ran a poll through  the society’s email newsletter to find out what this body of Oxford Doctor Who fans thought. Opinions varied wildly on every episode, with marks out of ten and one-line reviews pointing me to the beautiful and life-affirming conclusion that everyone is entitled to experience Doctor Who differently.

But I’m here to change all that. I’m of the opinion that there is one objective audience view of each episode, and I’ve made it my mission to find out what it is. I have pieced together every one-line review I received from our dedicated poll-users and have strung them together into one truly objective review for each episode. I’ve contributed very little to each review, just a connecting word here and a bit of rearranging there. It’s worth bearing in mind that people tend to feel more moved to write a one-line review (it was optional) if they have a bone to pick with the episode.

The experience of reading these reconstituted reviews can be best described as like scrolling through Twitter really fast straight after each episode airs. There’s a mish-mash of positives and negatives, and most criticism centres on one specific scene or image (I’m all for the talking frog, just so you know). With that in mind, here’s what the Oxford Doctor Who Society thought of Series Eleven…

  1. The Woman Who Fell to Earth (7.61)

The Doctor is back for the best series opening episode since The Eleventh Hour and the best new Doctor introduction of New Who. The speeches get to be a little much, there are some duff lines, and it’s slow to start but it’s what Doctor Who has been waiting for! Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor was worth the wait, and there are many moments in which she gets the character of the Doctor just right. Love the falling into the train and the big jump at the end. Note to self: Don’t throw salad at aliens. Tim Shaw!

  1. The Ghost Monument (6.89)

It had an interesting plot. Poorly paced, full of exposition, nonsensical plot points, and not too dissimilar to the Hartnell era. There wasn’t a mystery to be solved nor any kind of plot twist, and they could have waited another episode before re-implicating the first villain. Destined to be remembered only for the opening titles and the TARDIS at the end. Great performance from Art Malik.

  1. Rosa (8.52)

A proper historical again at long last – successfully observing (and not changing) a rather relevant bit of modern history. It was an outstanding triumph: I got teary at the climax even on the third time of watching. While clunky, Rosa is incredibly powerful – no episode of Doctor Who has made me feel like that. The bus scene was spine-tingling. They thankfully pulled no punches on the reality of the time and made good use of all members of the ensemble cast. A surprisingly un-pantomime, uncompromising exploration of one of the most shameful periods of recent history, with plenty of tense and uncomfortable moments, resulting in one of the most powerful and important episodes of Doctor Who ever. It felt like a blend of classic and New Who: you could truly feel where the show comes from, but it didn’t feel outdated in the least. An instant classic. But while stories about historical figures are a valid type of episode, that isn’t what I want from Doctor Who.

  1. Arachnids in the UK (6.38)

Arachnids in the UK is an entertaining B-movie-style romp which essentially updates The Green Death for the modern day while satirising capitalists. It maintains the themes of co-operation and discovery in this series with a very promising set-up. The story is, however, marred by a heavy-handed Trump analogy and an unsatisfying, tonally jarring ending that frays like an old scarf. A few too many frankly concerning loose ends weren’t tied up. Much like two weeks ago, it is more concerned with us liking the characters rather than the story, with relatively few scares despite the spiders. It was at least made entertaining to watch with amusing dialogue and interesting developments on Graham’s grief. I should be binging these episodes in December instead of attempting to savour them one at a time!

  1. The Tsuranga Conundrum (4.53)

Really quite poor: no laughs, no tension, no emotional climax, no twists, no depth, disjointed themes, excruciatingly bad monster, dull guest cast, all over the place, overwritten, and an absence of an actual conundrum. The cute monster and gorgeously futuristic sets can’t save it. Chibnall likes ensemble casts, but this attempt at an ensemble episode didn’t really work, with lots of bits that didn’t fit together thematically or emotionally. Rarely have I considered switching off an episode of Doctor Who. What happened here? Why did the alien have to look like a gremlin? There have been too many mediocre episodes for me to tolerate another one. Disappointing when we only get ten episodes a year plus a special, and depressing if 2019 is going to be (like 2016) a blank year. Very cute Pting.

  1. Demons of the Punjab (8.21)

That’s more like it! Demons of the Punjab is a powerful human drama about remembrance and division, set during a hugely significant period of recent history which is forgotten all too often. The ending was incredibly sad, undoubtedly heightened by the wonderfully haunting end theme. The episode gives Yaz some much needed character development: it’s a great personal story, with the best performances from the Doctor and Yaz. It touchingly explores an issue that still has weight today and was thematically fitting for Remembrance Sunday. It only very narrowly misses out for me on recapturing the heights of Rosa. There were no clunky scenes for once, but perhaps too many companions. Give the Doctor an episode on her own show, please!

  1. Kerblam! (7.06)

Kerblam! delivers a great mystery, an unexpected twist, and an enjoyable satire for the majority. The critique of Amazon’s poor working conditions and labour exploitation was good but was completely undermined by a muddled twist ending in which the corporation turned out to be the victim instead. The ending felt a bit off – I was expecting more criticism of the system. It was an enjoyable episode nonetheless, with so much positive energy that its mixed messages and other flaws didn’t bother me. I liked the conveyer scene, and it was a decent portrayal of people (and an AI) trying to make a difference where they are not supposed to. The nonsensical twist is what drags it down from being one of the greats. Now we know where the Smilers ended up!

  1. The Witchfinders (7.33)

The Witchfinders is an enjoyable seventeenth-century romp with a standout performance by Alan Cumming along with the rest of the TARDIS team, but it has no visual appeal whatsoever. There was a threatening atmosphere, light relief with King James, and profound Jodie vs James scenes. It explores how the Thirteenth Doctor’s gender can have a significant impact on the story, finally acknowledging that this Doctor is different, yet still the same. I still think it would have been fun to have the Doctor be the first witch. Atmospheric and impactful, and sublimely realised.

  1. It Takes You Away (7.47)

What starts out as a Cabin in the Woods-style horror slowly evolves into a powerful episode about grief, loneliness, and acceptance. It was going okay until the random CGI frog. A universe as a talking frog! Totally bought it and no other episode could make me do that, but they could at least have made it realistic. It Takes You Away has a novel concept but the worst ending ever, packed with unnecessary elements – noticeably the overburdened exposition of the Solitract and the pointless ‘Anti-Zone’. I like how it was so easy to get through the Anti-Zone after that first time. It was almost perfect save for a few missteps, and the best non-historical of the series. The Solitract is the kind of bizarre that Doctor Who should thrive on.

  1. The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos (5.33)

Underwhelming, incoherent, poorly-paced, mediocre and not entirely original, but a solid finale nonetheless. A few scenes that can be described as aesthetic, but nothing more. It felt like a mid-season space-filling episode. Tim Shaw could have done with more development – he was an insignificant villain to start with, made more important this time, but at least this episode wraps up the loose ends of The Woman Who Fell to Earth. A fun end to the Stenza trilogy with some good performances, and great as a one-off adventure.

New Year Special – Resolution (6.25)

The actual finale of the series! A solid single-Dalek episode that functioned as a better finale than The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos, and one that finally makes the Daleks scary again! Still not really sure what the title was supposed to mean, but that might just be me. It’s our most fun Thirteenth Doctor episode to date and genuinely creepy. Resolution is highly competent with a sharper, brighter colour scheme and the return of body horror. On the other hand, the execution of the ‘junkyard’ Dalek design was a bit too perfect to be actually cool, there were some awful attempts at gags, and the episode was let down by a ridiculous ending. Haven’t done my rewatch yet, though.

1 Rosa 8.52
2 Demons of the Punjab 8.21
3 The Woman Who Fell to Earth 7.61
4 It Takes You Away 7.47
5 The Witchfinders 7.33
6 Kerblam! 7.06
7 The Ghost Monument 6.89
8 Arachnids in the UK 6.38
9 Resolution 6.25
10 The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos 5.33
11 The Tsuranga Conundrum 4.53

Your thoughts on…

The new TARDIS interior

  • I love the roundels and the new paint, but I thought the area around the console looked a little clumsy.
  • Not my favourite, but I am a bit of a minimalist when it comes to TARDIS interiors.
  • You’ve redecorated – I don’t like it.
  • I quite like it. The steampunk/crystal/hexagon themes are unique and it looks especially good with the lights dimmed. The custard cream dispenser and the miniature TARDIS which spins on the dashboard are nice, quirky touches.
  • Going for nostalgia for the late 2000s, I think – a smaller set (I think) suggests less of each episode will be set in the TARDIS than we have been used to.
  • Like the entrance foyer consisting of the three-sides of the police box but I think the lattice-work pattern is too far from the ideal of the roundels. Unfortunately, I don’t like the console itself. The arches are too similar to the time rotor (but different enough that it doesn’t look carefully coordinated) and the time rotor looks silly juddering up and down unevenly at the end of Rosa.

The new opening titles

  • The opening titles are too short, but look amazing! And I’m so happy that the Middle 8 is back!
  • Title sequence is beautiful, but the theme tune is missing a beat and it’s killing me.
  • It’s purple. I like purple.
  • M I D D L E 8
  • Very good, reminiscent of the Classic era (psychedelic colours rather than the time tunnel or outer space).
  • Not as pleased with them as other people seem to be, but they complement the stripped-down nature of the new show.
  • Hated the drum-heavy version played out over the closing titles in episode one but happy with the version they are using now. A much needed return to mystery. Seems to expanded and contract like a bubble and then there’s the amazing succession of textures before it suddenly changes to the title card. I regret that the TARDIS is not there but it’s a return to abstraction. Rather cross that Jodie Whittaker’s face is not visible.

The new Doctor

  • Love her, a brilliant, positive interpretation of the character. Jodie is excellent.
  • As much a Doctor as any of the previous twelve. I look forward to seeing Whittaker really develop her incarnation of the Doctor but she’s doing a good job so far!
  • Energetic, manic, but still dedicated to justice, Jodie Whitaker plays a delightfully likeable new incarnation of the ancient Time Lord.
  • While I think Jodie and her performance are great, I’m not convinced the material is always there for her. Some of the characterisation this series has been quite simplistic, and I’d like 13 to be a bit more assertive in the future. I think this series has definitely been a learning curve for everyone involved, so I hope that now they’re settled in it’ll keep getting better!
  • I think that Whittaker does a great job, but the writers frequently don’t do enough to really let her be a strong character, only in the New Year special did she really start to get some bite whereas she spent a lot of time just sort of flowing along as things happened during the series itself.
  • A bit too light hearted and playful like Matt Smith was, and needs to be on her own more in order to shine.
  • Good, but we’ve not yet seen her full potential.

Chris Chibnall

  • I like his direction of the series, and the lack of complex overarching plot was good decision. But he should write fewer episodes, and some dialogue is a bit clunky. But overall positive.
  • His greatest strength was to allow new writers to try their hand at Who.
  • Davies brought wonder, Moffat brought narrative intrigue. So far, I think Chibnall has focused on character (except Yaz ).
  • There was an overall lack of strong and interesting alien villains particularly in the Chibnall-written episodes – ideally his role in the next series would be less episode-writing and more show-guiding.
  • Hit and miss as a writer, though more hit than miss lately. Thought until recently the solution was just to get him to stop writing and get loads more guest writers, but now I’m not so sure.
  • 13 suffers from the same problem as 12 and 11: questionable writing. Dialogue is forced and strangely delivered, and Jodie is yet to have her ‘Doctor moment’. Something needs to change – and it’s not the Doctor.
  • I am very much enjoying his character-focused vision for Doctor Who, which has reinvigorated the show and brought in a new wave of popularity and cultural relevance.
  • A brave attempt to reinvent Doctor Who as a procedural drama – hasn’t yet worked through.

Compared with the rest of New Who

We also ran a poll to find out how Series Eleven ranks alongside the other ten series in New Who. Answers ranged from ‘third best’ to ‘worst.’ Based on these results, Series Eleven averages out as WhoSoc’s seventh favourite series of New Who.

There is another way to measure the strength of the series, however. WhoSoc members voted for each episode on a scale of 1 to 10 relative to the rest of New Who, where a score of 1 ranks an episode as being in the worst 10 per cent of New Who and a score of 10 ranks it as being in the best 10% of New Who. With Series Eleven getting a mean episode score of 7.56, that would rank it approximately as WhoSoc’s fourth favourite series of New Who. It seems we have collectively deemed Series Eleven weaker than the sum of its parts…

Tides 43 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link

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