The Unbearable Lightness of Thirteen? Series 11 Reviewed

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Image Credit: Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr)

Image Description: Jodie Whittaker holds aloft her Sonic Screwdriver at a SDCC 2018 Comic Con Panel

Victoria Walker‘s conclusions on Jodie Whittaker’s first series

The end of the first series of a new Doctor finally presents a full picture of how a showrunner wishes their Doctor to be received. I should now finally feel confident in making a full judgment on Chris Chibnall’s effort.

The problem is, there is so little to say. Whittaker’s Doctor has been quite uninspired and uninteresting, especially when compared with other Doctors. That’s not to say the Thirteenth Doctor isn’t played well. Whittaker is charismatic, witty, intelligent, and very solution-oriented. She makes a fine Doctor, especially for the new audience who have been following just as a result of her casting. However, she still doesn’t feel that unique. It isn’t Whittaker’s fault, as much like Peter Capaldi, she is doing the best she can with the scripts and stories she is given. Instead, blame must be lain at Chibnall’s door, for creating the kind of Doctor you would expect to find if you’d asked someone to write a series based on the information on the Doctor Who wiki alone. It’s almost as if no one informed him that you actually have to rebuild the Doctor’s character every time they regenerate! Every other Doctor has some quirk that sets them aside from the rest, that you can point to, and say “this is why they are my favourite.” I am, as of yet, unable to do this for Thirteen.

The source of this issue lies within the large TARDIS crew. A large crew is not a bad idea, as it allows a variety of personalities that mean the audience isn’t forced to put up with a companion they don’t like for very long. In longer stories, the writer can also facilitate a large amount of very interesting interaction. However, there are some caveats to this method, and the execution of the three companions have left this series rather lacklustre. Many have complained that both the Doctor and Yasmin have been thrown somewhat to the wayside when it comes to episode focus and character development. This is very much true, given I can’t really name a single way in which either the Doctor or Yasmin have changed. It’s especially stark when pitted against the huge strides Graham and Ryan have taken, individually and together. A large crew can be done well, even in smaller formats, but you must introduce each person separately. For example, the ensemble with which Peter Davison’s Doctor travelled in his first season (comprising Adric, Tegan, and Nyssa) worked well because each character had their introduction at a separate time, allowing viewers to get to know each one on an, as equal footing.

But the characters aren’t the kernel of the issue with this series. The biggest, and most glaring, problem that has been a distinct lack of focus on anything. I’ve already shown how this has lead to an absence of development for the Doctor and Yaz, but it has also cheapened everything within the series. It was noble of Chibnall to attempt an entirely fresh series, refusing to fall back upon the monsters of old, but no time is spent building up these new monsters. There simply are no stakes to get worked up about, and Tzim-Sha is the prime example of this. The insistence on the Tim Shaw joke meant that it was clear neither the Doctor, nor any of her friends, were at all fazed or scared by him. If the characters can’t take a monster seriously, then neither can I!  There was never any feeling, nor question, that Tzim-Sha would do anything but lose. Compare this to the reintroduction of the eponymous creatures in Dalek. Here, Rob Shearman provides an excellent example of how to provide an origin story yet make the episode feel worthwhile. This is emphasised by the performances, with Christopher Eccleston putting out so much fear when he meets the Dalek, and the genuine feeling that this creature could, and would, kill. Even if you’d never seen Old Who, you still understood the gravity of the situation. Comparing that to the laissez-faire way that the Thirteenth Doctor treats her adversaries, and it becomes obvious why every story fails to inspire the same suspense as any previous series.

I don’t want to give the impression that I found no enjoyment in Series Eleven, as that couldn’t be further from the truth. There have been some really outstanding episodes this series, such as Demons of the Punjab, and even when they’re not of that standard, Jodie Whittaker does her best with what she has been given.. While I feel it a shame that I’ve not found this series to be particularly stellar, I’ve enjoyed the episodes as I’ve watched them, and it is only a result of re-examination that I have found particular fault with many of the episodes.  Series Eleven has certainly been different, but it has captured a new audience and hopefully provides a launchpad for greater developments to come.

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

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