Following a radical reboot that introduced the first female Doctor Who, the cult British sci-fi series now barely resembles the show fans have loved for over 50 years.
Mild spoilers follow:
The eleventh season of the new series of Doctor Who – from fresh showrunner Chris Chibnall – isn’t proper Doctor Who. And having a female Doctor at the TARDIS controls isn’t the problem.
In fact, Jodie Whittaker is the best thing about the new season. Slipping effortlessly into the role, she was instantly recognisable as the Doctor and gender became irrelevant. She’s great!
The problem is with the writing. In a nutshell, Doctor Who has been dumbed down to the point where the sonic screwdriver is now an instant fix that gets waved about like Harry Potter’s wand, and seemingly malevolent aliens wind up just wanting to be friends.
Stories begin promisingly only to fizzle out into mawkish sentiment, or are more focused on addressing hot button issues than exploring time and space. Where are the Daleks when you really need them?
Chibnall was seen by many fans as a saving grace for the series, which had stagnated under the guidance of Steven Moffat and his infuriating penchant for circular storytelling. But his intention to completely refresh the series via cliffhanger-free standalone stories and all-new monsters hasn’t worked.
When Russell T. Davies brought Who back in 2005, he understood what made the show great and deftly captured the spirit of the classic series from the outset. And even the most convoluted episodes of Moffat’s tenure were still recognisably Doctor Who. Chibnall’s Who feels more like spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures.
In the absence of the Daleks and Cybermen, Whittaker’s Doctor has so far had to contend with a cute alien that looks like Disney’s Stitch, giant spiders, evil alien mud, and a talking frog (!). With the exception of the aforementioned arachnids, there’s nothing here that would make kids hide behind the sofa, nor warrant a return appearance.
Okay, so the classic series had its share of rubbish monsters, but at least they posed a significant threat. There’s never a sense that the 13th Doctor and her bland companions – or indeed the very fabric of the universe – is in any real danger.
On a more positive note, Chibnall returned the series to its very beginnings, when William Hartnell was exploring the universe in a clunky TARDIS with three companions. And historical stories – a staple of the early sixties’ episodes – were back in vogue, with Whittaker and co. visiting the partition of India in 1947, and making sure that Rosa Parks keeps her seat on the bus in Alabama 1955. But it still wasn’t enough to convince us we were watching Doctor Who.
It’s telling that the BBC have announced that the programme won’t be back until 2020. That at least gives them a year to get it back on track.
Jodie Whittaker definitely deserved better than what her debut season served up, and her true mettle as the Doctor won’t be tested until the familiar cry of “Exterminate” resounds throughout loungerooms again.
*UPDATE: We didn’t have long to wait. The New Year’s Day Special, Resolution, was pretty special. Not only did it feature a Dalek – the octopoid mutant incarnation as well as a cool looking, low tech version with homemade casing – it also felt like a very traditional Doctor Who story, and one that added to existing Dalek lore. Here’s hoping Chris Chibnall resolves to deliver more of the same when the show returns next year.Buy now at JB Hi-Fi