The thirteenth Doctor, season 11, where to start?
The crushing disappointment that leads to almost suspicion concerning the motives of the BBC? The sheer nastiness of the head-rearing of the more unpleasant fans? The viewing figures that are widely varied depending on who is reporting them?
The taking over of official reporting by a personality who obviously finds classic Who so mind numbingly slow, that with breathtaking insouciance announces that she watches it at 1 1/2 speed, seemingly ignorant to the fact that this feels like a slap in the face to a lot of us, making this fan, at least, feel like a sad old geek for the first time ever?
There’s really too much to choose from, and too little excitement generated to really feel like it’s worth bothering. Ennui reigns.
At least I can start, and hopefully finish, with some positives, or at least some clarity.
I found the cinematic qualities of this entire series to be excellent, with the visuals, at least, being magnificent. We have a richness of colour and widening of screen thanks to the largesse of the BBC – assigning Cooke and Angenieux anamorphic lenses to the program shooting. We also have a new composer and new graphics, which is a traditional change in itself.
Opening credits directly lead into cerebral anticipation of Thirteen, recognisable yet new, setting the scene for new adventures. Unfortunately, the incidental music during the show follows Who tradition closely, ( particularly the Pertwee era), being disconcerting and downright jarring in places, forgetting the crucial idea that background music is exactly that, in the background.
The change to my feelings shows exactly how much this program is embedded in the British psyche, when, in basically what is a show embracing change, there are changes that have an impact upon the way someone thinks about themselves. I am unabashedly a fan, I’ve grown up with my parents watching Doctor Who, it’s my earliest memory of experiencing shock – upon witnessing a regeneration scene- even at my very early age I had recognised on some deep level, that the hero doesn’t, and cannot, die.
So why, with these most recent changes, have I not only not enjoyed or even accepted the changes, but I find myself greatly disliking them to such an extent that I feel that I don’t even recognise the show. The new writers’ approach to story telling is probably the area that I take most issue with, with the simplistic stories, lack of plot resolution and what’s even worse, to my mind, the dumbing down and destruction of previously inherent characteristics of the Doctor.
When Tom Baker asks himself in the iconic scene in The Genesis of the Daleks, “ do I have the right..” of course we all know that the answer is a resounding no, that genocide is never the answer, no matter how much evil is going to result. The end never justifies the means in any ethical society. The tension generated in that scene is there precisely because for a moment we see the Doctor possibility tempted, or at least questioning his path of action, and quite shocking it is too.
Whereas in the episode Arachnophobia, the Doctor happily leaves a whole species ( albeit mutant) to die an incredibly horrible death, when it would have been simple to, for example, materialise the TARDIS around the safe room and transport it to, say, Metebelis III, thus saving the humans, the spiders, and giving a nod to past Who history.
Even that most action oriented of Doctors, Pertwee, was furious at UNIT when they destroyed the Silurian base, but this new Doctor unthinkingly carries on without saving beings, humans or creatures. Shallow, is the thought that springs to mind. Shallow also is an appropriate word for the stories, generally. In Demons of the Punjab, for instance, we have some new monsters, that we are told have the reputation as the most fearsome warriors, and suddenly, they all decide, everyone of them, to be death doulas, in some new age way. I mean, luvverly.
I also found that the stories in this season generally started well, sometimes continued well, then in the last couple of minutes suddenly galloped to badly thought out finish, as though the writers sat around a table drawing potential plot endings out of a hat, with the expected amount of relevance.
I’ve read that Chris Chibnall is a fan of the American style of “round table” script writing, and if this is correct, I may have an answer as to why I no longer feel like this show is the one I’ve always known, and the character of the Doctor, as one I have admired.
Maybe aiming at consolidating itself in the American market has partially destroyed the inherent Britishness, and made it more palatable to the Americans. It certainly seems to be catering to viewers that prefer a more obvious approach, but that might just be the great contrast between the convoluted wit of Steven Moffatt and the determination to appeal to a broader fan base, pleasing everyone, that Chibnall is favouring.
These poorly written stories have me questioning exactly what it is I have loved about the show, and as an extension of these thoughts, questioning myself. Maybe if a show can generate such introspection, it’s actually more successful than I thought? Now there’s a thought to leave on.
Christine is a long-time fan of Dr Who, and as an admin of a couple of Doctor Who groups, and a member of many more, has seen some of the best and worst of the Who world’s reactions to The new Doctor.