Editorial: Disenfranchised with the Doctor

Doctor Who series 11; Jody Whittaker

The year was 2005. I was but a young child, living in the centre of England, wondering why everyone was talking about a new series of something called ‘Doctor Who’. “When I was a kid, it would make me hide behind the sofa,” my mother would say, laughing about how shit-scared she was of metal dustbins with plungers attached to them. I didn’t understand the cultural significance of such a return—but as my family tuned in, so did I. I was at a friend’s birthday party when Christopher Eccleston’s doctor regenerated. We all rushed inside, crowded her small living room, and watched him turn into David Tennant. From there, I was done for—I had a David Tennant poster on my wall, a collection of Daleks, a sonic screwdriver torch, and rewatched every box set and special feature I possibly could.

Doctor Who was a television series that I never thought I could grow out of. I knew plenty of bonafide adults who tuned in religiously every week, and the more people I had met through university or work, the more fans I found. This is why the last series of my beloved show has, eleven years on, saddened me. I began series 11 with hope and optimism, loving the first episode and excited for the fresh perspective the new talent could bring. I wrote a review about it discussing how fantastic it was for a debut episode. Unfortunately, as time went on, I found myself more and more frustrated by wasted potential and bored of the disappointment, culminating in only having the energy to write a three-word review of a later episode.

So, what went wrong? Well, firstly, the gender of the Doctor didn’t matter to me in the slightest. While I was never one to beg for a female Doctor, I was pleasantly surprised by the casting choice. I was excited about the change and rolled my eyes at the fanboys who refused to even tune in. For the most part, Whittaker was a fantastic choice for the Doctor—sweet, charming, and charismatic, she is an actress that is quite difficult to dislike and had the potential to include some grit in her performance. The biggest shame of series 11 was that Whittaker was never given a script she truly deserved.

Whittaker’s Doctor was, well… odd. She constantly contradicted herself, felt like a passenger in her own adventures, let people die, and seemed to have her personality quirks jammed into her scripts. She got angry, but never had the fire in her eyes; she got upset, but seemed to get over it exceptionally quickly. Most of the time, she would be bouncing from place to place with childish excitement, giving compliments to her ‘fam’ and stating the obvious. By the end of the series, I found myself more annoyed by her than looking up to her. Unfortunately, I can’t blame this on the actress; in any other hands, this Doctor would have been completely unbearable. Without a good script, she was left floundering in the narrative without any kind of purpose or character arc. This is the first time the moniker ‘madman with a box’ seemed less like a joke, and more like a character description—just wrongly gendered.

Bradley Walsh’s Graham was a blessing through these terrible times, but was constantly dragged down by the inclusion of Ryan and Yaz. Ryan, while interesting in the first episode, was reduced to a speak-and-spell stand-in, before telling us he has a disability… which he would overcome straight away without any real issues. Yaz was completely pointless; I am unable to remember anything about her character. She was a police officer (but that didn’t really seem to matter to the script) and the Doctor kept complimenting her… for some reason? As harsh as it may sound, Yaz could be replaced by a cactus and still impact the grander narrative in a more meaningful way than ‘I wonder where my Grandma is from?’

While writing this editorial, I found that I had too much to say in such a condensed period of time, so I decided to just list the questions that went through my mind while watching this series:

  • Why did the Doctor need three companions?
  • Why did a series without ‘classic’ villains opt to have ‘humanity’ as the villain for a number of episodes?
  • Why did I enjoy the P’Ting, a stupid space gremlin, more than any other villain in the show?
  • Why could Yaz just kick the P’Ting across a corridor if it was so dangerous?
  • Why did they constantly kill off the more interesting side characters?
  • Why did they never turn any lights on in the TARDIS?
  • Where are the corridors for the TARDIS?
  • Where did all three companions sleep?
  • Did Yaz quit her job? How could she get so much time off work?
  • Why did they make Graham cry so much?
  • Where is the TARDIS wardrobe?
  • Why did The Doctor forget to dress her companions in period-appropriate clothing, even in premeditated trips?
  • Who is this Doctor anyway?

The final question is the one that nearly made me stop watching the show altogether. Throughout all ten episodes, I found myself confused by a character I had spent eleven years getting to know—a character I had to reacquaint myself with every few years, but ultimately, always learned to love time and time again. When Russell T. Davies was writing the show, people longed for Moffatt. Then, when Moffatt was promoted to showrunner, people missed Davies. With Chibnall at the helm… I miss the worst parts of either of them. I would much rather take the blowjob joke in ‘Love and Monsters’, or Moffatt’s inter-species same-sex couple, over the most recent writing. Why? Well in both instances, we still had the Doctor there to guide us to greener pastures.

Who knows if I will keep watching. Chibnall might completely turn it around and present a fantastic series 12, or I could just realise that this show is no longer for me. But before I pack away my sonic screwdriver in a box, wait for the show to end, and eventually dust it off for my children when they are confused about the adults around them talking about their memories of an obscure sci-fi show, I want to give it one last chance. Hopefully, in 2020, I can celebrate the new dawn of a show I adore—not mourn for what it once was.

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