When Doctor Who’s 11th season premiered this year, there was a lot at stake. New showrunner Chris Chibnall was following in the big footsteps left by Steven Moffat and he was doing it not only with a brand new Doctor but with the first ever female Doctor. The scrutiny from the media and the fandom was at peak levels but Chibnall and Jodie Whittaker delivered and then some. The premiere smashed ratings records and the season produced some of the most original and timely content in the whole of Doctor Who.
But, like every season of every show, there were a few shortcomings that I hope will be addressed in season 12, which sadly won’t air until 2020. Below I’ve listed some of the major aspects of season 11, what I liked about them, and what didn’t quite work for me.
The Thirteenth Doctor
Praise: Jodie Whittaker is absolutely fabulous. I love her goofy, slightly manic Doctor. She reminds me a lot of David Tennant’s Doctor but she’s also completely original. Her take on a character that has been interpreted by the other actors before her is fresh while retaining the history and gravitas of a thousands-of-years-old time traveler. There was never a single moment in series 11 where I doubted she was the Doctor.
Critique: Ok, this isn’t Whittaker’s fault at all but the lack of a season-long plot arc really diminished how much we learned about this Doctor and what she discovered about herself. Every other Doctor, particularly in their inaugural season, had an overarching plot that tied into figuring out what kind of person they are. Thirteen didn’t, and that was a bit of a letdown. She’s functionally the same from the premiere through the finale.
Praise: It’s always fun to see the Doctor Who writing staff stretch their creative muscles and imagine new foes for the Doctor to encounter. This season featured all new villains and alien creatures. Not a single Dalek, Cyberman, or Weeping Angel to be found (until the New Year’s Special, of course). I enjoyed discovering what the creative team thought up next, especially when the end result was an episode like “Rosa”. In one of the most emotional and timely episodes Doctor Who has ever done, the true villain was racism, which was far more affecting than any Dalek.
Critique: A lot of the time the villain in a given episode faced zero consequences and that was annoying and frustrating. The P’ting in “The Tsuranga Conundrum” killed a man and was simply sent off to continue destroying whatever crosses its path. The greed and superiority of Robertson in “Arachnids in the UK” killed several people and he coldly shot a dying spider and he just got to walk away. With little justice being dished out, many episodes ended feeling a little hollow and unresolved.
Praise: I was really unsure how three new companions were going to work with a brand new Doctor. We haven’t had a new Doctor and a new companion in the TARDIS since series 5. But this foursome worked really great together. They played well off of one another and were each their own, unique character. I was especially skeptical about Graham because, from the pre-season info, I didn’t see how he fit with the other two. But he ended up being my favorite character! I mean, he carries around a sandwich at all times. Who wouldn’t love him?
Critique: If you’re going to have four main characters, you have to do it really well. That’s where series 11 falters a little. There wasn’t often a great balance in what each companion was doing in a given episode. In particular, I felt like Yaz was secondary to Ryan and Graham, whose relationship was often a central focus. With the exception of that relationship, the companions are essentially the same between episode 1 and the season finale. That made it hard for me to feel truly invested in them as characters. I still love them all but I want more development and growth for each of them. Compare this with The Good Place, which is juggling six main characters in 30-minute episodes, and I can easily point out how each character grew through season 3.
Everything is New
Praise: It’s really easy to jump into a long-running series when that series is doing a soft reboot. New main characters, new plotlines, new monsters, new everything. For people who have always avoided Doctor Who for fear they wouldn’t understand what was going on, series 11 is a great place to start because there’s literally no way you could get lost. It also provided a lot of creative space to come up with episodes like “Rosa”, “Demons of Punjab”, or “The Witchfinders” without worrying about how to tie in classic villains to the story. Plus, it must be said, the new TARDIS is beautiful inside and out.
Critique: Part of the legacy of Doctor Who is the callbacks to previous seasons and previous Doctors. Series 11 didn’t abandon that completely but there were moments where the almost insistence on everything being new hindered creativity. The biggest example is “It Takes You Away.” The Doctor is trapped in a universe that convinces people to stay by using a construct of someone they deeply care about to persuade them. For Graham, it was his recently deceased wife. The possibilities for the Doctor are endless. The Master, a previous companion, River Song, even someone new from her life on Gallifrey. Instead, we got a talking frog. I can’t help but feel that if this same story had been done in any other season, that frog would’ve been swapped for someone from the Doctor’s past, which would’ve been much, much better.
Praise: This is related to several other points on this list but it’s worth mentioning on its own. Each Doctor Who season usually involves at least one two-parter, often the season finale. The closest series 11 got was bringing the villain from the season premiere back for the finale and even then you didn’t really need to have seen the premiere to understand what was happening. For those wanting a more casual viewing experience, this style is perfect as it allows you to jump in at any time in the season.
Critique: How many people want to watch Doctor Who that casually though? Not me. The lack of two-part episodes is really just a part of a larger issue, which is no season-long plot. Without connections between each episode, I didn’t feel as much excitement or hype to watch every week. There was no mystery to figure out or puzzle to solve. In fact, I’m pretty confident you could watch episodes 1 and 2 and then skip straight to the season finale and still understand everything that’s going on. Maybe that’s a good thing to some people but not to me. When there’s very little tying each episode together, it doesn’t feel like the characters or the plot are really moving forward.
What did you think about series 11 of Doctor Who? What are you hoping for more (or less of) in the next season?