Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Doctor Who: S11 ★★☆☆☆

A foray into uncharted territories, the eleventh season of Doctor Who is the first with a woman in the hot seat. Jodie Whittaker's energetic display is the epitome of a marmite performance, as she bounds along with endless enthusiasm, clearly embracing the zanier side of the Doctor in a similar style to Matt Smith.

As the first (and last) of her kind, Whittaker is being judged not just in her capacity to entertain as the Time Lord, but also whether her gender is actually suitable for playing a regenerating benevolent alien with two hearts who happens to love England while carrying a screwdriver around for protection. Online critics are quick to mention ‘SJW’ complaints about the direction of the show, but it doesn’t really make a difference if the Doctor is female in the grand scheme of things. 

Changes are also afoot when it comes to the companions. The Doctor is joined by a trio for the first time since the reboot, with Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill playing Graham O'Brien, Ryan Sinclair, and Yasmin Khan. Much like the reinvention of Top Gear, responsibilities have been split as each takes up some of the slack, but there’s a feeling that the whole never makes up more than the sum of its parts. Yaz is the Doctor’s new best friend who works for the police, Ryan suffers from dyspraxia, and Graham is married to Ryan’s nan. Each are fine in their role, but it doesn’t help when the dialogue is often stilted. 

The show has received a lot of hate from a vocal section of the audience, due to the perceived ‘woke’ nature of companion selection and the choice of settings for a couple of episodes. There’s a fine balance between representation and tokenism, and while it may be educational for a younger audience, it’s also boring and vaguely preachy at times. On the other hand, it makes sense to teach children about racism and other problems, especially in a social climate that has seen a resurgence in backward thinking recently.

Other online complaints derive from the writing, and it’s true that poor storytelling leaves Whittaker little chance to truly make the role her own. While the latest regeneration is clearly a stark contrast to Peter Capaldi’s incarnation, a heavy drawl (Tim Shaw?) and a habit of pulling faces that telegraph her thoughts at every turn define her character. There isn’t really an overarching theme for the series as a whole, and while self-contained episodes include a sole Dalek, there’s isn’t a single Cyberman or any of the traditional enemies that you’d expect to see in Doctor Who. 

It’s not bad, but it’s different, and far from the teatime staple it used to be back in the heyday of David Tennant and Billie Piper. With that being said, there’s still hope for the latest Doctor, and tighter writing for next season will help to highlight good performances from the ensemble cast. 

James Millin-Ashmore

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