With the change of day for Doctor Who from Saturday night to Sunday night, I haven’t generally had time to write reviews like I did for series 10 with the next day being a Monday as I do prefer to watch them twice before reviewing them and my Mondays are naturally a lot more booked than my Sundays most weeks.
A lot more than the day has changed for Doctor Who. I think most people were worried about the Doctor’s gender swap. From the start, I was much more concerned with the poor writing chops of a certain Mr. Chibnall who has now been put at the helm. I wish I had been wrong. I don’t hate the new series, but the man who brought us utter rubbish like 42 and some sweet but still not especially strong or well thought-out material like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship has basically been doing exactly who I thought he would. He isn’t funny or whimsical like Steven Moffat, which is a pity. Those are two qualities I felt really suited Doctor Who. It’s not just that though. So far I have found him to be preachy and he has not yet to create a proper villain and we’ve had almost no aliens. For any interested parties, here is a review of the first half of series 11 of Doctor Who.
The Woman Who Fell to Earth 6/10
This was the big introduction episode, so we didn’t get to know anyone all that well with four new leads to meet. I left having no strong feelings about any of them, but that felt acceptable given the length of time and how many there were. It was also notable as the only episode so far to have a real alien villain. This villain seemed a bit hammed up, but still had a decent fear factor with the whole wearing victims’ teeth thing. I was surprised that they actually killed someone off in episode one who was important to our new main characters. I enjoyed it well enough, but didn’t leave with any especially strong feelings.
The Ghost Monument 7.5/10
I quite enjoyed the Ghost Monument. It is my favourite of the series so far. I think this was in large part to the lush South African landscapes and great guest stars. I have liked Susan Lynch in a few things and she was great as Angstrom. The threat seemed real and the new companions did well. Ryan and Graham were quite sweet together. I liked that Ryan’s science class knowledge and a cigar saved them at one point. It felt like a proper sci fi: dangers on a distant planet in the future. We also finally got to see the new interior to the TARDIS, which was lovely. I love the biscuit dispensing function. The new take on the theme song is also great. Although also a huge Murray Gold fan, I am enjoying the new composer. So far the music has all been ace.
I know this was widely beloved in the fan base, but one thing drove me nuts. I don’t think the bus being a bit empty one day would have stopped the real Rosa Parks. She was part of a brave, focused group who had planned on her being the one who would take the hit for their cause. She would have just done it another day if that bus hadn’t been full enough the day she actually did it. They should have made this a fixed point in time issue or something like in the Fires of Pompeii. It actually felt quite insulting to the memory of such a brave woman. I also deeply hated the use of pop music at the end. Generally non-orchestral music in the previous 10 series has been limited to music being played in the scene, like the Master dancing to the Scissor Sisters. It was gooey, emotional drivel that felt like the creators were shouting ‘have an emotion’ at us. More than that, the villain was utterly one dimensional. Racist white guy with no backstory, really? Cheap. Super, super cheap. This was Chibnall at his most shallow.
Arachnids in the UK 4.5/10
‘Why don’t you do what normal people do? Get a gun, shoot things, like a civilised person?’ This is possibly the most cheesy, inaccurate depiction of an American ever. It would have only been more over the top had he been eating a burger, talking with his mouth full and wearing a cowboy hat. I realize the American in question was obviously meant to be similar to Donald Trump, but even so. The real Trump talks a lot of nonsense, but even he wouldn’t have said that. I know lots of Americans who are both for and against guns and none of them would ever equate them with civilization or normality. Protection? Sure. Rights? Definitely. Potential danger? Yes. Normality and civilization? Nope, nope, nope.
I could just about let that slide but this was yet another ‘awful white man as villain in lieu of cool alien baddie’. This is a sci fi. Good sci fi uses alien, space-based or future-based metaphors to deal with modern day issues without having to be preachy to its audience to get its message out there. Daleks rather than actual Nazis and so on. Chibnall seems to have missed the memo on that and prefers the far less subtle route of shouting at us about how we are bad humans, destroying the Earth. Although I would be entirely pro-regulation that would prevent giant mutant spiders from existing in a landfill in Sheffield (or anywhere else), this was very heavy handed. I also had a lot of trouble being very sympathetic for giant spiders. In particular, shooting something that was going to die miserably otherwise didn’t actually seem like the worst ever use of a gun even if it was being wielded by the horrible billionaire. I will say the fear factor was very high for this though. Giant spiders are properly scary. I’m not especially scared of the normal kind, but ones of that size is a truly chilling prospect.
Tsuangra Condundrum 7/10
This was my second favourite episode. Space seems to help Chibnall from being able to remain excessively Earthbound. His other episodes were very decidedly of this world and of our era. At least space means he can’t misunderstand history and he has to dial the actual sci fi up a bit. I enjoyed the threat. Once again, it wasn’t a true ‘baddie’, but it was cute and did cause a proper issue that needed dealing with. I enjoyed the guest stars again. The pregnant man was very sweet. I liked the tongue and cheek ‘men give birth to men and women give birth to women’ bit. I enjoyed Ryan and Graham’s understandable discomfort in this alien situation of having to be doulas to a pregnant man. I felt we have got to know Ryan and Graham a bit more and their chemistry is great. Generally I like them. I’m still not sure about Yaz. She hasn’t said a great deal. I’m hoping we’ll get to know her better tomorrow in the Demons of Punjab.
Something this series has made me realize is the extreme importance of the show runner. You may have noticed that up until now, the name Jodie had not even come into this. We might have a woman as the Doctor, but we still have a white man behind the scenes, putting the words in her mouth. I think if the BBC really wants to do something radical for Doctor Who, they should get a cracking female show runner who knows how to craft good sci fi. I’ve never heard anyone suggest that Harry Potter should have been a girl. Why? Because we have the awesome voice of J.K. Rowling in every thing said Mr. Potter has ever uttered. Every pearl drop of wisdom from Dumbledore is really pure J.K at her finest. Just having a female Doctor hasn’t made it different. The main difference is the writer being less good than the previous two show runners. I still don’t know what I think of Ms. Whittaker because it’s very hard to separate the writing from the Doctor. She hasn’t been especially awful, but the writing has been sub-par. This series has made me realise my Doctor may as well be Steven Moffat. He cast and wrote my two favourite Doctors. Obviously, the great actors Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi made a huge difference, but Moffat was the one who made it happen. I hope Chibnall actually has hidden depths he’s just felt the need to hide so far out of utter bashfulness.
5.6/10 rating overall for the first half of series eleven
At any rate, I shall keep watching. Although it’s not been up to scratch, that is by the high standards of Doctor Who, not the low standards of most media. More than that, the beautiful thing about Doctor Who is that it keeps changing and if you don’t like one change, you know another one will be coming in a few years at the worst. Some writers and actors do also just take some time to get into their groove. Although I dearly loved Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, season eight surely had some major hiccoughs. Hopefully these are just Chibnall’s and he will sort it ASAP.