For interested parties, the rest of my take on series 11 of Doctor Who:
5/10 Demons of the Punjab
This could have easily been a favorite episode for this series, but the demons not being demons and actually being something very, very similar to what we had in Peter Capaldi’s final episode only a few episodes ago weakened it quite a bit. This would have actually done better to have no alien threat. I would have preferred a pure historical given how utterly unimportant the aliens were. As there was no threat, all of history would have ticked over just fine without the Doctor’s presence, which undermined it a bit. The brother’s malice also seemed undeveloped and out of nowhere. He was another poorly developed villain.
There was one other thing that got to me a bit, which was that the Doctor was so saccharine. I quite liked how the Guardian’s reviewer put it:
“…the Doctor has historically always been a bit of a sod. I agree, and hope a bit of that is on the way. That wedding speech was as sick-bucket as it was beautiful.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Dan Martin on this. Women aren’t all lovely and sweet. We can be sods as well and the Doctor as a woman certainly ought to be at some point, obviously not necessarily at a wedding, but that is something that would make her more Doctor-y.
All that said, it was a very interesting point in history to witness. I have always felt it would be interesting for the Doctor to go to more places outside of Europe and the US and we finally got such an on-screen outing. There have been plenty in prose, but I assume as it’s made for an English speaking audience, that has previously limited the locations to those that English speakers most like to visit or are familiar with.
This was my favorite episode of the season easily. It wasn’t written by Chris Chibnall, had actual sci-fi and an actual motive on the part of an actual bad guy. Those should not be big asks in Doctor Who, but in a series where even left wing satire paper, the Daily Mash, have written the following, you take what you can get:
Producer Carolyn Ryan said: “We’ve got to remember that this is a show for kids. They’re not interested in Daleks or Cybermen. They want the Doctor to tackle the real villains.
“The overarching baddie for the series is capitalism – obviously – but we’re dealing with that in all its vile manifestations such as the meat industry, the police, the gender binary and Western science.
It was nice to get the sentient AI and the understandable human malice against lost jobs for humans that Kerblam! offered. This is also one of the few episodes where any of the one off characters were memorable enough for me to retain their names for even few hours after the program as they were reasonably well developed. Sack Chibnall and take a punt on this writer. He almost has to be better given he is actually familiar with the sci fi genre and character development.
6.5/10 The Witchfinders
This was not bad. Again, no Chibnall, actual alien threat. I thoroughly enjoyed Alan Cumming as King James. He was properly entertaining, making this episode a lot more fun than most of them. That said, in any other series, this would have likely been one of the weaker episodes. I liked it comparatively, but it still didn’t pop as much as many past episodes of Doctor Who. I felt that the Doctor and her friends, again, were weirdly judgmental of the locals and oddly surprised by their belief. The Doctor kept saying ‘it’s from another world’, but then appeared surprised that they thought that other world was hell. I feel that historically, the Doctor would have surely been against witch hunts, as would most modern people, but the surprise about people incorporating weird things into their pre-existing belief system got tired. The Doctor is smarter and more understanding than that. Expecting people several 100 years ago to just accept an alien incursion like it’s not a total paradigm shift is just silly. Of course they thought they were from hell.
5.5/10 It Takes You Away
Something about this annoyed me. It just didn’t quite work. I found the intermediate world weird. I found the explanation of the sentient universe that fancies us in this one odd as well. I found the Norwegian family oddly one dimensional. The world between worlds didn’t feel plausible as somewhere something could live. It was just weird and not in an especially great way. I have watched it twice as of the time of writing and it just didn’t pop for me either time. Something that really hit home for me in this episode was how little character development anyone has had. I feel like after 9 episodes, I ought to know them quite well, but most of them remain mysteries. The Doctor keeps talking about how great her companions are, but I don’t feel we have seen the bits where she got to know them and found out why she likes them so much.
With the previous showrunners, there was always an episode where the companion was tested and showed why they deserved to be there: Rose saving 9 from the Autons, Martha being brave and curious under pressure at the hospital on the moon, Amy understanding the star whale on Starship UK and saving the Doctor from a horrible mistake, etc. The Doctor’s new ‘fam’ have not had any of these moments.
I have never connected so little with a Doctor Who cast. Like everyone, I’ve always had favorites, but previously, I had always been able to get something out of the performances of actors I didn’t like as well. I have no idea if they’re even good actors given the companions are new to me and I have only seen Whittaker in two shows penned mainly by Chibnall and a single episode of Charlie Brooker’s brilliant Black Mirror. This group have been let down so completely by Chibnall. His scripts and ‘showrunning’ have been so lacking in quality.
6.5/10 The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
This was more entertaining than many of the episodes, but the pacing was odd. A lot was packed into the first act without a lot of payoff. We didn’t learn much about the war or the injured man we initially met or about the strange force that was making everyone forget who they were.
Tim Shaw also proves to be another poorly developed character. Why on Earth is he so evil? Why did he put those planets into those cubes? Why does he live so long? Why does he hold so much sway over a species with god-like powers? The Doctor backtracking on guns was also a bit annoying and further weakened her character development as it was one of the few things her Doctor seemed very firm about. I’m also not sure it wouldn’t have been kinder to just kill Tim Shaw rather than putting him in a hellish prison, which given he seems fairly long lived, could last a very long time.
It was all wrong in the pacing though and calling it a finale seemed a bit rich. It was only a finale in the sense that it was the last episode of the series. So little happened in terms of overarching plots or character development, that there wasn’t much to wrap up. The BBC had also done their usual spoiler-y nonsense of telling us all the companions would be back for the New Year special and for series 12, so there was never any risk of any of them dying or leaving. Did you lot learn nothing from River Song?
That said, I wasn’t bored while I was watching it, which for this series is a big plus.
Overall score for series 11: 5.9
This is by far the weakest series of the reboot. I had major reservations about Chibnall before it began and I am sad to say he has lived up to all of them and more. I was expecting him to be less funny and far less good at writing sci fi than either of the previous showrunners, but the lack of villains, the lack of character development and just shouting his messages rather than even attempting to cleverly work through them via sci fi was completely unexpected. I didn’t think anyone would think to be so stupidly, gracelessly blunt in their delivery. Rarely has the Doctor felt so human in a bad way.
I want to conclude by accusing Chibnall of something Steven Moffat was often accused of: he cannot write women. He writes them horribly. This has been a huge issue. This is why Yaz is the least well developed and the Doctor herself has been so poorly developed. Graham and Ryan at least make some sense. I don’t know why Yaz and the Doctor say and do most of what they do. I’m not sure Chibnall does either. I have no idea why the BBC thought this man could make the Doctor a woman. I think literally thousands of people could have done this better than Chris Chibnall. Get us a good female sci fri writer and take another crack at it. I do think plenty of men, including Steven Moffat, can and do write women well, but Chris Chibnall has shown over and over that he is rubbish at writing women or most other subject matter. Sack Chris Chibnall. Send him back to his miserable crime dramas and leave optimistic sci fi to almost anyone else.