Doctor Who, Series Eleven – On Reflection

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Series Eleven has finished and there’s a New Year’s Special around the corner. What better time to take a (very brief) look at each episode of Jodie Whittaker’s first outing as the Doctor? A warning going in, or a spoiler really, I suppose: I loved this series. If you’re here for a bitching session, you’re wasting your time. I’ve given my honest opinions on each episode of the series, but they’re largely positive, save those on one or two episodes. So, shall we?

THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH

I mean, as opening episodes go, this one was up there. I immediately fell in love with Jodie as the Doctor and while her companions would take a week or two to grow on me completely, Yaz was instantly likeable. Tim Shaw proved to be an effective villain, for my money. There really wasn’t much here that I felt the need to complain about. A barnstorming introduction to what would turn out to be a greatly enjoyable series.

THE GHOST MONUMENT

Okay. So episode two was very much an Episode Two. Inconsequential and largely lacking in “oomph”, but I really liked the raglike Remnants and, for all their genericism, the Sniper Bots looked great. On reflection, this one sits at the lower end of my ranked list for the series, redeemed almost exclusively by the TARDIS reveal in the closing moments. I enjoyed it when it aired, but there’s much better to come.

ROSA

And that’s how you do a historical episode of a time travel adventure show! An exceptional outing that is at once educational, emotional, powerful, psychologically affecting and fun. Jodie IS the Doctor here, with predecessors forgotten, as should be the case when any new Doctor comes along. It’s a rare thing to find an episode of this show that is important as well as entertaining. Plus, it pissed off so many crybaby alt-right types just by existing. Beautiful.

ARACHNIDS IN THE UK

I loved this one. Others, it seems, didn’t. Riddled with plot holes, but then when did that ever spoil anyone’s enjoyment of Doctor Who? Giant spiders beneath a posh hotel in Sheffield. A proper, old-school creature feature. We also get to say hello to Yaz’s family here, for the first and only time, and I loved them too. I’ve watched this episode loads of times because it’s big and daft and creepy and I like it, so there.

THE TSURANGA CONUNDRUM

Wow. This one divided opinion, eh? Residing at the bottom of most people’s list (mainly due to the weird, cute monster, Pting), this episode sits squarely in the middle of my ranking. It’s a classic “Gremlins on the Wing” story, but in space. I can’t be the only one to find Pting even more threatening for being so adorably cute-looking? I hate stark white shiny spaceships, but I’ll forgive this one its design disappointments for being daring with its weird alien threat.

DEMONS OF THE PUNJAB

Utterly spellbinding, totally heartbreaking and absolutely gorgeous to look at. The heavy-handed emotion in this one does exactly what it’s meant to do; it makes you cry. Another powerful episode. The historicals were where this series really stood out. Of my Top Five episodes of the series, three were historicals and one was set in modern-day Norway. But we’ll get to that. Demons of the Punjab broke my heart. I love it.

KERBLAM!

Urgh. Okay. It’s fine. It’s fun. It’s got a really muddy message, which never quite lands. It looks like something we’d have been given in RTD’s first series, which is why most people put this at the top of their lists. It’s at the bottom of mine (and the only episode I’ve seen less than three times) because it’s so reminiscent of what’s come before. We have dozens of episodes that look and feel like this one. I’m more interested in the newness this year.

THE WITCHFINDERS

Another historical, another episode that shines for it. Witches, alien mud, a big camp King. Huge fun and actually a very sensitive and informative look at the witch trials of history. I sort of wish, of all of the episodes this series, that this one was a two-parter. I think it would be even better for having been given a bit of space to breathe in its final act. As it stands, it still makes my Top Five with ease. I loved it and didn’t expect to.

IT TAKES YOU AWAY

Where to begin?! I ADORE this episode because it is utterly and ridiculously unusual and original. The bad guy is a lonely sentient universe who takes the shape of a frog. An exploration of trust and love and grief that works so well, even when it shouldn’t. For my money, this is one of the most experimental episodes in the show’s long history. I think the risks paid off. It will be looked back on as something special (once people get over the frog).

THE BATTLE OF RANSKOOR AV KOLOS

Another nice episode. A small-scale finale (despite the global jeopardy) that is more about overcoming the urges of vengeance and avoiding becoming that which you despise than it is about saving worlds and defeating monsters. I think both Tim Shaw and the Sniper Bots’ come across in a more threatening and dangerous light in this one than they did in their introductory episodes. A worthy close to a great new series.

My favourite episode was It Takes You Away, not least for its sheer oddness. My least favourite was Kerblam! because I felt like I’d already seen that episode a bunch of times before. But it’s important to note that I enjoyed every episode. I’m known for my generous opinions on Doctor Who, so take it with a pinch of salt, but I wouldn’t give any episode this series less than a 5/10. And one of them scored a high 9.5. I adored this series.

I immediately found myself engaged emotionally and fully invested in the characters. Jodie Whittaker might just be my favourite Doctor. I love her gentle, humble approach to the role. We’ve had fifty years of bombastic men yelling into the sky – not least in the last ten years – so it’s very refreshing to be given something genuinely new. She’s the Doctor, every inch of her, but she’s her own Doctor. And I can’t wait to spend New Year’s Day with her.

Doctor Who: Resolution airs on New Year’s Day.

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Oh, Hi!

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Apologies for not having written anything in ten weeks. I’m a bad blogger! Coming Soon: My pocket-sized recap and review of Doctor Who series 11. Then, after Xmas, my round-up of the year in general. Here’s a hint: One of those is a positive, joyful post while the other is likely to be miserable as hell. Can you guess which is which?

Stay tuned, and thanks for your patience.

Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell To Earth

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Last night 8.2 million people tuned in to watch The Woman Who Fell To Earth, Jodie Whittaker’s first proper outing as the Thirteenth Doctor. Judging by social media reviews, most of them liked it a lot! So did I. With an updated look and feel, a talented and diverse supporting cast and a monster that has given at least three children I know of nightmares, TWWFTE is a reassuringly fresh start to a series that some have argued was beginning to go stale. The series 11 opener is basically Doctor Who Does Predator – an alien hunter sent to Earth to prove himself worthy of leadership back ‘ome. It isn’t a groundbreaking plot, but then these new Doctor debut episodes rarely have the alien threat front and centre. They’re usually all about introducing the new Doctor. Here, we have a new Doctor, a new team of companions, a new look and feel, new music from a new composer, and a new direction from new showrunners. So a thin plot should be the least of anyone’s worries.

What we get is a wonderful, dark, exciting, breakneck adventure set in rainy Sheffield over the course of 24 hours. The Thirteenth Doctor arrives just in time to set things right, with a little help. Her companions here are lovely. Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) is a young police officer bored of mediating parking disputes, craving something more interesting and more challenging. She doesn’t get all that much to do in this opening episode, though. She’s brought into the story as an outsider to the mystery. I’m looking forward to seeing her get more to do as the series goes on. The alien menace plot here belongs to fellow companions Ryan (Tosin Cole) and his Nan, Grace (Sharon D Clarke) and husband Graham (Bradley Walsh). Ryan accidentally invites tooth-faced villain Tzim-Sha (“Tim Shaw?!”) to use Earth as a proving ground and spends the rest of the night helping to take that invite back. Ryan is very lovable. I’m not properly qualified to say whether the subplot surrounding his dyspraxia is handled well, but I’m hearing those who share the condition are happy with the representation. We couldn’t have asked for a more promising TARDIS Team.

A word on Ryan’s grandparents: Graham is wonderful. He’s reluctant to believe in aliens, wary about rushing into danger but never refuses to assist. He’s going to be a hit with viewers for sure, especially given the heartbreaking backstory he has. You see, Grace – his wife, Ryan’s Nan – was his chemotherapy nurse when he was suffering from cancer. They fell in love and got married. He thought his days were numbered, but is now in remission. (SPOILER WARNING) When Grace dies at the end of this episode Graham is left feeling as though it should’ve been him who died, not her. His eulogy in the church at Grace’s funeral made the country cry. He’s the heart, here.

Then there’s the Thirteenth Doctor herself! A lot has been written (mostly by arseholes) about the danger/fear of a female Doctor. Within seconds of her falling through a train ceiling, any fears evaporated. She IS the Doctor. More encouraging than those to come before her; less “come with me if you want to live” more “can you give me a hand keeping us all alive?” and it works so well. She’s softer, almost childlike (“can we have the flashing lights on?” she asks Yaz while riding in her police car. When she’s told no… well, my one-year-old son has a similar “disappointed face”) and every moral we’ve ever seen the Doctor hold dear is present in her every action. I love the scrapyard nature of her plan, too. She made her sonic screwdriver, rather than having it gifted by the TARDIS, from Sheffield Steel and an alien crystal. She made a transporter from a car battery, a microwave and half an alien landing pod. She’s brilliant. And her gender, put bluntly, goes almost unmentioned and is entirely irrelevant. She’s just the Doctor.

That’s not to say things are perfect. As I’ve mentioned, with such a big supporting cast some people have less to do than others, which means we get to know some other companions better than them. This is something that’ll work itself out episode to episode. I’ve heard that each companion has episodes that centre around them, going forward. Tonight was mostly a Ryan episode. And plotwise we were in coincidence city: Ryan is riding a bike on a hill, throws his bike in temper into the forest, goes to get it and accidentally invited an alien to land. Later, that alien’s bloodhound-like search-bot thing crashes the train that Ryan’s grandparents happen to be on because the alien’s target is also on sharing the carriage. Ryan calls the police, bringing Yaz in, who both race to the train to investigate, putting them all in danger and bringing our companions together. Then, just as they’re all about to die, the Doctor just happens to fall through the roof of the very carriage they’re all in. It’s “convenient situational plotting 101” and I’m happy to ignore it because the overall product is just so much fun. Also, I felt that Grace’s death was sudden and jarring. Did she fall from high enough to die from the fall? Or was she hit by the blast? Minor niggles which, in the grand scheme of things, are par for the course when it comes to Doctor Who.

No TARDIS this week, which led to a mindbending cliffhanger that sees our heroes floating in deep space. I bet the TARDIS will save them all, materialising around them and dragging them off on another adventure. I can’t wait.

I loved The Woman Who Fell To Earth and I’m in love with our new cast of characters already. Jodie Whittaker makes a sensational Doctor. The show looks like a movie – sumptuousness oozes from the screen, helped along by a welcomingly unintrusive score from new composer Segun Akinola. His new arrangement of the theme tune is wonderful, new and old all at once, but where the hell was the opening title sequence?! Surely they haven’t ditched that for good? I suppose we’ll see next week. I never had doubts about the new series, really. Chibnall is a capable showrunner and I trust him. But it’s nice to finally know that I was right not to worry. Doctor Who is born again. It’s about time!