Just to get it out of the way, as I suspect it may be held up as a human shield in front of snipers, the reason I do not like the new Doctor Who series is NOT because it now has a female lead.
I was thrilled to bits when the reveal of Jodie Whitaker took place, looking forward to a new era of the show that I’ve loved ever since my earliest memories of television. I’ve always scorned those reactionary Whovians who said that the Doctor could never be a woman and teased them by asking if they only liked the character because it had testicles and if so wasn’t that a weird criterion for liking a show. I cheered at the mention of the Corsair in The Doctor’s Wife who was clearly described as having been in their time both male and female, and at the introduction of Missy who was by far the most interesting iteration of The Master since Delgado passed in 1973.
What My Concerns Were
From the moment I heard that Chris Chibnall was going to be the new show runner, well before the new Doctor’s casting was announced, I was bothered. I’ve been assured by people that his writing in Torchwood and Broadchurch was good, but every episode of his of Doctor Who had to my taste being massively underwhelming. I was concerned about a repeat of abominations like The Power of Three which had some quirky character moments but with a tacked on, lacklustre plot with a ridiculously contrived simple ending.
We’re five episodes into the new season and I’ve lost interest in the show. Fifteen minutes into last night’s episode my attention had wandered enough to start posting a disappointed review of the episode so far on Facebook. Rather than morbidly dissect each episode here are a few points in a more or less random order, though I’ll save my biggest problem with the show till last as it’s the one I feel least comfortable admitting.
- The stories are dull and over simple. There’s a baddy doing bad things. They’re stopped. No twists or turns, no delightful The Doctor Dances style revelations that turn things on their head and make them a joy to watch other people discover for the first time.
- The bad guys are bland and forgettable. I know the show has made a conscious decision to step away from the established rogues’ gallery of Daleks, Cybermen etc, but their replacements are…. Well I don’t know what they are. They are not memorable. Tooth-face guy from episode one had teeth in his face and they called him Tim Shaw. Space racist in Rosa was a racist, apparently, and had weapons that allowed him to do absolutely jack shit, and was defeated by being shot. Hindu Harry Potter in Demons of the Punjab at least had some interesting human motivations but not really enough to justify a whole episode
- The companions are cyphers. Each has their own little bit of backstory (Ryan has dyspraxia and didn’t know his Dad, Yaz’ family relationships are strained and…. Oooh… does she fancy the Doctor? Graham is mourning the loss of his wife) but beyond that there is no sense of them as people and their dialogue outside of those factors could be interchanged with each other with no jarring. Also the guy who plays Ryan can’t act. He really can’t. He speaks his lines with a certain screwed-up brow intensity but that’s all. Bradley Walsh can act, I’ve seen him do it, but he’s struggling with this material.
- The TARDIS team are largely irrelevant to what’s going on. If there is to be any resolution to the issues in the episode it is a quick, unlikely press of a magic button that teleports the enemies away or locks them in a dark room (and then forgets about them entirely). We no longer have a Doctor who is righting wrongs across space and time but one who is wandering around aimlessly noticing things that then go away more or less under their own steam. No, I’m not saying that they should have stepped in and protested alongside Rosa at the end of the eponymous episode, that was handled perfectly – but the threat of space-racist was ended by Ryan shooting him with a time travel gun. That’s it. He got shot. After the Doctor, earlier in the episode, lampshaded telling Ryan how the gun worked in one of the most clunky bits of “this is how the plot will resolve” bits of dialogue since episode two’s nonsense about the self lighting Chekhov’s cigar.
- The tone is preachy. This isn’t me saying “Oh it’s all PC and inclusive!” – Doctor Who has always tackled social issues and promoted a progressive message. What it’s doing now is doing so with all the skill and finesse of an amateur dramatic company touring schools doing plays about “Issues” – hamfisted lecturing with clumsy metaphors.
- And finally? I hate to say it but I’m not loving Jodie Whitaker as the Doctor. The woman can really act, I’ve seen her do it in other things, but here she’s managed to make the Doctor … dull. In five episodes I struggle to find anything interesting about her character. The Doctor runs around eager as a terrier, breathily announcing how things are brilliant, or exciting, or confusing or wrong. She’ll occasionally spout forth a few self deprecating questions about herself and then back to dashing around being keen. There has been no sense of gravitas or authority or even intelligence (yes the writer occasionally has her spout technobabble or make a plot solving machine out of hilariously mundane objects). Eccleston was the emotionally damaged war veteran, Tennant the newly liberated explorer with burgeoning hubris, Smith the weary immortal, Capaldi the self-searching savant. So far Whitaker is just eager. I am sure she is doing the best she can with the material, but the material is not good, and that means that her best is not exactly engaging.
I really wanted to love the new era of the show, but I really don’t. And I’m fed up pretending, as I have for the past few weeks, that things are just “settling in” and will soon improve, and ‘isn’t it nice they’re taking a fresh approach’. I’m just not excited to watch anymore, and that’s really bugging me.