Season Eleven of Doctor Who sees British favourite Jodie Whittaker as the latest incarnation of the titular character and the first ever female version. Her companions come in the form of Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill as Graham O’Brien, Ryan Sinclair and Yasmin Khan, respectively.
When a strange organism targets a train, The Doctor is thrust into her first adventure. From the first ten minutes alone it’s clear the production value has increased. The cinematography, locations and effects are a lot sharper than we are used to seeing on the show, and there’s a clean look to it that lacks the plastic-y feeling the show sometimes struggles with. While this may change when sets such as spaceship interiors are introduced, it’s nice to see a fresh visual style accompanying the new path.
There wasn’t a lot of time to dig into the companions, but we are introduced and get a view of their general personas. Yasmin, or Yaz to her friends, is a police officer who seems to be quite reluctant to The Doctor’s bashfulness and lack of tact—which is quite refreshing considering the sidekicks are usually very eager. Graham O’Brien comes into the picture with his wife, who seems to be the one who pushes him outside of his comfort zone. Of all the introduced characters, his might be the most interesting in terms of how he fits in with the group. Running towards danger doesn’t come naturally to him, and I sense that seeing him progress could be a series strength for the upcoming episodes.
Ryan Sinclair is a young man with dyspraxia (a co-ordination disorder) that accidentally kicks the whole premise of the episode off when he comes into contact with alien transport. But Tosin Cole was given the least to do, and I didn’t get a great sense of his character in amongst all the new faces, which I hope is merely part and parcel of it being the first episode.
The Doctor has just finished regenerating so still has a bit of a time-lord hangover. This serves as a perfect opportunity for us and her to figure her personality out and see what kind of Doctor we are in for. From the looks of things, as the preview clips suggested, Whittaker’s turn as Thirteen is quirky and friendly, with some internal tics the character always carries. Whittaker is like a little bolt of electricity and fun to watch as she figures herself out in her new body.
“We don’t get aliens in Sheffield!”
The best parts of the Chris Chibnall penned episode were within the framework of the frantic pacing, as Whittaker zooms around making friends and trying to save the world while going through a fundamental change in her psyche; the brief sequences of frenetic madness are worthy of a smile or two. The building of the sonic screwdriver and Whittaker’s first appearance in the episode are among the highlights. The series has to evolve and grow, but the quirks that tie everything down are still very much present here and feel like a welcome home. The show doesn’t give you time to doubt her, she just is The Doctor now.
Any fan of this time-travelling show knows that it’s never exactly been top-tier television. People return to it for the lovable characters, the unimaginable alien worlds and the ethical statements it makes about existence. So of course, there are things you could easily point out as flaws. The humour is a bit hit or miss, the acting isn’t always on key and there are budget restrictions; but in this transition to the new stage of the series there’s going to be some creases needing to be ironed out. It’s probably always going to be a bit cheesy and lack a certain texture—but what Doctor Who does right it does right consistently and stays true to what the show is about.
Doctor Who is a long-running and long-loved show. When I first started watching it I was probably no more than nine years old. I’m here now, a decade later, and it’s almost surreal that it isn’t just still here but that it’s moved on with the times and is as bold as ever. I can only imagine what the effects of a woman in the role I looked up to so much would’ve meant to me back then, but it would’ve meant quite a lot, because it means something to me now. After a few seasons where things seem to have gone off track and dropped in quality, it’s exciting to see a fresh coat of paint on the series and behold the change in direction.
It’s not perfect, but it is Doctor Who.