Monday, December 10, 2018

My Take on Doctor Who

I have been a Doctor Who fan since its inception in 1963. Even more so of its modern incarnation, beginning with Christopher Eccleston. Of course there have been ups and downs: classical, memorable story lines and utter clangers. So what do I make of the new series, featuring Jodie Whittaker as Doctor Who?

I was really looking forward to a female Doctor. What a great opportunity to develop the character of the Doctor in new and interesting ways! I had watched Jodie Whittaker in Broadchurch and she seemed a competent actor. I thought the role of the Doctor might be a great opportunity for her.

So ... what went wrong?

Pretty much everything, I think.

The story lines have been generally weak. Even in the better stories (e.g. the Rosa Parks story) they have been rather un-Doctor Who-ish. They have not been linked together by any overall story arc. Yeah, sure, the baddy from episode one turns up again in the final episode, but that was in no way organic. It could have been any baddy and made little or no difference. Where were the intriguing clues and hints at mystery (as in 'Bad Wolf', or the re-appearances of versions of 'Clara')? 

And who are these people? Why are they travelling together? Are they just on a road trip together? What of their off-Tardis lives? The companions don't seem to have any real relationship with the Doctor. She's just the bus driver and tour guide. Why these people? Mostly they stand around looking silly, waiting for their next instruction from the Doctor (or their next line).

I think it was a mistake to immediately burden the Doctor with three companions. It meant that Jodie had less time and script to develop her character. The result is that none of them really have a chance to develop their characters, because there is no focus on one or two characters and their relationships to each other. And the companions are not, really, very interesting. At the end of the season, I still scarcely know their names.

And has the new team decided to cut all ties with the entire history of Doctor Who? Will there be no recurrence of past characters/villains? No working out of consequences from earlier story lines? If that's the case, in what sense is this really Doctor Who at all?

And what of the Doctor? Well, the writers seems to have gone out of their way to make Jodie as gender neutral as possible, perhaps to avoid offending anyone. I would have liked to see a female Doctor with, well -- at the risk of being pilloried -- more femininity. Picture, in the first episode, the Doctor in a skirt and stilletoes, climbing a huge gantry. I think moments of great humour and surprise have been squandered by playing down the Doctor's femininity. 

This has been the first series of Doctor Who when I actually turned off an episode half way through because I thought it was unwatchable (the 'witches' episode). It seems there will another series -- or, really, the second half of this series. But can the franchise survive beyond that? Without a serious shake-up, I doubt it.