Doctor Who Series 11 Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Season: 11 (New Who)
  • Episodes: 10
  • Discs: 3 (Blu-Ray)
  • Network: BBC
  • Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill
  • DVD: R1, NTSC, Blu-Ray

For the first time in the 55-year history of Doctor Who, the lead character of the Doctor is played by a woman, Jodie Whittaker and it is brilliant. Also, for the first time since the series was revived by Russell T. Davies in 2005, the TARDIS has a true team of companions, with the Doctor joined by Graham, Ryan, and Yaz (Yasmin). Having a group, a true team in the TARDIS brings to mind the classic years of Doctor Who, especially the original TARDIS team of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan. Series 11 avoids the pitfalls of having a four-person team, as well, because none of the team ever seem to be neglected or to have nothing to do. There are episodes where different characters are more to the forefront based on that particular story, but Series 11 avoids having someone take a nap for an episode, or spend the entire episode locked up. Also, each person has different talents and experiences, and the team works together with their skills meshing in the interest of good storytelling.

I enjoyed Doctor Who Series 11 very much. Jodie Whittaker plays the Doctor as someone who is full of hope and who brings hope to others – that is important. She also freely admits she doesn’t have all the answers, but that doesn’t stop her from doing her absolute best and if she makes a mistake or is wrong in her assumptions or assessment of a situation, she admits it and moves on to fix the problem. Jodie’s Doctor is never bombastic or ego-driven, she is caring and there to help. Jodie at times seems to channel David Tennent’s energy, but her performance is all her own and I just really liked her. I even like her earthy Sheffield / Yorkshire accent.

The Doctor literally falls to Earth in the first episode of the season, “The Woman Who Fell To Earth”, landing on a train that has just been attacked by an alien creature. Graham and Grace are aboard the train. Meanwhile, Ryan, Graham’s grandson by marriage has found an alien artifact in the woods and called a police officer, Yasmin Khan for help. It turns the two went to school together. “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” has the Doctor building her own sonic, including using Sheffield steel, discovering that the one alien that attacked the train was basically an information-gathering semi-organic robot and it worked for a warrior of the Stenza, on a hunt on Earth. The Doctor gets very angry at the Stenza using Earth as a hunting ground, with people being taken as trophies. With assistance from Yaz, Ryan, Graham and Grace, as well as a human who’s meant to be the next trophy, the Doctor stops the Stenza and banishes him back to his home planet. Grace, however, is killed in the crossfire. Yaz takes the Doctor shopping, where she gets her iconic outfit, including the awesome coat. But when the Doctor tries to use the Stanza teleport to get to her TARDIS, it also transports Yaz, Ryan, and Graham.

“The Woman Who Fell To Earth” flows directly into “The Ghost Monument”. The Doctor and her fam meet two competitors in a huge race with a huge prize. They discover the planet they are on was once a weapons-research facility for the Stenza, with kidnapped scientists forced to work while their families were held, hostage. One of competitors is from a world that the Stenza has captured. She’s racing so she can rescue her family and prevent them from being victims of genocide. The Doctor convinces the two to present an all-or-nothing solution to the man running the contest with the two splitting the prize. The Doctor gets her TARDIS back – and she likes the redesign.

The rest of the season does what New Who often does with a new Doctor – each story is an example of a typical type of Doctor Who story. “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” are historical stories and both are extremely strong. I liked both of them very much. “Rosa” doesn’t shy away from the racism in America – and Ryan and Yaz have a frank discussion of the racism and religious bigotry they still face every day in England. But Yaz also points out that it’s because of people like Rosa Parks that she’s able to be a police officer. “Demons of the Punjab” at first it seems like aliens have invaded India in 1947 on the eve of Partition. This is the partition of India that made Pakistan a separate country and resulted in the deaths and displacement of millions of people. “Demons of the Punjab” is also a very personal story for Yaz, as not only is she Muslim and of Pakistani descent but the story is deeply entwined in her personal history, and her grandmother’s story. The alien “demons” by the way weren’t after all evil but were there to witness and honor the deaths of those who would die alone. There was a beauty to that – a sad beauty, but a beauty nonetheless. I enjoyed both “Rosa” and “Demons of the Punjab” even though both stories are very sad.

“Arachnids in the UK” is the “scary” episode of the season. I’m not afraid of spiders (they are actually useful to ecology – you just don’t want to get bit by one). I also felt like the plot for this story felt a little disjointed. The angry, arrogant, white billionaire hotel owner messed up by building his hotel on top of a toxic waste dump, and to make things worse, the researcher was sending animal and spider carcasses from “research” to the dumping ground where they were treated anything but properly. Yet the queen spider dies of asphyxiation because it’s too big to breathe, and what of the other overly-large spiders? We have no idea. The Doctor and her crew had a plan to trap them in the panic room and cut off the oxygen but who knows if it worked (and it seemed pretty cruel).

I loved “Kerblam!” – first, it has the best (or the worst) pun title ever. Second, although at first, it seems a straight-up critique of Amazon.com and other extremely large online retailers, the actual plot is more a critique of automation and how too much automation can cause people to lose jobs. This may seem like an out of date argument, and it is, but the story also does something Doctor Who has done throughout it’s run both Classic and New – it introduces a likable character with understandable grievances who goes to an extreme to get what he “wants” and the Doctor and her crew must stop him. Charlie isn’t all that bad a person, and he’s no doubt been informed by anti-automation rhetoric his entire life. But his plan, of sending a massive wave of bomb-carrying Kerblam! Delivery bots out to his planet is a bit extreme. The massive loss of life would be catastrophic. The Doctor is able to stop the plan, and makes an ally in the head of HR who decides to make Kerblam! a people-led company.

I also liked “The Tsuranga Conundrum”. The Doctor and her team are on a junk asteroid trying to find some needed spare parts for the TARDIS. Ryan accidentally trips a sonic mine and the TARDIS crew wakes up on an automated hospital ship with a very tiny crew and a few passengers who are also in need of medical care. It’s a good base under siege story, with several wonderful moments – the Doctor’s excitement and joy when she examines the anti-matter drive, the ending memorial service for the pilot, and yes, even the P’Ting. In the episode, a computerized database reads out a horrific description of the P’Ting, and the pilot says one went through her “entire fleet” once. Unfortunately, these descriptions were not passed on to whoever actually designed the P’Ting as a digital character because he’s as cute as an Adipose and then some. It even reacts like Gollum when the Doctor tries to get her sonic back, then throws it up drained of energy.

I mean, look at that face – Don’t you want to bring one home?

Again, this isn’t a criticism. The Adipose were also adorable!

“It Takes You Away” is a modern haunted house story with a twist. But it brings a satisfying conclusion to the story of Ryan and Graham trying to process their grief at losing Grace and becoming a family.

Technically, “The Witchfinders” is a historical, set in the time of James the First during the witch trials in England, but the episode is really the first time we see Jodie’s Doctor challenged because she’s a woman. The Doctor handles it well. The episode is also about assumptions, fears, scapegoating, and people not taking responsibility for their actions. The landowner decides that she must blame others for her mistakes – which involves freeing an alien army that was imprisoned in an ancient hill. It does feel like a traditional Doctor Who story, it’s a common story point for some sort of confrontation to occur between humans and aliens in a familiar feeling context even if it is a historical one.

The final episode, “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” wraps up a few themes from the season. The TARDIS receives a series of distress calls from a planet with some serious atmospheric issues, “Tim Shaw” the Stenza Warrior shows up again, having created a truly terrifying weapon he is already using, and a new race, the Ux are introduced. The Ux are dimensional engineers and there are only ever two at a time. Unfortunately, when an injured Tim Shaw crashed on the Ux planet, they mistook him for their god, “The Creator”. The Stenza Warrior took advantage of this and used them, their talents, and Stenza technology to create a horrific weapon that literally kills planets and everything on them. The planets themselves are then taken out of orbit, shrunken down, and held in stasis pods as trophies. The Doctor is horrified by the sheer amount of death. One of the Ux is starting to question his orders, while the other argues they cannot “understand the creator’s plan”. Also on the planet is an amnesiac pilot who was a last-ditch effort by the Nine Galaxies to stop the weapon. The Doctor fits him with a Neural Inhibitor which stops the atmospheric effects of the planet that are causing his amnesia. He also has all the tools needed to rescue his own crew and others held by the Stenza. This is an episode where everyone splits up to accomplish different tasks, but it works and no one is shortchanged. At the beginning of the episode, Graham tells the Doctor that if he gets the chance to kill Tim Shaw he will – for Grace. The Doctor tells him, no, absolutely no killing, and that Grace would want him to be the better man. “The Better Man (or person)”, actually could have been the title of the episode because it becomes not only a theme of the episode but of the season – as many of the episodes deal with how to be a better person, or the better person even when confronted with prejudice or the loss of a loved one (Graham and Ryan losing Grace; Erik and Hanne losing Brine), or even incompatibility in existence (the frog in “It Takes You Away”). Anyway, Ryan argues the Doctor’s position with Graham, telling him he can’t kill Tim Shaw. In the end, Graham doesn’t kill the Stenza Warrior, though he had the chance and he and Ryan lock him in a stasis chamber. The Doctor works with the Ux and uses the TARDIS to return the planets to where they came from, though they are presumably still desolate rocks.

I loved Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor and I enjoyed her companions, her team, her “fam” as the Doctor puts it. After increasingly grim and depressing storylines in the Moffatt Era (and other issues I’m not going to get in to here), Jodie is a breath of fresh air. Not merely because she’s a woman – that really doesn’t enter into the plot all that often, but because she is kind and warm and full of hope and enthusiasm and joy. Jodie’s Doctor seems to enjoy traveling again so we can enjoy riding along with her and her crew, even with the monsters and death and destruction. Highly recommended!

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