Now that we’ve reached the halfway point of this new series of Doctor Who, I think it’s time we look back at the Thirteenth Doctor’s new adventures through time and space.
The five episodes up until this point have all been written (or co-written) by Chris Chibnall, the new showrunner. Granted, I’ve never been a huge fan of Chibnall’s — his previous Doctor Who episodes weren’t all that memorable — but when I heard he was the new showrunner, I decided to give Broadchurch a try.
Broadchurch, which ran from 2013 through 2017, was a fantastic crime drama. The story, setting, and characters (especially the characters) kept me hooked. After I finished the first series of Broadchurch, I was incredibly excited for what Chibnall would bring to Doctor Who.
Then the news broke. Chibnall was going to do away with series arcs as well as classic aliens and creatures. This gave me pause since Chibnall is clearly so much better at telling a big, overarching story (Broadchurch) as opposed to small, separate stories (“The Power of Three,” “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” etc.)
All in all, series 11 of Doctor Who seemed to have a lot of things working against it. A new showrunner, a new Doctor and cast, and fewer, yet longer episodes might be far too much to bear. Let’s break down each aspect of the show to try to weave some sense into what’s going on at the moment.
The New Showrunner
Who could ever replace Stephen Moffat? Sure, the episodes he wrote before he became showrunner (“Blink,” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”) were much better than those he wrote as a showrunner, but he still had a huge, ginormous vision of where he wanted the show to go.
More often than not, this vision of Moffat’s didn’t really pan out, but he had a great way of capturing the scale of Doctor Who’s universe. Moffat’s final series had some of his best work overall. Series 10 was a great swan song. And with Moffat’s exit, we bid a farewell to cracks in space, exploding TARDISes, convoluted timelines, and destiny-ridden companions.
Chris Chibnall, who took over as showrunner, had a lot to live up to. Apart from viewership numbers, Moffat had been showrunner from May 2008 to July 2017, a whopping nine years! Now that it’s Chibnall’s turn, he’s decided to do away with all of Moffat’s tropes and motifs.
First, he did away with series arcs, which were the bread and butter of Moffat’s writing. But I find this odd. Again, after comparing Chibnall’s excellent work on Broadchurch, I don’t see why he didn’t just decide to make two or three smaller stories within the range of 10 episodes. So far, this new series of Doctor Who feels as if it’s trying to be something it’s not, which leads me to my next point.
The New Doctor and Her Companions
This is what breaks my heart. Jodie Whittaker shines as the Thirteenth Doctor, but Chibnall hasn’t given her the chance to breathe. Instead, he decided to give her not one, not two, but three companions. Graham is consistently great and endearing. Ryan has his ups and downs (he doesn’t really have a stable character at all, changing drastically from one episode to the next). And Yaz is, sadly, just there for the ride.
The family dynamic between Graham and Ryan is somewhat interesting but it also continuously falls short. Graham is, easily, the best companion out of the three. His arc will clearly end with his death, whether it be at the end of this series or the next.
Shifting our focus to Yaz, I have one question: Why is she even in the TARDIS with the other three? There’s nothing connecting her to the other companions. She doesn’t exemplify a need to be with the Doctor. She’s simply there. I honestly don’t know why Chibnall thought it’d be a good idea to cram so many companions into the TARDIS on his first run. This naturally detracts from the Doctor. In previous series, the Doctor was always the main focus of the episode while the companions always served as the connection for the audience.
I think Chibnall painted himself into a corner with his first series as showrunner. He could’ve started it out with just Ryan and Graham and then Yaz could’ve joined Team TARDIS later on in the series. Jodie Whittaker hasn’t been given her space to breathe new life into this character. Instead, time has to be spent on the three companions while the Doctor runs around referencing Ed Sheeran and Pythagoras. It’s so confusing. Why stuff the series with so many characters when you’re given fewer episodes to work with? Which leads me to…
The New Episode Format
Series 11 ushered in a new episode format. Now, instead of 12 45-minute episodes per series, we’re getting 10 50-minute episodes. What was once nine hours of television is now eight and a half hours. Although this change may appear small and insignificant at first, it might be the biggest hurdle the show is currently facing.
With fewer episodes comes less space for the story to unfold. Just because the TARDIS is bigger on the inside doesn’t mean you should try to cram as many stories and characters into it as possible. The show needs room to breathe so the story can be told without it feeling rushed. Chibnall could’ve used this format to his advantage, to tell one great story and to focus on the right characters. Instead, he decided to jump all over the place on his first outing with the Doctor.
I really hope Chibnall and his team can bring it all together in the latter half of the series. Jodie and the rest of the cast deserve a great story or two, at least! So far, every story has had a cheesy villain who’s been easily dispatched. They are not threatening, and since they’re all new creatures, there’s no weight to their decisions or intent. New creatures are great and memorable but only when they’re done right. Instead, we’ve gotten derivative creatures or uninspired ones who served no purpose.
Perhaps I would enjoy this series more if Chibnall cut out one (or a few) of the changes listed above. Fewer companions, a loose overarching plot, or more focus on the Doctor could’ve given this new series a fresh new start. Sadly, it seems like Chibnall is trying to be too different, too wacky, and too tame all at the same time. Hopefully the next non-Chibnall written episodes will take the show in a fresh new direction. At this point, I’m not sure why the BBC chose Chibnall to become showrunner. I really do hope he pulls it together because if it fails, I believe this is might be the last we ever see of Doctor Who.