Doctor Who Series 11: Review

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A little over a year ago, I wrote about What I Wanted to See from Doctor Who, going forward, specifically because Jodie Whitaker was about to become the first female Doctor in the show’s history.  The big thing that I didn’t want to see was the over sexualization of the Doctor, just because she would now be female, and they did that.  Arguably of all the Doctors of the modern run, she was the least sexual, or sexualized, and I’m happy with that, because after all this is an near immortal alien being with untold thousands of years of accumulated knowledge, whose consciousness never really dies. The Doctor  is nearly a goddess (formerly a god), hanging out with people who are merely decades old, and extremely mortal.  The sexual/romantic nature of that is always a bit questionable, so steering away from it, at least in her first season as a woman, was probably a good idea.

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Now, by that single metric the show was a success, but as you can imagine, whether or not a show’s main character is or is not over-sexualized isn’t the true determination of its quality.  This season was incredibly divisive, from what I saw on some Facebook pages, and the Doctor Who subreddit, this was a love it or hate it season.

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Many were claiming the show wasn’t Doctor Who anymore, citing that the new format of “Team TARDIS” with the Doctor and three season long companions, changed the dynamic too much from the Doctor and single companion model, which had been the case in most of the previous season, the only change being when a companion would bring on a boyfriend (Mickey, or Rory), or when they’d meet other aliens/time-travelers (Captain Jack, River Song).  Personally, I liked the dynamic, it was definitely different, but I don’t want to watch the same old thing over and over.

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The dynamic, and the characterization of the four TARDIS inhabitants was for me the strength of the season. The writers and actors had clearly worked to flesh out the characters.  Graham and Ryan had unresolved issues that became very naturally resolved, as step-grandfather and step-grandson, and really played out well.  Yas learned that her family were not all the tradition following people she had thought, and that her wanting something different and adventure weren’t that far off from her grandmother.  Finally, the Doctor, who is always a bit different after regenerations was just that a bit different, but really not too different, enough to reinvigorate, but not so much as to alienate… at least for most.

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One of the major complaints that I saw on Reddit, was that the Doctor is too much of a feminist, and more specifically a dreaded SJW.  Honestly, I don’t really see it.  The Doctor of the 1960’s may have been much less feminist than Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor, but I don’t think the last couple of iterations have been.  The truth is, like much of serialized sci-fi, Doctor Who is a show about striving for the fullest of human potential, and much of that is in a social aspect.  Star Trek boldly went with the first interracial kiss on American broadcast television, and as early as season one of this reboot, we had a character of Captain Jack Harkness, who for lack of a better term seemed omni-sexual, but was certainly as attracted to Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor, as he was to Rose.  This isn’t really new for the show, nor for the character.

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What was new about this dynamic for the character is that suddenly the Doctor is being taken less seriously because of her gender, and this is frustrating when she is for all intents and purposes the most authority on nearly every subject in the universe.  So, there was a little time dedicated to it, but it was a surprisingly little amount of time, usually no more than a line per episode (sometimes nothing at all).  So, personally I assume that this criticism of the ‘overwhelming feminism’ is little more than Trolling.

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But there are certainly some genuine criticisms, and I think it’s really important to take those seriously, because I personally want the show to be its best, and it cannot do that if the writers and show-runner bury their heads in the sand.  The big piece of genuine criticism, I think, was overuse and clunky exposition.  Lots of people online have mentioned it, but it bears repeating.  This show, like a lot of heavy sci-fi uses exposition more than some other genres, and that’s ok, but I would say this season seemed to do it the most, and that’s not a good thing.  I don’t any of the episodes were ruined by exposition, but in a show like this, they need to show and not tell as much as possible.

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I would say that this season gets either a C+ or maybe (if I’m being generous) a B- from me.  There was plenty of fun, and the characters were really done, but other than that I think there wasn’t enough there for me.   Some seasons have multiple episodes I would point people to, to get a feel for what the show should be, and this season really only had one (two if you count the New Years special, which is really Season 12 Episode 0).

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“Rosa,” which was episode 3, tells the story of our travels getting thrown into 1955 Montgomery, Alabama, and meeting Rosa Parks just days before her famous arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus.  This was a great episode in pretty much every way, and I don’t want to say too much as to ruin it, but I will say this, even though the show does a lot of historical episodes, and places the doctor into a lot of historical scenarios, I’m not sure any have had the possibility of alienating the audience like this before, and it doesn’t (at least not for the real reasons).  You see in these historical episodes, a lot of times we find out that the Doctor was actually responsible for setting in motion some major historical event, and this hasn’t really ever been a problem, because it’s either played as a bit of a gag, or maybe it’s a historical event without an individual historically receiving credit, and so the Doctor isn’t stealing anyone’s credit.  That’s a fine line for the show to thread, and watching it I was a bit worried “oh please don’t make it that the Doctor sets this up, or take anything away from Rosa Parks,” and it doesn’t.  It’s brilliant in letting the plot of the show revolve around the show without setting really touching the moving parts of the actual history.  Think about when Marty McFly tries really hard in Back to the Future 2 to not interact with or change anything Marty McFly from Back to the Future 1 does in 1955, it’s kind of like thbat.  It’s by far the episode of this season that shows what Doctor Who can and should be.

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Written by Micheal Cole

What I Want to See: Doctor Who

As you’re probably aware, Christmas is coming, but what you might not be aware of is that every year on Christmas, Doctor Who releases a Christmas special.  These specials aren’t just goofy Christmas specials like many other franchises might create, but are part of the continuity of the series.  In this particular special, we will see the 12th Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, regenerate into the 13th Doctor who will be played by Jodie Whitaker.

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Whitaker will play the first female Doctor in this show’s 54 year run.  There is some controversy over it, but there is also precedent with other Time Lords (the Doctor’s race) becoming Time Ladies upon regeneration.  It’s really not a big deal.  I promise.  Or at least it shouldn’t be.

The fact that it shouldn’t be a big deal, is actually what I want to see with this show.  If Whitaker follows the trend she’ll be on for about 3 seasons (other than the 9th Doctor Christopher Eccleston, all modern Doctors have had 3).  I’m hoping that while the writers are making the character female, and can introduce elements of the female experience, I hope they don’t change fundamentals of the show’s structure in order to pander.

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Doctor Who has romance in many of its storylines, but ultimately the Doctor him/herself is not inherently romantic or driven by these stories.  David Tennant’s tenth Doctor was in love with Rose, and with it came heartbreak and all of those things that romance comes with, but the Doctor stayed focused on saving the world.  Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor had something of a romance with River Song, (spoiler alert she’s his wife) but again, it was secondary to his main story of saving the world.

I will not mind them having flirtations, or even a genuine love story in the 13th Doctor’s story, but the character cannot be defined by any relationship.  There seems to be a tendency in fiction, and perhaps in non-fiction to define people by their relationships, and the Doctor whether he’s a he, or she’s a she, should not be defined by an individual relationship, but rather his or her love for life, and the living.  We get to see the Doctor over the last 10 seasons breaking down as severely over loss of friendship as loss of romantic love, and just as deeply at the loss off a species as that of the loss of a single life.  This is the Doctor’s strength as a character, and there isn’t anything inherently male or female about that (although if written well a female Doctor may shine brighter in this way).

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Lastly, sexuality.  The doctor has mostly been portrayed as heterosexual, but I would argue that this doesn’t seem like a very strict rule at all.  I don’t care, in the inevitable romances that will occur (hopefully in small doses) whether or not the character is engaged in straight or lesbian relationships, as long as it’s about character, and not sticking with continuity, or sending a message.  The companions are where sexual orientation seems to be best displayed, having had some of each, and the Doctor seems to be beyond that.  So I hope that will remain the case when it comes to the 13th Doctor.