Love it or not, there’s no denying that Doctor Who this year was a breath of fresh air for the long-running sci-fi drama. A new showrunner, new creative team, new cast, new music, new sets, and even a new timeslot – everything shouted new! After eight years with Steven Moffat at the helm, a run of long, complex story arcs and many a moment of unashamed fan-service, the show’s 11th series presented a selection of individual stories where previous knowledge was no longer a prerequisite for viewers.
Is it good? For the most part, yes. Head-writer Chris Chibnall’s fresh take returns Doctor Who to its roots, with simple but imaginative stories, new monsters and enemies, and some interesting social commentary thrown in for good measure. Watching Series 11, it certainly feels as though the show has taken a step back, but not in terms of quality. Whilst it lacks some of the punch of previous seasons in places, there’s more of a feeling that the show is taking stock and repositioning itself (to be expected, after such a long period under a single showrunner). Many of the stories on offer are still groundbreaking and enjoyable, with Malorie Blackman’s ‘Rosa’ remaining a firm favourite amongst fans – a beautiful yet powerful foray into a dark period of American history, told in a way that is accessible to younger audiences whilst retaining the grim reality of the time period it’s set in.
Whereas Steven Moffat’s era was best epitomised by clever timey-wimey concepts, Chibnall’s first year is driven by a character-first sensibility. Both regular cast-members and guest stars alike are well-served by some excellent writing and character arcs, wherein many of which provide some of the finest moments across the entire season. There’s no better example of this than with companion Graham O’Brien (played by the phenomenal Bradley Walsh) and his underlying grief, an ongoing thread which plays out across the series and gives Walsh plenty of shining moments as the loveable step-grandad.
Of course, the most important (and much-debated) aspect of this new era was always going to be Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, the first female incarnation of the legendary Time Lord in the show’s 55-year history. From the off, Whittaker proves to be an excellent choice in the role – energetic, funny, endearing and authoritative, coupled with a degree of pathos and that required passion for adventure. Granted, at this point, there hasn’t been many opportunities that really allow her to stand-out and make her Doctor unique in the grand scheme of things, but there are moments this season where we start to see flickers of what she will become in future seasons. Suffice to say, it totally works.
Stylistically, the revamped show is great – direction, music, effects, and cinematography all feel exciting and different this time around, but still in keeping with what’s gone before. And with a whole new writing team at work, there’s plenty of superb and involving stories that tread new ground on offer – ‘Demons of the Punjab’ delves into a seldom-represented piece of Indian history in an emotionally charged episode, ‘The Witchfinders’ proves an atmospheric adventure in the classic Who mould and ‘Kerblam!’ takes a satirical stab at worker’s rights and warehouse culture with a neat sci-fi twist.
Doctor Who‘s 11th series certainly has its fair share of teething problems, but there’s no denying the series is still as enjoyable and entertaining as ever, enlivened by a great new cast and a fresh approach in terms of style and storytelling. Time will tell as to what the future holds for both new Doctor and new showrunner, but for now, there’s plenty to love about this new and exciting direction for one of television’s greatest.