Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Thoughts on Doctor Who Series 11

In late June of 2007, some friends of mine got married in Hawaii (she was from there, he grew up there), and a group of us went out for the wedding.  Besides being with friends, it was a chance to go to Hawaii, visit Pearl Harbor, and take notes for my novel Damocles – which I will probably never get around to writing – that is set in Hawaii.  For all the benefits, there was one major downside: I had to wait to see “The Last of the Time Lords.”

At the time there were two ways for me to watch Doctor Who.  I could watch it on – I think it was still – the Scifi Channel, but I think it aired a month or so after airing in the UK and there would be a few minutes sliced here and there to make room for the commercials.  Or I could wait six or eight hours after it aired in the UK and hunt down a bootleg version.  I opted for the uncut, bootleg version.  Like I was going to wait for doctored Doctor Who. 

But for that trip to Hawaii – where I tapped out a rhythm of four about … fifty times a day – I couldn’t pack my desktop.  I didn’t have a laptop back then, and I don’t even know if the hotel had internet for all the rooms.  There was an internet cafĂ© a couple blocks away, but I think you had to buy your time.  So I had to wait until I got back home to watch the final episode of Series 3.  And I think it was one of the first five things I did when I got home.  Of course my experience wasn’t unspoiled.  There were a couple of steps between the airport and my apartment.  One stop was at a friend’s house where I checked my email and whatnot, and some post somewhere that I tried to skip over had the reveal of who the Face of Boe was.  Still, I was super excited to see how The Doctor, Martha, and Jack defeated The Master. 

Compare that to my actions for the latest series.  I now have BBC America, but Doctor Who aired at the same time as Supergirl, and I don’t have a DVR.  I think it did reair, but at 4:00AM, which is a bit late for me.  So I’d wait a day or two – depending on my work schedule – and watch the episodes on the BBC America website.  Up to episode 8, “The Witchfinders.” I started watching it, but I think I wasn’t feeling all that well and after five minutes or so I turned it off.  And I kind of forgot about it.  It wasn’t until the day the final episode aired that I finished watching it as well as “It Takes You Away.”

And it was a couple of days before I saw “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos,” but that was due to some issue with the website.  Of course I had seen some spoilers for it, which didn’t excite me.  “Oh, this villain that I had forgotten about because I didn’t think them that special comes back?  Joy.” And I was going to write up these thoughts after the end of the season, but work and stuff got in the way, and I decided to wait until the New Year episode came out, which I found as just more of the same.  And then work and other stuff got in the way, but here they are, finally.

Now, do I think this last series of Doctor Who was as good as earlier series?  No.  But that’s not new.  I think Doctor Who peaked in the Tennant years.  But this last series did nothing to stop the trend.

One of the things that really excited me during the Series 1 was when the Doctor first notices that he’s being followed by “Bad Wolf.” I remember going online searching out lists people had made on when Bad Wolf had appeared and reading through their theories.  I don’t know if it had been mentioned in any promos or anything that the series would build up to something, but I love the idea of long story arcs.  In later series I’d spend hours thinking about what the connections were and what they were building up to.  The destinations weren’t always great, but the journeys were fun. 

So when this series came out and it was stated that they were just individual episodes without an arc, it was like them saying, “Oh, this thing which is one of the things you enjoy most about the show, we’re not doing.”

Now if the individual episodes were spectacular, I’d get over it.  But the episodes this series were just … fine.  Which isn’t a slam, because I think 90% of Doctor Who episodes are just fine.  I found the beginning of “It Takes You Away” super interesting, but it then kind of fell on its face.  Which, again, isn’t new, “The Doctor’s Daughter” for example.

So if the individual stories aren’t that great, and there’s no overall arc, perhaps the characters and acting can make up for it.  Well, no.  I think they made a mistake by having so many companions.  In “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” they had to introduce the latest Doctor, three companions, two other supporting characters, and a villain.  It was too much.  I think they would have been better off just trying to introduce the Doctor and one or two companions.  That way they’d have more time to develop this main character.

And speaking of companions, there are some issues I have.  About two-thirds of the way through “Resolution” I thought, What’s Yaz doing here?  She got a couple of people’s phone numbers.  That was basically her role.  Yes, it fits with her being a cop, but in an episode where a couple of cops are killed, you’d think there would be opportunities for drama.  Does the Doctor drop Yaz off for her shift each day, or is Yaz burning through her vacation days?  What if Yaz called in “sick” and it was her partner and substitute that were killed?  That would make her question what she was doing and if she wanted to be a companion or a cop.  That’s not the only thing they could do, but it would be something.

Something that confuses me a bit, is Ryan’s dyspraxia.  I had never heard of it, and after the first episode I assumed it was there for some reason.  But it seems like it only ever comes up if the writers remember.  To be honest, I do wonder if the actor is acting out symptoms of dyspraxia, but I’m not paying enough attention to notice.  They made a big deal of it in the first episode, but then it seemed they – and me – forgot about it.

Since I wrote about Yaz and Ryan, I should also say something about Graham.  I like Graham.  Well, I like the idea of him.  I would love to see the Doctor with just an older companion, someone with more life experiences than the youthful companions the Doctor usually has. 

Which I guess now brings me to the Doctor.  Now some will probably say that I don’t care for Series 11 because the Doctor is a woman now.  But I didn’t care that much for Series 10.  I think my biggest issue with Whittaker’s Doctor is that I don’t know how to describe her Doctor.  I don’t have a sense for her unique take on the character.  To be honest, this is usually something I do in hindsight.  For example, I wasn’t all that impressed with Smith’s Doctor and I realized it was because I was comparing him to Tennant’s.  Tennant’s Doctor could be silly, serious, frightening (what he did to the little girl in “Family of Blood” still creeps me out) and he could go back and forth at ease.  Smith, I felt, could be silly and serious, but all the attempts at frightening were cringing, in a bad way.  How much of that was because of their inherent acting abilities, the direction, the scripts, I don’t know.  I’m not saying I think Actor A is better than Actor B, I’m just saying I preferred one’s version of a character over another’s. 

Going back to Whittaker, after eleven episodes, I don’t really have a feel for her version.  Eccleston only had thirteen episodes, but I feel I know his Doctor far better.  And I think a big reason for that is that he started out with only one companion.  With fewer main characters, you can spend more time with the ones you have.

So what’s my final opinion?  I hope Series 12 is better.  Of course, I’ve been hoping that for the past two or three series.  One of these days it will have to come true.

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