With every incarnation of The Doctor the Doctor Who franchise has an opportunity for reinvention and re-invigoration. Each new actor imbues their unique charm and personality into the iconic character while the character itself undergoes its own transformation.
With the debut of Jodie Whittaker as the first female doctor showrunner Chris Chibnall is forging a new vision after the Steven Moffat era.
Every Whovian has their favorite Doctor and based on her debut in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” I imagine Whittaker will become extremely popular. Her Doctor was immensely engaging while conveying the tenaciousness, brashness, brilliance, compassion and quirks one looks for in a doctor. Whittaker’s Doctor was refreshing after a Twelfth Doctor whose run left me wholly disenchanted.
With every new Doctor we usually get a new companion though some companions have bridged incarnations. With the Thirteenth Doctor we get not one, but three new companions: Graham (Bradley Walsh), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin (Mandip Gill). The closest any of them came to being memorable was that Yasmin’s backstory shared similarities with Torchwood’s Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles). The three worked together well and had chemistry. Each was solid in the premiere, but no one companion stood out. It is easy to envision that as the season progresses each will have their shining moment. However, beyond Whittaker’s mesmerizing performance “adequacy” felt like the theme of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.”
Chibnall has stated that Series 11 will not feature any of the classic Doctor Who villains and that we will be watching 10 standalone stories aimed at being as inclusive in as possible. In theory this is exciting. A new doctor with three new companions facing countless new villains sounds like an adventure I’m ready to rush on-board the TARDIS for. Bringing in as many viewers as possible is obviously great for the franchise. In execution this strategy creates extra opportunities for something to flop. For me that was the villain.
Doctor Who is known for its iconic villains: the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels and the Silence to name a few. One would expect that Chibnall would want to make a splash with the introduction of a villain worthy of his dynamic new Doctor. A villain Whovians would beg to see more of. The trophy hunting Tim Shaw and his Gathering Coil was not it. Tim Shaw and the Gathering Coil certainly fit the plot, but your run-of-the-mill armored sci-fi body suit and mask gave Shaw little presence and the Gathering Coil’s spinning CGI coils can be found on any number of sci-fi series. The revelation of Tim Shaw’s face covered with the teeth of his victims, while creepy, does not make him interesting enough for me to want to see the character or his race again. Time Shaw and the Gathering Coil can easily be forgotten. Maybe that’s the point? New villains and adventures are just around the corner. Why invest in a memorable premiere villain worthy of iconic Doctor Who villains when there are still nine opportunities for another villain to break through?
“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” is now Chis Chibnall’s calling card. The episode featured classic Doctor Who elements and gave Whovians better insight into his vision. Whether or not that vision will be successfully executed remains a question. What is not in question is that Jodie Whittaker’s debut as the Thirteenth Doctor left me wanting more. It is exciting to have a Doctor that leaves me excited about Doctor Who again.
Oh, and where in the galaxy is the TARDIS?