Is Doctor Who trying too hard? Mid-season review, Doctor Who Season 11

; Date: November 8, 2018

Tags: Doctor Who »»»» Season 11

New Doctor, New Show Runner, New Production Crew, etc, what could go wrong with all this new stuff? Doctor Who has always thrown stuff out and changed things around, and that's part of its reason for success. This time we have the first Female Doctor, new show runner, a whole bunch of new things, and a promise that we won't see any returning monsters or situations. Par for the course with Doctor Who. At the halfway point of Season 11 we're starting to get a feel for Jodi Whittaker, and she's a good Doctor, but I keep feeling that Doctor Who is trying too hard.

It's hard to pin a finger on anything but here's a few random things: to start with:

  • Why is it the Doctor's new "Friends" all know each other ?? That hasn't been done since, well, okay there was Ben and Polly and before them Barbara and Ian. In this case it feels unnatural and plasticky.
  • Ryan (the black kid among the Friends) has a slight mental disability making it hard to ride a bike. That's nice and inclusive and all, but how does this help the story? And also why was it a factor only in the first episode, and hasn't been mentioned since?
  • An episode featuring Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King? Really? I liked the story, and it was sort of accurate, but is this kind of name dropping a good idea?
  • In the Arachnids story why was the scientist they hooked up with Chinese? Aren't there smart British scientists? Yes, modern Great Britain is very multicultural thanks to the karma of the British Empire, and therefore lots of cultures live side-by-side. But, this seems a bit artificial.

I'm not one who rails against Social Justice Warriors, because I agree there are many social injustices which need to be corrected. However there is a feeling that the current Doctor Who staff is seeing an opening -- they have a Social Justice moment with the first Female Doctor, and therefore various Social Justice ideas are being thrust into the stories.

  • In The Woman who fell to Earth we had three women who were sharp and strong and with it, and that's great, but all the guys were weak and clueless.
  • In Ghost Monument we have a grand Space Dakar event ending with the two victors insisting on a joint victory. Such events usually end with 1 victor over a bunch of losers, and I think past Doctor Who's might have seen one of them kill the other and the Doctor getting all righteously angry at the winner over how they won. In a way it's cool to see a joint victory instead, but is this an artificially inserted Social Justice moment?
  • By showing Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr in Rosa we're deep in Social Justice territory. The episode was drenched in Social Justice from beginning to end, from being kicked out of a restaurant, to the bus scenes, to the sheriff paying a "visit", to the time traveling white supremacist, etc, we had it all.
  • In Arachnids in the UK what stands out is the overabundance of women among the folks they meet in Sheffield. There's the aforementioned Chinese-British scientist, the administrative assistant who lives next door to the Yaz Family, the woman associated with the cleanup company that created the mess in the basement, and Yaz's Mom who is somehow the head manager in charge of the big hotel. Surely if gender ratios were properly balanced two of those would be men?
  • In The Tsuranga Conundrum we have a man who is pregnant, and learn that in their race the men have male babies, and the women have female babies, and ewwwww to how Humans do it. Biologically how does this make sense? How are they one species if there is no interbreeding between males and females? But doesn't this strike you as artificially introduced without adding anything to the story?
  • In The Demons of the Punjab (the next episode), we haven't seen it yet, but the trailer makes it clear we'll be in Pakistan during the 1947-48 partitioning between India and Pakistan. Clearly there will be ample opportunity for more social justice items.

For the most part I like that these items are being shown. But - so many all at once? But - are these items really adding to the show?

Does it help Arachnids for the scientist to be a Chinese-British woman? Does it help Tsuranga for the pregnant person to be male? Does it help Rosa to have an appearance of Martin Luther King Jr? If it helps the story in each case, then I'm all for it, but in this case these things appear to be artificially inserted.

But - what do I think of the episodes?

Overall the season has been excellent, and Jodi Whittaker is shaping up to be a fine Doctor.

As I wrote yesterday, I think the Companions gave lame excuses for wanting to travel with The Doctor. The Doctor's new 'friends' give worst reasons possible to tag along

The Woman who fell to Earth

Okay - there is a 1970's British science fiction movie, and a corresponding 1960's book, named The Man who fell to Earth. This featured a male extraterrestrial who crash-landed on Earth while seeking for something for his home planet. That's why this episode title felt familiar.

The episode was an excellent introduction to Whittaker as the Doctor. It was a rollicking good story.

Having Ryan have this disability - does this add to the st..er.. I already did that discussion earlier.

The role of the first episode for a new Doctor is to cover these points:

  • New body, new lips, etc
  • Introduce the new Doctor to the audience
  • Show the new Doctor gelling their personality, and not being sure of anything
  • New sonic ...
  • Introducing possibly new companions, and introducing those companions to the TARDIS
  • Introducing possible TARDIS changes

And the episode hit most of those very well. Not the TARDIS of course because it was still off repairing itself.

The Ghost Monument

A rollicking good adventure strolling across an alien planet that is designed to kill people.

There is a dangling story that could have been explored. Just why were there scientists hired to turn that planet into a dangerous weapon? Why? This doesn't make sense and should have piqued The Doctor's interest.

We got back the TARDIS and it's got a strange new interior. The interior reminds me of La Sagrada Familia, the cathedrel in Barcelona designed by Gaudi.

Rosa

The original charge for Doctor Who included visiting historical events, and showing history to children. In a way Rosa did exactly that.

The show runners could have failed us with Rosa, showing a bastardized version of the events. Instead they did proper justice to the story, missing very little about the events that launched the bus boycott. One thing they missed is the fact that Rosa Parks was in training as an activist for years before staging the thing on the bus.

Arachnids in the UK

Science gone wrong. It's not the first time Doctor Who showed toxins pumped underground to concoct horrendous creatures from deep beneath the earth. The Green Death was another instance.

Good story overall. Very political however, having this artificially inserted story-line of an American real estate mogul who hates Trump and is planning to run for President against Trump. Will that make sense in 20 years?

The Tsuranga Conundrum

Ditch the pregnant man, and we have a very fun story. A gremlin-like creature that lives in outer space and eats space ships - not a very plausible species, but it was still fun watching the creature run around eating up the ship as the people on board looked on in horror.