What I Like About Who: No. 9
Welcome to the Doctor Who Series 11 Halftime Report
“Halfway out of the dark” is how Matt Smith describes the holiday season in A Christmas Carol—that’s the Doctor Who Episode, not the Dickens Classic, by the way. But, I also think it is an appropriate description for the feelings of many Whovians leading into the second 5 episodes of season 11. It’s fair to say that the first five was a bit of a mixed bag, but we did get a cracking introduction to our new heroine, and one of the most impressive and unforgettable Doctor Who episodes EVER. So, without further ado, here’s my capsule thoughts on the first five episodes of season 11.
Episode 1: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
Everyone knew the first episode of the season was going to be great, because it was Jodie’s premiere, but I don’t think anyone realized how immediately attached we were going to get to the Doctor’s new “friends.” The construction of the new Sonic was a highlight for me. I love the new design and I love it’s origin. Doctor needs a sonic, Doctor builds a sonic—it’s as simple as that. Ryan, Yaz, and Graham all have fully fleshed out lives, and I like how there is a natural connection between them all. The Stenza were a frightening new adversary, and Tim Shaw (I know, I know, I can barely say it with a straight face myself) provided a worthy first test for our new Doctor. And then there’s Grace—I don’t know if I’ve been so affected by the death of a supporting character before. Guest characters come and go all the time in Doctor Who, but I mourned Grace because her death affected and influenced the characters going forward, so unlike most guest character deaths, it MEANT SOMETHING! Jodie Whittaker proved she is worthy of the role from the instant she first appeared. There was no doubt about it: SHE IS THE DOCTOR! This episode was unique because it did not have an opening title sequence, and we did not hear the theme music. This Doctor didn’t have her TARDIS either….yet.
The first new alien world adventure of the series boiled down to The Amazing Race in space, with two rival space racers vying for wealth and escape from the planet. But, of course, this is Doctor Who, so it can’t be that easy. More sinister things were afoot, and before long, the Doctor encountered the work of the Stenza again, and we hear the first, literal, whispers of the “Timeless Child.” The episode culminates in the Doctor and her TARDIS being reunited, and we get our first look at the incredible new interior. This is also the first episode to feature the new kaleidoscopic opening titles, and the new theme by composer Segun Akinola, reaching all the way back to sample the original theme from 1963.
This episode will stand as one of the greatest moments of this series. Rosa was a touching, emotional remarkable journey back in time. The Doctor and friends meet Rosa Parks on the eve of her moment in history. It is a frank, honest, and unflinching look at a time in American History most of us would rather forget. It shines an uncomfortable spotlight on the attitudes of the day, forcing us to confront them. It shows us how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go.
Episode 4: Arachnids in the U.K.
This episode was the low point of the first half of season 11 to be sure. Giant Frickin’ CGI Spiders and an overbearing U.S. Presidential hopeful who happens to be a real estate mogul with little regard for other people’s opinions or feelings. Hmmm…this one hits a little too close to home. I would like to think there is a smart way to be political without having to beat the audience over the head like this. This episode is notable for only three things: One, we got to meet Yaz’s family. Two: Chris Noth CHEWS UP THE SCENERY as Robertson. And three: This is the episode where the three friends agree to travel with the Doctor. The four of them are henceforth known as Team TARDIS. Also, Grace returned in a cameo appearance to remind us how much we still miss her.
This episode took take place on a hospital ship. Repeat after me: NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS ON A HOSPITAL SHIP IN DOCTOR WHO! And, this one is no exception. I will say, this setting definitely screams futuristic. It looks like it was designed with the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies as inspiration. My two problems with this episode are the number of small subplots playing out at the same time, causing a lot of cutting between them all, and, the “enemy” of this episode has the fearsome name of PTING, and he is so cute that you can’t ever hate him. In fact, most people are already clamoring for a plush toy of him.
Now, I would like to note that despite any criticisms of specific episode plots, the one thing that is the same is the quality of the performances of the four leads, particularly Jodie’s performance as the Doctor. She makes the most of every scene she is in, and effortlessly reminds us what the Doctor is and should be. I am really looking forward to seeing her Doctor further develop over the next five episodes.