Introducing a new Doctor can be a bit of a tricky thing. Have too much emphasis on the previous eras of the series and you lose drive-by fans who might be tuning in to see what the new Doctor is like (especially this time around). Have not enough connection to the history of the show and you run the risk of disenfranchising long-time fans who may decide to not tune in again or won’t make Doctor Who appointment viewing any longer.
Over the thirty-seven season run of Doctor Who, we’ve seen examples of both.
In many ways, the debut of Jodie Whitacker as Doctor reminds me a bit of how the Jon Pertwee era began, wiping the slate clean for a new era of the series. For the third Doctor, it was a huge jump from black and white to color. For Whitacker, it was another major change for the show with the first female Doctor.
As an old-school Who fan, it would be easy to wish for Robert Holmes to suddenly rise from the grave and give us a story that would effectively introduce the new Doctor and create a threat to Earth at the same time. But since Holmes is no longer with us and the modern writer who I feel is most like Holmes just ended his tenure as showrunner, it’s up to new showrunner Chris Chibnel to get things rolling.
Luckily, we get Chibnel’s best script for new Doctor Who. I realize a lot of you are probably saying that sounds like I’m damning a bit with faint praise. But I hope I’m not. One of my big concerns headed into season 11 wasn’t Whitacker but Chibnal. I never loved his era of Torchwood, and I’ve been hit or miss on his Doctor Who scripts. Yes, the first series of Broadchurch was great (only one I’ve seen, though I do mean to watch the rest at some point). But his track record of Who didn’t put him up among my favorite writers.
So, when I say that he gets the first script right, that comes with a lot of relief on my end. Yes, the main threat wasn’t exactly a huge one along the lines of “Rose” or “The Christmas Invasion” but it felt like the kind of threat the Doctor would take seriously and would make sure was shut down. It was there to give us just enough tension for the story and to keep the momentum moving forward while we got to know the new cast for this new era.
Again, so far, so good. The only part of the show that I predicted would take place long before it did was the death of Ryan’s gran. And this was only because I’ve seen all the promotional materials for the show and figured that character had to be eliminated if Graham was going to be part of the new team of friends for the Doctor.
It’s good that Chibnell allowed a few minutes to introduce us to the new team and put their backstory in motion before Whitacker appeared. Because once Whitacker shows up as the new Doctor, she takes complete control and defies you to take your eyes off her. Watching her work through the post-regeneration instability, while taking on the monster with a face of teeth worked well. Whitacker has potential and shows it off well here. Her Doctor’s sheer enthusiasm for this new experience and new persona is well done as is a bit of her bluster when she finally announces that she’s the Doctor and fully steps into the role.
Is it a perfect story? Probably not.
But it’s a good enough story that I’m intrigued to see where this will all go for the next nine or so episodes. I do hope we find the TARDIS soon and that much of the season isn’t a quest to find it. I am curious to see what the production team has come up with for the new interior.
And since I watched this on BBC America, we never got to hear the theme song, since the cable outlet doesn’t believe in closing credits. I was also annoyed that while they were willing to start the show at the same time worldwide, American viewers still had to contend with commercial breaks in the show. I thought that since it started at the same time, it would run without breaks and that some generous sponsor would allow us to see it uninterrupted (like we did for “Day of the Doctor.”
So, not seeing the closing, I don’t know if the title of the story ever appeared on-screen. If it didn’t, this would be the only Who story besides the TV movie that didn’t give us the title on-screen….