The first trailer for Series 12 of Doctor Who is finally coming tomorrow, so I think it's the perfect time to take a second look at the rather controversial (to say the least) Series 11.
I started out liking this new era of Doctor Who, and ended up criticizing it pretty heavily by the end of the Thirteenth Doctor's inaugural season. Looking back through my reviews of all the episodes, I've realized that some of my opinions have shifted a little since the highly-disappointing finale. But, some of them have stayed the same, as well. There are a few things about Series 11 that I really enjoyed, others not so much. I still consider it to be the weakest year of Who yet, and yet it had the potential to be far more satisfying.
So, with that in mind, here are a few addendums I'd like to make to the thoughts I've previously shared on the Series 11 episodes (plus the New Year's special, Resolution).
WARNING: Full spoilers for Series 11 and Resolution follow.
The Woman Who Fell to Earth
I was very enthusiastic about this episode when it first aired, and quite honestly, my opinions haven't changed. Weighed solely on its own merits, this is both a solid series opener and a remarkably strong post-regeneration story. It does a great job of introducing Thirteen without alienating existing fans, as the largely positive reception for it at the time it aired indicates. The problem is that subsequent episodes did not fully flesh out Thirteen's unique personality or build an engaging series arc.
The Ghost Monument
The thing that's come to annoy me about this episode is that the mystery it briefly teased (The Timeless Child) was never mentioned again for the rest of the season. Also, while it's as good as The Woman Who Fell to Earth in its best moments, it's not any better than that episode. That said, there's still a lot to like here, including great visuals and some fantastic acting from Jodie Whittaker.
I didn't care for this one at the time, and I like it even less now. It's the epitome of everything that's wrong with Series 11. In theory, a Doctor Who episode about Rosa Parks could have worked. I've watched and listened to Doctor Who historical stories that tackled weighty issues without feeling like they belonged to a completely different show. But all we get here is a passive Doctor, a pathetic villain, and a middling reenactment of historical events with a jarring lack of anything that feels like Doctor Who.
Arachnids in the UK
I was too positive about this one when it first aired, maybe because I was just grateful for something that was superficially more like the Doctor Who I remembered after Rosa. Arachnids has its okay moments, but it's ruined by horrible storytelling decisions. I'm less willing to defend the Not-Trump-But-Totally-Trump villain after the additional political interjections in subsequent episodes. The monsters are laughably unimaginative. The Doctor's ethics here are terrible–and not in a cool, Seventh-Doctor way. She's willing to let the mutant spiders die a horrible, lingering death just so that she has a clear conscience. Trump (sorry, Not-Trump) ended up coming across as far more heroic than she did.
The Tsuranga Conundrum
After an entire series with very little genuine menace, I have no more excuses to make for this episode's annoyingly-cutesy “monster” or the messy plot. It's not utterly horrible, but it's just not up to scratch. I'd give this one a pass if it were like “Sleep No More,” a single weak link in an otherwise very solid season, but that's sadly not the case in Series 11.
Demons of the Punjab
When I reviewed this one, I described it as a historical done (mostly) right as opposed to Rosa. And though my frustration over yet another non-threatening monster has increased since first viewing, I still can't say this episode is bad. At least it does a better job blending its sci-fi and historical elements, though this isn't done perfectly. And there are plenty of great performances and worthy messages to applaud. In the midst of a better year overall for the show, I think Demons of the Punjab would have received a more positive response. However, the fact that we're introduced to another “most dangerous ever” monster with no teeth (no, that wasn't a Tim Shaw joke) really doesn't help.
My favorite episode of the season, and an extremely good Doctor Who episode, period. There's really nothing wrong with this one. It's not “Blink” or “Midnight,” but it's still excellent. A great mix of suspense and comedy with some genuinely surprising twists. It's a shame there weren't more episodes like this in 2018.
My opinions of this one were mixed at first, and remain so. I don't like the fact that in this installment, the show finally broke the habit of refraining from overt, politically-charged discussions of the Doctor's gender change. Past episodes proved that this wasn't necessary. There were some good performances and fairly clever subversions of expectations, but in the end, it didn't completely gel for me.
It Takes You Away
Yes, I still defend the talking frog. And yes, I still think this was a stellar episode, especially since it actually gave Jodie Whittaker a truly Doctor-ish script to sink her teeth into. It also tried to actually break new ground instead of leaning heavily on the formula of previous stories. I understand why it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I personally consider it to be one of the two truly standout episodes of this season.
The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos
Tim Shaw is back. Yay. Nothing happens. Yay again. What? Me, sarcastic? I'm sorry, but my disappointment with this finale has only increased with time. There was no reason for it to be this boring. I know Chris Chibnall has recently tried to explain the creative choices for this season by saying that he needed to give everybody a chance to find their feet, and I understand that…but good grief, man, you could at least have given us a scarier Big Bad for this season than Tim Shaw.
This episode has been heavily criticized over the past year, but I still consider it to be quite good overall. I applaud Chris Chibnall for actually doing something new with the Daleks and making them scary again. Perceived plot holes and canon divergences here can mostly be explained away by the fact that this is an early model of Dalek. The guest stars are all great. I could have done with a lot less of Ryan's family drama, but his moments of emotional development with Graham were worthwhile. Also, Thirteen actually got to be intimidating in this story, though I still want to see Jodie Whittaker push this further. I feel less charitable about the UNIT/Brexit joke than I was when I first reviewed Resolution. I don't think it was intended as a slap in the face to Moffat fans, UNIT fans, Big Finish fans, etc., but it did come across that way regardless. Also, the lack of development given to the Dalek's backstory was a let-down.
So, in conclusion, what am I looking for in Series 12?
More darkness and mystery from the Thirteenth Doctor. Higher stakes. Monsters with teeth…not teeth stuck to their skin, but teeth inside their metaphorical or actual mouths which they use to inflict metaphorical or actual damage…uh…sorry, that sentence got away from me. Returning characters and creatures. A more interesting series arc.
Will we get those things? I have no idea. If I believed some of the stuff that Chris Chibnall and other people involved with the show have been saying, I'd answer yes…but I must confess to being a little cynical at this point. There was enough good stuff in Series 11 to keep me on board for another year, but only just. Doctor Who has a lot to prove this year, and a lot of disappointed fans to win back.
My expectations are low, but I do have expectations. So at least that's something. Also, these comments in particular from Chibnall are encouraging…if you believe them.