Greetings from Loki’s Island Lair this holiday season! As we come toward the end of Drinksember, after the holiday of Drinksmas, and towards New Drink’s Eve, I find myself pondering an uncomfortable truth.
I’m not sure I enjoyed this season of Doctor Who.
Woah. Wait. That’s not quite right. It was .... fine. It was perfectly cromulent. But I really enjoy Doctor Who. I may not be the biggest Doctor Who fan out there (I haven’t seen all of the old episodes, I don’t listen to Big Finish, etc.), but I have loved and watched every single nu-Who episode and Doctor. Heck, I had even ranked them (as I tend to do):
So I should start by saying that while I enjoyed Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, and I think he could have gone down as one of the all-time great Doctors, he was let down by his scripts. I was overjoyed that we were getting a new creative team- both Moffat and Davies had gotten stale by the end of their runs.
Most importantly, I was so very happy that they had finally cast someone other than a white male as the Doctor, and even more happy that they had cast Jodie Whittaker, who is amazing, in the role. And I love the companions- Yas, Ryan, and Graham.
So I have been struggling with this feeling- if I love all of the pieces, and I want it to be good so very badly, why don’t I ... enjoy ... the new season more? I mean, again, it’s fine. But I had so little actual super-happy-desire to see it that I didn’t even get around to watching the season finale until last night; every season before this, I had to watch the show when it aired. So ... is it me?
I have had some thoughts- maybe they are accurate, maybe they aren’t, but I thought I’d share them to all two of my readers.
WARNING! SOME SPOILERS BELOW!
The Bradley Walsh Problem. Remember how I wrote that I loved the new companions? Well, I have to admit that I immediately took to Yas and Ryan, but I was unsure about Graham, played by Bradley Walsh. Of course, the setup of the first episode (with the framing starting and ending with Ryan, and a lot from his P.O.V.) made it appear that Ryan was, well, the “lead” companion, then Yas, then Graham. So, no biggie, right?
Wrong. Walsh ... well, he’s been too good! Which shouldn’t be a problem, yet it is. Not to put too fine a point on it, but after watching the season finale (I will use the America season, and not series) finale last night, I realized that this season was, to the extent it had an arc, about Graham coming to terms with his loss. Not Ryan. Not Yas (who disappears in the majority of episode). Not even the Doctor. And it seems .... off .... to me that the very first season of Doctor Who with a female Doctor and such a multiethnic cast would focus so strongly on its old, white, male companion. Doesn’t it? This isn’t a blame thing- again, Walsh really hits this out of the park. He perfectly inhabits the role, and his silences and expressions often provide more information than other actor’s dialogues. But still. And the attention to Graham crowded out Ryan and Yas.
Standalone Episodes. Nu-who has had a mixture of season-long “arcs” of various kinds (with various, um, success) along with two-part episodes and the usual mix of standalone episodes. This season, they went with all standalone episodes. In theory, this is a good idea, a sort of “back to basics” approach. But it requires .... good episodes. This is the first season I remember without a true amazing episode. Rosa was .... fine. Demons of the Punjab was decent. And? Maybe Kerblam? Even the “dumb-good” episodes that you usually enjoy (this season, Arachnids in the UK) were not dumb enough, nor good enough. Again, in my opinion. The pacing in each episode felt like a mixture between rushed and slow, and there wasn’t even lip service given to plot holes. For example, while many people praised Rosa, and I thought it was ... good, and a rare example of Doctor Who examining issues with traveling in the past (if you know what I mean), I kept getting hung up on the idea that this time-traveler was obsessed with making Rosa miss the bus. Because? It would make things different? So would killing her. Or 500 other things he could have done. And at no point did the show even provide a terrible lip-service explanation as to why this small change needed to be made.
Characterization. This goes with the Bradley Walsh problem. I loved Yas in the first episode. Now, at the end of the season (and with apologies to the Punjab episode), I don’t feel that I have a better grasp on the character.
And Ryan? It was a brave and interesting choice to have a companion with dyspraxia. Of course, the issue with it is that on the one hand, you don’t want to make this the focal point of the character- because a disability doesn’t define someone. However ... other than the great depiction in the first episode, it seems that the writers have forgotten about it as well.
And the Doctor. I love the Doctor. She is amazing. But, again, I feel like Jodie Whittaker is being .... dis-served by some of the writing. She is acting the hell out of some poorly written scenes for her.
So what does it all mean? I don’t know. I’m hoping, really hoping, that this is just some growing pains by Chibnall (the new show runner). There is so much to love- the new Doctor. The Companions. Having more diversity not just in front of the camera, but writing it as well. The return of real historical episodes.
I want to love this. I want this to be better than okay.
There must be something in the pockets to fix this ....