Every once in a while I look up the date on a website of Doctor Who releases, and find out what else in my favorite science fiction franchise happened on this date in history. I’ve discovered some interesting things this way. In doing this I’ve realized that today (or yesterday, based on when this gets posted) is the three year anniversary of the debut of the first episode Jodie Whittaker starred in, The Woman Who Fell to Earth, and thus the start of a three year period of being disappointed with the series.
(Daily Doctor Who #318)
Yes, this isn’t the celebration post that I wish it could be. And no disrespect is intended toward Ms. Whittaker nor any of the other people who have been working hard to at least keep the show going. But certainly, this has not been my favorite period in Doctor Who history.
And yet when I watched The Woman Who Fell to Earth those 1000+ days ago I wasn’t disappointed; instead I was hopeful. It was evident that things were different then they were under the rarely-perfect-but-often-brilliant Steven Moffat, but that was okay. This was a show that was always doing something different, and usually benefiting from the process.
I love Patrick Troughton, for examplebut if he hadn’t left then we wouldn’t have gotten Jon Pertwee and all who followed. I love the Doctor being a wanderer in time and space, but if they hadn’t exiled him to earth we would never have gotten all that stuff with UNIT and we might not have gotten the Master. I enjoyed David Tennant, but if he hadn’t left we wouldn’t have had Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi. And so on.
So I was okay for “different”, and ready for new hands on the show’s reins and a new face in front of the camera to bring a fresh set of thrills and laughs and general “wow’s.”
And by the end of that first episode, I could see the possibilities, but we weren’t quite there. Jodie Whittaker was charming, but she didn’t really have the chance to shine–she never had the opportunity to display the personality and cleverness that we had with the first episodes of say, David Tennant or Matt Smith (or even Paul McGann).
The companions were likable and there seemed a lot of room for emotional development–but their personalities did not seem fully defined. The plot was okay, but not striking or especially memorable. And inexplicably, the show inexplicably skipped over the one element which is a sure-fire way of making any long-term fan sit up and take notice, and even cheer internally–the opening title sequence and theme song. It’s low-hanging fruit I know, but fruit that Chris Chibnall definitely should have picked as an easy way to up the excitement about what we were watching.
So by the end of the story, I was hopeful, but unconvinced. And sadly, as the season went on, those feelings never really changed. The companions never really came into themselves. The stories never really landed as fully satisfying narratives. And the Doctor never seemed to get the chance to be the inspirational and heroic character that is a big part of my attachment to the series.
There were of course good things as well. There’s a cinematic look to the show in this period that is a step up in impressiveness to anything that came before. And there’s an interesting educational quality to the show’s approach to historical characters. It only works in small doses but makes for an intriguing element in the show’s mix when it does.
After a lackluster ten episode season, we got a New Year’s special which was glitzy and fun but narratively hollow, and then a whole year before the next season began. Season twelve had higher heights than the previous year, but also lower lows. It tried to prop itself up with some big twists, but didn’t do the work necessary to make any of them actually succeed. “The Timeless Child” arc, whatever one thinks of the changes its made to the series’ history, is one of the worst told stories I’ve seen for a long time.
Nonetheless, none of this is an indictment of Jodie Whittaker herself, or even her version of the Doctor. Broadchurch proved to me that Jodie Whittaker is an immensely talented actress, and I enjoy her earnest efforts on Doctor Who–even if the show has rarely given her the support to make the Thirteenth Doctor fully work. We have, of course, nine more episodes to go, six of which we should presumably get pretty soon (still waiting for the word on that!)
I’m hoping it will turn out to be Chris Chibnall’s best work yet, and that Jodie Whittaker will be given a fair chance to knock it out of the park.