How Doctor Who S11 could have been saved.

I’ve been a Doctor Who fan (I hate the term Whovian) for over 13 years. The series has had its ups and downs in that time, but I’ve always stuck with it. Even series 10, which tested my patience, had the hooks of an intriguing finale and Capaldi’s exit to convince me to go the distance. But the current series has finally broken my resolve. My interest in the show, at long last, has died. The sad thing is, it really could have been so different. In the words of Peter Davison’s Doctor ‘there should have been another way…’

Having decided to give up, my weekly Who reviews will cease. I may eventually do more Who related content, but this will likely be revisiting either the classic era or episodes from the Davies and Moffat runs. So as a sort of last hurrah, here’s my opinion on how Series 11 could (and should) have been so much better.

Option 1: Fire Chibnall and hire a decent showrunner.

There’s still a possibility that S11 will get its act together with a run of four non-Chibnall episodes. But even if it did, Chibnall’s doing the finale and will still do the lion’s share of the following season – which makes me dead set against continuing. Showrunners have a massive impact on modern TV shows, and while the show can survive hit-and-miss writers (Russell T. Davies) and divisive showrunners (Steven Moffat) it can’t maintain the quality if the head showrunner is a consistently poor writer. A lot of my pre-existing concerns about Chibnall stemmed from his record as showrunner on Torchwood Series 1 and 2. While both series have highs and lows, Chibnall’s episodes were never the highlights, and often included some of the worst in each run (Cyberwoman, Countrycide, etc.). Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t involved in Children of Earth, which was Torchwood’s undisputed highlight, or Miracle Day, its more mixed sequel. This combined with his mixed record on Who should have ruled him out for the position. Especially when the other options were considerably better. I’m not a Being Human fan, but Toby Whitehouse’s experience as a showrunner of a cult fantasy show like that made him a prime candidate for Who (not to mention his record on both Torchwood and Who edges Chibnall’s). Other Who writers who’ve excelled in recent seasons might have also been good shouts (Peter Harness springs to mind – Kill the Moon, the Zygon 2-parter, The Pyramid at the End of the World). Jamie Mathieson would also be up there, as of course would Neil Gaiman. But frankly, its hard to envisage ANYONE having done a worse job than Chibnall. You could have given it to the Merlin/Atlantis guys, who’ve never even written for Who, and I’d probably be happier.

Option 2: Reduce Chibnall’s input and hire more of the proven Who writers. 

If the showrunner is flawed, the show can still succeed, but this is normally only true when the showrunner writes very few episodes. Think of Tennant’s first series. Davies wrote 5 episodes out of 13, but even though 2 of them were utterly dire (New Earth, Love and Monsters) it didn’t hamstring the series, because he nailed the finale and the other writers by and large did a very good job. Chibnall’s decision to retain NO existing Who writers never sat well with me. You need variety on a show like this, and that comes from different writing styles as much as different plots during episodes. Having 5 Chibnall episodes in a row at the start was beyond excessive (especially in a ten episode series), and its telling the only standout was the one co-written by Malorie Blackman. Even Moffat, Who’s best modern writer, never wrote half the episodes of any of his series. He had more sense than that. So, Chibnall should have spread his episodes out a bit more, as well as writing less of them (the opener, the 2nd episode and the finale would have been a good shout). If only he’d hired more proven writers. The number of former who writers who deserve another crack at it is very high: Neil Gaiman (The Doctor’s Wife), Tom Macrae (The Girl Who Waited), Rob Shearman (Dalek), Simon Nye (Amy’s Choice), Matt Jones (The Satan Pit) and Paul Cornell (Human Nature) all come to mind as writers of hit episodes who’d be welcome back. Sure, not all of them may want to, but you’re not seriously telling me NONE of them would?

Option 3: Recast the Doctor. (Hold fire people, hear me out).

It’s really hard to tell whether Jodie’s Whittaker’s take on the character is suffering purely as a result of the writing, or whether she just isn’t suited to the role. Her hit rate is slightly better than Chibnall’s (2 good episodes, 1 average, 2 bad) but her Doctor has some serious issues. Her preachy nature grates really badly, and while her pacifism is a Doctor-ish trait, its being pushed to extremes (think Tennant’s final season, where the character became excessively passive). Her manic energy isn’t as infectious as Smith’s, and her relentless enthusiasm is borderline annoying, and while Jodie’s acting isn’t in question, I do not think the way she’s playing the role suits either her or the character.

Before I get savaged by feminist Whovians, this has literally nothing to do with her being a woman. Her first episode proved that a woman can play the role without any issues (which Michelle Gomez’s run as the Master had already shown most fans anyway). I’d happily welcome another female Doctor, but I’d prefer it to be someone who’s a genuine fan of the show (like Tennant or Capaldi) or someone who can deliver a truly unique take on the character (like Tom Baker or Christopher Eccleston). Jodie’s a fine actress, but I’m not convinced she’s what the show needs.

Just off the top of my head, there are numerous actresses who could own the role (Claire Foy, Maxine Peake, Helena Bonham Carter, Krysten Ritter, Hayley Atwell etc.). If the BBC wanted to go another way for diversity, there’s plenty of non-white actors who’d do a great job (David Harewood, Mahershala Ali, Richard Ayoade, etc.) I’m not one of those people who ever believes acting roles should be cast on the basis of skin colour/gender (unless the character is intrinsically tied to being one way, such as James Bond being always male, Black Panther always being a black actor etc.). But the Doctor isn’t defined by either of those things. So frankly, it doesn’t matter who plays him/her so long as they can do the job. I’m honestly not sure Jodie can.

But from what we’ve seen so far and what’s been said in interviews, I sense Jodie mainly got chosen for two reasons: the BBC/Chibnall wanted a female Doctor; and Chibnall knew and liked her because she worked with him on Broadchurch. Neither of which are good reasons. Moffat’s worked with hundreds of great actors/actresses (Jack Davenport, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michelle Ryan, James Nesbitt) but he chose ones he’d never worked with before. Davies had no pre-existing ties to Tennant, and while he knew Eccleston, Chris was never his first choice. If Jodie was picked because she’s Chibnall’s vision of the character personified, that’s more justifiable but doesn’t help, as his vision is all out of whack.

Option 4: Totally re-work every aspect of Series 11.

Hiring better directors would be a good start (Bring back Rachel Talalay, or hire the standout ones who work for Netflix or Game of Thrones). Using some old monsters rather than dispensable villains-of-the-week (okay, the Daleks, Master and Cybermen have been overused, but there’s plenty of stories left to tell with the Weeping Angels, Sontarans or Ice Warriors, to name just three). Aim the show at a family audience or a young adult one NOT just at children. The show has only really been a pure children’s show once in its history (the early William Hartnell era) and the show wisely ducked out of that approach in the mid/late sixties. Who has always been, and always should be, a program both adults and children can enjoy – and right now it isn’t. Give it a proper story arc or make it entirely episodic (its currently trying to do both and thus is not succeeding at either).

Also, you could change the main cast. The show has only had two spells of three companions in the Tardis (1963-1965, 1980-1982) and to be honest, both those eras have a couple of very weak companions, even if some of them are stronger (Ian and Barbara, Turlough). This is natural, because let’s face it, developing four main characters in a satisfying way and giving them all enough to do on a show like Who isn’t easy. There’s a reason Moffat didn’t have River travel with Amy and Rory full time. If there has to be three companions, why not do something really different and kill Ryan in the opening episode, and have Grace travel with Graham and the Doctor instead? She was a much more interesting character in the premiere, and we’ve never had an older couple in the Tardis (or even an older woman), and you’d still have the whole grief plotline playing out over the series, and the superlative Bradley Walsh. Ryan is nothing we haven’t seen before (male sidekick character who gets involved in the action or serves as comic relief). Aside from his dyspraxia, he really has very little to differentiate himself from Mickey or Rory (particularly if they go the predictable route and pair him up with Yaz). No slight on Tosin Cole’s acting, but aside from the Rosa episode, the character hasn’t shown a lot of potential. Rather than making stupid political points in a ham-fisted way every two episodes, how about the show does something truly groundbreaking, like putting the Doctor and Yaz in a relationship (not only does that have TONNES of storytelling potential, but it would also give Yaz something to do, not to mention allow the show to explore the Doctor’s sexuality, which is a topic it rarely dares touch). Additionally, rather than glossing over the Doctor’s gender change with a couple of jokes, how about explore the impact this has on the character. I’m not saying the Doctor should visibly change personality or dislike the idea, but given the character has never changed gender before, you’d think we’d at least see some sort of phase where she gets used to it.

Well there you have it. I’ll bring this to a close before it goes any further into a full-on rant, but there you have it. It’s only my opinion, and the show may yet prove me wrong. But either way, I’m not tuning in to find out.

Since I’m no longer covering Who, expect a few more video game reviews and Netflix Shows on my blog in the future. I may have started the blog to write about Doctor Who, but honestly, it’s not worth it anymore, even if its behind some of my most-read articles.

Thank you to everyone who’s read, liked, or commented on my Doctor Who reviews and articles, but after 4 years of blogging and 13 years of watching, I’m hanging up my sonic.

‘Doctor… I let you go’ (If only it had ended with Peter).

 

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