Here’s an analogy that will only make sense to our British readers:- the eleventh season of Doctor Who was like Marmite. You either loved it, or you hated it. If you were one of the people who loved it, you probably enjoyed the show’s focus on smaller issues, the absence of complicated over-arcing plot lines and the fresh-faced optimism of Jodie Whittaker’s brand new Thirteenth Doctor. If you didn’t’ like it, we don’t need to guess at what you hated because you told the whole internet repeatedly.
Even with the best will of the world toward the series, it’s impossible to ignore the scale of the backlash against the last season of the show that came from some quarters of society. Seemingly because the show cast a female lead for the first time, handed prominent roles to non-white actors, and dealt with troublesome periods of English history, it had suddenly become the worst kind of politically-correct, virtue-signaling garbage on television. The Doctor may deal with Cybermen in the show with ease on a regular basis, but she seemed less able to deal with the equally malevolent cyber-men who attacked the show on the internet.
You Can Please Some of the People Some of the Time, But…
Within the number of people who attacked the show, there were some who would have had a negative opinion no matter what happened. For them, the fact that the Doctor had become female had already ruined the show. This is despite the fact that female representation in several forms of entertainment has been on the up for years.
There’s a black female 007 in the new ‘James Bond’ movie, but even that’s slow compared to the creation of a Bond-like female character in the ‘Agent Jane Blonde’ online slots game several years ago. Online slots make a good point of comparison too; they were once seen as the preserve of males, but they’re not anymore. There are several online slots websites such as Rose Slots that now cater specifically to female players. The world is changing, and some people don’t like it. Those voices can and should be filtered out of the argument, but is there validity to some of the other criticisms that were leveled at the show?
A Valid Question
The answer to that is ‘maybe.’ Since Doctor Who returned in 2005, viewers have become accustomed to season-long stories, familiar enemies, and a Doctor who carries the heavy burden of having lived a long life, and unwittingly become the universe’s unwitting savior. The past season did away with all that. Whittaker’s take on the character was brand new and somehow disconnected from the show’s past. The Time War was never mentioned. There was almost nothing linking one episode to the next. The stakes always felt low, and we didn’t even get to see a Dalek until the New Year’s Eve special. What we were watching had some of the look and feel of Doctor Who, but little in the way of substance.
If you were a little disappointed with those aspects of the last run, we have good news for you. The first few trailers for season 12 are out, and it looks like there’s a healthy dose of drama. The Cybermen are back (and, we’re told, deadlier than ever), there are Judoon for the first time in almost a decade, and something (or someone) is after the Doctor. The trailer shows us a seemingly distraught Doctor sitting in the TARDIS with a look of horror on her face as she realizes she’s being pursued. A short time later, something seems to burst through the previously-impregnable TARDIS doors. In the space of just a few moments, the BBC has shown us enough to make us believe that things are going to be bigger and better this time around.
A New Hope?
We hope that the trailers aren’t misleading, and we also hope to see Jodie’s Doctor given a great character moment of the kind that all Doctors have, but she’s yet to experience. It happened for Christopher Eccleston the first time he laid eyes on a Dalek. For David Tennant, it was his showdown with the Slitheen in his very first episode. Matt Smith convinced us he was right for the part of the Time Lord when he took on the Weeping Angels during his first season, and Peter Capaldi took almost a full year to grow into the role before sealing it with a head-to-head against Missy and the Cybermen in his first season finale. For Jodie, it seems to be taking a little longer.
There might be something to say for the idea that the show simply gave itself too much to do by having so many companions to introduce at the same time as this new and radically different Doctor. As well as adjusting to Jodie, we also had to get to know Graham, Ryan, and Yaz, and we only had ten short episodes to do it with. Of the regular cast, only Bradley Walsh’s Graham felt like he’d been significantly developed by the time the credits rolled on the final episode. When a companion has had more focus than the Doctor, something is wrong. Hopefully, Chris Chibnall has taken at least some of the criticism that came his way last year on board, and we’ll see changes this time around.
Whether season 12 of Doctor Who is a step up in gears from last year or more of the same, we’re about to find out. The first episode airs on New Year’s Day, and then a new episode will air every Saturday for ten weeks. The season premiere is confirmed to be the first half of a two-part story, and will, therefore, be the first two-part tale of Whittaker’s run to date. That alone suggests that stories might have more time to breathe this time around and that there may be more content within those stories. Is the new season of Doctor Who going to meet with universal acclaim? Almost certainly not, but if it hits the right notes, it might win back a few of the viewers that it started to lose as season 11 approached its final episode. The Doctor is back on our screens – and it’s about time.