A Spoiler-Free Review of the New Season of 'Doctor Who,' Episode 1
One of the worst aspects of the times we are living in is that you can’t give your reaction to some piece of entertainment without someone screaming at you that your opinion needs to first be run through spaghetti strainer of their worldview, then the coffee filter of their identity politics, until they deem it pure enough for everyone else to drink. So you can’t say “Gee, that new Ghostbusters doesn’t look real good” without committing a hate crime. Because your honest take that it looked like a studio wasted a great director (Paul Feig) and a terrific cast (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, etc.) on a scene-for-scene reboot of a timeless classic in a cynical money grab wasn’t a valid point, just your blatant misogyny coming to the surface.
Which brings me to the new, long-awaited season of Doctor Who, with Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. Most of the reviews I’ve read about the decision to cast the first female Doctor pushed back against the negative reaction of the fanboys. A reaction, it’s worth noting but no one bothered, basically never existed. There was no widespread outcry against Whittaker getting the role. I don’t know if anyone’s ever noticed, but the demographic of people who care about a Time Wizard who flies around space in a magic box pointing an electric wand at aliens is hardly Ground Zero of toxic masculinity. I mean, it’s not like they cast her to play Rambo. Besides, we’re a good 30+ plus years since movies and TV gave us female protagonists who kick bad guy ass from Ripley to Xena, Buffy to Wonder Woman. Claiming there are guys out there who can’t hack a lady Doctor in 2018 is not just a strawman argument, it’s the worst kind of phony virtue signalling.
So how is Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor? She’s terrific. She’s charming as hell. Funny. The camera loves her. She seems like she’s hit the ground running with the elements of the character that have existed throughout the modern series. Smart. Resourceful. Quirky but not in a way that feels cloying or forced. Giving you that impression there’s a lot more going on inside the Gallifreyan’s two hearts the Doctor’s human companions can’t comprehend. I joined the show with Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor while acknowledging David Tennant’s 10th is the best. And after one episode I have no reason to think she won’t be right up there with them.
What I’m more concerned with is behind the camera. Steven Moffatt stepped down as showrunner, replaced by Chris Chibnall, who’s written some recent episodes like “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” And in the early going, Chibnall has made decisions even bolder than the one to cast a star who has lady parts.
To me, Doctor Who at it’s best is about the relationship between the Doctor and his companions. Whether there’s vague sexual tension like between the 9th Doctor and Rose Tyler or the 10th and Martha Jones, platonic friendships like between the 11th Doctor and Amy Pond (I loved her), or a father/daughter vibe like the 12th and my crush Clara Oswald had, the dynamic there was always what reduced every nerdette in Britain to a puddle of tears:
Yet Chibnall has made the curious and, I guess, gutsy move to give Whittaker’s Doctor three companions. A Scooby Gang of a 19-year-old, his step-grandfather and a police woman he’s friends with. So far so good on them seeming to have a natural chemistry. And (no spoiler) at least one emotional moment where they have to come together as a group. It’ll just be curious to see if having that one sidekick character spread out in so many ways will ultimately help or hurt.
Again, no spoilers, but if this first episode suffered from anything, it was having a generic Big Bad. The kind of alien-in-a-suit threatening something-or-other on Earth and we puny humans must do whatever-the-hell. that could’ve been teleported in from any BattleStarGateTrek series. But still, we get the familiar story beats of the Doctor not having a plan until
he she comes up with a plan and the universe is spared. Until next week.
The bottom line I’m optimistic. It all starts with the right Doctor and they’ve checked that box. The chemistry between the companions is the sort of thing that can work develop over time. And hopefully the new people in charge will keep the story lines fresh and the emotional center that makes it the best SciFi series on TV still beating. I’m all in.