I’m not here to spend the week chastising new Who, Chris Chibnall, the 13th Doctor, or Jodie Whitaker. Especially not Whitaker because blaming the actress for the failings of her character maybe the latest Twitter craze but it’s not mine. I just happened to stumble on a video that may put into perspective that intangible misstep I felt watching the first two episodes. I said the following in my take of the first two episodes:
And that’s my ultimate assessment thus far of this incarnation: not good, not bad, just okay but with potential. Whitaker is an okay Doctor and may get better as she finds her Doctor. The TARDIS is okay but I don’t see it growing on me. The Sonic Screwdriver is okay and I don’t expect that to grown on me either. The companions are okay but also have potential. The new threat is okay but has potential. Not good, not bad, just okay with potential. There’s potential but it doesn’t quite reach it. I’m not really drawn to watching this new version. I don’t think it’s bad but it doesn’t really excite me either.
There was something about Chibnall’s in those two episodes that wasn’t really connecting with me and I couldn’t put my finger on why. I’ve watched and read a few other commentaries that also weren’t very excited and those posters had watched all five current episodes. This morning when I was setting Art Soundoff to live since it already posted to BW and Patreon, YouTube suggested one particular video that I think nailed the problem with the show, as well as some other unpopular opinions. It won’t surprise you that I, someone who defends Scrappy-Doo and the GoBots as well as the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon, also don’t necessarily follow the group. Some bad language but not a lot.
Let’s get the main point first before getting into the other opinions. I think the poster, SamyulDavis, hit on the issue. We know 13 hates guns more than her predecessors (especially #6, who has been known to use them a time or two) and may be the biggest pacifist of the group. Otherwise, she doesn’t really stand out besides being the lady Doctor. I don’t know if the later episodes did anything with that “Timeless Child” line from “The Ghost Monument” or if that will come into play. It feels like yet another attempt to bring the mystery back to the character of the Doctor. He/she has been around since 1963; I’m not sure that’s possible anymore. Andrew Cartmel tried it with ideas that eventually became the wrongly named “Cartmel Master Plan”, Steven Moffat tried it by trying to convince us “Doctor Who” wasn’t just the name of the show but that there was some mystery about why he’s called the Doctor (which Davies even tried by suggesting it was a name he chose, but “making everyone feel better” isn’t even something the Doctor started out as…go watch the early First Doctor episodes again), and now Chibnall wants to use Clara Oswald’s “The Impossible Girl” idea. The Doctor doesn’t need to be mysterious to us anymore, just to new Companions and the people they meet.
(By the way, do all of Moffat’s female Companions need some extra nickname? The girl who waited. The impossible girl. Did Bill have one, too? I forget what Rory’s was but it was tied to how long he waited in the Auton body for Amy to get out of that machine.)
The other Doctors are easy to peg down.
- The grumpy old man who had to learn to care about others and become the champion of the innocent we know him as today.
- The “cosmic hobo” who wandered time and space, helping others
- The dandy who was good with martial arts and gadgetry
- The weird one
- The vulnerable one
- The disturbed one, thanks to a misstep in his regeneration
- The chess master, manipulating everyone in the pursuit of his goals (especially in the Virgin original story novels)
- The man who had seen many nightmares (mostly in the Big Finish continuations since Paul McGaan never had the chance to go beyond the movie and the movie itself was more about stopping the Master’s destruction of space time)
- The last survivor (until the death of the Time Lords was altered to shove Galifrey into another dimension) dealing with survivor’s guilt and loneliness.
- The Time Lord Victorious, master and manipulator of time and space, basically doing what the Time Lords feared one of them would do again, even if 10th was trying to do good things
- The manic one who liked hats everyone else he knew hated (many fezzes died at his wife’s hands). The video calls him “space grandpa” but I think he’s more like the fun uncle.
- The one trying to find himself and be a better person
- The…pacifist I guess, who has bits and pieces of other Doctor’s personas but not really one of her own
Some of these I had to think about a bit but by the time his regeneration was complete and he figured out who he was we knew it too. With 13th we got a speech that I think was supposed to convince people that she is the Doctor but not really what kind of Doctor she is. The poster also made the point that you can usually figure out a new Doctor in the course of one or two episodes. But after two episodes I really couldn’t. While I find post-regeneration episodes more interesting than the regeneration episodes like the commentor as it introduces a new character (although I do agree the Doctor finales are usually pretty good, “I don’t want to go” aside), I couldn’t tell you what exactly 13 was. Just that she was okay, her Sonic Screwdriver was okay, her TARDIS was okay, but none of it really wowed me. Someone else I checked on said that the problem was trying to flesh out three companions AND a new Doctor at the same time, but I’ve seen shows start with more than four new characters and give them all immediate personalities that would be built on. If Chibnall really is trying to start from scratch he isn’t off to a good start.
As for his other opinions…we know the Sliveen are a large family (they even caused trouble for Sarah Jane Smith) so why not bring them back, or others from their species who might join in opposing them because the family isn’t typical of the species. I rather enjoyed Matt Smith’s early episodes but as much as I like Amy (for not always the right reasons) and Rory I think his best stories were with Clara. I also want to see something new with the Daleks and thought the Cult Of Skarro had some potential that wasn’t really fulfilled. I don’t know that I’d say the entire classic Who had pacing issues (maybe because I like serials) but you can point to various episodes. The formula…probably does happen more often than not for certain writers or directors, but some of that shows up in new Who as well. I need to see the rest of Capaldi’s first season and how he interacted with Clara but they worked great together in the first 12th storyline.
I think I’m done talking about 13th though. It didn’t really grab my attention and with all the other projects, shows, movies, reading, and everything else I have to keep up with I just am not currently interested in adding this to the list. Maybe someday, since Doctor Who was one of my three favorite fictions for years, but I still have Godzilla movies I haven’t seen and I’m more determined to fix that than new Who.