Doctor Who season 11 has divided the online fan community. Change has always been hard-baked into Doctor Who; every regeneration is basically an opportunity for the series to reinvent itself from the ground up, and since 2005 regenerations have often coincided with a new showrunner, with a drastically different vision for the series. That's certainly been the case with Doctor Who season 11, which saw Jodie Whittaker take over as the Thirteenth Doctor at the same time Chris Chibnall took charge.
This time around, the debate seems more extreme than ever before. In part that's simply a reflection of the growing power of social media, which allows everybody to air their voice. But it's also because both British and American society is currently going through something of a cultural crisis, with the internet serving as the battleground between different groups with competing visions of what it means to be British (or, some political commentators would argue, English) and American.
Related: Doctor Who: Why Jodie Whittaker Is Already A Great Doctor
Doctor Who season 11 is daring to contribute to that conversation, with the changes being made by Chibnall involving the series choosing a side in this cultural conflict. Given this is the case, it should come as no surprise that season 11 has proved unusually divisive. Here, we're going to focus in on some of the specific changes that have been made in Doctor Who season 11, and examine just why they've been so controversial.
- This Page: The Doctor and Her Friends
- Page 2: Doctor Who Swaps Continuity For Social Justice
- Page 3: Season 11 Is A Different Sort Of Doctor Who
Jodie Whittaker - The First Female Doctor
The casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor sent shockwaves through the online fan communities. There's nothing new about the idea of a female Doctor; it's been doing the rounds since 1981, when Tom Baker decided to crack a joke about it when announcing his departure from the series. Into the 2000s, the relaunch of Doctor Who led to enormous pressure for the BBC to choose a woman for the role. Steven Moffat found himself on the defensive, insisting that he simply got obsessed with the idea of seeing Peter Capaldi in the TARDIS. "This isn’t a show exclusively for progressive liberals," he argued. "This is also for people who voted Brexit. That’s not me politically at all - but we have to keep everyone on board." Notice the assumptions underpinning Moffat's awkward defense. He seemed to believe that only "progressive liberals" want - or would tolerate - a female Doctor, and explicitly linked the idea to the current political split in British politics and culture.
Just as Moffat apparently foresaw, the decision to cast a female Doctor did indeed set the internet ablaze. Social media was flooded with comments about how the Doctor was a Time Lord, not a Time Lady, and the BBC received so many complaints that they issued a brief statement in defense of the casting. Eight episodes into Season 11, there's still an active #NotMyDoctor hashtag on Twitter, and there are countless YouTube videos fuming at the very idea of a female Doctor. It's important not to write every single objection off as sexist; some long-term fans were simply uncomfortable because they felt the TARDIS crew's dynamic has changed forever, in a way that turns Doctor Who into a different show to the one they grew up with.
Speaking at San Diego Comic-Con 2017, Moffat insisted that the complaints come from a vocal minority, whose frustration has been enhanced through social media and by journalists. "There has been no backlash at all," he argued. "The story of the moment is that the notionally conservative Doctor Who fandom has utterly embraced that change completely. Eighty-percent approval on social media, not that I check these things obsessively... I wish every other journalist who is writing the alternative would shut the h*** up." Ironically, the dismissive attitude sometimes displayed by the Doctor Who crew may, at times, have inflamed the situation; it meant this group felt persecuted for their view, which became more firmly entrenched.
The Companions - A Major Change In Approach
Long-term fans were right that Doctor Who season 11 would see a very different dynamic on board the TARDIS - but not just because of a female Doctor. Chibnall decided to switch things up in terms of the companions as well, introducing a very diverse group who travel through time and space with the Time Lord. The Doctor's companions - or, as Chibnall refers to them, her friends - matter because they're basically the "audience surrogate." The companions are the lens through which the Doctor is viewed and understood. That's why there have been so few episodes of Doctor Who without a companion; at the heart of the show is the idea that people just like us have stepped through the doors of a battered old Police Box and entered a world of adventure.
By switching the companions up like this, then, Chibnall is making a powerful statement about the audience he aims to reach. He's telling viewers that he believes the U.K. has changed, and that the modern audience is a diverse one. Naturally, some are uncomfortable with this statement, and thus frustrated. Others - who, perhaps, have never suffered racism or prejudice - are simply unable to relate to these new companions. Thus Doctor Who may have lost its attraction with some viewers, even as it hopefully reaches a new audience that has never tuned in before.
Meanwhile, it's also important to note that Chibnall has chosen to ditch one classic Doctor Who trope; the idea that the companions are just there as "eye candy." In an interview with The Guardian, Sarah Sutton - a companion of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors - reflected on just how bad it sometimes got. "I started wearing trousers," she remembered, "but the producer received letters saying, "Where have Sarah's legs gone?" and I was forced back into a skirt. By the end, I wasn't wearing very much at all." That pattern continued even into the Doctor Who relaunch, with an added frisson of romance between the Tenth Doctor and Rose, or the Eleventh Doctor and Amy. Chibnall, however, has dropped this entirely, focusing in on characters and not physiques. While there is a budding romance between Ryan and Yaz, it's being developed very slowly indeed, and the focus isn't on either's physical attributes at all.