Season 11 of Doctor Who has delighted the majority of its viewers, although the show has not been a flawless run of episodes. The newly revamped sci-fi show has drawn high ratings and acclaim from critics and fans alike. From Alan Cumming's outrageous King James I, to the destructive cuteness of the Pting, online discussions about the show have been praised many of the show's newest adventures. In short, it seems that the show's most drastic changes have been met with approval.
Since his appointment as show-runner in 2016, Chris Chibnall's tenure has already been marked by a new theme tune, a new TARDIS interior and - most significantly of all - the first-ever female Doctor. Some quarters still disapprove of Jodie Whittaker's casting, along with what has been deemed its "politically correct" ideology. It is true that Chibnall has made the show's commentary on social issues a priority, since the show has repeatedly explored how sexism and racism affect its core cast of characters. However, the show had confirmed that Time Lords can change their gender years earlier, and Doctor Who has always been very socially conscious escapism.
Yet that isn't to say that season 11 has been faultless. There has been plenty of things for Whovians to enjoy, such as the upgraded production value and the calibre of its new performers. Yet there are concerns that Doctor Who's new writing team has forgotten what routines and hallmarks made the show as successful as it was – to detrimental effect.
- This Page: Season 11's Lack of Direction and Classic Episodes
- Page 2: The Thirteenth Doctor and the New Companions
Doctor Who Season 11 Was Consistent - But Didn't Have Many Classic Episodes
Doctor Who’s greatest strengths are, undeniably, its adaptive premise and protagonist. As demonstrated by Jodie Whitaker’s incarnation, it’s clear that the Doctor can be a Time Lord of any gender, race and personality. Similarly, the fact that the TARDIS can go to any place or time within existence means that there are immense storytelling possibilities for every successive show-runner. In short, the show can reinvent itself every few years – and be markedly different from week to week as well.
In the space of two episodes, Doctor Who can shift from a bombastic space opera to a psychological horror, as it did with “Forest of the Dead” and “Midnight” during David Tennant’s tenure back in 2008. But whilst this variance of genres and approaches have contributed to Doctor Who’s longevity, it can make a singular series feel very uneven and inconsistent.
Thankfully, season 11 doesn’t fall victim to this age-old problem as much as it has done in the past. Sure, "The Tsuranga Conundrum" proves that Doctor Who can still produce weaker episodes, yet season 11 doesn’t have the kind of maligned instalments that fans will recoil from in years to come, as they do for “Love and Monsters” and “In the Forest of the Night.” But on the other hand, there were not that many instant classics either. Aside from “Rosa,” most of the episodes declined to take many narrative risks.
This is all the more noticeable when we consider that every modern Doctor has enjoyed multiple acclaimed stories within their first batch of episodes. For example, the Ninth Doctor’s “Dalek” is widely recognised as one of the show’s all-time best, especially for its treatments of Doctor Who’s most famous villains. Writer Steven Moffat also thrilled viewers with his “Empty Child” two-parter later in that season. Additionally, when Moffat took over as show-runner in 2010, “The Eleventh Hour” and Richard Curtis’s “Vincent and the Doctor” swiftly joined Doctor Who’s resplendent hall of fame. These two episodes are from Eleventh Doctor’s first series alone, which also contains those revered finale episodes: “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang.”
In the short time since its airing, it’s clear that “Rosa” will be a Doctor Who tale for the ages, but its doubtful that many of season 11’s other episodes will be as well. That isn’t to say that elements within “The Witchfinders” and “It Takes You Away” are not strong or endearing. But its hard to envision these episodes being mentioned in the same breath as other inaugural classics in the future.
Doctor Who Season 11's Lack Of Arc Removed A Sense of Direction
Season 11 has foregrounded the universal themes of compassion and family, perhaps more than any other series of Doctor Who thus far. We can see this in many forms, from the bigger TARDIS team, to the Doctor’s poignant befriending of the previously hostile entity, the Solitract. But aside from this, Season 11 is notable because it has eschewed long-running arcs over its ten episodes.
Much of Doctor Who’s modern era has been segmented by season-specific stories and mysteries. What is the significance of Bad Wolf? Who is that mysterious, Mary Poppins-esque lady? And who or what will knock four times? From these questions, most Whovians can instantly identify which Doctor and season they pertain to. Each respective show-runner teased and developed these narrative threads across the Doctor’s adventures, until they were eventually resolved in the season finale. Narrative arcs like these are not limited to a pervading threat or mystery either. Doctor Who often features an arc for the Doctor and their companions as well, from Doctor number Ten realising how bad of an influence he can be, to Martha Jones struggling with her unrequited love for the titular Time Lord.
Admittedly, season 11 has charted the growing bond between Graham and Ryan in the wake of Grace’s death. Plus, it has teased more information about the Doctor’s family and the enigmatic Timeless Child. But outside this, the lack of overarching plots has really harmed the show as its unfolded.
Though there are occasionally references, Chris Chibnall has clearly sidestepped many meaningful links Doctor Who's past to open it up to new and casual viewers. It’s an admirable approach, especially since Steven Moffat’s heavily interwoven series began to dissuade many fans from tuning in to watch. However, by removing episodic links from Season 11, the show has lost its thorough line. A central threat or puzzle gives the series a sense of purpose and instils a compulsive feeling in viewers. For example, viewers wondered what Harold Saxon’s significance was back in Season 3. As such, audiences tuned in to watch each instalment in order, and as soon as possible, to find out what happens. When the final plot was revealed, it rewarded viewers’ investment with escalated stakes for the characters, in an impactful adventure that felt earned.
Again, this is not to say that Series 11 has not had some stellar instalments. “Rosa” and “It Takes You Away” stand as evidence to the contrary. But with no recurring plot points, Season 11 lacks the immediacy – and that series-specific story – that once defined Doctor Who beforehand.