I’m a big Dr. Who fan…
…but my Whovian credentials pale into insignificance against those of Alex Allen, a final year PhD student in the Nanoscience Group here at Nottingham. (I recommend Alex’s blog for not only much more on Dr. Who but a series of entertaining reviews of classic albums, spanning many genres.) I was going to write a review of the first episode of the new Dr. Who series, which broadcast last Sunday, but Alex is much better qualified for this job. For what it’s worth, I loved the episode. Alex is a little more equivocal. No more spoilers, however. Over to you, Alex…
This review will be split into two sections. Before and after.
We’re all geeks. It’s just a fact that, at some level, every person has a knowledge (an enthusiasm) for a subject that goes beyond the common standard. I know people that can wax lyrical about Manchester United, Shakespeare, science, philosophy, and one particularly tedious person (he knows who he is) that spent long car journeys with his parents memorising the major A-roads in the UK. I’ve been labelled a geek before, a moniker I neither love nor loathe, because I have knowledge of Doctor Who (both classic series and modern) that is a bit beyond most people’s… tolerance.
I’ve decided that before the episode airs I will share my concerns and hopes. Firstly — and we might as well mention the metaphorical pachyderm — yes, The Doctor is a woman now. I don’t have any problem with this in a vacuum but it does lead me to nerves from the perspective of writing. Let’s take last series as an example, in the introducing of Bill Potts. She was a great character with a brilliant interplay with The Doctor. She was also, as an aside, a lesbian. Again fine, no problem, moving on… Except we couldn’t quite manage that… It was mentioned far more than it should have been and served to drag back the character, just a tad, into having to crowbar in a reference to this fact. Don’t be ham-fisted. Gender and sexuality are not character traits… I think we’re safe with this one though I still remember having this exchange:
“I just think it’s funny that the first thing that she did when becoming a woman forgetting how to drive the TARDIS.”
“Yes but David Tennant, Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi all did the same thing.”
“Yeah but this time a woman did it.”
Sigh from me and move on.
The other thing I should mention is that the show is indeed about a time travelling alien who can go anywhere in time and space. That gives a very deep well to draw from and so just remember – I’m talking to you, Series 11 – just remember that a supposed landmark change is not license to erase everything. I still want to see a TARDIS. By all means forget all of the monsters and villains we’ve seen before for a series but don’t erase them from history. You have very deep roots. I think this is my paranoia and thankfully Whittaker has basically placated me in one sentence just by saying something along the lines of: “it’s a celebration of the old and the new”. I am kind of looking forward to the post-regeneration blur, the picking out of a new outfit etc.
Yes, I’m a Doctor Who geek. I spent enough of my formative teenage years delving into the back catalogues of episodes to the point that I have a mild tendency to emulate the mannerisms of the first four Doctors a lot. I hold my lapels when I wear a jacket. I rub my hands and bumble a little. I’m a fan of a bit of pomp and ceremony. And let’s not forget that little manic grin when getting excited.
Well… What have you got for me this time?
Oh ok – well my opinion matters, doesn’t it?! I just spent 500 words-ish talking about my taste in Doctor Who. I’m going to make this count and I am going to show you why I know!
I’m going to say this right now. Whittaker was wonderful, and I genuinely think that we are holding onto something very powerful here. Some of the scenes with her forging a new sonic… excellent stuff. Shall we talk through the episode? I think I’m obliged to – but should I use classic or modern episodes as a reference? Hey I’ve got free rein! I’ll do what I want!
The TARDIS crew has roughly consisted of one to three people and in the beginning that was fine due to the format but soon it became clear that sometimes the TARDIS was overcrowded. Peter Davison inherited three companions from Tom Baker: Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. It didn’t work and it soon became clear that they sapped development time from each other – for God’s sake Nyssa spent an episode bedridden at one point and by that I mean: didn’t appear.
It’s a big question as to why we have three companions introduced in one episode especially as we have to introduce a brand new Doctor and I have to admit it’s a detriment to the episode. It’s kind of obvious but I think you have to make sure to give the Doctor the most time to develop. With the episode focussing on the Doctor, three companions, one character of the week, one character so fated to die they could be wearing a T-shirt reading “I kicked the Grim Reaper’s puppy” and one villain, the focus was blurred.
So, anyway. Some of the characters get attacked on the train by a metal tentacle monster when the Doctor falls from the sky and starts taking a handle on the situation, Whittaker grabs the presence, and, with everyone now on screen, they investigate a few set-up plot threads. I did enjoy the Doctor making her new screwdriver and the continued chase. Then, of course, we meet the villain, Tsim Sha, who the Doctor refers to as Tim Shaw, something that I will admit continued to tickle me. He’s creepy isn’t he? With those teeth stuck in his face…
So anyway – they get to this big confrontation and our leading lady takes out the chap by taking advantage of his hubris, turning his whole plan against him. But, of course, Grace (the character with the metaphorical “I like standing on train tracks” T-shirt) happens to fall to her death and the characters wrap up an admittedly sad situation. Finally the Doctor changes her clothes, first announcing “It’s been a while since I bought women’s clothes.” You know what went through my head at that line? (Yes, it’s geeky. Shut up.) “TARDIS wardrobe, Susan, Barbara, Vicki, Katarina, Sara, Dodo, Polly, Victoria, Zoe, Liz, Jo, Sarah-Jane, Leela, Romana, Nyssa, Tegan, Peri, Mel, Ace, Rose, Martha, Donna, Amy, Clara, Bill.” There are always loads of clothes on the TARDIS but I’m fine with the outfit being taken from the charity shop.
Oh… the TARDIS?!
It didn’t appear and it broke my heart a little. Yes, they get teleported into space right at the end in the search for it but you better show it soon or I’m going to get very grumpy and the same goes for the opening theme.
So final thoughts? Cinematography was gorgeous and the music was really sharp, the little sting that played as Whittaker first appeared was so satisfying. The pace was so sub-par seemingly trying to cater a bit too much for everyone, not in the stupid “Doctor Who can’t be a woman” sense, but rather in the “Doctor Who should work for those who won’t like Doctor Who” sense. Have some strength of mind Chris Chibnal and keep the essence around or else risk looking like you’re writing like Gromit plans model rail design…
That new theme music that we got to hear in the closing credits was masterful. A cross between the original theme from the radiophonic workshop and STOMP. Yes! Every time. The companions are strong but should not dissolve into stereotypes like I mentioned (the dyspraxia idea flirted with it.)
Chibnal, prove to me you can write and don’t let your characters eat each other. Give me more Doctor, loads more. Give me my TARDIS. Give me comedy, drama, camp and powerful and we’ll be fine. For now – I don’t know how much I like you but I’m hardly about to go am I.
So that’s my opinion and please don’t let my opinion be a dictatorship of truth. I’m not leading an army and none of us are. I’m just talking about a show I love and will stick with. My obsession doesn’t give me the power to make the subjective into truth. I don’t want hoards fighting over this show in any sense stating it is trying to drive down an alley. For God’s sake, if you’re about to tell me how brilliant or how ghastly it was AND you call yourself a Doctor Who fan then make yourself more like the Doctor. Quote from Doctor 12 … Take it from here, Doctor 13. Alex out.
 Word of the day calendar 
 Don’t argue with me, on this now.
 On this blog, I feel obliged to use a footnote or two.