Happy New Year! Sorry for the gap, but I’ve been crunching through movies like a mad-woman (apt description, that one) the past few weeks. So, here’s my review of the latest Doctor Who season, originally published at The Green Man Review!
Eleven new seasons. Thirteenth doctor. Jodie Whittaker. With me? Good. Let’s do this.
I was not a fan of the last doctor. Felt like he was odd for odd’s sake, and let’s face it; the majority of season ten eps were crap. All apologies to Peter Capaldi, but the stories last season were awful. My friend and I said “well, what the hell just happened here” so often I’ve lost count. But this season? It’s fantastic.
The new Doctor loves bobbing for apples candy floss, purple sofas, and fast talking. Really fast talking. Folks who aren’t used to the glory that’s the Yorkshire accent may need a moment or two to get with the flow. But I absolutely adore it – hello Sean Bean, Brian Blessed and Dame Judi Dench! – so I dug in immediately.
As for the basic changes in this season? There’s beautiful purple Rorschach test-like new opening credits, and rat-a-tat spin on the title score. Gorgeous redo of the inner TARDIS as well; antique gold, steampunk and crystal replaces the steel and 60s retro vibe of the Twelfth Doctor’s interior. And I love it. Okay, I’m a lapidary junkie so seeing so much crystal woven into the TARDIS interior is a glory to my eyes. But getting really steampunk is gonna be something every cosplayer will be itching to recreate. And I can’t wait to get to (Re)Generation Who and see every bit of it.
Then there’s the Doctor herself. She’s got a great angled pageboy I’d love to be able to pull off (but sadly my curly waves won’t behave), and an earring/cuff combo that I want immediately. The earring is two hands shaking in friendship, with a chain that connects to a cuff made of stars. How perfect for the Doctor. Of course there’s her outfit, with navy culottes, a rainbow striped t-shirt that changes from navy to maroon to purple, yellow suspenders, a groovy grey hooded slicker, and what look like Doc Marten boots. Pockets! Serviceable shoes! I love it. Yes, I’ve said that I love things several times here. I’m not sorry.
As for the episodes, most are wins, with only one clunker in the bunch. I’ll share a few of my thoughts, just for a taste. You should watch ’em yourself.
Ep 1 – The Woman Who Fell to Earth
“Moment of truth then. Wish me luck.”
David Bowie reference! That had me primed to enjoy things. And there’s lots to enjoy in this first episode. I absolutely love the way this Doctor describes the regeneration process. It sounds scary, painful and awe inspiring. And the Stenza is one of the most chilling villains I’ve seen in a long time. Absolutely creepy, with a disgusting habit that chilled me to the bone. This is a fun Doctor, but not in the last three ways. Well, more like the last four got spun in a blender for a bit. That’s a good thing, and I’m digging it.
Ep 2 – The Ghost Monument
“I’m good in a tight spot. Pretty sure I still am.”
Welcome to the new title score! One of the characters says “Don’t panic” and I giggled with crossover joy. Interesting story that references the Stanza and hints at yet another mysterious moment of the Doctor’s past. It all leads to a satisfying – if probably predictable for most – payoff. One thing though; why does no one run at a 90 degree angle to get away from something gunning behind them? I mean really y’all. I guess I can expect that from the n00bs, but from the Doctor? C’mon now y’all.
Ep 3 – Rosa
“Riding a bus is Montgomery. Good times.”
At the start, I worried this would be a “white savior” episode, with the Doctor showing Rosa Parks how to do it. But instead this is a fantastic Butterfly Effect-esque historical episode that ties in with today all too well. Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole really get to shine as Yaz and Ryan feel the weight of segregation. And that ending scene, complete with Andra Day’s “Rise Up” – yeah it’s shamelessly tugging heartstrings, but damn it works. One of my favorite eps this season. Shout out to Vinette Robinson’s pitch-perfect portrayal of Rosa Parks, and writers Malorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall for crafting a respectful look at the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the United States..
Ep 4 – Arachnids in the UK
“I call people dude now!”
The episode where the companions decide to become companions. Maybe… Meanwhile, the Doctor imagines having a flat, complete with purple sofa. I like her more and more each ep. Meanwhile, welcome to Chiller Theater. Nice way of focusing on tiny webs now and again at the beginning. Then, apartment full. Next, a molt. Excellently creepy, with another heartstring-yank of a scene towards the end. Great use of angled shots, and wonderful direction all around. FYI – spiders don’t simply keep on growing til they die. Feel better now? Pleasant dreams.
Ep 5 – The Tsuranga Conundrum
“You may be a poor liar, but you have excellent instincts.”
Meet the Pting, the cutest widdle death creature ever! I want one! Okay, I want a stuffed representation of one. Probably not best to cuddle with this little cutie pie. In this story set in a gigantic hospital ship, the Doctor has a painful spleen, and it hinders her; I like how this season shows that the Doctor isn’t always all-powerful. Story-wise, this feels like an Original Who episode, but with a bigger budget and better tech. Fun with a smattering of suspense. Not fantastic, as my favorites of this season are, but engaging as hell.
Ep 6 – Demons Of The Punjab
“India’s a home to all of us! We didn’t change when a line was drawn!”
Yaz gets a look at her grandmother’s life… On the wrong day. The day of the partition of India. And while we meet a new species – the bat faced, saber-toothed Vajarians – it is humans against humans that drives this narrative. “Millions will perish unseen, unknown in the days to come…it cannot be stopped.”
Oh my God this is the most heartbreaking episode I’ve ever seen. If you’re not bawling at the 32 minute mark, I don’t want to know you. It’s a beautiful, touching tribute to all of the people affected by the Partition, and a glorious episode that even non-Who fans should see. I knew that India and Pakistan used to be one country, but little else about the divide. In this episode, the creators of Doctor Who pay tribute to men, women and children of this area. It’s easily the best Who episode I’ve ever seen, hands down. And that’s saying quite a lot. Be prepared for all of the feelings. Every one of them. Keep tissues handy, and don’t be afraid to cry and smile, and break your heart at the same time. “Nothing worse than when normal people lose their minds.” Truer words, my friend.
Ep 7 – Kerblam!
“Remember, if you want it, Kerblam it!”
Oh look, a fez! Nice callback to the 11th Doctor. But that’s about as much joy as I got from this ep. Every season has a clunker or two. (Or in the case of season 10, damn near every single one). Here’s this season’s. The plot is messy and feels padded, with little than the usual “folks in peril asking for help” storyline. But even with this dull entry, the four main characters are fun to watch. It’s the actors giving great performances that drives this story. Great idea – let’s all try to use technology intelligently *and* compassionately – but uninteresting…delivery.
Ep 8 – The Witchfinders
“We’re staying here and sorting it. Even if I am just a woman.”
Guest spot alert: Alan Cummings as King James I! He carves the ham thick, and it’s absolutely delicious. Anyone who lets AC off his chain gets my thanks and gratitude. With this 17th Century historical episode, the Doctor experiences 17th century “Christian” misogyny. And does she mention that she wouldn’t have this trouble if her body was male? Yes, yes she does.
Spooky fun, complete with the dead rising from graves. The episode does introduce another new alien species that’s sure to get more play, or at least I hope they do because they’re incredibly powerful and very unsettling.
Ep 9 – It Takes You Away
“That’s not normal, even for Norway.”
Another excellent story. From possible monsters to an alternate reality/universe, to the attention to detail in costuming and hair-styling (no more than that sweetie; just pay attention). Plus the excellent performance from actress Ellie Wallwork as Hannah, the survivor the Doctor and her “pals”find in an otherwise empty home. Bittersweet, wishful and fascinating. I thought I might not like it once the gang entered the decidedly Old Who-esque fissure between universes set… But it’s another one of my faves this season.
Ep 10 – The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
“I know that voice.”
Last stop on the season 10 train! And this episode comes back around. And the payoff for remembering is a delicious chill at the halfway point of this episode. Ooh, feel that? Yeah. Notice the callback to the Ninth Doctor? Keep an ear out, because like I said, this new Doctor is a fast talker. But longtime fans will bounce in their seat. (Just me? I think not.) The story itself is a fascinating, horrifying idea of universal conquest. And a look at how blind faith can blind, and a nice way to end the season. Leave ‘em wanting more, yada yada. Oh, and who knew the Doctor could turn on the TARDIS through a clap? Guess The Clapper has gone universal…
Coda: this new season of Doctor Who hits much more than it misses, giving fans a captivating new Doctor that’s got me eager for more adventures with her and her fam. Good job, BBC.