TV Critic Phoebe Hughes-Broughton takes us through Series 11’s premiere episode of Doctor Who and considers how Jodie Whittaker fares in the role of the Doctor
When the BBC decided to resurrect Doctor Who for a new run in 2005, there was trepidation. When Peter Capaldi was announced as the 12th Doctor, the oldest actor of the reboot, there was controversy. But the backlash against the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor was by far the most ferocious the BBC has faced yet, before her first episode had even aired. Now that it has, hopefully the voices of angry men on Twitter will calm down a bit, since Jodie has undoubtedly proved herself capable of carrying the mantel of the Doctor just as well as the many men before her.
Without a doubt, Jodie Whittaker herself was the best part of this episode; from her witty delivery, to her hilarious facial expressions, she’s already revived the comedy that many people loved from the early series, while keeping the heart that’s key to the character of the Doctor. Alongside her, the new ‘TARDIS Team’ as they’re being called, also proved themselves in this episode. Many people seemed sceptical of having so many companions in a single series, but this episode gave everyone enough screen time and plenty to do, without overwhelming us with backstory. In particular, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole excelled in their roles as Yasmin and Ryan respectively, the new younger companions who don’t seem afraid to get stuck in with the Doctor, while Bradley Walsh’s complete disbelief in the existence of aliens as Graham already has the makings of a great dynamic with Jodie’s Doctor. Crucially, all of these characters felt like real people – even the Doctor herself felt more realistic than previous incarnations, with a brutal honesty about how painful regeneration is and what it feels like to not be able to remember who you are that we haven’t seen in previous first episodes.
My biggest personal criticism of this episode was simply that it didn’t feel much like an episode of Doctor Who – something that a lot of people were worried about with the change of showrunner and a female Doctor at the helm. For the most part though, this was just due to the lack of TARDIS and opening credits – both things that will almost definitely change by the next episode, so I doubt this will be a problem for the rest of the series.
In fact, for many new viewers this is probably one of the best things about the episode: with the pull of Jodie Whittaker and the rest of the diverse cast, many people who gave up watching Doctor Who back in the David Tennant-era have been drawn back in by this new series, and the lack of emphasis this episode places on knowing the mythos of the Doctor or any of the aliens from prior episodes is definitely a good way to hook a new audience. In addition to this, the episode felt overall more grounded than recent series: with relatively little CGI, filmed almost entirely on-location in Sheffield, and stakes far lower than the potential destruction of the universe that we’ve seen all too often in recent series.
As well as being grounded, this new episode was far darker than most regeneration episodes have been; both visually, and thematically. For what is ostensibly a children’s show, there was a surprising amount of death, both on-screen and alluded to off-screen, and one of the scariest-looking villains I’ve seen on Doctor Who for a long time. Perhaps this isn’t one for young kids, then, but again I think it’s a great example of the show trying to bring back the audience who stopped watching back in the late 2000s.
All in all, this was a strong opener to what promises to be a great season of Doctor Who – with enough changes to draw in a new audience, while keeping to the heart of this well-loved show.