RELEASED: October 31st – December 5th 2021
DISTRIBUTED BY: BBC
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Chris Chibnall & Matt Strevens
WRITTEN BY: Chris Chibnall & Maxine Alderton
DIRECTED BY: Jamie Magnus Stone & Azhur Saleem
MUSIC BY: Segun Akinola
STARRING: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop, Jacob Anderson, Thaddea Graham, Craig Parkinson, Kevin McNally, Steve Oram, Sam Spruell, Rochenda Sandall, Craige Els, Annabel Scholey, Nadia Albina & Jemma Redgrave
As Chris Chibnall’s time running Doctor Who draws to a close, and with COVID running amok, for his last full series, the showrunner decided to forgo the usual episodic nature of Doctor Who, and return to its more serialised roots.
When that was first announced, I was skeptical. Sure, the overarching plots of modern Who are usually interesting, but the hidden gems are often found among the ‘monster of the week’ episodes (Blink, Silence in the Library, Vincent and the Doctor, Mummy on the Orient Express, etc.)
As a messy compilation of things to come, the first chapter, The Halloween Apocalypse, did nothing to allay my fears.
Fortunately, things seemed to fall into place during chapter two, War of the Sontarans. While it did further the overarching plot, it also told a somewhat self-contained story. The writing seemed stronger than usual. The costume and make-up departments were firing on all cylinders (something true of the entire series). And as a bonus, the episode even separated the Doctor from her companions, allowing Jodie Whittaker a much needed opportunity to flex her acting muscles, and highlight why she’s the actor for the job.
In fact, I was so impressed by that particular episode (plot holes though there were) that I started to see the appeal of reverting Doctor Who to this serialised format. I wouldn’t be averse to future series doing something similar.
It was a fun, if slightly flawed episode that reminded me of why I love this show so much.
Then, for the most part, the rest of the series dove back into being an incomprehensible, poorly paced mess. By the final episode I was huffing with disapproval as I struggled to keep focus.
How is this show written by the same person who wrote the often excellent Broadchurch? It’s honestly baffling how stark the difference in quality is between the two.
For one, the dialogue is often cringey and tedious. It’s silly (and not in a good way) and often opts for ‘tell, don’t show’, which is the opposite of what good stories are meant to do!
Three seasons in, and the companions are still, for the most part, rather blank canvases. Mandip Gill gives it her best, but can’t do much when Yas has so little to her beyond the rather tired ‘infatuated with the Doctor’ trope. Newcomer John Bishop’s Dan shows promise initially, but outside of being a Scouser, doesn’t show much in the way of character, nor does he get to contribute all that much.
The overall plot is incoherent. There are too many disparate storylines and characters, all of which are meant to feed back in to the overarching narrative, but instead just detract from and confuse it.
Plot points are heaped on with abandon, overcomplicating proceedings, as new stories and questions are added on episode by episode. What is the flux? Who are the Ravagers? What’s the deal with the Division? What’s the Grand Serpents master plan? How will the Doctor save the universe? What is the significance of Bel and Vinder? What secrets lie in the Doctor’s forgotten past? Why is Joseph Williamson jumping through time and space?
To those questions, and many, many more, we get the odd half hearted answer, if the question is even followed up on at all, while character’s become mere plot devices lacking development.
The most infuriating of these is perhaps the stuff pertaining to the Timeless Child and the Division, following on from last season. I’m not as vehemently against the idea as some are, but I’m not in love with it either. So to have it continuously brought up, only to get no true payoff for any of it is just ludicrous. Why even introduce that aspect of the Doctor in the first place? If it doesn’t really affect her character, and it’s not going to be explored, then it’s just a change for changes sake.
And to be honest, that’s true of most of this series, and arguably Chris Chibnall’s tenure on Doctor Who as a whole. The why of it all doesn’t matter. He has an idea, and it’s thrown into the show. Like the companions he’s created, it won’t be expanded upon, nor make any real difference. There’s no weight to anything, nor any meaningful consequences – even when half the universe is being destroyed.
I kind of enjoyed last season but looking back at it all, as a whole… God damn, has this been disappointing.
I give it:
Thanks for reading! What’s your preferred Doctor Who format – serialized or episodic? Let me know in the comments below!
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