Jodie Whittaker’s first season is over and overall this new direction (which it isn’t, more on that later) is overall pretty good. Stripping away the lairs in often incomprehensible plotlines that would often lead nowhere has freed up the programme to just tell stories again, and for the first three episodes it did that as well as the series has ever done. After that things became patchy.
Rosa is in my mind a fantastic bit of Doctor Who that lives up to the original idea of retelling history for younger viewers, while something like Kerblam! is a reminder of the worst days of the Colin Baker/Sylvester McCoy years. All the other episodes come between them with about half being above average to excellent and the rest ranging from the aforementioned rubbish of Kerblam! to the sheer averageness of It Takes You Away.
Part of the problem is Chris Chibnall. In replacing Stephen Moffat he’s simplified things and taken the show back to it’s roots so that’s why so many of this season’s episodes feel like condensed classic serials; The Doctor and crew land in a strange place/time. Encounter something odd. Investigate it. Find out the problem/culprit/monster. Solve it in a neat bow, and barring a brief coda that’s your episode. Now that’s great most of the time but all the time? Back to basics doesn’t have to mean making the stories basic, which considering the possibilities of a female Doctor has barely been explored. In fact there’s little character development going on with the Doctor’s likeable set of companions with one exception. Tosin Cole and Mandip Gil both do good work with what thin gruel they often got, but the massive shock is discovering Bradley Walsh can’t just act, but has become the emotional and moral heart of the programme.
What about The Doctor? Well, Whittaker is excellent often adding things into episodes which do seem scripted as she plays the Doctor not as the broken, lost thing trying to be good that Peter Capaldi did, or the boyish hero of Matt Smith, but more like Peter Davison’s often uncertain Fifth Doctor, but there’s this gap in the centre of her performance created by scripts too scared to deal with the change of gender head on. I hope Whittaker isn’t let down by scripts as Capaldi and Smith were, and I hope after this seasons reboot she’s allowed to tackle something stronger than she’s had to deal with at times this season.
Overall though the series is vastly improved. The new musical score from Segun Aginola is superb as it ditches the pompous orchestral score for something weirder, while the new production values are excellent to see even though they’d ran out of money by the last episode so relied on a quarry in Wales to see them to the end. The basics are there as are the viewers but it needs beefing up and although the attempts to create new villains is only really successful with the Stenza, the New Year’s Day episode promises the return of the Doctor’s oldest villains…
So, as a series it’s back on track. If however we’re only getting this small amount of episodes a year I’l hope next year sees a, increase in overall quality to take Whittaker’s Doctor to a new level because with the right scripts she could very well be one of the best there’s been.