Doctor Who is back in the 13th regeneration of the iconic Gallifreyan timelord, who has been entertaining and scaring sci-fi geeks for over half a century. Disturbingly it has taken 55 years for the doctor to regenerate without a penis. Jodie Whittaker, the critically acclaimed star of showrunner Chris Chibnall’s Broadchurch brings charm, effervescence and a great sense of humour to the role.
Chibnall was reportedly keen to cast a woman but the character is not written in a stereotypically gendered way. Whittaker embodies the idea of the Doctor as a representation of traditional British eccentricity. Her doctor is very reminiscent of the earliest doctors back in the 1960s and early 70s, particularly William Hartnell, but without the inherent racism and sexism. Whittaker uses her real thick Yorkshire accent adding to the Doctor’s charm. As Christopher Eccleston famously quipped, “lots of planets have a north”. The Doctor is still in the throws of regeneration and is still finding her feet but actress and writers are well on the way to finding theirs, doing a solid job of establishing the doctor’s personality and relationship with companions.
In the eleventh series of the show’s 2000s revival, we have a clean slate – a new show runner, new doctor, new companions and new alien adversaries. We see a return to the traditional full Tardis with the Doctor and her three companions from Sheffield; 19-year-old Ryan, his old schoolmate turned police probationer Yasmin, and Ryan’s step-grandfather Graham (Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh respectively). Walsh as the aging bus driver steals the show and brings real heart and soul to the group. As working class plain speaking northerners the companions bring a common sense approach as alien life and electrical pulses erupt around them. The recurring character of Ryan’s nan Grace (Sharon D. Clarke) reinforces the idea of strong women as role models for men as well as women.
While welcoming new aliens, it is hard for fans not to miss some of the classic villains from the Whoniverse – such as the Daleks, Cybermen and Icemen. None of the of the new extraterrestrial villains are as captivating at this stage, and it is hard not to pine of an incarnation of the Master (with Michelle Gomez not returning this season).
The dialogue and story development is generally strong but there are some episodes that are real clunkers; notably Arachnids in the UK and It Takes You Away. The Earth historical storylines are generally the most successful. In this multi-racial Tardis many of the storylines focus that focus on social politics and fighting for equality, unity and peace. The message may be laid on thick, but the episode Rosa, that takes us to Alabama in 1955 as the Doctor and her companions become embroiled in the story of civil rights hero Rosa Park, is still one of the most engaging and poignant.
While change might be scary for some Doctor Who fans, for the majority the latest regeneration and series offers a satisfying mixture of continuity and change that has something to offer old and new fans alike.