Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, after a run of ten episodes in 2018, was last seen protecting Earth from a lone Dalek on New Year’s Day. 12 months later she returns in series 12 Doctor Who.
2018’s series 11 was, by most accounts, a mixed bag. We had some fine performances from the regular cast (Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill), some brilliant visual effects and a stunning musical score by new composer Segun Akinola. Conversely, we had some dreadful dialogue, a serious lack of memorable villains and futuristic stories which were mostly dull and uninspired. However, this was the first series produced under Chris Chibnall and the first with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, so perhaps these issues can be resolved for 2020. After all, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy’s (Doctors Four and Seven respectively) second seasons produced some of the greatest serials in the show’s long history.
We had some dreadful dialogue, a serious lack of memorable villains and futuristic stories which were mostly dull and uninspired
The villains problem appears to have been hastily addressed, as this new run of episodes features reappearances from creatures such as the Cybermen and the rhino-headed Judoon. One apparently new foe appears capable of breaking into the TARDIS, a feat rarely achieved by the Doctor’s nemeses, save for the Cybermen and the Sontarans. After last year’s lacklustre monsters, it’s reassuring to see some new threats. Moreover, the lack of action has been addressed, as the series opener ‘Spyfall’ appears to be a James Bond-style adventure. “Doctor. The Doctor” quips our protagonist in the released trailers, as she is hired by MI6 to investigate a global conspiracy. The premise alone sounds infinitely more thrilling than some of last year’s bland stories.
In series 11’s defence, its journeys into the past were where it truly succeeded, with the inspiring ‘Rosa’ written by Chibnall and former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, the heart-breaking ‘Demons of the Punjab’ by Vinay Patel and ‘The Witchfinders’ by Joy Wilkinson. As disappointing as it is to see no Blackman or Wilkinson this time, the return of Vinay Patel is certainly a welcome one. Also thankfully returning are Pete McTighe, responsible for the engaging ‘Kerblam!’, and Ed Hime, who wrote the wonderfully bizarre ‘It Takes You Away’, which together arguably were the best two non-historical stories of the main series 11 run. Also confirmed are Nina Metivier, Maxine Alderton and Charlene James, and it will be fascinating to see what these new writers can bring to this 56-year-old programme.
One can only hope that this includes actually developing Yasmin Khan’s character, who was so cruelly neglected by many of the previous scripts
In front of the camera, confirmed actors include Stephen Fry and Sir Lenny Henry, as well as ER’s Goran Višnjić, former Sarah Jane Adventures star Anjli Mohindra, Spooks’ Robert Glenister and an appearance from James Buckley of Inbetweeners fame. With the series 11 regulars also returning, it appears the high calibre of acting from 2018 will continue into this new decade. Hopefully they will be given better material to work with than last season. Thankfully Chris Chibnall has confirmed the return of a running theme in the next series, which suggests the production team have spent the last year wisely examining what was and was not so successful from their first run of episodes. One can only hope that this includes actually developing Yasmin Khan’s character, who was so cruelly neglected by many of the previous scripts, and including LGBTQ+ characters who are not killed off seconds after appearing. As good as it was to see more women and minorities move towards the centre stage, Doctor Who still has room to develop and improve.
Series 11 was, despite its flaws, a fresh take on a television legend. If the production team have listened to these criticisms and truly tried to fix them, then series 12 we may be getting just what the Doctor ordered.