I’m delighted the thirteenth Doctor on Doctor Who is a woman, and I’m also impressed the showrunners took a gamble that guaranteed lots of blowback. I’ve seen plenty of articles arguing this is just plain wrong (some good discussion of that here); if the new Doctor hadn’t gone over well (and not everyone likes every Doctor), the blowback would have gotten worse.
Happily, we got Jodie Whittaker, and she’s terrific. I wasn’t sure during the first episode, in which see seemed to be imitating Capaldi, but the first episode after regeneration is not a good guide what they’ll be like. She soon firmed up into her own Doctor, talking like a scatterbrained but thinking like well, the Doctor.
The first episode, The Woman Who Fell to Earth, introduces her new set of companions: Graham (fiftysomething bus driver), his step son Ryan, a young black man with dyspraxia (I gather it’s like dyslexia but physical), and Yaz, a Pakistani police woman who’s an old friend of Ryan’s. Ryan’s mum appears, but dies at the end of the first episode. All of them come from Sheffield, which has a bigger role in the background than most real-world settings — the Doctor loses her sonic screwdriver, so she cobbles together a new one out of Sheffield steel, for instance.
The season doesn’t have an overall story arc or a season long big bad, though the same alien killer shows up in the first and last episodes (I am not impressed with him, so I’m glad he wasn’t the archfoe of the season). However, some of the discussion at Camestros Felapton’s blog suggested that the running theme is humanity as the real monster. A white supremacist in Rosa (about Rosa Parks); a politically ambitious millionaire in Arachnids in the UK; the designers who set a doomsday bomb as a failsafe in The Tsurunga Conundrum; the religious hostilities during the India/Pakistan partition (Demons of the Punjab); and the anti-tech activist in Kerblam!
The stories were uneven. Arachnids was the weakest, a classic monster story with too many mixed elements that never gelled together. I think I’m in a minority, but I didn’t much fancy The Witchfinders, partly just because I know too much about the subject (the “witchfinder general” did not outrank other witchfinders). Kerblam! was much better, but suffered from a muddled moral and an AI I was supposed to sympathize with but didn’t (it kills one character just to make a point).
Demons of the Punjab was a good look at a conflict that looms large in Yaz’s family history; It Takes You Away was an interesting story about a strange parallel universe; and the New Year’s (rather than Christmas) special Resolution was really great. I suspect it’s broadening the background cast for next season, which annoyingly won’t be until 2020.
As far as I’m concerned, the thirteenth Doctor (please note I am not taking the number thirteen as set up for a joke) is a solid success.
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