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Doctor Who Series 11 Premiere: A Round-table Conversation

There’s a lot of regeneration in the Whoniverse these days. With a new doctor, Jodi Whittaker, and a new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, Whovians have expressed feelings both of excitement and of trepidation going into the long-running British science fiction program’s 11th series. With so much change happening at the start of the new season, Movie (P)Review Show has gathered a diverse panel of science fiction journalist, fans, experts, writers, and publishers to discuss Sunday’s premiere. The panel was generally impressed with Whittaker’s performance, which reminded many of David Tennant’s portrayal of the titular character, and excited by the potential of the new direction in which the show seems to be headed, although it was somewhat more critical of the episode’s story and of its villain.

For this round-table, our TARDIS was piloted  by our own A. A. Rubin (@TheSurrealAri) who was accompanied by the following companions:

Ariba Bhuvad (@watchwithreebs), WatchWithReebs (www.watchwithreebs.com),

Travis Czap (Twitter: @CzapProductions, IG: @travisczap), CBR (https://www.cbr.com/author/tczap/),

Gene Hoyle (@genehoyle), Nerd Nation (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/nerd-nation-radio/id423840697?mt=2),

Adrian King (@adrianhasissues), Adrian Has Issues (http://adrianhasissues.com/),

Sophia LeRoux (@thesophialeroux), Kyanite Publishing (http://www.kyanitepublishing.com),

And

David McAllister (@Dgundersen), The Gallifreyan Buccaneer Blog (https://gallifreyanbuccaneer905439277.wordpress.com).

Their trip through time and space went as follows:

Movie Preview Show (MPS): Describe your previous experience with Doctor Who. Are you a long-time whovian? A fan of new who? Classic who? New to the program entirely?

Ariba Bhuvad (AB): I started watching Doctor Who back in 2014 and immediately fell in love with it. Being a fan of new Who, I became completely enamored with each doctor’s journey and time on the show, and loved the many, many episodes that inspired me and lifted my spirits on the toughest of days.

Travis Czap (TC): I’m pretty new to the show- I’ve seen a few episodes from various seasons.  I’m most familiar with David Tennant’s seasons on the show, but also have seen a few of Eccleston’s and various others throughout.

Gene Hoyle (GH): I came in late to Who fandom. The 11th Doctor was my first.

Adrian King (AK): I’ve watched the bulk of Doctor Who seasons since its revival in 2005, but I couldn’t call myself a Whovian. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to invite me out to Doctor Who trivia night.

Sophia LeRoux (SL): I fall somewhere in the middle. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing several different Doctors in action, but Matt Smith and Christopher Eccleston really stood out the most for me.

Dave McAllister (DM): I grew up with the Sylvester McCoy era and when I was old enough started to watch previous Doctors. When the show came back in 2005 my love for the show started all over again.

 

Movie (P)Review Show(MPS): Let’s get the big one out of the way early. What did you think of Jodi Whittaker as The Doctor?

AB: I absolutely LOVED her! She carried on the torch effortlessly and fit right into the crazy world of The Doctor. She’s funny, intelligent, and exudes an enthusiasm that encompasses everything about this iconic character.

TC: I really enjoyed her portrayal and the opportunities presented within the writing. While there is that familiar ‘Doctor’ in the character and in the writing, it was clear that we were treading new ground, and I was definitely on board for the ride. There was some great comedy, and Whittaker took on the idea of a traditionally male character being in a female body and relearning her identity very well.

GH: She was fantastic. She embodied everything that the Doctor should be

AK: Jodi is a phenomenal actress with a dynamic range. Even though the first episodes of a Doctor’s run often deal with the character struggling to get their bearings after regenerating, Jodi’s confidence in the role is what immediately won me. She is always in control and is clearly having the time of her life.

SL: Honestly, I have mixed feelings. I think I’ve grown so accustomed to having male a Doctor that a female one feels strange, almost like straying from tradition. Still, it may be a good thing; she’s a great actress. We’ll have to see.

DM: As soon as Jodie appeared on screen she convinced me she was the Doctor. The mannerisms and fizzy excitable energy were spot on.

 

MPS: I always look for elements of previous doctors in the current Doctor, especially in their first few episodes. To what extent did you see any aspects of previous Doctor’s performances in Whittaker’s performance? If so, which doctors did you see and when?

AB: I got a hit of David Tennant’s corky humor, Peter Capaldi’s swag, and Matt Smith’s uplifting personality. She definitely had hints of these three who were all my favorites, and seeing the best parts of them come together with one character was absolutely amazing.

TC: I definitely felt a bit of Tennant’s Doctor in Jodi Whittaker’s portrayal—particularly in her interactions with the characters who seem set to become her companions in this season, the humor and genuine concern for their well being echoed Tennant very much, I think.

GH: There was a lot of Tennant in her performance—in all the best ways.

AK: This is tough to answer, as I always try to see each Doctor’s performances for what they are without adding any undue comparisons. With that said, I noticed that there’s a level of whimsical recklessness often seen in Tenants run yet like most incarnations of the Time Lord, there’s an underlying layer of intensity especially in her confrontations with Tim Shaw–Shaw–er, Tzim-Sha.

SL: In this episode, I can honestly say she seemed to have a personality as the Doctor that was one in its own

DM: The first thing that jumped out at me was how big an influence David Tennant’s Doctor was on Jodie’s portrayal. We may get hints of other Doctors as the show goes on, but for now DT was the touchstone—no surprise really given Jodie’s close friendship with him.

 

MPS: Much has been made of the fact that Whittaker is the first female doctor since the announcement that Whittaker would be the new Doctor. Now that it’s happened, how did you react to actually seeing this change in a full episode?

AB: I thought it was great to finally see the shift from male to female! It was such a welcome change, and while it takes some time for it to truly sink in that there is a female Doctor, the entire episode was just a blast to watch with Jodie Whittaker taking the lead in this role.

TC: I think it went very well. The show didn’t suffer in any way from the change, and I think it was an interesting new element- not only is the Doctor learning a new identity, but now is learning this new identity in an unfamiliar body type. Considering that the Doctor is an asexual genderless Timelord, I never understood why anyone would have any issue in the first place, but Jodi Whittaker’s portrayal should silence any doubters, I’d think.

GH: It was no more jarring than any of the previous Doctors.

AK: I think that the full reveal of the new Doctor was handled brilliantly by having Jodie be dropped right in the middle of the fray instead of a long, drawn-out entrance. It was as if to say, “Boom! She’s here. She’s awesome. Let’s get right into this!”

SL: Again, it’s strange. It almost feels like a different show, but it could still pan out. I am a creature of habit and tradition.

DM: Gender played very little role in this story. It just felt new like any other new Doctor has felt in the past. Kudos to Jodie for embodying the Doctor so well.

 

MPS: Although much of the discussion in the lead-up to the episode was about the new doctor, that was not the only major change for the program: Chris Chibnall has replaced long-time show runner Steven Moffat. Clearly, he has a different vision for the show than Moffat did. In what ways did the show feel similar to—and/or different from—The Doctor Who with which you were familiar previously?

AB: There were definitely a few shifts in the show’s overall feel from Moffatt to Chibnall. The most noticeable difference is seeing a group of people who seem like they will be the Doctor’s companions. We’ve only see the character work with one other person and I’m digging this change because it gave the episode more substance and excitement, and I think that will carry on during the course of the season. I like that the show still feels like Doctor Who, and there wasn’t some drastic difference that made us feel like it’s not the same show anymore.

TC: Well, there were certain elements that are almost always going to be there in a new Doctor’s first episode- the energy leaving the Doctor’s body, for example. In that way, I think this premiere satisfied longtime fans of the show and character, but beyond the changing of the Doctor from a male to a female, that there’s now several companions, and a new sonic screwdriver built from scratch- these seemed to be symbols of the show taking some new directions and departing from tradition a bit.

GH: It appears that we will have a Doc without a TARDIS for a bit. That of course makes me think of the third Doctor.

AK: This new season feels like a true follow-up to the previous seasons, but also a bit of a reboot and I think that that’s smart. As we’re seeing with long-standing franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek, the series has to evolve and make it accessible to new audiences if they intend to continue. It was a smart decision to see the Doctor in action long before revealing the Sonic Screwdriver or even the TARDIS.

SL: As weird as this may sound, I feel like it has more dramatic elements than fantasy elements; as the prior ones did.

DM: It felt very different than Moffat for me. A lot of dark textures and seemed to focus on real world drama more than it has for a good few years. It made me feel like I was in Sheffield witnessing an alien invasion with real people.

 

MPS: During Peter Capaldi’s run as Doctor, the show felt very nostalgic. There were many references, Easter eggs, etc to Classic Who. This episode seemed to break from that, and try to establish itself as a new beginning. How do you feel about that change in attitude?

AB: I think it’s nice to break away from that so people who haven’t seen the Classic Who episodes can enjoy the show without missing out on references. I think it’s nice to take a break from that so everyone can enjoy it together, versus the references that others can miss out on. And the new beginning feels fitting due to the fact that we have now have a female Doctor and things are taking an exciting, new turn.

TC: I’m open to it, personally. Nostalgia is great, but I also think that too much similarity and parallelism risks feeling too familiar. I’d rather see something completely new than something that just echoes the same old thing.

GH:  It’s important. Change is the key word. Many little girls will start here. This will be their Doctor.

AK: Capaldi’s run, in my opinion, was a deconstruction of not only the idea of heroism but also the legacy of the franchise. Even then you felt like there was a change in how the series approached new concepts. In other words, the rules had to be reestablished before they could be broken in order to bring about change.

SL: I’m not sure how I feel about it. When it comes to a show like Doctor Who, I like consistency. New isn’t always better.

DM: I was a huge fan of Moffat and to my mind he’s one of the best writers there is. But I think it was time for a change. Doctor Who has always been about change. Once everything is established I’m sure we’ll get a few Easter eggs. For instance it’s easy to imagine this series ending with the appearance or even just a hint of the Daleks or Cybermen.

 

MPS: I’ve often thought that while everyone focuses on The Doctor, a large part of the success of each season depends on the quality of the stories. How would you rate the story in this episode? Why?

AB: I would give the story a 7/10! This is because while I was invested in Jodie Whittaker’s first episode as the Doctor, I wasn’t all that into the actual story and villain they were trying to take down. That sort of felt messy to me and I didn’t quite enjoy that aspect of it. But she did so great that it made up for the mediocre storyline. However, I loved the way it ended which also brought me in by the episode’s end.

TC: The idea of the Tzim-Sha’s species and contest seemed pretty familiar- it’s basically the plot of Predator, right? Alien warrior species sends hunter to Earth on a rite of passage to kill a human? In that respect, I was a little disappointed, but Doctor Who always does things a little differently, and it’s those extra elements that set it apart. The tentacle biomech creature was neat, the confrontation on the crane at the end as pretty solid. I’d say the story gets a 7 or 8 out of 10.

GH: As it’s a set up, a lot has to be accomplished. I feel that they did an excellent job.

AK: The story was very engaging from a character’s perspective. They did an incredible job of establishing the relationships of who would eventually be the new companions before jumping into the story of Tzim-Sha, which I felt wasn’t as strong but our leads needed a central conflict.

SL: The story was good, but in some ways it felt more like an action movie than a Doctor Who episode. I know that there can be a lot of action in Doctor Who, so this is hard to describe—but that’s the best I can do.

DM: The alien hunter story wasn’t particularly strong for me. But I don’t think it was intended to be. It needed certain elements to introduce the characters and to establish the new rules for this series. In that respect it was perfect.

 

MPS: The companions have always been a major part of Doctor Who.  How would you rate their performances, and to what extent did you connect with them?

AB: I think they all did fairly well but I’m not quite invested in them just yet. I think with any new companion(s) it takes some time to establish a connection and given that we have multiple people this season, it will definitely be a few episodes before I could truly answer this question.

TC: So, I really liked Graham. His nervousness and desire to avoid danger made him a bit of a comical character while also being the voice of reason, which I really appreciated. I feel like Ryan didn’t have much of an opportunity to develop or contribute to the episode’s plot as a whole, while Yaz was really the one actively helping the Doctor throughout. I imagine we’ll see Ryan successfully ride a bike before the end of the season, though, right?

GH: I really like this set of companions. I see enormous potential.

AK: The companions were among some of my favorites of the franchise. I think giving them both a literal and figurative familiarity with each other was a smart move. Though, if I must say, at times they were almost too “okay” with dealing with the concept of benevolent and malevolent aliens.

SL: I think their performance was fine and that they had a diverse cast. I have yet to really connect with any of them though.

DM: I liked them all. It was obvious to me that something bad was going to happen to Grace because we’ve not seen her in the promo material/trailers. It made me smile when it was revealed almost immediately the connection between Ryan and Graham and then later between Yasmin and Ryan. I’m interested to see how they developed as a group.

 

MPS: Doctor who has a notorious rogues’ gallery. From Daleks, to Cybermen, to weeping angels, the monsters have become cultural phenomenon in their own right. How did you think ‘Tim Shaw’ and the Stenza rate, and would you like to see them again?

AB:  I didn’t really enjoy ‘Tim Shaw’ at all, especially for the first episode of this season. It was certainly nowhere near the level of Daleks and Cybermen, and I think that if I saw it again in the future, I wouldn’t really care as much.

TC: I liked Tzim-Sha. The design was simple but effective. The idea that an alien race was brutal enough to embed the teeth of their enemies in their faces as trophies is pretty morbid and evil. It really upped the threat level almost instantly with that visual. The armor was intimidating enough, but when he took off that mask, it really raised the bar.

GH:  Maybe a return down the line would be fun. I was not terribly invested in this villain.

AK: The resolution of that conflict ended entirely too neatly for my liking. I did appreciate “Tim Shaw” as a callback to popular aliens like The Predator, but there were holes in his story. I’d be willing to see him return as either a recurring adversary or even a reluctant ally.

SL: I think Tim Shaw/Stenza rate okay so far. It felt a bit different from previous seasons, and definitely did not feel as epic as the Weeping Angels or as nostalgic as the Daleks, but I’ll have to see how it pans out.

DM: The Tim Shaw gag made me chuckle every time. I don’t think we will see him again. I don’t think they were particularly strong but my young children were terrified, so you know, in Doctor Who terms, job done.

 

MPS: There were some ‘meta’ moments when the dialogue seemed to straddle the fourth wall and address the ‘big change’ of featuring a female doctor for the first time. Some quotes that stood out to me were, “all this is new to you, and new can be scary, but stick with me…” and “We can evolve while still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next.” How did you react to the this piece of dramatic irony? Did you find it clever, for example, or did it take you out of the story?

AB: I actually picked it up on it too and I loved it. The fourth wall type of dialogue is super exciting as the viewer because it make you feel a part of the story and a part of what’s going on. It always brings me into the story when this happens and I feel like I get to take part of something that means a lot to me.

TC: To be honest, I didn’t think that was too on the nose- it seemed like the same kind of thing that any other Doctor could have said in that situation, which is why I think the new female Doctor worked so well. Yes, they obviously had to mention that the Doctor is now a woman, but they didn’t make that the focus of the show, which I think is what some people were afraid of, for some reason.

GH: It was great, and as I said earlier, important to the show’s theme.

AK: The Doctor’s big speech may come off as heavy-handed to seasoned vets of the series, much like the similar messages in let’s say The Last Jedi, but necessary for those who may be reluctant to the many new changes to the series. The new changes hit hard and fast and sometimes we just have to be shaken out of our comfort zones and deal with things in a real way. I appreciate the show’s attempt to do this without belittling the audience.

SL: It took me a bit out of the story because I felt like the obvious was thrown in my face a bit. I get she’s a female Doctor, and that’s great, but emphasizing on it wasn’t necessary.

DM: These ‘meta’ m moments were the highlight for me. It spoke directly to anyone having doubts. As I said before, Doctor Who has always been about change. This is arguably the biggest change in the shows history. That it got mentioned in the episode itself was quite clever and well done.

 

MPS: Overall, how would you rate the first episode? 

AB: I would give it a 7/10! There were some elements I wasn’t thrilled about but overall I loved Jodie Whittaker and I loved her presence on the show and I can’t wait to see where it goes!

TC: This was a solid first episode. There are some season premieres that are better than others, I’d say this is one of the better ones: great acting, great special effects, a decent story, good characters.

GH: At Nerd Nation, we have a 5 pocket-protector scale. This episode was a 4 out of 5 for me.

AK: If I had to go on a 1 to 10 scale, I’d rate this episode an 8. It’s a strong debut for Jodie and I loved how the writers made a point of showing just how keen she is on being handy and inventive, especially in the scene where she reconstructs her own Sonic Screwdriver and explained its purpose to the viewers unfamiliar with the significance of the item. The antagonists felt lacking, but they really served to give the companions some great interactions. I especially loved how Ryan, his grandparents and Yaz felt like a family and not just in relation to each other but also The Doctor. This is a great jumping on point for new viewers, and I feel the new direction is a nice change of pace. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Capaldi so soon, but Whittaker made such a great first impression that I was engrossed from the jump.

SL: It was good, but it didn’t stick with me like the first episode featuring Matt Smith did.

DM: As first episodes go this has been my favourite since Rose. I felt quite ill after ‘Deep Breath’ thinking that my love for the show was dying. I grew to love Peter Capaldi after that false start. But this new episode was very, very strong. 9/10,

MPS: Is there anything else that you want to add, that hasn’t been addressed in the above questions?

AB: I don’t have anything specifically but I am excited for the rest of the season and for where the story is going to take the new Doctor. I think she is off to a great start and I know it’s only going to get better from here on out.

TC: Who wants to lay money down on Ryan having to ride a bike to save the world in the season finale?

GH: I cannot wait for more!

AK: With any big changes to a long-standing franchise, it’s understandable to be a bit hesitant and even a little worried. I would argue that this season is well on its way to being one of my favorites. Whittaker’s enthusiasm, charisma, and energy are infections. It’s no wonder that Ryan, Yaz and the crew had very little problems following her. She’s that awesome.

SL: Nope, you were very thorough.

DM: The soundscapes created throughout by Segun Akinola and that new theme music. Sounded very much a mix of the old and the new. Can’t wait to watch again next week. I suspect we are in for quite a journey!

 

MPS: Thank you to all our round-table participants. Let us know your thoughts on the new series.