Doctor Who Season 11 Review: The Same Show You Love, Now With Better Representation

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the Season 11 premiere of Doctor Who. Read at your own risk!]

I don't know if Doctor Who will ever again reach the level of popularity it achieved during the Matt Smith era, at least here in the U.S., but I do know that there has never been a better time to start watching the long-running British sci-fi series than right now.

The Season 11 premiere, which aired simultaneously in the U.K. and the U.S. on Sunday, was predictably familiar -- we've been here before as the series resets, seen a Doctor struggle to remember who he or she is after regenerating -- and yet we've also never seen anything quite like "The Woman Who Fell To Earth," because for the first time in Doctor Who's long history, the Doctor is a woman.

A lot has already been written about Jodie Whittaker (Broadchurch) stepping into the iconic role that's been played by a dozen white men since the sci-fi show first premiered in 1963, and for that reason I won't rehash it all again here (though I will point you toward these two great pieces by Maureen Ryan, one an interview with Whittaker and another a long-form piece about how far the show has come and where it still needs to go), but this is a watershed moment in history, and I can't completely ignore what that means for the series.

Doctor Who Season 11 Marks a New Era -- and It's Been a Long Time Coming

Doctor Who's greatest asset has always been its ability to reinvent itself each time a new actor or actress steps on board the TARDIS as Doctor or companion. This unique ability not only allows the show to extend and exist far beyond the limits of a normal TV show lifespan, but it also gives the series a natural way to reboot its story and inject a renewed sense of energy and purpose into the narrative every few seasons. For 55 years though, even as new actors took on the iconic role and even as the Doctor's personalities changed as a result, the character's gender remained the same. Now we're embarking on a bright, new era of Doctor Who, both in front of the camera and behind it as Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch) takes over as showrunner for Steven Moffat, and as a result, young girls (and grown women, if we're being honest) have a new role model to look up to and aspire to be, and it frankly could not have come at a better time.


But perhaps what's truly wonderful about this new chapter in Doctor Who history is that while the show is now headlined by a woman and features three companions, two of whom are people of color, the show itself is still the same escapist, fun series fans have always known and loved.

The Doctor is still an eccentric oddball. She's still a compassionate hero befriending and working alongside altruistic human companions. She's still the smartest person in the room, even when she can't remember her own name. She's still using her brilliant mind and quick wit to outsmart the villains. She's still saving the world because it's the right thing to do. This is Doctor Who. It's the show it's always been, only now there's better representation (there's still work to be done, but this is a much-needed step in the right direction) and fewer Daleks. So for the obnoxious, vocal minority of Doctor Who fans who've whined for the last year about Whittaker inhabiting the role of the Doctor, and for the people who've complained about change as if it is somehow a bad thing, take some comfort in knowing that the core of Doctor Who is still firmly intact. The only major difference is the show is no longer stuck in the past.

Of course, having said this, there is still going to be an adjustment period as the new characters are introduced and the show sets up the new season. But it's the same thing that happens every time the Doctor regenerates or a new companion joins the fray. We worry if the new Doctor can possibly live up to expectations set by previous incarnations. We wonder if the companions will be as memorable or beloved as those that have come before. We ponder what the latest version of the TARDIS will look like. But even as we're doing all these things, we find there's something comforting about this now-familiar process, and instead of being concerned about the repetitive nature of the show or bored by watching the same narrative beats play out time and again, we see it actually feels like coming home. You know, if home also includes terrifying monsters who have the teeth of their victims embedded in their face.

Change Is Great for Doctor Who, and Jodie Whittaker Is Proof

When it comes to Whittaker, she is clearly having a ton of fun as she puts her own delightful spin on everyone's favorite Time Lord. Her Doctor is less angry or curmudgeonly than Peter Capaldi's Twelve, which works in the show's favor as it reboots and tries to bring in new fans while still pleasing the old. I suppose, if anything, Thirteen's energy more closely resembles that of Smith's Eleven, which makes sense since Whittaker is closer in age to Smith than Capaldi, meaning the Doctor is once again at least young-looking, if not actually all that young. But even though there might be some similarities, Whittaker is not channeling Smith's spastic, easily distracted, bowtie-wearing Doctor either; Thirteen is a Doctor all her own, and so far she is thriving.


Her new and improved attitude is interesting when you remember that Capaldi's Doctor was initially unwilling to regenerate as he stared down the end of his life, noting he didn't want to "keep on becoming somebody else." That outlook captured the man Twelve had become but obviously makes very little sense for a brand new Doctor who has just regenerated, so instead of weariness, we are instead treated to a Doctor who's delighting in buying women's clothing for the first time in who knows how long, building her own sonic screwdriver Swiss Army knife from bits and pieces she'd found, and taking pleasure in being able to tell this week's villain exactly who she is and why he should be afraid. It's all the familiar set-up that usually takes place each time a Doctor regenerates, but there is at least one thing missing from the premiere: the TARDIS. The familiar time-traveling police call box has dematerialized and therefore doesn't make a single appearance in the extended premiere, a reminder that the writers really do want this season to be as accessible to new fans as possible.

The episode's stand alone story also helps in that regard. In "The Woman Who Fell to Earth," the Doctor and her three new companions -- warehouse worker Ryan (Tosin Cole), his stepgrandfather Graham (Bradley Walsh) and police officer Yasmin (Mandip Gill) -- band together after the Doctor almost literally falls into their laps on a deserted train. Together they take on the aforementioned teeth-stealing monster in quite spectacular fashion after he arrives on Earth to hunt an innocent, unsuspecting human so he can advance up the ranks on his own demented world. But the episode's narrative really just drives home one of the core themes of Doctor Who: heroes are everywhere.

David Tennant Really Wants a Doctor Who and DuckTales Crossover

We naturally assume that when Ryan is talking about the greatest woman he has ever met he means the Doctor -- a lot of people probably would describe her this way -- but he is actually talking about his grandmother who died trying to assist the Doctor in saving the day. The idea that anyone, anywhere can be a hero is the inspiring, lasting message that drives much of Doctor Who, and it's one of the reasons the show has continued to endure for more than half a century. But when Ryan, who struggles with coordination because of a disorder, gets back on his bike again and again in the episode's final act, he's doing it for his grandmother, who'd been teaching him to ride, but his actions also represent the same drive and persistence that push the Doctor after each regeneration, push her to keep fighting, even when she might not want to.

In doing all of this, the Season 11 premiere reminds us just why Doctor Who exists and will hopefully continue to exist for many more years to come -- there's always more work to be done, there's always room for improvement, and the opportunities for heroes to step up in the face of adversity are quite possibly limitless. Jodie Whittaker's casting was the first step of many in the show's evolution, but as long as the Doctor is around to inspire us to be brave and be better, maybe we will be. Maybe the show will be.

Doctor Who airs Sundays at 8/7c on BBC America.

This article originally appears on TV Guide.com.

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Oct 10, 2018
One major departure from the previous debuts of a new Doctor since the new series began was that the new Doctor would find himself in the middle of world-shaking event like an invasion or the imminent destruction of a city like London. It's probably the first time in the new series that a new Doctor's first adventure was comparatively more mundane. On the other hand, maybe Chris Chibnall was taking a page out of Peyton Reed's playbook and decided to do an Ant-man type adventure as opposed to the more epic Captain America, Thor or Avengers movies.
On Jodie Whitaker's version of the Doctor, I think her version is a breath of fresh air and not simply because the new Doctor is female. Whitaker's version feels like the Doctor has finally let go of the excess baggage of guilt, secretiveness, and sorrow that started with the Ninth Doctor and continued on until the Twelfth. Event Matt Smith carried this in his version mixed in with periods of denial. With the resolution of the aftermath of the Time Wars, the return of Gallifrey and the deaths and/or departures of Amy, Rory, Clara, Bill and River, the new Doctor has seemingly moved forward in the right way after more than a thousand years. In a speech towards, the end of episode 1, she said that she no longer has anyone in the world but she takes her loved ones inside her as she continues to travel. In this regards, for me she harkens back to the classic Doctor or the Doctor before the Time Wars and if there is anyone she most reminds me of it's the Eighth Doctor or Paul McGann.
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Oct 08, 2018
One different direction that we seem to be getting is that instead of having the usual intense Doctor - Companion relationship of NuWho we have a Team Who which briefly had 5 members (which is a bit of throwback to the First Doctor era). One of which died. It makes me wonder if they were setting a precedent for "companions can die", I thought Whitaker's mannerisms and style were mostly based on Tennant not Smith.
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Oct 08, 2018
First Doctor, Fifth Doctor, certain parts of the Tenth Doctor...

The idea of a Doctor with one companion has come and gone over the years. We had Jamie and Victoria/Zoe, Sarah Jane and Harry, even as recently as Bill and Nardole. Given the SJW elements involved, one gets the impression they at least partially went with the larger companion spread to get in as many minority elements as possible: female, Asian, African, pensioner, handicapped...
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Oct 08, 2018
Bradley Walsh, (the ‘pensioner’, as you put it), is in his 50s and definitely doesn’t represent the elderly demographic in the UK! He is a really well known and popular entertainer here. He’s a comedian, hosts one of the most popular TV quizzes, sings and acts, and is definitely not considered old, so I can’t believe that they would have chosen him for any other reason other than his popularity and talent. Also, ‘Dyspraxia’ is not being handicapped. I am severely dyspraxic, and would never consider myself in those terms. Dyspraxia is very closely related to dyslexia, (they sometimes go hand-in-hand,) and they are both life-long, neurological conditions. As far as I know, this is the first depiction of dyspraxia on a prime time show, and it is amazing to see it finally being represented in this way. What a difference it could have made if something like this had been on when I was at school, so that fellow pupils and teachers could have understood more, rather than looking on me as just a weird girl who was different or didn’t try hard enough. As for the racial diversity issue, I would argue that, rather than trying to be diverse for ‘SJW’ motivations, they are actually just trying to reflect life in the UK. We are a very diverse country, and most towns in Britain have a large proportion of multicultural residents. If the Doctor really did land in a town here, the chances are that she would run in to a really mixed group of people. I really don’t look on the changes as just a box ticking exercise in political correctness - it is just making some changes to reflect how life has changed in the 60 years since the show started.
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Oct 08, 2018
Jeez--how long was that comic book? That was interminable. I'm supposed to like these people because? How many "super heroes" do we need FRe These are the questions I came away with. That, and why would I want to watch this....
COPY AND PASTE........... https://bit.ly/2NbEQAE
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Oct 08, 2018
The episode was... okay. It's a post-regenerative intro episode. It did what such episodes have done in the past. In fact, "Woman" is an awfully lot like "Rose" back in '05. Expand the cast, replace an "old show" enemy with a new show enemy, substitute Sheffield for Powell Estates, and you've got... well, "Rose".

I'm not sure if Chibnall is being lazy or riding the SJW wave or none of the above. Pretty much anyone who says the episode was less than great will be accused of being a woman-hater, and an anti-SJW type, and so on and so on. So Chibanll and Whittaker are pretty much insulated from major criticism. Or said criticism will be dismissed for the imagined motives of the critic.

And there's not much they can do to screw up Doctor Who. If the show survived Colin Baker (and I like the Sixth Doctor) and John Nathan Turner, it'll survive Chibnall and Whittaker. Maybe if Chibnall had cast Peewee Herman or Matt Damon or Kim Kardashian as the Doctor, okay. But Doctor Who is pretty much too big to fail at this point.
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Oct 08, 2018
I liked it a little more than you but agree that it falls short of being great though the SJW Hive Mind will proclaim it as such (just like they did with Bill Potts).

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Oct 10, 2018
The ratings of course were strong for the first episode as predicted. However I don't expect those high ratings to last regardless of what propaganda talk the above article writer keeps pushing.
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Oct 08, 2018
I didn't say if I liked it or not, or how much. Generally, I thought it was okay. Post-regenerative/introductory episodes are rarely "great". I like "Castrovalva", but it helps that it's part three of a trilogy.

On the other hand, "Twin Dilemma"... No matter how much you like Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor, it's not a good look for him. In fact, he's the best part of it.

"An Unearthly Child" (the actual story, once they get into caveman times), "Power of the Daleks", "Robot", "Time and the Rani", "Rose", and so on... they're all pretty mediocre stories. They show us the potential of the new Doctor, but that's often what they focus on and the story is a distant second. There were some good-to-great performances: I liked Grace. Whittaker was good. But again, it's pretty hard to screw up the Doctor character.
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Oct 08, 2018
"I'm not sure if Chibnall is being lazy or riding the SJW wave or none of the above." Riding the SJW wave definitely.
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Oct 08, 2018
There is a difference between diversity and the "SJW wave". The only thing that you could say in that matter is that the Doctor is now female, but that's it. Do I need to remind you of Jack Harkness or Martha Jones - "Diversity", way before Chibnail took over!
In my opinion,"SJW-Overload" is more provocative and obvious like for example that horrible Charmed-Reboot, where the marketing was basically 10% about the overall setting and 90% about the characters being gay feminist activists who fight a racist white male demon in the pilot of the show.
Having the Doctor turn into a woman after so many regenerations is long overdue, especially since they established that regeneration is not "genderbound". So no. Not "riding the SJW wave".
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Oct 09, 2018
What is the difference between diversity and the SFW wave?

I'd say that diversity is part of the SFW wave. So it's a subset rather than "equal". But diversity taken to extremes just to do diversity is IMO a large part of the SFW wave. But they're not equal, correct.

As far as the new Chibnall era, I'd say that the casting of and expansion of the companions is part of diversity and/or the SFW wave, yes. It's not getting as much attention as the "female Doctor", but it's there.

The idea of male/female regeneration and it being overdue, aside from a very loose interpretation of a throwaway line in "The Hand of Fear" was during the preceding Moffat era. I wouldn't call that "long overdue". I don't recall Captain Jack or Martha Jones changing genders: sexuality and gender aren't necessarily the same thing, either.
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Oct 10, 2018
Thanks for your response!

The flaw with your analysis from my point of view is that I've heard many SJWs proudly proclaim that their SJWs.

I've never heard anyone described as a "Feminazi" before or after declare themselves a "Feminazi". Such people may exist--who knows?--but when the term is used to insult a specific person or group, it's... an insult. Other than so indirectly as to be non-existent, I didn't refer to anyone as a SJW.

"Warrior" is something typically considered to be proud of. "Nazi"... isn't.
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Oct 10, 2018
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Oct 09, 2018
To determine the "backpatting" (or intention of "female empowerment"), I look at a simple question: Do they - in regard of feminism - just tell stories with interesting and convincing (female) characters? Or do they highlight that a WOMAN just did something a man couldn't, thereby implying hostility and that gender itself was the gamechanger? It's basically also sexism and kind of a "reversed logic".

In my opinion, when your characters need to point out your message, it's poorly written, you need to include these things into the story. Supergirl for example is often very blunt with that, pointing out "That's feminsm, guys!". (That said and despite that, I love the show and Melissa Benoist!)

I consider the Wonder Woman movie as an amazing example for the "right" way of empowerment - even though it was set in a era where women were considered inferior.
Sure, they mocked the times back then in the film - but the protagonist was not hostile or berating - she sent the "message" mostly through her deeds and by honestly not understanding the restrictions of being a woman back then. It was believable for that character in that situation and kind of funny to see how she proved them wrong. And Steve Trevor was more than just a bland love interest or damsel in distress, they "enhanced" each other and both played important roles in the finale, which had great impact on her.

tl;dr
If they empower women by treating both sexes as equally &capable;&, it's Feminsm (even though I hate that word because to me, it sends the wrong message - would change it into "Equalism")

If they have to degrade other sexes to empower women, it's Feminazi...sm (Is there even a noun for it? ^^) or just poor writing.

====
Regarding the slur / "Warrior"-debate:
I do have a problem with all this "Warrior"-BS in the media and in general. If they want to "fight" (which is what warriors do), even if it's FOR something or someone, they'll provoke enemies and have battles. All will be dragged into the spotlight of the media who often try to monetize it or turn things into a big (entertaining) drama. And if you drag enemies onto the stage, even if you win the "fight", you humiliate them.
In my opinion, that's the wrong way. You need to convince people, you need to use arguments against them and most importantly - you need to show them that there's no need to fear change.
Just look how Trump won the US election - by talking to fears. Making people fear Clinton, Mexicans, etc. Fear is a strong motivation for hate. You can "fight" fear with information and education.
In my opinion, the best way to reach "social justice" is by just "live it and be a good example". Acting like you've already reached the point where has already happened or been reached.
Now back to the Doctor. Diversity is not new to this show. And with "a female doctor is long overdure" I meant that, looking at the established fact that Timelords are able to switch genders in regeneration, LOGICALLY and storywise, it should have happened sooner. I mean, 13 regenerations, every single one having a 50% chance of a gender swap? Come on ^^
And honestly - did you hear Jodie Whittaker say one "feminist" / "feminazi" line in that season's pilot?

(Phew, I hope you get my point now, english is not my first language, as you may have noticed ^^)
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Oct 09, 2018
How do you determine that Charmed and Supergirl are patting themselves on the back for it, and Doctor Who isn't? Particularly allowing for American vs. British producers, writers, creative times, and the cultures that surround them?

I've heard plenty of SJW people describe themselves as "SJWs" using that specific term, proud to say that they fight for social justice: I haven't heard any Feminists call themselves "Feminazis". And "Nazi" is... typically used as an insult in this day and age. "Warrior" isn't. Your experience may vary, but that's the great thing about diversity: we all have different experiences and accept that.

Or to put it another way, if you want to accept "SJW" as a slur, that's fine. It wasn't my intention to do so, I didn't use it as an insult, and hopefully people would accept that as such.
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Oct 09, 2018
@Gislef
I think the difference between "diversity" and the "SJW wave" is like the difference between "Feminist" and "Feminazi".
One - despite the poorly chosen title - stands for the idea of equality, the other for acting morally superior and berating people.

"Social Justice Warrior" is a slur that doesn't imply good intentions. Sure, diversity is one of the things these people claim to be fighting for, but ultimately it's about feeling superior - that's what I think.

That's why I would be very careful with using the SJW-insult, because other than shows like Charmed or Supergirl, Dr. Who just "does" equality and empowerment and doesn't pat itself on the back for it.
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Oct 08, 2018
Oh it's the SJW wave totally.
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Oct 08, 2018
I'm not sure how much of it is Chibnall, and how much of it is the BBC. "You want a big job now that Moffat is leaving, Chris? Then you roll with the fact that we're putting in a female Doctor, and a "diverse" cast of companions."

I'm never consoled by the fact that pasty white guys are the ones who are primarily giving us "diversity". See also most of the creative team on the CW shows. Black Lightning is at least an exception... and they set that outside of the Arrowverse.
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Oct 10, 2018
That was not the case. Chibnall had been in contact with Moffat to say what his plans were and Moffat slowly started making changes to reflect the big change: gender. First Missy, then showing a male Timelord regenerating into a Timelady and then Whittaker. It was something Chibnall was pressing towards and the BBC wanting to get more representative went along with this. However something that isn't brought up is the pressure for a female Doctor actually came from feminists who criticised Moffat after the first Capaldi season for being sexist in writing female characters. The male jibes and changing the Doctor's gender was the result of that.
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Oct 14, 2018
Who said the various things that you're putting together into a timeline?

Who said Chibnall was in contact with Moffat?

Who said that Moffa made changes on his own, rather than the BBC told him to?

Who said it was something Chibnall was pressing toward?

Overall, the question isn't what happened on screen: it's how you are determining the motives of the people involved.
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Oct 14, 2018
Who said what?

This is all from the timeline of events that lead to having a female Doctor. It doesn't take much to piece together all the evidence that I have presented. All these events neatly fit together.
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Oct 10, 2018
And who is saying that? :) Are you speaking from personal experience, or what other fans have said (and what is their source?), or what Chibnall, or Moffat, or the BBC are telling people?

Sorry to sound suspicious. But I've learned from long experience that the commonly-held story is rarely the real story.
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Oct 08, 2018
Nah Chinball wanted a female Doctor. He's quoted as saying he didn't want the job otherwise.
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Oct 09, 2018
And if the BBC forced him to use a female Doctor, and threatened to refuse him the job if he said it wasn't his idea, what would Chibnall say instead?
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Oct 07, 2018
Going into today, was very excited. She had with "Oh, Brilliant" line after Capaldi's regen. I love the Doctor when he/and now she throws out the word brilliant. Personally I know I'm going to enjoy this season, do love the Traveler idea and she going around fix things. Really just going to fun and enjoyable journey.

I'll just don't care about the SHE / WOMAN / FEMINISM hype that internet is loving/raging over. I didn't enjoy it because the Doctor is a woman now; it was actually really good. Quite amazing concept huh Internet.
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Oct 07, 2018
I really liked that slow start. Whittaker has a great energy and just as the Review says, I felt "at home" right away. I also liked that they didn't solve the whole "exploding TARDIS" thing right away and with a little luck, the Doctor will remember not to regenerate while flying through space and time :P Never ended well.
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Oct 07, 2018
Jeez--how long was that comic book? That was interminable. I'm supposed to like these people because? How many "super heroes" do we need FRe These are the questions I came away with. That, and why would I want to watch this

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Oct 07, 2018
This article reeks of SJW nonsense. Yuck.
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Oct 07, 2018
Does it? Where exactly? The only thing I don't agree with in this article is the whole "representation" thing - I think the previous seasons did a good job with that except the Doctor being male for so long.
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Oct 08, 2018
The terminology she uses comes across like typical social justice propoganda.
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Oct 08, 2018
yeah. i notice now their not even hiring writer for this site. then on top of that they only care about the clicks and not the story.
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