Gosh it doesn’t seem all that long since series 11. After series 11 had aired, I had intended to make a video for my YouTube channel reviewing the series as a whole. I never got round to that in the end (as is the case with many, many videos), so I will just summarise what I thought of series 11 here.
I did not like series 11. The series had many problems, and I could have spent a long time describing them, either in blog posts or videos, but the main problem with the series was that it was deathly dull. It was unendingly boring; I tried to watch every episode of the series, but by the end I just didn’t give a shit anymore, so didn’t watch the last two or three episodes.
This followed on from many years of decline of Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi is an outstanding actor – one of the best living actors – but his series’ as The Doctor were increasingly dull. I can’t really remember the stories of any of the episodes he was in – there were no memorable moments. Getting rid of Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat and bringing in Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall was an attempt at revitalising the show. I watched series 11 optimistic that this would work, but it didn’t.
As a result of all of this, I had not intended on watching series 12 – once a show declines below a certain level of quality, one should stop watching it – how else will the showrunners learn? However, I’ve heard mixed things about series 12 so far, about half of which has aired, so I thought I’d watch this series (at least, start watching it – I may not make it to the end), to see for myself. I tend to tolerate one bad series of a show, but not two – that’s what I did with Star Trek Discovery.
So I watched episode 1 of series 12, optimistic that they would begin to solve some of the problems from the last series. But they didn’t.
I have four pages of notes on this episode, and each note could probably become two or three whole paragraphs in this review. If I were to try to fully describe what was bad about this episode, this review would become enormous, and I really don’t want to have to write and edit a giant piece of text – that takes a lot of time – considering this is just one episode. And I think it would be rather dull to read too. So instead I’m just going to give my overall thoughts on this episode – what the main problems with it are – and then chuck in a list of quick thoughts I had while watching the episode, to give the sense of just how many things are wrong with it.
The main problem with this episode is that it is dull – very, very dull. Throughout most of the episode I was just waiting for it to end, so that I could get on with other stuff. I just don’t give a shit about the mystery they are trying to solve or the villain they are trying to defeat.
And I think this says something important about writing mystery – something actually quite fundamental. The best mysteries are ones where the audience has a chance of figuring out the mystery before the characters do. We the audience should be given clues about the mystery throughout the story, and we can use these clues to solve the mystery, in the same way that the characters do. The problem with Doctor Who recently is the same problem that Steven Moffat’s Sherlock series had: we the audience have no way of figuring out the mystery ourselves, and so all we can do is watch the protagonist use their brilliance and genius to figure out the mystery using knowledge that we the audience don’t have. This is dull.
A very similar principle is true about ‘defeat the bad guy’ stories too. We the audience should be able to figure out how the bad guy can be defeated based on what we know of the rules of the world that the story is set in and the resources that the protagonists have access to. This is why world-building is so important. Part of world-building is establishing what the rules of your fictional world are, and once set, they should not be broken. The audience then knows what the rules of your world are, and can use that knowledge to figure out how to defeat the villain. The problem with Doctor Who is that it is one giant festival of deus ex machina. New rules and possibilities are introduced all the time, and old rules are disregarded. This means that all we can do as the audience is just sit back and bask in the genius of the protagonist as, once again, the protagonist uses knowledge of what’s possible and what isn’t, that we the audience don’t have, to defeat the antagonist. This is dull.
Doctor Who has had both of these problems for a long time, and this episode epitomised them. I simply don’t care how or why all of these people are being killed, because I have no way of figuring it out. Nor do I care about how The Master will be defeated – he’s always defeated. There is no threat; there is no suspense; there is no mystery.
That is the biggest problem with the episode (and I anticipate it will be the biggest problem with the whole series); that’s why it’s dull.
And now for a selection of random thoughts from throughout the episode:
- Weird fucking dialogue right from the fucking outset. This was a problem in the last series too – for some reason the writers aren’t able to write realistic dialogue – the dialogue in this show just comes across as creepy, patronising, passive-aggressive, forced, and ultimately fake.
- The side-kicks continue to have zero charisma. They have no personality – no character traits whatsoever. This isn’t a problem with the actors – this is a problem with the writers.
- ‘Worst Uber ever!’ – y’know I think this line might epitomise the problem with Doctor Who at the moment. This line is played as a joke, but it’s not a joke – it’s a half-joke – a thing that is said that may be ever-so-slightly amusing, but which does not have the actual structure of a joke (yes jokes do have analysable structure). Half-jokes should never, ever make it into your writing, unless you are trying to mock the person who makes the half-joke.
- MI6 seems a bit weak-sauce compared to U.N.I.T.
- ‘I’ve read the files; The Doctor is a man.’ says Stephen Fry. ‘I’ve had an upgrade.’ says Jodie Whittaker. This is a bit of a fuck you to the people who didn’t like this change.
- Even Stephen Fry can’t make the dialogue good. Normally a great actor can make shit dialogue good, but here the dialogue is just too shit.
- I hate all of this walking and talking stuff – it prevents the suspense from building. Leave pauses in your scenes – you don’t have to have characters talking all the time. Suspense builds when we sense something ominous – little is more ominous than silence.
- ‘Is she gonna die Doc?’ says one of the side-kicks. Once again, the side-kicks are just used as props for The Doctor. This was a problem last series too.
- ‘MI6 has never countenanced the possibility of extra-terrestrial life.’ – I’m guessing all of those times aliens were seen by lots of people around Earth have been retconned then.
- Stephen Fry’s character’s death has no impact.
- The line ‘No-one’s mocking you now.’ is weirdly hilarious, though it’s not supposed to be.
- Lenny Henry is thin now.
- The show desperately wants to examine the big issues – like corporate data gathering and people being shits on Twitter – but it has no idea how to do it.
- This was another fucking ‘end of the universe’ story. Stop it. This carries no weight in a series with world-building and characters as flimsy as this.
- Fake-out deaths – these kill the tension – avoid them.
- Jodie Whittaker plays The Doctor like a children’s television presenter. You’re not on fucking Blue Peter.
- This is another episode that has characters talk about technology that’s been written by people who know nothing about how that technology works. If you’re not going to have any techie people write your show, at least get a fucking technology adviser so that your characters don’t say stupid things.
- Lenny Henry is shit at aiming.
- Lenny Henry does not make for a threatening villain. (This is actually a writing problem – as is the above point. Lenny Henry actually does very well with what he is given – it’s just that what he is given to perform is shit.)
That was one episode, and it had that much wrong with it. That episode was a complete disaster, and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the series.