I’ve noted before that I’m a long time fan of Doctor Who, so naturally I tuned in to watch the first episode of the new Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. I’ll be honest here, I wasn’t sure what to expect with a female Doctor. As a progressive, I was certainly for it in principle, but I could see all kinds of ways the execution of it could have gone terribly wrong.
I was pleased to see that Chris Chibnall, the lead writer for the show, decided to play it straight. The new doctor is ever bit as competent, assertive, and brilliant as any of the male versions.
Indeed, I got the impression that Chibnall intentionally wrote her in as close to the same manner as he would have if the new Doctor had been male. This feels like the right move, since although the Doctor is now female, she’s still supposed to be same character we’ve known for so long.
And I like Whittaker. I’ve heard she’s well known in British television, but this is the first thing I’ve seen her in. Being the first female Doctor strikes me as a very tricky role. It’s not fair, but women are held to a different standard than men. Peter Capaldi, Matt Smith, or David Tennant could be a lot more bumbling and slapstick without losing any presumption of authority. For better or worse, the writers are going to have to be more careful with Whittaker in that regard. I thought both they and Whittaker herself managed the right balance in this episode.
Another thing I was happy to see was that the story wasn’t ridiculous. Doctor Who has always been more fantasy than science fiction, but the stories from the old show still managed to stay mostly coherent. Since its restart, despite vastly improved production values, the new show has been pretty uneven.
I thought Steven Moffat, the previous main writer, was incredibly talented at coming up with awe inspiring stories, but his instinct was not to worry about coherence. Indeed, he seemed inclined to brazenly flout it as often as possible. Many of the stories during his run felt more like the throwaway material in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than Doctor Who.
I didn’t detect that same impulse in Chibnall’s first episode. I hope it’s a harbinger of what’s to come, although I’ll be disappointed if it simply regresses back to the monster of the week pattern of Russell T. Davies’ time. It looks like the next episode is going to be in an alien setting, so that could give us a better feel for how serious or silly the stories will be.
So I liked the new Doctor, Whittaker herself, the initial story, and her new companions. I’m cautiously optimistic for this new season. What did you think?