Top of the Docs: Series 11 (2018)

Capaldi’s last season ended on such a high note, I couldn’t have been happier.  There was some trepidation about how the new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, was going to work out but, like a certain ant, I had high hopes.  Was my faith misplaced?  How about Roger’s?  Let’s take a look.

series 11

The Woman Who Fell to Earth

RP: 5 – Jodie Whittaker makes a great first impression, and at last we have a post-regeneration story that doesn’t waste most of the running time on the Doctor behaving out of character. It all looks very slick and expensive but does feel like a drama series aimed mainly at adults now, with little to grab the attention of children, and a very boring enemy for the Doctor.

ML: 8 – I think Jodie gets an incredibly fun opener, which showcases her acting talents with a fun villain and some snazzy special effects.  The new cast is introduced, a surprise death occurs and overall, we appear to have fallen into an above average season.

The Ghost Monument

RP: 4 – Again it looks impressive, but again it’s doing nothing much that’s particularly interesting or exciting. It’s a quest story with fairly boring obstacles in the way of the quest, and a lazy resolution. Angstrom is an interesting character. Epzo isn’t. Deadly fabric is definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel of making everyday objects frightening.

ML:  6 – …and then this happened and ignored continuity introduced last episode.  The intense cliffhanger from last episode is resolved in 30 seconds flat, Ryan is suddenly a marksman, a plot thread is opened with no sign of a resolution or even an acknowledgement for the rest of the season and some lazy writing gives us loads of exposition so the actors didn’t have to.  Still surprisingly entertaining, visually stunning, and the return of the TARDIS all bump this to the higher end of average, but not enough to boost it into an above average place.  Still, there’s a ghost of a chance that the next one will be strong again!

Rosa

RP: 5 – The problem with a historical story is that the Doctor can’t change anything. This episode uses the solution Dennis Spooner eventually found of having somebody try to disrupt history, but that only works if the person doing the disrupting is an interesting character and a challenge for the Doctor. Krasko is neither of those. All that is left is for us to sit back and observe a moment in history, and observe the Doctor observing, and that’s a big problem in this instance, because she watches two of her companions being racially abused and just says “we don’t want any trouble”. At that point, she ceases to really be the Doctor at all.

ML: 6 – I think this warrants attention as Doctor Who was originally intended as an educational show and the actress playing Rosa Parks did an incredible job.  The end music was inspired and unexpected, but this will never be a classic because the villain is so lame that he might as well have stepped out of a scene of the musical comedy classic, Grease.  And when Ryan effectively kills him, it’s dismissed with nary a thought.  Basically Chibnall had no way to resolve the conflict in the short 45 minute timeframe, so the Doctor couldn’t beat Ryan up for it.  As much as I want to view this episode through rosa colored glasses, it’s still not above average!

Arachnids in the UK

RP:  4 – I’ll watch anything with giant spiders in, because they’re always fun, but can we please not have the Doctor solving her problems by suffocating her enemies (in her view) or confining them until they eat each other and die (the reality). It’s all a bit ironic from a writer who is trying to drive home moral messages in the clumsiest way possible.

ML: 3 – As horrified as I am by spiders in general, and as realistic as these spiders looked, it’s not memorable and the main villain is Trump, pre-politics.  Build a hotel even if it has giant spiders living below it. Ooh.. scary.  NOT.  The web of continuity is ignored and I mean just from this season.  I’m only going as high as a 3 because spiders are scary.

The Tsuranga Conundrum

RP: 2 – The alien threat is quirky, but that’s the only thing to recommend this one. The Doctor as a weak not-hero is getting worse and worse, seemingly incapable of thinking any bigger than saving a few people and allowing the hostile alien to go off and kill some more people elsewhere.

ML: 4 – I’m surprisingly middle of the road on this one and I think it’s because the P’Ting is a cute creature and not some galactic conqueror.  The visuals are again amazing.  It’s just average but I can’t really condemn it either (although I could have done without seeing Yaz kick the creature.  Sort of anti-heroic.)  The biggest conundrum to me is why I can’t bring myself to a lower score because I’m not sure it doesn’t warrant it.

Demons of the Punjab

RP: 7 – Vinay’s approach to a fascinating and very complex history topic is sufficiently focused in on a personal level to make it work really well. This proves that something approaching a Hartnell-era historical can still make for a great episode. The first success of the Jodie Whittaker era.

ML: 8 – Another above average educational episode with a very neat alien race.  Again, the visuals are really dominating this season but the backstory for Yaz’s family is a nice addition.  An episode that’s full of hope and love.  Nothing demonic about those qualities!

Kerblam!

RP: 3 – Some interesting themes (exploitation, technology as a threat, AI as a threat), and an effective mash-up of ideas from Robots of Death and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but you come away from this with no idea what the writer was trying to say about any of his themes. Considering the big bad here is fighting for human rights, by accident (surely) this comes across as a condemnation of left-wing activism. A clumsy mess that should have been so much better.

ML: 4 – A weak story, which only breaks free of a below average score thanks to the cast.  Turning bubble wrap into something scary was admittedly creative too.  A bit of a dig against Amazon.  Probably deserves a 3 for the sheer number of things the Doctor uses the sonic for.  The writer clearly had no idea that it shouldn’t be used to get out of jail free… and allow infinite dice rolls, or any other possible use he could think of.  It’s almost a shame that Doctor Who makes so much money off the sales of the sonic screwdriver toys, on Amazon, no less.  Otherwise, I’d like to see the damned thing blow up again and make the writers actually do their jobs.  That’s what needs to go “kerblam!”

The Witchfinders

RP: 7 – I enjoyed this hugely on first viewing but despite that it failed to leave any lasting impression on me. It’s an effective horror historical, drawing on some great sources for inspiration, but it’s oddly forgettable. A very difficult one to score, for that reason.

ML: 1 – Utterly weak.  I love the concept and it has some great themes to explore, but fails to make any of them matter.  Watching Mrs. O’Brien from Downton Abbey (Siobhan Finneran) as the main baddie just didn’t have an impact.  I kept expecting her to sew the Doctor a new scarf or ask Mrs. Patmore for help.  We need to call the Excitement Finders for this story.

It Takes You Away

RP: 9 – Sadly I think the lasting memory from this one for most viewers will be Kermit the Frog. That’s a shame, because it’s a very effective magic door episode with a frightening labyrinthine underworld on the other side. Eleanor Wallwork is amazing as Hanne. The highlight of the Whittaker era so far by miles.

ML: 9 – Finally something on the high end of the scale.   Still not flawless and might be pushing a 9 just by contrast to the rest of the season, but damned creative and unusual.  Never expected a frog to be a standout character in Doctor Who.  It might not take our breath away, but it certainly gave us something to think about.

The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

RP: 0 – I literally remembered not one single thing about this episode until I re-read what I had written before. It’s such a boring episode even re-reading my review of it makes me bored.

ML: 2 – At best, there are moments of cinematic beauty that give this some re-watch potential.  It’s not that I actually disliked it upon watching it, but it is not memorable and that should be apparent from that horrid title.  It’s the second story this season with a main character played by a Downton Abbey alum too which had me wondering where Mr. Carter was.  What was the use of having a race of gods?  And after this season, has anyone even heard of Tim Shaw’s race again?  I give this episode a new title: The Battle of Hira’Gud Riter.

Resolution

RP: 7 – Showing the danger just one Dalek poses is effective once again. I hate the way the removal of UNIT from the series was used to make a clumsy political point. Keep your politics to yourself, Chris, and concentrate on writing something that actually makes sense instead. This is full of plot holes, but it is at least an exciting, fun story.

ML: 8 – Definitely a better ending than the actual season finale.  The Daleks are actually scary again!  They look incredible out of their cases; proof that that H.P. Lovecraft was onto something, eh?  There are plot holes galore, but I can accept that in favor of a solid story and more than that, making Daleks scary is worth extra points.  I’m resolved to give this an above average score.

To quote Badger from The Fantastic Mr. Fox: “Who how, what now?”  I was literally shaking my head after this season wondering if it would get better.  No matter how much I liked the cast or how visually appealing some of the episodes were, this might have been the weakest season of Doctor Who as far back as I can remember, and I really disliked Capaldi’s second season.  Even that got two 9’s and a 10.  This at best hit one 9!  And it’s interesting to see how similar Roger and I are in our scores; when you see a sudden shift, that might be more interesting than some of the episodes themselves!  Well that was unexpected, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been!   Perhaps the guy who gave us some of the series most average episodes should never have been expected to give us a season of triumphs.  Maybe it was new showrunner jitters.  Perhaps next season?   ML

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2 Responses to Top of the Docs: Series 11 (2018)

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The longevity of Dr. Who can still take its toll on the show even with a refreshingly new Doctor. I still like Jodie and her team and some of S11 in the most back-to-basics way. And this was during the same year that Krystal Moore was making her mark as a female Doctor for Dr. Who Velocity, which unlike Jodie’s era could including Christmas stories. With Jodie’s Doctor also inspiring the particularly improved stories for novels and comic books, her success was assured by loyal fans who can always see passed the constricting drawbacks of television. That is a testament to how legacies that are tiring out over time can still somehow endure.

    Thank you both for your Top of the Docs for S11.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    For the first season in the modern Dr. Who to not have familiar villains (at least until Resolution, in a countdown sort of way to Jodie’s Doctor finally taking on a Dalek), it reminded me enough of how I enjoyed most of Tom Baker’s seasons with many impressively stand-alone villains. This was years before Big Finish would change that for some villains like Sutekh and of course the Zygons via both BBV and the 50th Anniversary. To boost Dr. Who as a refreshingly-enough new SF series for Jodie’s era, it made good sense to me and even felt like a big weight was being lifted off. Fans were able to focus on the family aspects of the 13th Doctor’s TARDIS team and how it worked for certain stories. It consequently improved how her companions would be strong-willed enough to finally get round to confront the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Master for S12. I look forward to the Top of the Docs for that one.

    Liked by 1 person

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