Doctor Who: Series 11
Television has been a common staple of entertainment since the nineteen fifties. Throughout those six decades, one generalization has emerged, television series are ephemeral. They appear on the schedule, some with the life span of a mayfly, others might persist for several years. A rarified few have managed to reach the exalted twentieth anniversary. Although not contiguous on television, the BBC science fiction series, ‘Doctor Who,’ recently celebrated its golden anniversary; fifty years as a popular genre-defining a franchise and still going strong. There are many reasons for such incredible longevity, and undoubtedly resiliency tops the list. This aspect of crafting a successful TV show is axiomatically about all television series. The dual edge sword that faces a showrunner is to retain the elements that contributed to its popularity while keeping the ongoing proceedings fresh. A series like a pair of ‘Law & Order’ shows kept the initial concept rotating characters periodically in an organic fashion. ‘Doctor Who’ creators devised a cleaver; a unique approach that might have appeared to be a contrivance at the time but has since risen to the level of science fiction history. The titular character, The Doctor, as defined by the context of the series, The Doctor was an extraterrestrial, a member of an ancient, technologically superior beings called Time Lords. When the first actor left the role, a legendary stroke of a genius changed the genre When death is imminent; their bodies undergo a complete regeneration. While memories remain intact as well as fundamental moral imperatives, various personality traits are subject to flux. This created a perfect solution for recasting the role. Each iteration of The Doctor looks different from his wardrobe and personality reflective of the new actor. Over the decades twelve men held this iconic role, each imparting their distinct brand on the character. In 2018 the thirteenth Doctor stepped out of the blinding lights of regeneration. This time the Doctor was a woman.
For so long regeneration preserved the individual’s gender, until the series just before this one, the eleventh: the Doctor’s perennial frenemy, this boyfriend and fellow Gallifrey native, The Master. In his most recent regeneration "had the upgrade" and swapped genders becoming, ‘The Mistress’ or more commonly simply as ‘Missy.’ When Peter Capaldi finished his tenure as the 12th incarnation of the Doctor, the fans went into the usual frenzy for information concerning the next to ascend to the coveted role. Much to the shock of the most ardent fans, the winner of the 13th Doctor was Jodie Whittaker, a rising star among British actresses. They are keeping with tradition., aspects of the new actor’s personality, preferences and ideas to personalize their approach to the character. Under usual circumstances, the selection of a new Doctor was anticipated highly with the BBC guarding the most miniscule details as if it was a matter of State security. When the initial glimmer of a planned gender change hit the conferences and fan sites, it was arguably the most polarizing news since the 2005 reboot occurred — adding to the speculation over the coming changes the new Doctor would also usher in a new showrunner, Chris Chibnall. He would replace the current creative direction established by Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat. For many fans, there was great trepidation over major modification extending to the creative direction of the show on the most fundamental level.
The obvious manifestation of the change in creative leadership was the departure from a staple means of storytelling, the multi-episode or seasonal arc. Typically, a major story thread would extend over three or four episodes forming a self-contained adventure. This would form ‘chapters’ building to a narrative tying the entire season, or in British vernacular, series. Series 11 consisted of ten independent tales loosely tied together. Another major departure was the omission of the traditional Christmas Special. A feature-length episode would bridge the season frequently introducing significant changes or important elements for the upcoming year. Instead, a BBC broadcast a New Years day special that reintroduced one of the Doctor’s most dangerous archenemies, the Skaro Daleks. The sheer number of drastic departures from traditional expectations, it was prudent to provide a substantial connection to the established canon.
A specific reason for the unprecedented success of the regeneration plot device is it encourages the incoming Doctor to infuse the existing character with quirks, personal affectations, and nuances specific to the actor’s personality and range of talents. The incorporation of this degree of personalization helped to craft one of the most diverse and complexed characters in fiction. The Doctor’s personality runs the gamut from the playfully insane to somberly purposeful. Ms. Whittaker instilled a sense of almost naive wonderment like the youthful enthusiasm of Matt Smith comfortably supporting a near millennium old Time Lord viewing the universe through a feminine perspective. On several occasions, the Doctor must consciously remember being a woman, or more precisely, a Time Lady. Several aspects of the early years of the show including multiple companions. The greatest mystery surrounding the change in the Doctor is who will be the guest during their adventures throughout time and space. The 13th Doctor travels with a trio of Londoners. Yaz Khan (Mandip Gill), is a probationary constable anxious to work on serious matters rather than the mundane assignments her superior load on her. She was anxious to engage in meaningful police work. Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), is a factory worker studying for certification to work as a mechanic. Both Yaz and Ryan have been victims of racially incited bullying, Yaz because she was a practicing Muslim of Pakistani descent, and Ryan as a black man. The third companion is an older man, Graham O'Brien (Bradley Walsh), a retired bus driver and a staple of common sense and stability in the face of danger. When he was diagnosed with cancer, he met chemo nurse, Grace O'Brien (Sharon D Clarke), after which Graham went into remission. The pair fell in love and married. Grace undertook to raise Ryan after he was orphaned at thirteen. Grace died shortly after the arrival of the Doctor.
The drastic production changes were reflected in both the new Doctor’s signature appearance and the look of the TARDIS. Both design aspects traditionally change to reflect the basic personality of the regenerated Doctor best. They also receive a new sonic screwdriver, typically provided by the TARDIS. In this instance the Doctor starts separated from the iconic Blue Box, leaving the freshly regenerated Time Lady without her advanced technology, in ill-fitting clothing, very different anatomy and a case of post-regeneration partial amnesia. After initiating relationships with her new companions, she cobbles together her new sonic screwdriver and sets off to the nearest thrift store to assemble her new outfit. It featured a grey overcoat over a black hoodie, blue high-waisted culottes with yellow braces, a navy-blue shirt with a rainbow stripe across it. Her TARDIS standard central cylinder is now a set of crystals surrounded by the six workstations in a steampunk motif. Operating it requires the Doctor to frantically scamper around the console pulling levers, flipping switches and resetting an old fashion hourglass. The juxtaposition of the steampunk console and crystal pistons creates a stark contrast between old and new, ideal as a summary of the emotional state of this latest incarnation. The Doctor has almost a thousand years of experiencing the universe as male. Now those memories must be reconciled and incorporated into a strategy to move forward. To properly deal with the constant barrage of imminent lethal dangers, the Doctor blends old and new to accomplish the formation of a different kind of synergy. While there is a notable absence of a theme pervading a set of episodes or the entire season, this is a rebuilding year as new talent, and creative minds discover ways to make a drastic, controversial set of changes work as well as it did. In a very tangible fashion, the season theme follows the emotional and psychological journeys of the three human companions and a newly regenerated Time Lady.