3 Lessons From Doctor Who Series 11

Learning it turns out really is fun and educational! And, under 24 hours out from the first New Year’s Day episode of Doctor Who, here’s what I learned from season 11.

1. Same Tune, Different Arrangement

That isn’t just a theme tune, it’s a mission statement. Segun Akinola’s arrangement of Ron Grainger’s original theme tune tells you everything you need to know. This is still the original series but it’s the original series seen through new eyes and with a new perspective. New melodies, old music. Literally.

That’s never clearer than with the through line for Series 11. Instead of an arc plot (Although we did get a cheeky nod or two to something coming down the line) focusing on a villain, we got an arc plot focusing on the companions. The series cleverly makes the Doctor’s initial encounter with Grace, Graham, Ryan and Yaz the defining moment in their lives and explores what happens when they’re drawn into her orbit. And, of course, the price they all pay for that.

Plus, and I am writing this before ‘Resolution’ and with strong suspicion of what that story will bring, it cannot be emphasized enough just how revolutionary a series with no established monsters or supporting characters in play has been. This felt like, and was, a year where the show took a step out into different, new territory and really enjoyed it.

(Photo from the BBC)

2. Stop Worrying About Stunt Casting

I swear this is the only time I’ll ever suggest you read the comments.

Okay maybe this one too

Den of Geek do excellent work, and always have done, which is why I picked a couple of pieces from them. They demonstrate, pretty neatly, the evolution in opinion that Who fandom has undergone and also show how some things have remained the same. There is this weird terror, seated way back in a lot of fan’s mental architecture, of acknowledging that the show is a mainstream hit. That bubbles to the surface every time someone like Tate or Walsh is cast and people realize that the underdog they’re permanently terrified of losing is a stalwart of weekend programming and has been for over five decades.

A lot of my personal dialogue with fandom in 2018 was about this inherent conservatism and how it’s rampant and often incredibly damaging. You can’t steer the rocket if you’re facing backwards on it. Or perhaps more accurately here, you can’t steer the rocket if you’re worried about who else is on it and whether they’re qualified.

And as season 11 constantly demonstrated, this cast is eminently qualified. Bradley Walsh in particular has been exemplary as a quiet, methodical, fundamentally good man. Graham’s never been a wet blanket, never been the designated grown up but he’s also grounded the show emotionally whenever it’s needed. Walsh’s work in ‘It Takes You Away’ in particular is just flat out brilliant, as is the entire episode and it embodies everything that’s impressed about this series. Massive ideas grounded and expressed through an honest emotional lens.

3. Everything Changes, And You Have To Be Ready

Who fans have long memories and re-litigate issues for years after the worth of doing so fades away. There are few examples better than Chris Chibnall. For most people, the writer of renowned seaside noir crime series, Broadchurch. For Who fans? The guy who did this:

Yes that is exactly what it looks like. Yes it is much worse even than the trailer makes it look. But here’s the thing; the mostly risible first series of Torchwood aired in 2006.  2006. That’s fifteen Tory Prime Minister and 850,000 alternative facts ago. Or let me put it another way;

How good a writer were you 12 years ago?

And how good are you now?

Chibnall as a writer has done nothing but improve and diversify his approaches and that’s paid dividends for this season. ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’, ‘The Ghost Monument’ and ‘The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos’ in particular function as a really effective character-centric trilogy exploring the the new TARDIS crew dynamic. Plus, like all good leaders he knows when to get out of the way. Ed Hime, Joy Wilkinson, Vinay Patel and Pete McTighe all turned in scripts that were ambitious, usually massively successful and like I said above, found new melodies in old music. Everything’s changed. Get ready.

 

Like I say, I have no idea how ‘Resolution’ will play out, and I’ll be writing about that later in the week. But regardless, season 11 has taught us it’s possible to try new things with old toys, to accept the possibility of being pleasantly surprised and to let the past go. As lessons go, those are pretty damn good and so was Season 11.