The 11th season of “new Who,” or the 37th if you count from Doctor Who’s black-and-white beginnings, debuted this past weekend. In one of her first few lines, Jodie Whittaker’s “Thirteenth Doctor” seems to address the audience by comforting some people that while they’ve been exposed to a lot of new information, new things can seem scary. Whittaker’s debut episode is a slow-running episode that takes time to introduce the audience to its new trio of companions, Ryan, Yaz and Graham, before Thirteen even shows up.
The writing seems to check off all the boxes for a proper “new Doctor” episode: a group of humans are threatened by an alien menace; The Doctor creates a new iconic design for the sonic screwdriver and The Doctor shows off a new outfit. The alien menace of this episode, a “Tim Shadw,” is a hunter tasked with tracking down a randomly-determined human to become his culture’s new ruler, a scenario The Doctor refuses to let him succeed at.
This new season also changes things by bringing the companion count to three, referencing the original Doctor’s traveling trio. This group of companions all have something connecting them to one another, Ryan works at a factory, went to school with police officer Yaz and is the step-grandson of Graham. Additionally, the season signals an end to the writing work of Steven Moffat, head honcho for the British sci-fi series since 2010. Moffat’s grandiose long-term writing has been replaced with Chibnall’s more grounded, personal storytelling.
If there is one major critique of the new show, it would be that the story pales in energy when compared to its lead actor’s. Many people can see parallels to Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor between the overflowing exuberance and curiosity at the world around their newly-regenerated Doctors. On a less jarring note, the sacrifice of Ryan’s grandmother feels a bit off; while the sequence leading up to her death is moving, that emotion is diminished by the lacking reasoning behind that sacrifice. It merely seems a narrative device to nudge Graham into acting with some confidence.
While the episode concluded with The Doctor rigging up a machine to warp off-planet and toward her “TARDIS,” things go a bit amiss. Not only does she succeed in teleporting away, she also brings the trio with her–into the void of open space, rather than in front of, or within, the iconic time machine.