Everything is new once more with Doctor Who, as the long-running British science fiction series gets a jump start in more ways than one. Generally, a regeneration of the Doctor comes with a change of actor and a slight change in direction and companion but over the last handful of years, those changes didn’t go far since the same faces remained behind the scenes guiding everything from the writing to the music. That’s not the case anymore. Gone is showrunner Steven Moffat to be replaced with Chris Chibnall, Murray Gold the composer since the series returned in 2005 is gone as well and replaced with Segun Akinola and biggest of all is the change of Peter Capaldi to Jodie Whittaker as the first female version of the Doctor. A ton of changes to a franchise can at times hurt it, but this time around all these changes not only didn’t hurt the franchise but breathed new life that was needed.
Right off the bat, we begin to meet the new companions that will travel with the thirteenth version of the Doctor, and the cinematic feeling of the first episode was a brilliant stroke that we’ve seen a few times in recent years with the specials and even some other premieres. Whittaker literally falls right into the show during a tense scene (after being blown out of the TARDIS during the end of the last Christmas special) and right away proves that she was meant to be the Doctor, adding her own take as all the actors do but getting right to the heart of the character in an instant. Her instant connection with the companions, despite some feeling of trepidation from some of them at the start which makes sense when dealing with aliens suddenly, really shows how great the season ahead will be.
Speaking of those companions, the diversity of individuals in gender, race, backgrounds, ages and so much more is just fantastic. They all bring something to the table alongside Whittaker in the role of the Doctor. Mandip Gill’s Yasmin “Yaz” Khan brings another authority figure to the group as she is a police officer but one that is still trying to find herself (she is only 19 after all) and is already in awe of the Doctor, while her old schoolmate Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) comes with some baggage yet to be fully explored and some chips on his shoulder that should provide some drama and interesting moments to come. Then there is Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh) who out of the humans is the elder of the group (but practically a child compared to the Doctor) who found love and for the moment beat cancer only to lose that love and finds himself wrapped up in the world of the Doctor alongside his step-grandson Ryan. Sadly Sharon D Clarke’s Grace won’t be a regular part of the series, she’s Ryan’s grandmother and wife to Graham, as she was another fierce and take no prisoners woman that dove right into the adventure with no questions asked and was fantastic in the premiere.
One thing that Chibnall and others made clear is that this series of the show will look to do new and different things, leaving behind some of the way too often repeated tropes of the past shows and the overused aliens (Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, etc) for new things. Right away that is proven with this new alien Tzim-Sha of the Stenza race who kills with his below sub-zero temperature hands and steals a tooth to implant in his flesh as a trophy. It makes for a pretty gross but also awesome and different visual when revealed. Also different is that unlike most times, the Doctor doesn’t end up back at her TARDIS to get a new sonic screwdriver and zip off with the companions. The TARDIS did blow up at the end of the last special and now its missing, leading to the Doctor to have to build her own Sonic Screwdriver with Earth and some alien materials on hand as well as go on the hunt for her TARDIS after saving the Earth once again. This led to the other change, in that the companions don’t come along willingly on some adventure, they just sort of end up wrapped up in this one on Earth and then involuntarily accidentally swept out into space with the Doctor on the TARDIS journey.
Peter Capaldi was a great Doctor, really finding his stride in the tenth season once some of the baggage dragged from the other series was left behind, but Whittaker and company have truly brought new life to the show that has had as many lives as the Doctor themselves. There weren’t even opening credits for the episode, diving straight into the adventure and that wasn’t an issue at all. This episode just kept moving and kept the core of the character despite all the changes that had come. The Doctor declares that she is always there to help when help is needed, something that the previous Doctors have declared even as recently as the final episode of Capaldi’s last series where he spoke about the kindness of helping despite it ultimately killing him. time.
For a franchise to truly continue and thrive long past its beginnings (the same goes for anything in the world really that wants to be around for a long time, even people), it has to be able to change and adapt and embrace the world of the day. While Doctor Who is fifty-five years old as a franchise, it can’t continue to only live in a past that was made in that time so long ago. Right away series eleven of the newer era of the show proves that as Chibnall and Whittaker and the BBC and everyone else behind the show come out swinging, loving the past but using it as a building block rather than as a cloak of nostalgia as too many franchises do. As the Doctor declares in the episode: “Don’t be scared. All of this is new to you, and new can be scary.” Many will be scared of the change, but the change is happening no matter what. Embracing change is how we move forward in life, and this change came at the right
Score: 10 out of 10