Since the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor for series 11, Doctor Who has repeatedly been made the headlines.
The popular show broke tradition this year by appointing its first ever female Doctor. Jodie Whittaker, famous for her role as Beth Latimer in Broadchurch, caused fans to go wild after the announcement that she would take on the role of the Doctor, with expectations starting off high for the series.
With the series now coming to a close and fans preparing for the Christmas special, due to air on 1 January, it is clear that the producers of Doctor Who have gone in a very different direction with this series.
The Doctor newly enters the scene with three assistants, Yaz (Tosin Cole), Ryan (Mandip Gill) and Graham (Bradley Walsh). This in itself moves away from the traditional ‘male doctor, female assistant’ dynamic, incorporating a more familial feeling to the series. The Doctor refers to the assistants as ‘team’ throughout, creating a more equal dynamic between Doctor and assistants.
Aiming for a more accurate representation of gender, race and disability when creating the characters, Doctor Who has turned towards equality, representation and social commentary in its latest series. Ryan himself has dyspraxia, a condition that affects physical coordination, something that is subtly addressed throughout the first episodes. Similarly, in ‘It Takes You Away’, the team visit Norway and help a blind teenager called Hanne find her father. Played by Ellie Wallwork, she is the protagonist of this jarring episode, which deals with issues surrounding families and grief, whilst also adopting the classic spooky, sci-fi narrative the series is so well known for.
With Doctor Who arguably being best-known for its scary robots, monsters and aliens, most famously being, of course, the Daleks and Cybermen, this series says hello to many new villains for the Doctor to defeat. These new aliens move away from the traditional series dynamic, serving a particular purpose within each self-contained episode. Some of the characters aren’t as scary in the traditional sense, with the show relying less on jump-scares and the fright factor. Instead, a variety of complex villains take to the screen, one example being the ginormous arachnids… or in simpler terms, big spiders. They are not inherently villainous, but misunderstood, genetically mutated creatures that are failing to survive on earth. The point of every villain in the new series is to both frighten and entertain, with the writers aiming to create spooky characters that also make a pointed critique upon our own society.
In ‘Arachnids in the UK’, the spiders successfully serve their purpose of critiquing our current social difficulties. The reason the spiders mutate and take over Sheffield is because of incorrect disposal of chemical waste, a scene that draws loose parallels with Spiderman. Robertson, an American business who wants his chain of hotels to conquer worldwide, builds his hotel over one of these landfills, ultimately causing the spider’s mutations. This entire concept is a pointed critique upon humans’ tendency to incorrectly dispose of waste to save money, and the decay of the Earth due to global warming and plastic waste. The true villain of the episode is not, in fact, the spiders, but Robertson, who uses violence and arrogance to ‘solve’ situations, which is something the Doctor continually battles with. He quickly becomes the true problem of the episode. Clearly, you don’t always need to find an alien to find a villain.
Many of the other episodes go back through history rather than visiting alien planets (although we do see our fair share of aliens in the series). The most successful of these episodes is ‘Rosa Parks’, where we get to see the build-up to the moment in history where Rosa refuses to give up her seat to a white person, a paramount moment in American history. Other recognisable historical moments in the series are when viewers get to see King James embodied in an episode surrounding the witch-trial epidemic, and experience the partition of India through Yaz’s grandmother’s life.
These settings provide Doctor Who with a new space to educate and entertain viewers, bringing extremely significant issues into the media through a sci-fi narrative. All these episodes tackle issues surrounding female agency, colonialism and racism, with the Doctor, Yaz and Ryan all experiencing prejudice in some form in these settings. It is not the mere aim for diversity within the series that has marked out its success, but the way these issues have been handled by the show’s creators. Instead of ignoring issues of race, gender and disability in this fictional world, as many TV shows have done over the years, Doctor Who confronts these issues head-on, with most characters having to overcome obstacles of prejudice and unfamiliarity through the narrative. It is both its familiarity, and unfamiliarity, with our own world that make the new series of Doctor Who so unique and well-executed. I think we can all agree it is something we wish we saw TV shows doing more often.
Of course, not everything about Doctor Who has changed. The television show remains to be a family-friendly classic, with the Doctor taking humans on adventures all across the universe. The general dynamic of the show remains the same, but it has taken a new turn, using its global platform to increase representation and critique modern society.
The writers and producers successfully interweave social and political themes into the narrative, creating a seamless dynamic between sci-fi and social commentary. The latest series has caused division in the Doctor Who fandom, with many people arguing its movement has taken something away from the original concept. However, it is undeniable that the show continues to thrive, with Jodie Whittaker shining through in her own interpretation as a quirky Doctor, much like David Tennant’s well-loved performance.
Instead of critiquing Doctor Who, I think it deserves praise and acclaim, bringing sci-fi and realism together seamlessly on our screens. By carrying our own problems into surreal worlds, the series address these issues in a context distanced from our own, but still similar enough for viewers to draw parallels with our own society.
Following this incredibly successful series will be the New Year’s Day special, moved from its traditional slot on Christmas Day. This is something to look forward to, with an incredible trailer already released – one that hints that the Daleks return I might add. Unfortunately, after the exciting festive special, fans must then say goodbye to Doctor Who until 2020. Hopefully the long draught ahead will prove to be worth it in the next series, where the team will continue to wow viewers, I am sure.
Image Source: BBC