The first episode of Doctor Who I watched was Series 5, entitled “The Eleventh Hour.” It marked the dawn of a new era, with then-showrunner Steven Moffatt and a fresh face for the titular character in the form of Matt Smith. I once read that when producers change in the Whoniverse the tone of each series also changes — but since it would be the first time I’m coming in contact with The Doctor I had no idea what to expect.
Smith and Moffatt delivered with a fantastical Time Lord, rooted in anguish masked with an erratic charm. The actor has made its mark on the character, and on me, and man, I was hooked.
I finished Series 5, and went all the way back to the start of NuWho in 2005. And I was subjected to the schoolteacher rage of Christopher Eccleston to the sexy weasel-wear of David Tennant. Then came Smith, and the gaunt energy from Peter Capaldi. After watching the new millennium reboot of the more than five-decade long TV show altogether, I realized the episodes all gelled up driven by the story arc of the Doctor trying to find his home planet, Gallifrey, after he lost it and his kind in the Time War.
And then came 2017, when Moffat announced his departure. Taking over was Chris Chibnall, the writer of another hit BBC television series Broadchurch. When Capaldi left shortly after, Broadchurch veteran actor Jodie Whittaker took on the role later that year in July — in a very historic casting choice as the first female Doctor in the series.
The difference between Davies’, Moffat’s, and Chibnall’s versions of the revered Time Lord is striking. Both Davies’ and Moffats’ Doctor Who had the magic of taking you away for a while. You board the huge police box in the search of another adventure in the universe, either combating aliens or learning empathy along the way.
And those companions of the Doctor tend to have a significant effect on him, like they were the giant deus ex machina waiting to happen. Take, for instance, the girl who waited during “The Eleventh Hour.” Amy Pond was just another unimportant child whose housed was invaded by Matt Smith’s Doctor. A year later, she’s found to be the parent of River Song, the Doctor’s love interest. You also have Clara Oswald, who met with all reincarnations with the Doctor as The Impossible Girl.
At times, while the science-fiction aspect kept you on your toes and the discoveries drove you nuts, the entire NuWho storyline felt too drawn out.
And then we come to Chibnall and Whittaker.
Chibnall handled the first episode of Doctor Who with such delicateness. And it was not because the Doctor was now a woman, but because this Doctor has seen a lot of things happen. It is almost as if Capaldi’s transformation into a female Doctor is the culmination of his woes and wins. I am not one for spoilers, so I will refrain from saying anything about Series 11’s “The Woman Who Fell,” but I could say it did not take two seconds for me to fall in love with his treatment.
The new showrunner made it a point to make Doctor Who as his own. The tone is stranger, more mysterious, while successfully retaining the whimsy and flimsy of the previous reincarnations. Doctor Who also caters to a young audience, so the first episode might strike as darker for some parents, but maybe that is a good thing. It’s like the entire series is growing up along with its viewers.
And Whittaker’s portrayal of the Doctor is just as good, if not greater. She is at par with all her previous colleagues, but leaving her own flavor in the mix. There is this doe-eyed wonder she projects onto her companions, as she discovers her body and personality for the first time in the same way other Doctors did in the first episode. Watching her is still magical, but there is something fresh about her performance that the other Doctors did not have: it is grounded.
I had to clutch at my chest thinking just thinking about it.
Overall, Chibnall’s take on the series and Whittaker’s portrayal of the character delivers something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue (in the somber sense). Watching the first episode of Series 11 made me realize that even NuWho needs to have a much-prolonged regeneration. That’s what the Doctor is about anyway, a breath of life in the expanding darkness of the Universe.