TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11

Series 11 of Doctor Who comes to an end and it’s a big yes from me – a hugely successful refresh for this beloved series

“I have to lay down the rules if someone’s new”

From the opening episode, I knew that Series 11 of Doctor Who was going to do it for me. New head writer and executive producer Chris Chibnall’s reset was most obvious in the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor but it was his other changes – namely a real widening of the pool of writers and a pronounced shift in tone – that really defined the shape of this new Doctor Who.

For all its sci-fi nature, that shape was decidedly human. The tragic death of Sharon D Clarke’s Grace was a defining moment in that opening episode, providing the trigger for this TARDIS crew to come together. And rather beautifully, the series really allowed for a full exploration of everyone’s different grief at her passing, culminating in the brutal power of Ed Hime’s ninth episode It Takes You Away.

And pivoting away from the oft-times densely packed complexity of the show’s mythology, the storytelling pointed less at grand alien threats but rather to the foibles of human nature – the enemy within. The racism of Rosa, written by Malorie Blackman with Chibnall, Vinay Patel’s exploration of the British colonial legacy around Partition in Demons of the Punjab, this was science-fiction as its most powerful, commenting powerfully on contemporary society (and naturally provoking the kind of outrage you’d expect).

The self-contained episodic nature of the series as a whole has been a refreshing change too. The series-long arc has been a mainstay of many a recent season of nu-Who with mixed results and so the change in rhythm was one that worked for me. The climax of The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos might not have been one of huge grandeur but its quieter emotion resonated strongly, particularly in the enormous conviction with which Whittaker has inhabited this most iconic of roles. She really has been superb.

Expanding her crew of fellow travellers to three has left a little room for improvement. Mandip Gill’s Yaz perhaps hasn’t been afforded quite enough character development but there’s series to come for that. And Bradley Walsh’s Graham has been a revelation (for me at least) with his deeply sensitive portrayal of a grieving would-be step-grandfather. Yes, it’s all a bit different from before, a lot in some cases, but it’s gotten me a whole lot more excited by Doctor Who than I’ve been for the last couple of years. Result.

Photos: Coco Van Opens/Ben Blackall/BBC

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