After the Moffat years had led to me pretty much giving up on Doctor Who, I’d hoped that that the change of show runner would give me a reason to fall back in love with the show.
Sadly, that didn’t happen. There were some good aspects of the new season that gave me hope that Doctor Who could turn a corner. But, sadly, there were some clear deficiencies with the show’s writing and execution that still hold it back.
Below are the five lessons I hope the writers and producers of Doctor Who manage to learn before the next season.
Decide on your moral point and have it make sense
Okay, The Doctor doesn’t like killing. We get that. ‘Killing is bad’ is not a terrible message for a young adult show. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s not awful.
Yet this show has failed to make that simple point coherently. In fact, the show appears to be inadvertently showing the moral boundaries of pacifism.
In the first episode, The Woman Who Fell to Earth, The Doctor berates Karl for kicking Tzim-Sha off a crane after Tzim had just been trying to kill him. Apparently he ‘had no right’. Instead the Doctor sends him somewhere else through some standard techno-babble.
Turns out sending a psychopath through space without thought is not a great idea. Tzim ending up being a literal planet killer, with the help of the Ux. When Tzim is eventually caught, he isn’t killed, he is put in what appears to be eternal solitary confinement on a soon to be abandoned planet. This is not kinder than killing him, this is a fate worse than death.
What’s worse, when Tzim-Sha reappeared it looked like we would see another side of The Doctor. A side where she questioned her no-killing policy and worried over whether actions made her responsible for the deaths of the worlds killed by Tzim-Sha. Yet she was still as unshakeable in her convictions in a way only the truly arrogant or deeply stupid can be.
In Arachnids in the UK, the Doctor’s ‘humane’ solution is to trap them all in one room where they can either asphyxiate or succumb to cannibalism and then die. Again, a quick death would be a mercy.
In these examples the audience is explicitly told that killing is never the right option. You may not agree with this message, but, at least it’s consistent. Ill thought through and poorly articulated, but still consistent.
Then we get to Resolution. Where we learn that the Doctor’s pacifism does have limits when she kills the Dalek scout. She does, however, ask her companions if they heard her give the Dalek fair warning. Is that all that deliberating breaking this previously iron-wrought moral code requires? Tzim-Sha can kill planets but one Dalek with a home-made shell is too much.
In any case, this apparently fundamental part of who this Doctor is gets stripped away in one moment with little drama. What’s worse, the Doctor barely seems to fret over it. Compare her asking her companions for permission with Tom Baker’s ‘Do I have the Right?’ speech.
This is the emotional pitch the show should have been aiming for. Instead, a key aspect of The Doctor’s moral code, that had been built up over a season, is stripped away just so the audience appreciates how big a threat the Dalek Scout is.
Moral doubt makes characters interesting, lack of it makes them hard to relate to.
Bring back an arc and some mysteries
One thing Moffat did well was mystery. He was great at piquing the audience’s interest. Making you wonder again and again, is the bad guy going to be Omega?
He was terrible at resolution. As soon as the mystery had been revealed the audience had more questions than answers. Such as, why would The Silence try and blow up a universe they lived in? Why did Missy put Clara in touch with the Doctor? Why did Missy decide to give the Doctor an Army? Why was Sherlock’s sister capable of magic?
Yet, this season missed that overarching plot to add mystery and give the season some direction.
Stop being so lazy
The nadir of the Resolution episode was a completely unnecessary moment. The WiFi goes off and then we cut to a family of terrible actors and get this conversation:
“The WiFi is off.”
“We’ll have to have a conversation!”
How this terrible Dad joke got through a room full of writers is beyond me. It would be a hackneyed joke for a school play, it’s outrageous it found its way onto Doctor Who.
This is just the worst of many examples when the writers attempt to make The Doctor relevant by forcing some ungainly dialogue into her mouth (“skillz with a z”). Yet all it does is reinforce the distance between the writers of the show and their audience, and talent.
Like Moffat before him, Chibnall deflects any criticism by saying it’s from people who don’t like his politics or don’t get Doctor Who. But those aren’t the reasons the show is getting attacked. People are just disappointed. Doctor Who is meant to be flagship science fiction show. Yet its writing lacks the thought, attention to detail and care you’d expect from light-hearted, formulaic, shows like The Librarians or SG-1.
Give Yaz room to grow
Having a trio of companions was a clever choice. It replaced the Doctor-Companion relationship with the tensions of a group dynamic. Allowing the audience to see the Doctor in a different way than previous New-Who Doctors, where she has to balance her personality with that of the group.
But, for that to work, the writers have to put the work in and make sure all of the characters justify their place on the show. While Bradley and Ryan’s relationship was compelling and provided a human aspect to the story: Yaz was just there.
Her only purpose appeared to be as a reason for the Demons of the Punjab episode to happen and to take the names and addresses of the two archaeologists in Resolution.
Hopefully, Yaz will be given an interesting arc in the next season and become more central to the show. Or she will be killed off to add an element of drama and danger to the show. Either way she needs to have a purpose.
Build on the good episodes
Demons of the Punjab is was one of the best episodes to air since the show’s return. It showed how terrifying humans being can be when they let hatred into their hearts. And it did so while telling an emotional tale about love and loss. It also brought attention to what happened during Partition, something most younger viewers of Doctor Who would be unaware of.
Then there was the Rosa Parks episode. A justifiably unsubtle episode about historic, and current, racism in society.
There were other good and passable episodes in the season, but these were quality science fiction episodes that stood out from the crowd. If Doctor Who is going to stay relevant, they should focus on what made these episodes great and stop going for cheap and poor gags.
These are the episodes that give me some hope that the next season will be better. Well, if Chibnall fires himself as a writer that is.
You can find all of our Doctor Who articles here and, if you’re looking for something to watch before the next season, you should look at our list of the best science-fiction TV shows ever.