What if Series 11 sucks?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want Series 11 to suck. Maybe, by the tone of everything I’ve written about Chris Chibnall, Series 11 and the Thirteenth Doctor so far, you might be under the impression that I’d be privately happy if Series 11 crashed and burned. Only then, you might think I might be thinking, will Doctor Who’s powers that be realise their folly and put Doctor Who right. Nope. I don’t want Series 11 to suck. I don’t even think it will suck. I think there’s every chance it will be a great, roaring success. But I think there’s equally a chance that it could suck. A bit like Brexit, the thing could go either way, and it’s really difficult, at this point, to predict which way.

The key thing is Chris Chibnall’s apparent willingness to be bold. There’s no more conspicuous evidence of this than his decision to regenerate Peter Capaldi into Jodie Whittaker, but most recently we’ve learned that Chibnall had cast out all of Moffat’s people and brought in an entirely new batch of people to write, direct, produce and set to music Doctor Who. Even before the sex of the Thirteenth Doctor had been revealed, we knew that Chibnall was seriously toying with radical ideas to shake up Doctor Who’s format (before settling for probably the least interesting possibility of a series of ten single episode stories). If nothing else, this tells us that the person in whose vision Series 11 will be molded wants to do Doctor Who differently to how it’s been done, at the very least, in recent memory. That means being bold.

Boldness is good. Boldness is the opposite of timidity, predictability and staleness. Boldness is the opposite of boring. If there’s something Doctor Who should never be, it’s stale and predictable and boring. Doctor Who is supposed to be the antidote to staleness in television. It’s supposed to be bold and daring and it’s supposed to set the imagination aflame and do something radically different from the usual bland diet of undifferentiated soap operas and detective dramas. If a show about an immortal alien who can go anywhere in time and space isn’t going to be bold, then what exactly is the point of it?

To be candid, if Chris Chibnall really is trying to make a clean break from what Doctor Who has been for the last thirteen years successively under Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat and blaze an exciting new direction for the show, then I’m broadly in support of the Chris Chibnall “project” in boldness. I think he has the right idea in this respect, because it really has come time for Doctor Who to reinvent itself.

I adored Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, but I’m not an average member of the audience. Under Moffat, the show was steadily losing viewers and increasingly becoming a cult fandom. Simply put, people had become bored with Doctor Who, bored of seeing the same thing every week. Bored of the bloody Daleks all the time. The characters may change every couple of years, but the show basically stays the same, and had stayed basically the same since it returned to the screen with what was then a new lick of paint in 2005. Steven Moffat did a lot differently from Russell T Davies, but the Doctor Who he made was still basically the same show that Davies made, and an average member of the audience, the valorised “casual viewer”, who didn’t know who Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat were, wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between Davies’ Doctor Who and Moffat’s Doctor Who.

In Moffat’s final years, he seemed to recognise that the general audience was growing bored of Doctor Who, and he played increasingly to the fandom — people like me — rather than vainly trying to appeal to a broad general audience (although there was a last gasp attempt at doing this in Series 10).

Ironically, I think the female Doctor decision looks more like a symptom of Doctor Who’s crisis of staleness than anything resembling genuine boldness. Here is a show that had been making basically the same twelve episodes every year since 2005 and which people were increasingly becoming bored of. The big, scary “cancellation” word was being thrown around with more and more seriousness. To remedy the problem of staleness, Doctor Who could sit down and think about how it could reinvent itself to return anew and regenerated, like it did in 2005, or, alternatively, it could perform a cosmetic but attention-grabbing change, like changing the Doctor’s gender, which would buy it a couple more years to continue going on making the same 12 episodes every year as before, just with a woman playing the Doctor now instead of a man.

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I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I’ve no doubt that, if Steven Moffat had been the one to bring in a female Doctor, this is exactly how it would have gone down. A female Doctor would have been a superficial panacea to temporarily bring back a few eyeballs while nothing substantive would have changed. Chris Chibnall, at least, has shown a willingness to revamp and reimagine the show and do things differently. But I don’t know if he’s going to do enough to dispel the charge of staleness and justify another 13 years of Doctor Who. I don’t know if it’s possible to get out of the rut Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have dug Doctor Who into over the last 13 years. There needs a properly radical and paradigm-shifting departure from the Doctor Who of Davies and Moffat to justify the show’s indefinite continued existence, and it remains to be seen whether Chris Chibnall is up to the job.

So what if Series 11 sucks, then? What happens if the new regime produces something that’s either boring or bad? Chibnall’s brave new era will be off to a terrible start, and it will be difficult to justify continuing the show, at the very latest, after Jodie Whittaker exits. If Series 11 is bad, the female Doctor experiment will be pronounced a failure and cancellation will be openly discussed. If Series 11 is simply boring, the initially high viewing figures borne on interest in the female Doctor Who will quickly dissipate and return to normal (ever-diminishing) levels, and cancellation will still be on the cards, albeit a few more years down the line. If the drastic changes needed to revive the show aren’t made and the show continues to be boring, viewing figures will continue their downward trajectory and, at some point, the show will be cancelled.

I don’t think that’s necessarily a controversial thing to say. At 13 years, Doctor Who has run long past the typical lifespan of a TV drama. That’s because it has the capacity to continually swap new actors in and because it doesn’t have a narrative “end point”. We could keep on following successive incarnations of the Doctor around forever, if we wanted. But that doesn’t mean that even a show like Doctor Who can’t reach its use-by date in the minds of the audience, especially if it doesn’t seem to change very much during its occupancy of its weekly time slot.

If that’s the case, I’m actually not sure that temporary cancellation would necessarily be a bad thing. Maybe it’s what needs to happen. Maybe a show like Doctor Who needs these occasional hiatuses when it gets into a stale rut it can’t break out of, to return years later from its spell in purgatory renewed and regenerated. Would anyone deny that the show’s cancellation after 1989 was, ultimately, for the best? If it weren’t for 1989, we wouldn’t have had 2005 and everything Doctor Who has been since it returned from its banishment. Maybe this version of Doctor Who — let’s call it Doctor Who 2.0 — has reached the end of its natural life and should be peacefully put to rest while it still has its dignity. Then, after an appropriate amount of time has passed — I would say 10 years at the least, long enough for people to miss it — it can come back a shiny, brand new show, Doctor Who 3.0, and preferably looking very different from how it did before, like it’s 2005 all over again.

Or maybe I’m wrong. There’s always that possibility, too. It’s just that I think it’s impossible that, without a radical overhaul, the show could do anything but continue to lose viewers from this point. Jodie Whittaker may well end up being a sensational, fan-favourite Doctor, but the whole female Doctor thing is ultimately an attention-grabbing gimmick that won’t, on its own, bring viewers back long-term. The show’s high water mark was the end of the Tenth Doctor’s era and the first two seasons of the Eleventh Doctor’s era. Since then viewing figures have been in freefall, especially during Capaldi’s era. It’s hard to see how the show could return to that level of popularity and cultural heft if it carries on just as it is, short of regenerating the Doctor back into David Tennant.

I might just end by saying that, out of the two alternatives I foresee — that Series 11 is bad or boring — I think it much more likely that Series 11 will simply be boring, “boring” here meaning that it might well be a competent, even brilliant, series of episodes, but that it’s still nothing we haven’t seen before, still Doctor-Who-as-usual. Chris Chibnall is accomplished enough a writer and showrunner for us to be confident that there’s no great danger of Series 11 being bad. I don’t think the man who made Broadchurch and Born and Bred is capable of writing bad television, or at least a whole series of bad television.

Or Chibnall could surprise us all and bring back Doctor Who this year as if it had been away for 16 years, not one.

Chris Chibnall has purged Moffat’s writers. Is this good?

Chris Chibnall has released the names of the writers and directors who’ve been working on Series 11. They are:

Writers

  • Malorie Blackman (Noughts and CrossesPig-Heart Boy)
  • Ed Hime (SkinsThe Incomplete Recorded Works of a Dead Body)
  • Vinay Patel (Murdered By My Father)
  • Pete McTighe (Wentworth)
  • Joy Wilkinson (The Life and Adventures of Nick Nickleby)

Directors

  • Sallie Aprahamian (Extremely DangerousThe SinsReal Men, etc.)
  • Jamie Childs
  • Jennifer Perrott (The Ravens)
  • Mark Tonderai (The FiveImpulseLuciferGothamHouse at the End of the Street, etc.)

To be honest I don’t recognise any of these names. Apart from Chris Chibnall himself, none of these names have worked on Doctor Who before. Evidently Chibnall has chosen to spurn Moffat’s stable of regular writers and directors (Sarah Dollard, Jamie Mathieson, Toby Whithouse, Rachel Talalay, etc.) for an all-new troupe. He seems to be intending on making a clean break from the Moffat era with a completely fresh ensemble of voices, talents and styles.

I can see reasons alternately to be excited and disappointed by such a decision. For one, a clean break and a fresh start after eight years of Steven Moffat’s version of Doctor Who is always going to be welcome. Staleness has always been Doctor Who’s bane, and a completely new lineup of writers and directors can’t help but reinvigorate and inject a much-needed dose of freshness into the show. I’m also always interested in seeing how Doctor Who is interpreted by new writers and directors who’ve never worked on the show before, and, under the influence of a new showrunner who seems keen do things differently, there are the makings of what could be a very creative and original series of Doctor Who.

On the other hand, I’m disappointed to see that some of the best talents unearthed by Steven Moffat recently — namely Jamie Mathieson, Sarah Dollard, Peter Harness, Toby Whithouse, Rachel Talalay, Daniel Nettheim — have not been asked to return for Series 11. It’s all very well wanting to make a clean break with your predecessor’s era, but when you have Jamie Mathieson at your disposal, eager to write for you, why in time and space would you turn him down? A new troupe of writers may well make for a fresh new Who, but it’s always going to be a risk entrusting your first series as showrunner to people who, while they may be highly accomplished in their own work, have never written for Doctor Who before and are therefore basically wildcards. Because Doctor Who isn’t like any other show, and writing for Doctor Who is different from writing for any other show.

If I were in Chibnall’s place, I’d have asked back at least one of Moffat’s writers, probably Jamie Mathieson — who is simply too good to turn down that I’m still floored as to why he wasn’t asked back — so I knew I had at least one experienced set of writing chops on board whom I knew I could rely on to turn in a competent Doctor Who script or two. Chibnall must know that there’s a lot riding on the first “female Doctor Who” series, so he must be quite confident that it’s not all going to be an unmitigated disaster if he hasn’t brought any of Moffat’s people back.

I contributed to a fan piece: what makes a good season finale?

Hello dears,

I was asked by Matt from the Talking Tardis blog to contribute to a fan piece about what makes a good season finale.

You can read my answers, along with those of Whovian artist Jeph and Oncoming Storm Radio producer Paul Mabley, here. We give our answers to the following questions:

  • What do you look for in a season finale?
  • What are the key differences between the Russell T. Davies finales, and the Steven Moffat finales?
  • What’s your favourite modern-era finale, and where does “The Doctor Falls” rank in comparison to the previous nine?

I enjoyed reading the others’ responses, and Matt did a good job arranging this and putting it all together.

Go and have a read! And check out more of Talking Tardis‘s content while you’re there!

Thoughts on: World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls

The world didn’t end in this finale. The world didn’t come remotely close to ending. There was no apocalyptic threat to Earth, the universe, time or the human race. No reality bomb, no cracks in time, no return of the Time War, no pestilential Dalek swarms, not even a mythical universe-devouring Hybrid. There were a dozen and a half farmers in a homestead on a farm on the 507th floor of a spaceship stuck in the gravitational pull of a black hole. No one knew they were there, no one would miss them, and it wouldn’t matter to the universe if they were absorbed into the ranks of a newly-minted Cyberman army, or died. They were no one. The Cybermen almost certainly wouldn’t be able to get off the ship anyway, without being sucked into a black hole. Everyone on that ship was doomed. It was only a matter of time. None of them mattered.

It’s an interesting choice of setting for Steven Moffat’s last ever finale. Just compare it with his predecessor. Russell T Davies went as big as he possibly could in his last finale. The end of all reality at the hands of the Daleks. He brought back every companion from his four (going on five) years’ time as showrunner and delivered what remains probably the most high-stakes and epic finale since Doctor Who came back in 2005. This isn’t like that. This is nothing like that. This is deliberately as low-key and low-stakes as possible. It’s literally the Doctor holed up on a farm defending a handful of unimportant inbred farmers against an unstoppable army of Cybermen, who are almost certainly going to die whatever he does and, in any case, whose whole world is doomed.

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But actually, that’s the whole point. The choice is very, very deliberate on Moffat’s part. And, frankly, it’s the only appropriate way Moffat could have ended his tenure. Moffat has done the big, epic, high-stakes finales. He’s done the end of the universe and/or reality – four times, by my count (two of those times more explicitly). No doubt he could have done it again, and done it more convincingly and more spectacularly than it’s ever been done on the show before, by him or anybody else. I believe, considering the form he’s been at the last couple of seasons, that he could have delivered the best Big Finale we’ve yet seen. But somehow, that wouldn’t have been right. It would have been reliably stunning, and the reviews would have raved, but it wouldn’t have been the right note on which to end Moffat’s tenure. Moffat isn’t about that. Never has been.

Because this was a love letter to Doctor Who and the Doctor, a tribute to the show and the character Moffat has been writing for twelve years, and which has been his life for the last seven years. Moffat likes to say, half-facetiously, that in his opinion the companion, not the Doctor, is the main character of this show, that the companion is the most important character in Doctor Who. It’s a silly idea, of course, but it’s a nice one, and it’s nice to look at the show that way. However, this finale shows that Moffat doesn’t really believe that. For Moffat, the character of the Doctor and what the Doctor represents is the beating heart of this show.

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Because this finale was all about what the character of the Doctor represents, and what this show is about. The Doctor is the man who will die defending a handful of farmers from an unstoppable army of Cybermen because it’s right. The Doctor is the man who does what’s kind and good in the face of almost certain failure because it’s right. It didn’t need to be a planet or a species the Doctor was defending, let alone the universe. The Doctor will die for the sake a few inbred farmers because that’s who he is. You can practically condense Moffat’s conception of the character to: the Doctor is the man who always does what’s right. That speech Twelve delivered to the two Masters, one of the most genuinely moving and passionate ever delivered by an actor as the Doctor, and I think my new favourite, basically encapsulated the essence of how Moffat conceives of the character of the Doctor and what he represents. It’s Doctor Who in a verse of passionately-delivered prose, a loving salute to the Doctor and Doctor Who.

Practically everything in this two-part finale revolved around that compelling theme. The Doctor’s mission to turn Missy good, into someone like him, was symbolic of the idea that being the Doctor isn’t an inheritance or an instinct, nor either nature or nurture – it’s a choice. It’s the choice to do what’s right and good, always, in the face of insurmountable odds, in the face of certain failure, without hope, witness or reward. Those opining that the presence of the twain Masters in this finale, especially John Simm’s Master, was rather pointless and that they played something of an irrelevant and peripheral role in the story are wrong. Missy’s struggle, between following the Doctor and being the person the Doctor wanted her to be, and being the person she had always been, represented by John Simm’s Master, represented the idea that being the Doctor was a choice. That, in the end, Missy made the choice to follow the Doctor, where she was without hope, witness or reward, was a vindication of what the Doctor represents. Which makes it all the more tragic that the Doctor never found out that she turned to follow him.

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I keep putting all this in terms of Moffat’s conception of the Doctor because there is more than one showrunner’s interpretation of the character. I say that this finale is the appropriate way for Moffat to end his tenure as showrunner because Moffat’s interpretation of the character, his conception of the Doctor and what the Doctor is about, has always been the central theme of his Doctor Who. The Fiftieth Anniversary special was the apotheosis of that vision. More relevantly, in the climax of the Series 8 finale the Twelfth Doctor stood in a graveyard with a Cyberman army at his command and made another speech to Missy which was the culmination of a whole series of angst-ridden rumination about what being the Doctor meant. Two series later there’s no equivocation, no sliver of doubt at all about what he, the Doctor, stands for – and, in a symbolic reversal of roles, it’s Missy who’s been undergoing angsty self-reflection all season, and the Doctor who’s offering her the climactic character-defining choice.

So it was only right that Moffat ended his run this way. It was only right that he made the Doctor’s final stand a symbolic embodiment of what the Doctor represents. He went down fighting in the most mundane and inconsequential of circumstances, where, for once, no one would have blamed him for high-tailing out of there. It would have made the most trivial of difference. But that’s why this was such a heroic fall for him, and it’s why it’s such an emphatic vindication of the character. He went down being the Doctor where no one would have blamed him for not being the Doctor. It made for a death scene as rousing and emotional as any we’ve seen yet. It rivals the Tenth Doctor’s “So much more” death scene in terms of its raw emotional punch. It’s definitely one for the ages.

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Before I tie up this rambling, messy not-really-a-review, any discussion of this finale would be incomplete if it didn’t talk about Bill’s fate, so let’s just talk about that. Before I saw The Doctor Falls I was sort of, without really thinking about it, hoping that Bill would either die or remain a Cyberman. I’m of the school of thought which believes that death is as important a part of Doctor Who as life and the saving thereof. Life is not as treasured, and saving lives is not as warranting of celebration, if no one ever dies and the significance of death, by experiencing the death of characters we love, is never appreciated. Death is the other side of the coin to life, and the show cannot have one without the other. Although I made peace with Clara’s fate in Hell Bent, I think she should have died. It was the appropriate logical and emotional end for her character and for that Doctor-Companion relationship.

But Bill is not Clara, and her arc was not Clara’s arc. This was an instance where the appropriate end for the companion absolutely was that, against all odds, even if it meant being magically resurrected by the power of the tears of her immortal undead celestial water girlfriend, Bill should have lived, de-cyber-converted. It would have been a bleak and jarringly cynical note if Bill had not survived in a story about how the Doctor saves lives – if, in the Doctor’s last heroic stand, he had failed. Bill never deserved that, she didn’t ask for that – Clara did. I don’t care that Bill’s salvation at the hands of waterbending angel Heather makes absolutely no sense and I don’t understand it, that it’s sentimental and mawkish and that, even for Doctor Who, it taxes the ability to suspend disbelief. Actually, this is one of the rare instances where I would be unsatisfied if it weren’t all that. Because it’s the right ending and this is Doctor Who. And Doctor Who can and, in select instances such as these, should do anything to make the right ending happen.

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I’m looking forward to this year’s joint Twelfth Doctor/First Doctor Christmas special. Seeing the First Doctor again in itself promises to be very special, and somehow very apt, given the numerous self-conscious analogies made over Capaldi’s run between his and Hartnell’s Doctors. But it also promises to be another rousing tribute to a central aspect of the show, given that this finale just ended with the Doctor furiously repressing his regeneration, adamant that he would not change. If I’m correct, it’s going to follow the Doctor struggling to reconcile two instincts, which represent two constants of this show. He has to change, he has to move on, to live: change is life – it’s who he is. But to live – that is, to change – is to die. The old him dies and the new him is born. Everything he was, everyone he loved and everything he felt is forgotten. The new man goes sauntering away as though the old man had never been. The Tenth Doctor in The End of Time touched on this these themes, but, if I’m right, it looks like we’re going to see a more intimate exploration of those themes in this year’s Christmas special, featuring, like a visitation from the Ghost of Christmas Past, a guest appearance from the Doctor’s past life. It should be fun. And emotional, always emotional.

So this wasn’t really a review as much as a messy commentary which I largely made up as I went along, mostly of my, frankly recklessly subjective interpretation of this finale’s themes. But these pieces aren’t explicitly intended to be conventional reviews anyway, which is why they’re called “Thoughts on” Doctor Who stories, not “Reviews”. They’re a space for me to ramble to my heart’s content on Doctor Who episodes and put an arbitrary and risibly subjective rating at the end. When they do cross into review territory, it’s usually when I don’t have anything original or interesting to say about an episode, or at least when I can’t be bothered to think of anything original or interesting to say.

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But, if you hadn’t already guessed, I really liked this finale. I liked it a lot. Thematically, it was a triumph. That much I think I’ve expressed. This finale’s themes, and the success with which it executed them, were what absorbed me and excited me most about it. I’m not sure I can think of a finale which has been more thematically profound, and which has been more unabashedly a tribute to the show itself (apart from The Day of the Doctor, which doesn’t really count as it’s not a finale). For that it gets high marks. Otherwise the character writing and the acting was perfect, and Rachel Talalay’s direction was reliably magnificent. I’ve already praised World Enough and Time verbosely here, and I thought the story’s treatment of the Cybermen was perfect. I’m not sure this is a complaint, but The Doctor Falls felt a bit slow in the middle. Maybe it actually would have benefited from being cut down. That’s about it. This finale wasn’t perfect, but the best Doctor Whos rarely are. I’m not sure yet where exactly to put it in a ranking of the finales, but it would go somewhere near the top – possibly even the very top. Well done, Steven Moffat.

Rating: 10/10.

Interesting news about Chris Chibnall’s plans for Doctor Who

From Radio Times yesterday:

It looks like new Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall is set to shake up the long-running sci-fi drama when he takes over at the end of the year.

In an interview with Television, the in-house magazine of the Royal Television Society, Chibnall says that all options are on the table for the programme, including a whole-series storyline of the kind he pursued on three series of Broadchurch.

Asked if this approach were possible, he replied “yes”, adding that “what the BBC was after was risk and boldness” when they approached him for the job.

Admitting that he resisted accepting the role “for a very long time”, Chibnall said the BBC had agreed with his ideas for the show – somewhat to his surprise.

“I had ideas about what I wanted to do with it,” he said. “When I went to them and said, ‘This is what I would do’, I actually expected them to say, ‘Ooh, let’s talk about that’, but they said: ‘Great!’”

Interviewer Mark Lawson writes in the same piece: “Chibnall’s general tone suggests that there may be a radical revamp of Doctor Who, which will please those who have suggested the show needs a kick up the Tardis.”

I’ll be writing my review of The Empress of Mars soon–probably tonight if all goes well–but I just wanted to comment briefly on this very interesting bit of news about Chris Chibnall’s plans for Doctor Who post 2017.

Basically, Chibnall appears to be toying with plans for a radical shake-up of Doctor Who’s format when he takes over. There’s a reference to the possibility of a series-long storyline à la Broadchurch in the article–which would be radical indeed, and if Chibnall is considering that, then it’s a pretty good indication that anything is possible for Series 11. Even more interestingly, it looks like the BBC is totally on board with any radical revamping of the show Chibnall is proposing to undertake.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is some of the most exciting Doctor Who news we’ve heard in a long time–and yes, that includes the return of John Simm and the Mondasian Cybermen. I was literally only thinking yesterday about how the best thing Chibnall could do for the show, other than produce great stories, would be to shake up the format. I actually didn’t think it was likely to happen, but an iconoclastic overhaul is exactly what the show needs right now.

I hate to say it, but as brilliant as the Capaldi era has been, at least for us diehards, the thing is just getting a bit stale. A bit passé. I was reflecting on that in my review of Extremis, where I struggled to be enthused by what was undoubtedly one of the boldest and most boundary-pushing episodes we’ve seen on Who. That the show has been sticking to the formula Russell T Davies employed when he brought it back in 2005 has a lot to do with that. Sure, there have been stylistic changes along the way–Moffat in particular has cycled through as many stylistic shifts as he’s done seasons–and the character of the fanbase has changed in tandem, but on the whole Doctor Who in 2017 remains the same show it was in 2005. And I think if it stayed that way any longer we’d all, even us diehards, get bored of it and it would get cancelled.

So, yes, the show needs to change to survive, and more than to survive, to remain interesting. The experience of the show’s first cancellation should be instructive: by 1989 the show had become repetitive, had become boring, had lost viewers, and was canned. The changes need to involve more than more two-parters or extending the format to 60 minutes (although both would be welcome changes). The experiment with a three-part story in the Monk trilogy was a welcome venture, even if that storyline rather flopped. The idea of a Broadchurch-style series-long storyline is even better.

I think I’d also want to see a major stylistic shift under Chibnall. Moffat made a significant stylistic shift away from Davies’ familiar (and relatively consistent) style when he took over in 2010, and has moved even further away from Davies’ style since then, but by and large the show still looks much like it did in 2005, and a casual viewer wouldn’t necessarily be able to distinguish between the two. Just compare televised Doctor Who to the audio Doctor Who Big Finish is making to discern how little the show has actually changed since 2005. Doctor Who is still by and large a soap opera clothed in science-fiction garb, admittedly with more emphasis on the science-fiction bit now than in 2005. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but after 12 years it’s starting to feel stale. It’s hard to get consistently large numbers of people excited about the same thing you’ve been making for 12 years.

Doctor Who should feel fresh again. Series 11 should be a reboot in every sense except continuity. Series 11 should feel like 2005 again, not stylistically but in the sense of freshness and newness, in the sense that you’re seeing an old, familiar show totally remade into a new one. In 2005 the rebranded, revamped Doctor Who captured the attention of a nation–and it can do so again if it successfully does what it’s always been good at, and changes, regenerates.

I was starting to feel uneasy about the prospect of Chibnall as showrunner, given his indication that he was going to throw out all the current writers (even Mathieson and Dollard)–and I’m still uneasy about Chibnall on this front–but he’s just given me a very good reason to be excited about Series 11.

Thoughts on: Extremis

Is it a reflection on the prudence of being showrunner as long as Steven Moffat has, that my initial reaction to what is undoubtedly the most daring and experimental storytelling Doctor Who has done since the classic series (perhaps short of Heaven Sent) was a feeling of being underwhelmed? I will admit that my expectations were fairly high for this one. The synopsis sounded amazing. The vault was opening. Missy was returning. A three-part mid-series arc was kicking off. All the advance reviews were drooling with acclaim. Steven Moffat was writing. The episode I anticipated in alignment of these auspicious stars was never going to be matched by what aired on the weekend.

But I think there’s a point to be made that what is undoubtedly an exceptional and distinguished episode has the potential to fall flat for many seasoned viewers, simply because this is Steven Moffat 101, and we’ve all become exceedingly familiar with Steven Moffat 101 over the last seven years. To be sure, Extremis is Steven Moffat 101 taken farther than it’s ever been taken before. It’s Moffat in his final hours—in extremis, you might say—digging deeper into his magic hat than he’s permitted himself before now, pulling out his wackiest, most envelope-pushing ideas and saying “F*ck it, let’s do it”, just because it’s his last chance to make the Doctor Who stories he wants to make and just because he can.

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But those of us who unironically refer to ourselves as “Whovians” have got to know the creative mind of Steven Moffat very well by now, and we know in a good level of detail what the inside of his hat looks like by now. So when we’re confronted with something new from inside the hat, even something from deeper within the hat than we’ve seen before, we’re not necessarily surprised anymore, and we’re not necessarily as impressed as we might have been seven years ago. It’s meta-reality. It’s timey-wimey. It’s clever psychological gimmicks. It’s Things Which Are Not What They Seem. It’s locked boxes (literal or figurative) with flashing neon question marks hovering over them. It’s the Doctor as pseudo-deity. It’s The Pandorica Opens. It’s Silence in the Library. It’s The Impossible Astronaut. It’s the distillation of a number of the familiar tropes and ideas we’ve seen in Steven Moffat’s writing many times before, and arranged into a configuration which is entirely new and interesting, but yet still familiar.

The point I’m trying to make in saying all that is that I just wish I could have had the privilege of watching this episode having not seen all of Moffat’s previous work – several times – before. Because it is a brilliant script. It’s an ingenious and daring script. It’s pushing against the outer limits of what’s possible on Doctor Who, and that’s always a good thing. This is Moffat taking his familiar ideas and making something genuinely innovative and interesting out of them, as opposed to, you know, The Name of the Doctor. It’s just that I feel I need to take a step back and take a more objective view of this episode to truly appreciate it as the brilliant piece of writing it is. As I said, apart from the final 15 minutes, I finished watching this episode feeling underwhelmed. But it’s ironic because this script had everything I want and ask for in a Doctor Who story: it was experimental, it was dark, it was atmospheric, it had huge, thrilling, audacious ideas that it wasn’t shy in teasing out indulgently. It improved on a rewatch, but I can’t shake the feeling of ambivalence. I think it really is that I’m just getting bored of Moffat’s style. For what it’s worth, my dad, a Casual Viewer™ whom I’m in the process of converting into a proper Whovian, absolutely adored this one. Which I think is very telling.

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To actually say something about the story, though. I’ve already waxed about how daring this script was, but can we just take a moment to appreciate the significance for Doctor Who of the ideas this story is playing with? There were an unbelievably suspenseful five minutes or so when it looked like the episode was about to say that the Doctor and Bill—the Doctor and Bill we know—were part of the computer simulation, that everything we’ve been watching for six weeks was part of the computer simulation—if not everything since 1963. I’d have been awed, if profoundly disconcerted, if the episode had gone that far, but, perhaps for the best, it didn’t. Still, I think hyper-advanced aliens creating an elaborate computer simulation of the Earth to practise conquering the planet is my favourite idea the show has played with. And telling the story from inside the Matrix makes for thrilling, mesmerising storytelling, as well as some of the out-and-out darkest material we’ve ever seen on Doctor Who. Existentialism aside, the depiction of an apocalyptic gnostic text causing the mass suicide of the scientists at CERN and the suicide of the President of the United States alone in his office, was bracing and provocative in the best way possible.

There were bits of the episode that positively didn’t impress me. It felt excessively busy. I think it could have done with less globe-hopping, a tighter and more compact narrative, or else a full 60 minutes to allow for something more slow-burning and detailed. Although I realise in the case of the former that we wouldn’t have then got the brilliant scene in CERN. The alien monks, I thought, were also quite nondescript and perhaps lazily conceived and designed. They looked like a cross between the Silents and the Pyroviles, and in design conformed to the typical profile of ugly humanoid Doctor Who aliens. I can perhaps forgive the design of the alien monks though, because as yet we don’t know what they are—I expect we’ll find out more about them in the next episode. I’m aware of the popular theory that the monks are the Mondasian Cybermen, and I’d be delighted if that were the case. But I’m sceptical that they are the Mondasians—somehow it doesn’t seem like their style, and I’d question why the Mondasians (or the Cybermen generally) would want to make themselves look like weird ugly blue aliens in the simulated reality rather than humans. Design and conception aside, though, I’m intrigued by the monks, by their identity and what their purpose and intentions are. Actually, on the connection of learning more about the monks in the next episode, I’m prepared to forgive a lot about this episode when I consider it in its context as the first part of a two- or three-part arc. As a standalone, it needs some work, but as Part 1 of 3… let’s wait ‘til we see Part 2 and 3.

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As for Missy, though. The constant flashbacks to Missy was one of the things congesting this episode, making it feel a touch busier than it needed to be, but the connection between Missy’s pleading in extremis with the Doctor, and the (simulant) Doctor’s actions at the end of the episode, having discovered the horrible truth of his identity as a simulation, was quite neat and poignant. It was also very interesting seeing another side to Missy, the side of herself she only reveals in extremis. But I can’t say I’m not disappointed that it’s Missy that’s in the vault after all. There was a tweet I retweeted on Twitter after the episode that said “Missy is in the vault” with a picture of a woman covering her mouth with her hands in a mock gasp, with the caption *pretends to be shocked*. I think that was the general sentiment of the fandom upon learning that, yes, as we’ve all been expecting since we heard that piano, it was Missy in the vault after all. A part of me was hoping, anticipating, that Moffat wasn’t going to go for something so predictable and uninteresting—because it really didn’t merit the hype and the overbearing confected mystery around the vault for the last six weeks—but maybe this is just something else that sounded more impressive in Moffat’s head than it was ever going to be in reality. There’s still the (slight) possibility that it’s not Missy in the vault after all—and, knowing Moffat, I still wouldn’t be surprised if it weren’t—but what’s more interesting to me now is what the significance of the vault is supposed to be. Why was Missy put in the vault at all, and why do we need to know that the Doctor spent all this time guarding Missy’s body? I’m expecting, pleading, for a worthwhile payoff for all this.

We’re at the mid-point of Series 10 now, though. Things are picking up now in earnest, as I hoped they would. After such an unassuming, albeit solid, start, this series has certainly taken an unexpected turn for the darker, and it looks like we’re in for a thrilling couple of weeks. To continue on from my theme from last week of admitting to the egg all over my face, this series has been consistently strong so far, and if this episode is an indication of the direction this series is heading, Series 10 could very well turn out to be Moffat’s strongest series of all, as I predicted. We haven’t had any stories I’d consider out-and-out classics yet (this one and Oxygen have come the closest), but I can’t believe that this series will not deliver up at least one. We still have Peter Harness, Toby Whithouse and Steven Moffat’s last-ever finale in two parts, after all.

Rating: 9/10.

Five predictions for Doctor Who Series 10

Doctor Who is today. It’s literally today. Well, tomorrow for me (sometimes it sucks being an antipodean). I decided to write this last-minute post sharing five of my predictions for what we might see in Series 10.

The Doctor will be different

Within the first few minutes of the Twelfth Doctor’s initial appearance in Series 9, the character development he had undergone offscreen since we had last seen him was conspicuous. The cold, brusque and callous Twelve we met in Series 8 was nowhere to be seen. It was clear that between Last Christmas and The Magician’s Apprentice, the Doctor had found his heart, learned some social skills, taken a figurative chill pill or two and possibly smoked some pot. He was still recognisably the Twelfth Doctor we were introduced to in Series 8, but a developed and more emotionally mature version of that character. I liked it, and I liked him. The personality adjustment, I think, was successful and necessary character development which it would have been unsatisfying for him not to have undergone.

And I think we can expect to see further character development in Series 10. Some of the advance reviews of The Pilot have noted that Twelve has once again undergone a degree of personality adjustment offscreen. I don’t think there’s anything surprising about that. Twelve in Series 9 wasn’t a fully-developed character either. He was developed, but not matured, like a fruit that you can eat but isn’t fully ripe yet. It still tastes a bit sour. Twelve in Series 9 was like the teenage version of his character— let’s say late teenage. He had his electric guitar and his black sunglasses and his scruffy clothes, and he was still riding the high of his intense and exhilarating relationship with Clara.

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I think in Series 10 we can expect to see a matured Twelve. Especially after the events of Hell Bent and The Husbands of River Song which have forced him to mature from his teenage mindset of Series 9. I think we can expect him to be softer and gentler, wiser, more emotionally stable, and psychologically older. A more rounded, nuanced and more mature person in general, but maybe jaded from experience and age, like Matt Smith’s Doctor was in the latter days of his regeneration.

I’ve mentioned my feelings about Bill before, but perhaps a companion like Bill is exactly what the Doctor needs in Series 10. Bill is young and energetic and starry-eyed and enthused by the prospect of all of time and space at her fingertips, and someone like that is exactly the kind of person Twelve needs after the losses of Clara and River Song. As that brief sequence of dialogue between Twelve and Nardole in The Return of Doctor Mysterio revealed, the Doctor is clearly still hurting from his losses, and I would not be surprised if it’s aged him and jaded him. He needs someone to make him feel excited about life again.

Bill will leave at the end of Series 10

There’s no reason necessarily why Pearl Mackie shouldn’t cross over into Chris Chibnall’s era of Doctor Who. There’s no rule saying the companion has to leave with the Doctor, or that the entire personnel of Doctor Who has to leave when the showrunner leaves. As we learned, Chris Chibnall asked Peter Capaldi to stay on as the Doctor under him. It’s not inconceivable that he also asked Pearl to stay, too.

But somehow I think Bill is going to be a one-series companion. There’s no doubt that the appeal, for Pearl, of remaining in the role after 2017 is definitely there. Before now she was virtually unknown in British entertainment (this is her first television role), but she’s gone and landed herself one of biggest and most sought-after gigs in television. The longer she can stay, the more experience and visibility she will receive, and the steeper the trajectory of her career will be from this point onwards.

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But at the same time, Bill just looks like a companion who was never intended to stay for more than one series. She’s simple, Bill. A simple concept, that is. For once, we have a companion who’s relatively uncomplicated and normal. She’s not an enigma or a mystery like Clara, the Impossible Girl, or Amy, Fairytale Amy, the Girl Who Waited. She’s just Bill. Bill from Bristol. And Bill from Bristol looks like the kind of companion who isn’t going to obsess or enthrall the Doctor for multiple seasons. She’s going to come aboard the Tardis, have a great time, tag along for a while, then decide she’s had her fun and learned a lot about herself but that it’s time for her to get back to the real world. Nothing complicated. No intense, emotionally-charged relationship with the Doctor à la Clara Oswald. No elaborate arc consuming her and no nagging mystery hanging over her that the Doctor needs to solve. She’ll go adventuring with the Doctor in her summer holidays and then head back to school for the Autumn term.

And I think Pearl might feel she was obliged to leave along with Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat. It was always going to be an awkward position to be in, to continue as the companion after the Doctor regenerates. It’s going to be especially awkward if the showrunner is leaving at the same time. Maybe Pearl would feel that it’s appropriate for her to bow out with Peter and Moffat, having done her brief but hopefully respectable stint on the show.

The Master won’t be the only other Time Lord the Doctor meets

We already know that the Doctor will encounter not just one, but two Masters this series. So Series 10 is already jam-packed with Time Lords, but I think there’s a good chance we’ll be getting at least one more than we expected. Gallifrey made its triumphant return to Doctor Who in the Series 9 finale, after all, and the Time Lords are once again on the Tardis radar and active in the universe.

I think there is a possibility that two known characters in Series 10 could be Time Lords. The first is the character played by David Suchet, “The Landlord”, in episode 4 of the series, Knock Knock. You’d be right in thinking my only reason for speculating that David Suchet’s character is a Time Lord is that, much like the Doctor and the Master, we only have a title (with a “the” in front), not a name. Not much to go on, I grant, but it’s true that, from the description of the episode, David Suchet’s character sounds tantalisingly enigmatic:

Bill is moving in with some friends and they’ve found the perfect house! So what if it’s strangely cheap to rent, and the landlord is a little creepy? The wind blows, the floorboards creak and the Doctor thinks something is very wrong. What lurks in the strange tower at the heart of the building – and why can’t they find any way to enter it..?

And what is it that “lurks in the strange tower at the heart of the building”? If you can say with a straight face that you didn’t just think “Tardis”, then you’re lying. Given that they’re dialling up the enigma factor on David Suchet’s character, I think it’s likely that the episode will climax in the character’s “true” identity being revealed. Maybe he’s a Time Lord. Or maybe we’re just supposed to think that while his real identity is something completely different — a misdirection. But if he is a Time Lord, I think it’s more likely he won’t be a returning Time Lord character. A one-off new character is more likely. This won’t be a regenerated Rassilon, in other words. Or, God forbid, a regenerated Romana.

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The other character whom I speculate may have Gallifreyan origins is Nardole. Nardole was never supposed to be anything special. He was the comic relief character played a comedian in the 2015 Christmas special. He exited the episode having parted ways with nine tenths of his body, a disembodied head sharing a robot body with another disembodied head. But for some reason seemingly unbeknownst to everyone apart from Steven Moffat and Matt Lucas, Nardole returned in the 2016 Christmas special and, we were nonplussed to learn, is set to return as a full-time companion in Series 10.

I’m almost certain Nardole is going to leave at the end of Series 10, but the question is what he’s doing there at all. Moffat has dropped hints that there is actually a purpose to Nardole’s presence in the Tardis in Series 10. I’m wondering if Nardole will turn out to be a more significant character than we realise. For all his comedy and bumbling ways, there’s a certain mystery about the character, because we know very little about him. Why did the Doctor “reassemble” Nardole at all? Why Nardole, of all people? Is he a Time Lord? It’s one possibility. There are certainly others. Given that we know so little about Nardole, it’s hard to speculate with any accuracy, but the two things I’m confident in conjecturing at this point is that there is something special or significant about Nardole, and that he will play an important narrative role in Series 10.

Which still doesn’t change my feelings about the character at all, to be honest.

This will be Moffat’s best series yet

I just have a hunch. An intuition, if you will. Moffat has spent his whole career as Doctor Who showrunner foraging around, experimenting, trying to find out what works. You can perceive the common voice throughout all five, now six, of Moffat’s series, but still each has felt different. He’s tried new formats, new moods and styles. From the “fairytale” theme and mood of the early days of Matt Smith he’s moved onto the darker, grittier feel of Capaldi’s era. From monster-of-the-week in Series 5 he’s graduated onto the joined-up and interconnected narratives of Series 9.

By now I just feel that he’s got it figured out. Sure, after eight years at the helm he may be casting around for new things to do, but I discern that Moffat isn’t someone for whom interesting new ideas are ever very far from his mind. And he has a stable of very young, talented and ingenious writers at his disposal who are doubtless brimming with ideas of their own. I do think he has a pretty good feel now for what works and what doesn’t, and I sense that, for this series, he’s really done his utmost to best himself once more before he leaves.

Everything I’ve heard about Series 10 has persuaded me that I may be right in thinking Moffat has gone to great lengths to try to make this his best series yet. Have a look at the preview of each episode Moffat gave to the Radio Times. Every single episode is unique and interesting. Each script sounds absolutely intriguing, and I’m struggling to pick which I want to watch most. There’s a conspicuous absence of The Caretaker and In the Forest of the Night type filler stories in this selection. Each episode looks like event television.

And the way Moffat has been describing Series 10, as a “reboot” or “jumping-on point” of sorts, sounds like he’s taking Doctor Who back to its purest, rawest essence — adventure and fantasy and thrills and monsters — and is trying to make that version of Doctor Who as well as he can. That certainly sounds like the kind of Doctor Who I’d want to watch, and it really does look like Moffat has tried to produce a consistently high-quality and faultless series. If these episodes are as good as they sound, there’s a good chance that’s exactly what we’re going to see.

The Twelfth Doctor will regenerate in the finale

The latest trailer for Series 10 briefly showed the Twelfth Doctor hunched over in pain, gold regeneration energy wafting out of his hand. It was a very brief couple of frames at the end of the trailer which made Twitter explode. Because the Doctor isn’t supposed to be regenerating in Series 10. No. He’s supposed to regenerate at the end of the Christmas special, and then the new Doctor will appear for exactly 17 seconds before the credits. That’s how it happens. That’s how it’s supposed to happen.

Then why was the Doctor regenerating in the Series 10 trailer? The Doctor has no business regenerating at any point before the last 2 minutes of the Christmas special, let alone in Series 10.

I don’t think we should put it past Moffat to mix things up a bit. Moffat isn’t the type of showrunner who will opt for the well-trodden path (which he himself helped forge) over the opportunity to do something very different and more exciting. I don’t think the Twelfth Doctor will regenerate in the Series 10 finale and that the Christmas special will feature the Thirteenth Doctor. No one wants that and that’s obviously not what’s going to happen. But one commentator has speculated that Twelve will begin regenerating at the end of the Series 10 finale, and will spend the Christmas special in “regeneration mode”, vulnerable to actual death but trying to hold off regenerating until he vanquishes some urgent threat (possibly the Mondasian Cybermen again), until he finally collapses and regenerates into the Thirteenth Doctor.

Much like the First Doctor did.

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I think that’s a fantastic idea, and I would be very satisfied if that is how the Twelfth Doctor’s regeneration is executed. But I think I’m more partial to an idea of my own, that the Doctor will begin regenerating in the closing minutes of the Series 10 finale, but, much like the Tenth Doctor’s “regeneration” in The Stolen Earth, we won’t actually see him change. It’ll be left on a cliffhanger. A six month cliffhanger which won’t be broken on 25th December by Twelve immediately regenerating into Thirteen, but by a dream sequence or perhaps a flashback. In the classic series the Doctor would hallucinate about his companions in the moments before he regenerated. This is what I’m thinking of, except the Doctor’s hallucination or dream or flashback sequence would extend the length of the episode — and it would feature Clara.

Because how appropriate would it be for the Twelfth Doctor to dream about Clara in the moments before he regenerates? How perfect would it be to have Jenna Coleman back as Clara for an episode, and to have Twelve and Clara back on our screens together again one last time before the second half of that couple makes his final leave? Maybe it would be a dream about Clara, or maybe a montage of (new) flashbacks about Twelve’s memories with Clara, but to see Twelve with Clara again, even in a dream or a flashback, one more time before Peter Capaldi leaves would be beautiful.

And when Twelve stirs from his dream state, he will rise slowly and his eyes will cloud. He will utter a word, “Clara…”, and a single tear will slither down his cheek. Then he will smile, a tender, affectionate smile, a special smile he hasn’t remembered smiling for such a long time. And then golden fumes will start to envelop his body as he closes his eyes, still smiling that smile. And then he will regenerate.