Why You Should Wait on Doctor Who Season 11

NEW YORK — Jodie Whittaker, the 13th Doctor herself, sat on a Doctor Who panel over the weekend at New York Comic Con 2018. She eloquently discussed everything from her heroic influences, to her hope to inspire both male and female fans of the show to come together and celebrate the character's 55-year legacy.

Credit: BBC

(Image credit: BBC)

That same day, Whittaker's first episode as the new Doctor aired, and the reviews came in within hours. Season 11 currently holds an unprecedented 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Whittaker was deemed "brilliant," "delightful," "wonderful," "playful," "energetic" and every other superlative under the sun. The episode itself, "The Woman Who Fell to Earth," earned similar praise. By all accounts, after a few rocky seasons, it seems that Doctor Who is back in rare form, entertaining science-fantasy fans of all ages.

That still doesn't necessarily mean you should watch it, though.

Whittaker's performance speaks for itself, and the season seems to be off to a strong start. But longtime fans should remember that Doctor Who has a history of showcasing fantastic actors in slam-bang premieres -- then whiffing things fantastically just a few episodes later.

There’s no question that Jodie Whittaker is the right woman for the job of the Doctor. But the show has let fans down so many times before, it may be time to jump ship before the almost-inevitable downward spiral begins.

Editors Note: For those who haven't watched Dr. Who before, note that there are some spoilers ahead related to previous seasons.

Misusing great actors

David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, had a pretty solid run of episodes, from his high energy debut in “The Christmas Invasion,” to his heartbreaking departure in “The End of Time.” We got to see the actor’s full range in one exciting, inventive story after another, for almost five years.

Things have declined a bit since then.

Matt Smith took on the role after Tennant left. Smith is an enormously talented actor, utilizing his lanky frame for engaging physical comedy, and his winning smile for the perfect delivery of quippy one-liners.

In his debut episode, “The Eleventh Hour,” Smith met the quixotic Amy Pond, discovered his affinity for fish fingers and custard and saved the world from an impending alien invasion, all while trying to grapple with his new demeanor and fashion sense. In other words, the whole adventure was exciting and charming, while setting up an exciting season-long arc.

In Smith’s last episode, his uncomfortable romance with convoluted companion Clara took a backseat to a weird, maudlin riff on the Christmas spirit. Some intense rapid-aging makeup hid the best parts of Smith’s performance, which the writers then shoehorned into the 12th Doctor’s introduction. Over the course of three seasons, Smith went from vivacious and fun to a pack mule for depressing, brooding stories, and it showed.

Likewise, consider Peter Capaldi, the 12th Doctor - and arguably the best comic actor to have the role so far. In his freewheeling premiere, Capaldi confronted a t-rex in Victorian London, called upon some fan-favorite supporting characters, clarified his relationship with Clara and delivered a memorable monologue about his eyebrows. The episode juxtaposed Capaldi’s incredible comedic timing against his brusque sincerity, and made him one of the most endearing incarnations of the Doctor yet.

By “Twice Upon a Time,” Capaldi’s last appearance, things had gone off the rails again. He’d bid farewell to Clara one season before in a truly bizarre reversal that ended with the companion flying away in a space diner, so he had to conclude his run with underdeveloped companions Bill Potts and Nardole. “Twice Upon a Time” was a continuity-heavy Christmas special where Capaldi got to show off a bit of his range, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that he never got a chance to make the most of his full talents.

Stories not worth telling

Another major problem with Doctor Who over its last few seasons is that the stories have been overly sentimental and convoluted. While Doctor Who usually excels at telling standalone adventure stories with the whole family in mind, a good chunk of Smith and Capaldi’s runs were simply love letters to their own tangled continuity.

Smith had to deal with a season-long arc involving a mysterious time traveler, President Richard Nixon, a silent alien invasion of Earth (which never got fully resolved) and the joyless departures of beloved companions Rory Williams and Amy Pond.

Meanwhile, Capaldi had to untangle Clara Oswald’s complicated backstory, an unnerving saga of undead Cybermen and a frankly depressing arc about Maisie Williams as an immortal Viking girl who loses her children — and can’t even remember it, because of her mortal capacity for memory.

At its best, Doctor Who is uplifting and charming; seeing Smith and Capaldi try to deal with topics that would feel more at home in a Black Mirror episode is neither.

A job for Jodie

Granted, there are a few reasons to be optimistic about the show’s 11th season and its 13th doctor. Whittaker herself is off to a strong start, of course, but there’s also reason to believe that the story might not be so scattershot this time around.

Chris Chibnall has replaced the controversial Steven Moffat as Doctor Who’s head writer. Previously, he worked on the critically beloved Broadchurch — where Whittaker also starred, coincidentally — and has previously written thoroughly decent Doctor Who episodes, including “The Hungry Earth” and “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.”

But a good lead actor and a good lead writer do not make up for years and years of misdirected cast members and slogging stories. If Whittaker can bring Doctor Who back to the consistent quality of the Tennant days, then more power to her. But if you want to wait until the end of the season to see how she does, rather than gamble 45 minutes each week, you’ll probably have history on your side.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi. 

  • rex.deaver
    What unmitigated nonsense. While Tenant was undoubtedly the best Doctor so far, his relationship with Martha Jones was dysfunctional and you could tell neither actor was happy with it, and the ridiculous is-she-isn't-she tap dance with Donna Noble was simply frustrating. Matt Smith started the transition to showing us more of the Doctor's dark backstory and weight of it that he carries. Peter Capaldi bobbled his initial season, but recovered heroically and closed out his tenure with stunning *dramatic* acting chops that really demonstrated that the Doctor's jackanapes really are the tears of a clown. And there has never been as compelling a Doctor/Companion relationship as that between Capaldi and Clara Oswald. Period.

    The only reason any serious Doctor Who fan would wait to see the 11th season is because they are still catching up on the 10th. The unserious, with their juvenile inability to deal with nuanced emotional performances, are welcome to just stay away.
  • silberman1993
    One of the most uninformed articles about 'Dr. Who' (give me a break) I've ever read.
  • jumbopasatebos
    You do understand there is a new team with a new showrunner and a new direction though? I mean just wait and judge them on their own merit for good or bad but there is no indication that they will follow Moffat's steps. They have been brave enough to commit on creating exclusively new characters and new stories so at least let them do their thing.

    That and "Twice upon a time" was one of the best exit stories since "Caves of Androzani'
  • marko.luke.fsjoker96
    interesting read, I'm from the UK & seen the debut ep twice now &........ I hated it, reallly hated it, odie is just too - too much really, the sidekicks are annoying, the bbc never learns, it screwed up davros, the cybermen - thats the criminal thing most of all.

    I know star trek ruined the borg but they never made them look weak,humanised slightly yes but you always knew that they would turn but when would they I mean wooden cyebrmen????WTF, davros showing remorse??WTF.

    dr who is dead & buried now, whereas star trek has shown promise for the future, dr who has just become a joke.
  • marko.luke.fsjoker96
    just to add to last comment, I saw jodie in broadchurch was - saw 5 mintues & the maudlin whining gave the warning signs then, the bbc need to understand something that a woman screeching with a northan accent, sopeaking 1000 words per minute just gives you a headache, miss anderson o the xfiles doesn't need to do that & shes a strong female, linda hamilton didn't on T2, scarleet johansson doesn't - it shows a weak charect & story telling.

    also the sidekicks & just so usless & deadwood,the term sidekicks is the killer, I'm a bit hit & miss with marvel films etc but they do get the dyanmic better, its a team not 1 lead & sidekicks, the walking dea ddoes it better even though I beilieve andrew linclon leaving will kill of the series.

    one thing I will give to dr who this season though is the look is pleasing, its not jarring, the sfx look nautral, organic just a shame its wasted on a turd.
  • The Paladin
    Well every report is entitled to their opinion, personally been following Doctor Who since the last 70's and aside the over acting of Peter Capaldi. in the role, I disagree with the author of this article.
  • piratealice
    So I should give up on the show now, before it "goes bad"? Sorry, Bud, I've been watching it since I was a kid. I see no reason to give up on it now.
  • ffluvssg1
    We could go back through any era of Doctor Who and find standout stories among many clunkers. This show is as much a labor of love as it is a showcase for science fiction/fantasy storytelling. In the modern era, with one hour stories and the occasional multi-episode arc, we have to evaluate each on its merits. And if you say "Don't watch it yet" you are killing the ratings, which is irresponsible if you are a fan. How about "Watch and see what happens" rather than waiting for other people to tell you?