In a dramatic build up of excitement and suspense over one weekend in July this year, we found out that Peter Capaldi’s successor as The Doctor is to be none other than Jodie Whittaker. It seems not so long ago now that we heard Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch), the writer set to take over from Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat, wants to wipe the slate clean when he comes to the show. Personally, this is music to my ears. Russel T. Davis’ departure from the show in 2010 was heartbreaking, and whilst Steven Moffat has by no means done a bad job, the show has never been the same.
I find that Capaldi’s potential as the Doctor was hugely exciting, but due to poor writing and characterisation, he hasn’t met expectation. He’s had his good moments, notably his anti-war speech in The Zygon Inversion that was all too relevant in contemporary society, thus striking many chords. Unfortunately though, it feels as if these days, fans like myself (having enjoyed the days of Eccleston and Tennant) have to take every episode with a fistful (not a pinch) of salt.
With series 9, Moffat certainly picked up the quality somewhat after the disappointing series 8, but it was still fundamentally let down by the choices Moffat made when he took Capaldi on. Whilst series 10 offered a refreshing new look into the show, thanks to newcomer Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie), it was still held back by those same writing habits that caused some series to flop.
However you view Moffat’s run on the show, with him making an exit, we can look to series 11 for hope of a fresh start. Here are 8 things we expect to see.
8. Kick-ass Companion.
We’ve seen many companions come and go since the revival of the show in 2005, and we all have our favourites. When you think about it, each companion helped and developed the Doctor in their different ways.
Almost all the companions were genuine, and didn’t ever try to be something they weren’t. They all used their wit, bravery and heart to give the Doctor what he was missing (and help fight evil). But what we’ve seen with Clara is her trying to be as powerful and amazing as the Doctor, which, for me, just hasn’t worked. The Doctor and his companions have both had their brilliance but always in different ways. The minute the companion tries to be the same as the Doctor (which Clara does on many occasions), he loses his value, and it diminishes the whole ‘oncoming storm’ thing. It felt as if Clara made herself far too important, far too quickly.
What we need to see with series 11 is another companion who, in their sheer disbelief of what they are discovering of the universe, manages to apply their own logic and approach to all the situations the Doctor finds himself in. The Doctor is incredible, unbelievable and quite simply, fantastic (see what I did there?). But he’s not perfect – and the point of the companion role is that the Doctor needs those human qualities, which he lacks, to do the right thing in each situation. Thanks to Donna pointing it out to us in Partners in Crime, we saw how Martha had done good for the Tenth Doctor, and helped him to learn mercy.
7. Creative Monsters.
Of course, Doctor Who wouldn’t be Doctor Who without the Daleks or the Cybermen, but there comes a time when we should all (especially Moffat) remember that there are more monsters in the ‘Whoniverse’ than those two. The creativity of the writing shouldn’t decrease just because there’s lots of old material to work with. I’m not saying Moffat hasn’t created new monsters, because of course he has, let’s all remember he’s the brain behind the unspeakably terrifying Weeping Angels.
We need more monsters like this, with interesting evolutionary capabilities that bring a new challenge to the Doctor. Writing monsters which are just hungry, predatory, beastly creatures isn’t really going to cut it anymore. To make a monster scary, or an episode entertaining, it needs more than just three rows of sharp teeth.
The Mire (series 9), for example, were yet another warrior race just as innovative as the last – as if we haven’t seen enough. Caretaker (series 8) featured the Skovox Blitzer, ‘one of the deadliest killing machines ever created’ according to the Doctor… though it didn’t fire more than one accurate shot throughout the whole episode.
Stephen Moffat has a frustrating habit of overusing monsters. In series 10’s The Pilot, the Doctor and Bill pointlessly run through a Dalek battle, with not much regard to the danger they’re in. I have to say I feel even the Cybermen seemed to be sidelined in this year’s finale, and didn’t seem at all threatening.
Moffat has therefore diminished the danger and terror of the Daleks. Think back to series 1, with Russel T. Davis’ Dalek; one single Dalek massacred an entire facility and you felt was desperately unstoppable. Moffat’s strange, annoying and pointless character Strax, and other embarrassing appearances of Sontarans in his era has made the Sontarans nothing more than comic relief. A stark contrast to Series 4’s brilliant The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky which saw the Sontarans rain chaos upon the Earth.
What Doctor Who needs is a sudden surge of electric current to the chest which would ignite a fire of creativity within its writing team. I believe Chris Chibnall can bring this around.
6. Fast-paced Title Sequence.
When Moffat took over from Russel T. Davis in 2010, somehow the thought didn’t occur to me that the title sequence and opening theme would change so much. Initially, I hated it, but I soon came to tolerate it, and eventually liked it. Change is never easy, but it wasn’t a drastic change, which made it easier to swallow. The sequence still was upbeat and retained the sense of urgency that series 1-4 had nailed. Every episode, no matter how seemingly boring (rare as that was), was made more exciting when the opening theme hit.
Then series 7 part 2 happened. I honestly find it hard to articulate how I feel about series 7 part 2’s title sequence, so perhaps it’s best for me to just shake my head and say ‘no’. What’s happened to the time vortex? I can see they wanted to nod back to the classic Doctor Who era, where the title sequence would show the Doctor’s face, but I don’t see that as enough of a reason to destroy what was quite suitable as a title sequence. They also changed the music to be far more synthesised and along with the unimpressive graphics, it seemed evident that they were on a tight budget. Considering it was leading up to the feature length 50th Anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, that’s understandable, but it seemed a shame to sacrifice the title sequence (though series 7 part 2 wasn’t very impressive anyway).
Series 8 saw the title sequence get only worse and more embarrassing. It needs to change. Chris Chibnall should have this near the top of his list of things to sort out.
5. Mind-blowing Music
The music of Doctor Who, since 2005 at least, has been a feature of which the show can be immensely proud. Composer Murray Gold has been with the show since its revival, and has done such a stunning job, the show has even merited its own annual night at the proms.
Unfortunately, as with the overall quality of the show, the music has worsened in recent years. It has to be noted that Murray Gold is a fantastic composer, and without the show wouldn’t be what it is. But the issue is that he has been recording a considerable amount of recent series’ soundtracks using synthesized sounds over orchestral sounds, which just brings the whole thing down. David Tennant’s years saw some of the best music, which peaked at Matt Smith’s second series. Again, it’s evident that the limited budget is causing even Doctor Who’s golden composer to be constrained. The impact of the orchestra always added an upbeat flare to the action sequences, and accompanied the catastrophically sad moments (and there are oh so many) so perfectly. It’s sad to see that deteriorate – in the title sequence at least. So yeah, Chris, beat Murray Gold back into shape.
4. Build a Roster
Russel T. Davis was just about the best thing to happen to Doctor Who. That is, besides its creators. Davis revived the show in such an engaging way, and with Rose as the audience’s gateway into the story (and program) – because a lot of viewers knew as much as Rose did about the Doctor.
What he also did was build up a roster of many different characters, who eventually ended up all converging together in the action in what was one of the most thrilling, incredible, action-packed finales to a show – and gained its highest viewership since the Tom Baker era because of that. Davis brought back characters he’d introduced (or re-introduced) in series 1-4 such as Captain Jack, Sarah Jane Smith, Micky Smith, Jackie Tyler and of course, all of David Tennant’s companions returned to join the Doctor and Donna.
This is something we lost when Steven Moffat decided to erase all of history in only his first series. Moffat’s character roster now only includes Amy, Rory and River Song (along with some uninteresting, where-did-they-even-come-from characters – Strax, Madame Vastra and Jenny).
Michelle Gomez’s Missy has gone only from strength to strength as the actress has continued to play her. The dynamic of Missy, The Doctor and his companions has been great. The response to Bill this series has been hugely positive, so Chris Chibnall could always consider bringing her back. However… and this is a massive however, I cannot get on board with whatever and whoever Matt Lucas’ Nardole was supposed to be.
Nardole was annoying but tolerable in The Husbands of River Song, but his return in series 10 was completely unnecessary. He barely added anything to the plot and it seemed quite clear, after Matt Lucas proudly pointed out in an interview, that Moffat allowed Matt Lucas’ character to return after Lucas kept asking. Moffat needed to know when to leave a character alone.
Chris Chibnall should a) build his own roster of characters, continue to give them appearances and b) use existing characters (such as Captain Jack) who seem to have fallen from the face of Doctor Who’s Earth.
3. Down to Earth
What Moffat seemed to do all too much was write stories in every series which dealt with the potential ‘end of the Universe’ or a threat that was ‘the most dangerous in the Universe’, and they even travelled to the very end of the Universe at least three times – it gets a bit tiring. Moffat’s story arcs were becoming more and more implausible (though when talking about time travel or creatures made of your own fat, plausibility isn’t in question).
There’s something captivating about seeing your contemporary society invaded by these very supernatural creatures, and watching your heroes come to the rescue to save it. Slitheens taking Parliament, for example. Russel T. Davis managed to keep his stories fairly grounded and retain audience interest. This helped made the series 4 finale all the more exciting – because it was the first time the Doctor faced the end of the Universe (of reality itself – to be exact). Whilst that was far-fetched, it was a finale, and Russel T. Davis’ final series finale at that, so of course he was going to go out with a bang.
Besides that, Davis endeavoured to create stories which dealt with drama at home – on Earth, where Rose, Martha and Donna’s families were at risk. The Doctor’s life was encroaching into the companion’s. Davis’ series appeared to adhere to a structure, with a certain number of episodes in each series set in the future, elsewhere in space, in the past and at home.This ensured full coverage of the whole ‘all of time and space’ situation. Chris… take note.
2. Hide-behind-the-sofa Scary
Doctor Who, and I’m talking since it’s very very first episode, is renowned for its ability to send viewers behind their sofas. Whether it’s the Daleks, the Zygons, the Sontarans, or most recently the Weeping Angels, the show would rarely disappoint. The action has become somewhat of a metaphor for the scariness of the show’s monsters and concepts – though many Mum’s and Dad’s will assure you they actually did hide behind the sofa.
I personally was haunted as a child by the possessed Toby Zed in The Impossible Planet who was riddled with mysterious black symbols, with beaming red eyes. It was particularly scary when Doctor Who’s monsters were uncontrollable. Far too much these days, a good monster is ruined by its in fact good nature, which enables the Doctor to reason with it. As a plot device alone that’s all too predictable and boring.
In terms of direction as well as writing, Doctor Who’s aliens and monsters don’t have to even be visually terrifying. Midnight, argued by many fans as one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes ever, featured a completely unexplained, unseen and utterly freaky monster, causing the Doctor (and us) a fair amount of trauma.
We need to see more monsters who actually induce fear in the audience’s entertainment-craving hearts.
1. The Doctor
Finally, I come to the most important feature of the show. The Doctor. In my opinion, the Doctor has lost many things in recent series. Admittedly, it may seem that I’m using Steven Moffat as a scapegoat here but realistically, as the showrunner, everything comes down to him.
Peter Capaldi, as I mentioned, had huge potential as the Doctor. Some of his work equipped him with a history of anger and feistiness, which he could easily have brought to this role. An angry Scottish-man, whose mere stare would cause even a Dalek to back away. Who wouldn’t love that?
Moffat, however, chose to go a completely different direction. He made the Doctor, to put it frankly, a bit of a wimp. Unlike both Eccleston and Tennant’s Doctors, even Smith’s to some extent, Capaldi’s doesn’t convey a sense of control in any situation. What’s more, he spent the whole of his first series (and series 9 to some extent) discovering what kind of Doctor he was, where all the others managed it pretty quickly. In series 9’s Sleep No More, the Doctor actually held Clara’s hand because he was afraid of what was lurking in the dark. I mean… what?! Since when was the Doctor scared? Of the dark?
Capaldi has come into his own far more in series 10, but really it’s a huge shame that it’s taken him so long. I can’t wait to see what Jodie Whittaker will do with the Doctor, and I have every faith in it being brilliant.
Despite his good moments, Moffat has dragged Doctor Who through the dirt, and it’s not in a good place. I will always watch it because, no matter what, I love it. That’s also why, as a childhood (and existing) fan, it brings a lump to my throat to watch it die. So if there’s anything Chris Chibnall needs to do, it is simply to save Doctor Who.
Moffat can go out with a bang this Christmas, in an episode of the kind he is good at writing. The notion of Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall pioneering this new age of Doctor Who is infinitely exciting, and what the show has always been about is change. This is change, and not a moment too soon.
We won’t see Chris Chibnall’s series 11 until 2018. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor will debut in this year’s Christmas special, Twice Upon a Time.