I only started watching Doctor Who last year. The BBC kindly put all of the ‘new’ episodes (that is, from 2005 onwards) on their catch-up service, iPlayer. This was obviously to drum up more interest and gain new fans for the 11th series. Well, it worked. I watched all of it and realised that I’d been missing out! I’d thought of Doctor Who as just a show for kids, but I was wrong. It’s funny, dark, complex, fascinating, tense and warm-hearted.
I’m not going to even attempt to summarise the storylines of Doctor Who. However, if you haven’t watched it before, let’s say it’s basically about a character called The Doctor, who is a Time Lord (a type of alien who looks human). He or she regenerates every so often, extending his or her life. The Doctor travels in a spaceship called the TARDIS, usually with at least one assistant, saving the Universe from various catastrophes. So here are my perspectives on the programme.
Every fan has their favourite Doctor. I like how each actor makes the character of the Doctor their own, while keeping the essential traits. My favourite is Peter Capaldi (pictured above), who seemed gruff and unpromising at first, but he developed a cool rockstar persona with a caring grandfatherly side. My second favourite is Christopher Eccleston, who was only there for the first series. David Tennant is one of the most popular, and although he was excellent, he did tend to over-act, which I’m sure was intentional as part of his energetic character.
The assistants are either annoying or wonderful. I found Amy (Matt Smith’s companion) to be irritating but to be fair she didn’t have a great role, often playing the damsel in distress needing to be rescued. Amy’s boyfriend Rory is one of my favourite assistants and I didn’t like how she took his love for granted. The best assistants in my opinion are Bill (chip-server turned science student and companion to Peter Capaldi) and Donna (played by Catherine Tate – she and David Tennant make a hilarious duo). Oh, and Nardole (Matt Lucas). There’s also the brilliant Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), who’s a category by himself. I noted a worrying trend in some series of a female assistant slapping the male Doctor – it’s not acceptable even for comedy purposes.
The plots are better in the earlier series. Each episode seems fresh and exciting. Later on, there are too many similar plots which take place somewhere which is going to explode shortly and only the Doctor’s ingenious use of various technologies will save the day. Conversely, the early Christmas specials are not great, but they improve in later series. There are some really fantastic plots. However, I’m not keen on the very complicated plots which extend over two episodes and end with a confusing battle.
The scariest monsters are those based upon, or disguised as, humans. The Master (the Doctor’s arch enemy and fellow Time Lord) is always hearing the Drums which signal his mad and evil plans. The violent Slitheen fit their reptilian bodies inside people’s skins, ideally those of politicians. The Weeping Angels look like dignified stone figures, until the lights go out. And then there are the Cybermen, metallic humans with their inefficient emotions removed and an urge to ‘upgrade’ everyone to be like them.
Series 11 is my least favourite. I love Jodie Whittaker as the latest Doctor. I love her companions, Yaz, Ryan and Graham. I love that the series is set in Sheffield. The history-themed episodes have been interesting and thought-provoking. But – unpopular opinion alert! – generally the rest of it is disappointing. I think the writers are trying to get back to basics in an attempt to appeal to a younger audience. The simplified storylines and pointing-out-the-obvious dialogues are patronising and dull. There’s little continuity with previous series and I was actually missing the Daleks. Whenever something bad was happening, it turned out to be not bad after all (aliens doing good) or else humans were behind it. A commendable message but quite depressing and dissatisfying to watch.
Here are my favourite episodes, representing every series (without major spoilers):
1:12. The Long Game. The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack find themselves back on Satellite Five, 100 years on from the events of episode 7. They have to fight their way out of deadly reality TV show parodies before finding out who brought the Doctor there. This episode is both hilarious and horrifying. Watch it to see a naked John Barrowman, if nothing else.
2:4. The Girl in the Fireplace. Why is a spaceship in the 51st century linked to 18th century France? Who are the menacing clockwork figures? And has the Doctor found true love? This brilliant and bittersweet episode is centred on Madame de Pompadour, the influential mistress of King Louis XV. She’s played wonderfully by Sophia Myles.
3:10. Blink. Starring Carey Mulligan, this clever and frightening episode introduces the Weeping Angels. Disguised as statues, they move when you blink and they feed on time energy. Urban explorer Sally Sparrow finds warnings left for her in a creepy old house with statues in the garden. Unfortunately the Doctor is stuck in the past, but he has left clues to defeating the Angels.
4:8. Silence in the Library and 4:9. Forest of the Dead. The Doctor and Donna are on a library planet which appears to be deserted. Where have the people gone? And why are the shadows creeping? This is a suspenseful and emotionally involved double episode which includes a favourite theme – reality versus dreams. It’s also memorable for the first appearance of River Song, a time-travelling archaeologist who knows the Doctor, but he has never met her before…
5:7. Amy’s Choice. Amy and Rory are married, settled in a quiet village and expecting a baby, when the Doctor pays them a visit. Or are they still on the TARDIS? In each world there are deadly situations to face, but which world is the dream and which is reality? And who is the Dream Lord? This episode keeps you guessing and also develops Amy and Rory’s relationship, helping her to realise her feelings for him.
6:4. The Doctor’s Wife. Lured to a sentient asteroid which eats TARDISes and uses time travellers as spare parts for its assistants, the Doctor finds the soul of his own TARDIS placed into a woman while the asteroid takes over the machine. A great performance by Suranne Jones. This episode is also notably written by Neil Gaiman.
7:1. Asylum of the Daleks. In this excellent start to the series, the Doctor, Amy and Rory are kidnapped and sent to the Asylum. Not only are there insane Daleks lurking; the very atmosphere of the planet turns humans into Daleks. There’s also Oswin, a flirtatious genius who was shipwrecked and is resisting the Daleks… but where does she get the milk for her soufflés?
8.6. The Caretaker. There’s a killer robot on the loose in the school where Clara works as a teacher. Disguised as an unconvincing school janitor, the Doctor investigates. Clara’s two roles – teacher and time traveller – start to collide. This episode is about learning from your mistakes and I like how the tension between Clara and Danny (lover and a fellow teacher) is resolved.
9:11. Heaven Sent. The grieving Doctor is trapped in a sinister castle far into the future. Endlessly pursued by a shuffling creature, he tries to find a way to escape alive. What is he running from? Why are there so many skulls? And who has left the cryptic clues? This is a powerful, thought-provoking and memorable episode.
10:2. Smile. The Doctor and Bill visit a planet where the language is emoji, spoken by seemingly cute robots. But where are all the people? And what happens if you stop smiling? This self-contained episode has some interesting concepts and also showcases the friendship between Bill and the Doctor.
11:7. Kerblam! The Doctor, Yaz, Graham and Ryan visit a warehouse moon to find out why a cry for help was printed on a delivery slip. The scary robots who supervise the human workers must be up to something, right? This twisty episode explores the impact of automation, with robots taking over jobs. Kerblam! is obviously a parody of Amazon, which I daresay will one day be the size of a planet.
All images taken from BBC iPlayer, © BBC 2019.