Let’s start with the biggest upsides. The story did not end by suggesting environmentalists were the real problem. It didn’t conclude that disabled people should use fewer straws. Indeed, politically it was basically ideal—a clear moral and ethical point that was the backdrop for an actual adventure instead of being sledgehammered in a “the moral of this story was” ending. And on top of that, it had well-defined characters and a coherent plot.
Obviously this is Stockholm Syndrome. Once again we are in the position of being pleasantly delighted that a story has come in at “vaguely competent” with a minimum of trauma. Even better, it’s done it three stories in a row, two of them rewritten by Chibnall. (Who has apparently managed the impressive feat of rewriting every person of color on staff this year, given next week’s credits.) This feels like a result, and while we know it shouldn’t, that’s where we are.
Nevertheless, it’s harder this week to really revel in an adequate job done more or less competently than it has been for the past two. Mostly this is down to small things. To do an extreme globe-hopping adventure in Doctor Who always feels a bit pointless—using the TARDIS as an airplane feels rather like bringing a Tissue Compression Eliminator to a knife fight. And as a result none of the locations really resonate—nothing feels like a distinct or coherent place. The (momentarily quite interesting) decision to fully split up the TARDIS crew evaporates quickly, and instead we just ping pong among locations with more vigor than coherence. The longstanding tendency of the new series’ acceleration to make Doctor Who’s genre-hopping into an exercise in reducing every genre to a Doctor Who story here becomes something far more insidious, where everywhere in the world ends up feeling like a diversity-minded portrayal of the United Kingdom.
Whittaker also feels particularly on autopilot here. McTighe and Chibnall end up writing her as a collection of tics, and Whittaker finds herself lost in it, left with nothing to do but do the same basic “I have part of a plan” joke on repeat in between outbursts of particularly bad technobabble. This becomes something of a masterclass in how not to do a female Doctor—there’s what feels like a conscious decision not to make her angry or troubling at any point, and so she’s left to talk about humanity poisoning itself with microplastics with a big enthusiastic “I love teaching science” grin on her face. It’s instructive to imagine how much the testiness of Capaldi’s Doctor would help here—how much the “we don’t have time to mourn” bit out of Mummy on the Orient Express could have smoothed over the “Gabriela fails to really be very upset about her best friend dying” plot, for instance, or even just how a Doctor who was actually furious at Suki’s actions could have better set up the effort and failure to work with her in the climax so that it didn’t feel perfunctory. (And let’s not even talk about doing the “martyr yourself piloting the vehicle on a suicide mission” trope in the wake of Clara’s hairtie bit in Flatline.)
It’s depressing to still be looking at six year old stories and saying “gods, remember when the show did things like this?” But in the wake of Chibnall’s neo-Sawardian bullshit, that’s apparently just where we are, left with little to do besides hope he moves on before he damages the ratings too badly. The apparent tailspin that Orphan 55 and Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror are in, where the show is limping to the same middling ratings as late Capaldi despite a nominally better timeslot while getting AIs among the worst in new series history suggests that can’t come soon enough.
Until then, here stands the modern equivalent of The King’s Demons: it wasn’t entirely embarrassing. Maybe if we’re lucky we can manage it again next week.
- At least we got Yaz doing things on her own, in a way that felt vaguely like character growth. All of the companions have a vague incoherence to them, but Yaz’s combination of “the most competent companion and the one the Doctor is emotionally closest to” and “the one who has gotten no character development” takes the cake. This does not actually do much in the way of fixing that, but it is nice to see a companion get a chance to be the Doctor again.
- I saw Jon Blum on Facebook comparing the split TARDIS team to the Virgin New Adventures, which is a fair cop—this has a superficial similarity, in particular, to Cartmel’s eco-thrillers. The comparison mostly exposes the difference between a novel and a fifty minute roller coaster, though.
- The effect where the Praxeus scale things engulf your body and then you turn into dust is pleasantly horrifying without actually being gruesome—in an era in which monster design has been a consistent weakness, this stands out, even if the actual concept is a pretty hazy sketch of an idea.
- It’s hard to feel better about last season’s casual slaughter of gay characters when this episode is so heavily built around teasing the audience that they’re going to bury the gays again. And this immediately after an episode where Jack kissing Graham is played for comedy. (And non-consensually at that, which attracted much less fuss than the one in The Crimson Horror for some reason.) Can we not just, you know, have a character who is gay and gets to do cool shit?
- In “facts that have changed in the time between my writing the main chunk of this review this morning and my finishing it up in the evening,” the final figures for Fugitive of the Judoon have dropped, and the show rebounded a bit with better catchup numbers to do appreciably better than the two stories before it. A rare win for Chibnall’s “reveal absolutely nothing about the story” strategy, albeit one that only works when you really do have a completely batshit reveal to drop.
- Reviews should be back to a faster schedule next week.
- Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror
- Fugitive of the Judoon
- Orphan 55
February 4, 2020 @ 5:04 am
I disagree, I think it’s great that doctor who is actually telling stories in different parts of the world, not just focused on London or the UK, moffat tried to change that later on in his run by moving the action to Bristol, but I like that we get to South America in the show since I don’t think we’ve been there since the Aztecs.
But I suppose that’s a consequence of more diverse writers, they want to set stories in more diverse locations, and especially now that the world is so globalised it does seem odd to have a soul focus on the UK constantly.
If there’s one thing that post Chibnel who should take on board, it’s the willingness to set stories outside of the UK.
February 4, 2020 @ 5:14 am
Oh, I’d love to see a story set in South America. Or one set in Africa. Or one set in Asia.
What I found pretty unsatisfying was one that tried to be all three at once and thus made all three feel more or less indistinguishable from last week’s Gloucester.
February 4, 2020 @ 9:55 am
Did we even have any confirmed Madagascan, Hong Kong or whatever the other country was characters? Certainly travel bloggers, researchers, and crashlanded astronauts are all groups of people with a decent chance of being from the West.
February 4, 2020 @ 12:10 pm
I got the impression that the guy who was left outside the lab to get attacked and killed by the birds, without a single thought given to him, was a local Madagascan…
February 4, 2020 @ 8:09 pm
Both Gabriela and Jamila were Brazilian. Gabriela obviously was, despite being played by a Portuguese actress, by she spoke Portuguese to Jamila.
February 4, 2020 @ 9:00 pm
Gabriela seemed strangely amazed that Britons wouldn’t know about their vlog, if it was for the Portuguese-speaking market…
February 5, 2020 @ 7:20 pm
But we saw they were recording in English and the name of the vlog is in English.
February 4, 2020 @ 8:10 pm
South America is in the West.
February 4, 2020 @ 5:29 am
“And this immediately after an episode where Jack kissing Graham is played for comedy. (And non-consensually at that, which attracted much less fuss than the one in The Crimson Horror for some reason.)”
Is this a joke? Or did I just drift into an MRA discussion of Why The SJWs Were Wrong About Moffat?
Roderick T. Long
February 4, 2020 @ 7:45 am
El does, sort of, think “the SJWs are wrong about Moffat,” but from a direction very much the opposite of an MRA approach — more a “Moffat is more SJW than you think” approach:
(I’m treating “SJW” as a usable term here for argument’s sake. But then I did just publish an article titled “Why Libertarians Should Be Social Justice Warriors”:
February 4, 2020 @ 8:32 am
Oh, I’m well aware of El’s stance. This is just a particularly bizarre swerve into it.
February 4, 2020 @ 9:15 am
Caring about men and their experience of sexual assault is not MRA bullshit.
February 4, 2020 @ 9:34 am
I hope it was caring and not scoring cheap points against a disliked group of fans…
February 4, 2020 @ 10:02 am
Yeah, look, as a male sexual assault survivor I’m more than well aware that what happened to me matters.
I would just hate for a fairly harmless and justified-in-story gag to be used to, jeez, I dunno, diminish my experience and trauma for a cheap shot against people who were uncomfortable with the way sexual assault was portrayed during Moffat’s tenure as showrunner.
February 4, 2020 @ 1:32 pm
If you don’t mind, I’d like to say that there is a major difference between Captain Jack and Graham and Eleven and Jenny:
Jack think he’s kissing the Doctor, who the last time they met, wasn’t against kissing him. Nine flirted with Jack as much as anyone, and Ten isn’t exactly unromantic.
Eleven kisses a woman who has never given him any reason to think she is into men, and who isn’t portrayed as being as close to. This is then followed up with an erection joke to make it clear it was sexual on the Doctor’s side.
Jack really, really, really should have checked if a) Graham was the Doctor, b) checked this Doctor was OK with kissing, and c) apologized a lot more afterwards.
It was a poor moment in the episode. But to act like accidentally kissing the wrong person is the same as deliberately kissing someone you have every reason to believe doesn’t want to be kissed by you isn’t the same.
February 9, 2020 @ 7:29 am
“c) apologized a lot more afterwards.”
Well, (a) there were gaps in the Capt. Jack scenes where Graham explained offscreen that he wasn’t the Doctor, so Jack might well have apologized then, and (b) I was rather pleased by the fact that Graham seemed to take the kiss completely in stride.
February 4, 2020 @ 5:32 am
Yaz had so much more to do in this than I’ve become accustomed to that I thought there was a surprise exit coming for her. I’m glad I was wrong, because she’s more interesting than the other two companions, and this era’s lazy enough that the exit would definitely have just been her death. (Although, some event of that magnitude that would have explained the Chibnall credit, which is otherwise baffling.)
February 4, 2020 @ 8:16 pm
My theory is that he wanted to write the introduction to the new companions…
February 7, 2020 @ 10:00 am
I thought so too! When she went to grab the alien device, I was SURE she was going to bite the dust. (Which tells you a lot about the Chibnall era).
February 4, 2020 @ 5:40 am
(Who has apparently managed the impressive feat of rewriting every person of color on staff this year, given next week’s credits.) Now, to be fair, Moffat and RTD managed the same feat, rewriting a full zero out of zero of theirs.
February 7, 2020 @ 9:43 am
“If I don’t hire any people of color, the internets can’t get mad at me for rewriting them!”
February 4, 2020 @ 7:10 am
I know a lot of commenters here are fans of Moffat, and I loved him as a storyteller, his abilities in that regard are unparalleled but the problem I had with Moffat the show runner and Davies as well for that matter, is they both relied on the same rotating cast of white men to write Doctor Who and Sherlock, though series 10 was a nice exception in that we were introduced to Sarah Dollard.
It’s the same problem I had with big finish, and where I agree with the Moffat critics.
If nothing else, Chibnel who has laid the foundations for a much more diverse writing cast in future and that can only be to the benefit of the show.
February 4, 2020 @ 7:36 am
Not that this diminishes your point, which I agree with, but Dollard wrote for the the show in series 9, not series 10, both of which also had episodes written by Catherine Treganna and Rona Munro (although granted, Treganna and Munro weren’t quite new to DW, Treganna having written for Torchwood, and Munro having written for Classic Who, so of your point was that Dollard was the only new non white male writer, my apologies). And you’re right, Chibnall’s definitely established much more diversity behind the camera (finally bringing non white writers into the show, for example) than any previous era
February 4, 2020 @ 9:45 am
Dollard wrote for both series 9 and 10: face the raven and thin ice.
February 5, 2020 @ 5:40 pm
Yes sorry, I meant to say “first wrote for the show in series 9”, apologies
February 4, 2020 @ 7:35 am
I know it’s not massively important in the scheme of things, but I think Jake and Adam are the best gay male representation the show has ever had. Plus, Adam gets to crash a space capsule and Jake kicks in a door and shoots a space gun.
February 4, 2020 @ 7:43 am
Agreed completely. Doctor Who’s first openly romantic mlm kiss is a genuine step forward for the show. I felt like snatching Jake and Adam from the jaws of certain death felt like Chibnall and McTighe recognising the show did have an unfortunate trend of killing off gay characters last season, and openly making it clear they’ll be putting more thought into rep going forward. Let’s be real, with Moffat, we’d be calling this narrative substitution.
February 4, 2020 @ 1:50 pm
Yeah agreed. The show made a genuine effort to try and have decent gay representation, nobody died, and in fact I’d argue that a gay characters did in fact get to “do cool shit”, what with one of them saving humanity by piloting the ship and all. And there was apology or hand-wringing – I was terrified the scene with Graham was going to turn into some ham-fisted variation of “we’re married but he won’t come out because he’s an astronaut” or something but no, it was just a genuine expression of insecurity in a couple but the couple happened to be gay not straight. There’s plenty to criticise about this era but we should be OK with praising when the show clearly acknowledged a problem which existed before and went ahead and did something better by learning from that mistake.
February 4, 2020 @ 1:52 pm
February 5, 2020 @ 5:54 am
And it hasn’t just been a problem in the Chibnall era. It’s been a problem throughout the whole new series, I think.
February 4, 2020 @ 8:26 am
“(And non-consensually at that, which attracted much less fuss than the one in The Crimson Horror for some reason.)”
Or Eleven kissing Rory in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. So it could be the minimising of sexual assault when it’s man on man.
It could also be because Captain Jack has a much bigger fanbase (or at least a smaller/quieter circle of critics). Their reaction when it’s brought up seems remarkably similar to fans of Eleventh Doctor, i.e. finding justifications for why it wasn’t so bad.
February 4, 2020 @ 9:50 am
Regarding the Captain Jack Graham kiss, on the whole I think it’s a good thing that it wasn’t criticised in the story because there is a malicious stereotype that gay men are more likely to sexually assault straight men and children, and having Graham the titular white straight mail fan favourite character reacts negatively would have certainly been unfortunate in that context.
Plus there are all sorts of nasty stereotypes floating around about gay men secretly wanting to sleep with straight men and deceive them.
And despite what anyone says, a man nonconsensually kissing a woman has very different valences and connotations in modern society due to the way women have been historically treated by men and society and even in the current day, rape culture.
February 4, 2020 @ 9:54 am
I think non-consensual kissing, especially played for laughs, simply has no place in a story like Doctor Who.
February 4, 2020 @ 11:31 am
Jack kissing people non-consensually isn’t the same sort of problem as the Doctor doing it, because I think Jack is a morally ambiguous character (although I’ve only watched about two episodes of Torchwood so I might be behind on something,) whereas the Doctor is the character blessed by the narrative to save the world over and over again, so they have to be more or less heroic.
It isn’t very funny though.
The Chibnall era’s love of police officers continues.
February 7, 2020 @ 9:48 am
And yet Yaz gets no love whatsoever.
February 4, 2020 @ 3:30 pm
I think a long time ago El made a distinction between “reactive” Doctors (Troughton et al) and “active” Doctors (Pertwee, Baker, etc). The point that Whittaker is floundering in this episode drives home something I’ve been thinking about – Chibnall often writes 13 as a Doctor in the active mold who gives long expository speeches and improvises her way out of any situation through sheer charisma. However, Whittaker is much more comfortable and much better when she’s being put on the back foot – when she’s completely taken aback at the existence of the Ruth Doctor, I think that’s the best acting she’s done in the show thus far. To use some old Eruditorum terminology, she should be allowed to flit about mercurially, when instead she’s expected to fill the screen a la Tom Baker or David Tennant.
February 4, 2020 @ 7:54 pm
As someone once said about the 10th Doctor, “it really would help if there wasn’t some skinny idiot ranting in my face about every single thing that happens to be in front of him”.
Except that this description of 10 was a caricature. The 13th is taken to the extreme, and really is mostly written as if she has absolutely no interior monologue whatsover. It must be very difficult to perform in this mode.
February 9, 2020 @ 7:36 am
Relatedly, is it just me or is Whitaker being saddled with more gratuitous and pointless technobabble than prior Doctors. It particularly jumped out at me in Fugitive of the Judoon where she went on a tear explaining how she was going to some special effort to land the TARDIS, something that played absolutely no role in the narrative.
February 10, 2020 @ 9:02 am
I don’t think it’s more gratuitous and pointless than Tennant’s technobabble got at times. But Tennant also had scenes of being charming and fun…
February 7, 2020 @ 9:51 am
This is a very good observation. I think part of the reason why Rosa worked so well was because the Doctor got to be on the back foot.
February 4, 2020 @ 5:10 pm
Are you sure cowriting credits with Chibnall imply that he “rewrote” the script, necessarily? Couldn’t it be the reverse — Chibnall writing a synopsis, or even a detailed brief, and asking the guest writer to script it out? Or just an actual back-and-forth collaboration?
February 5, 2020 @ 11:54 am
According to the DWM preview for the episode, McTinghe and Chibnall met in the middle of nowhere for a week in order to hammer out everything that’d happen in the episode, then Chibnall left McTinghe to actually write it up before doing his usual showrunner edits at the end of the process. So in this case, “Written by Pete McTinghe and Chris Chibnall” seems to mean “Teleplay by Pete McTinghe, Story by Pete McTinghe and Chris Chibnall”. (I also imagine this is the case with his co-writing credit on “Rosa” given how few of his personal ticks are actually visible in that episode’s script.)
On the other hand, quite a few people have noted how little the Captain Jack scenes in “Fugitive of the Judoon” tie into the rest of the episode, giving most the impression that Patel wrote the vast majority of the episode while Chibnall provided the Jack scenes. So a Chibnall co-writing credit seems to mean different things depending on the episode, up to and including straight rewriting bits of the script, though I don’t think it necessarily means rewriting has occurred. (And then again, please note that rewriting bits of each script is part of the showrunner job description anyway – if he’s doing his job, there should be little bits of every episode technically written by him.)
Of course, none of this actually negates the somewhat iffy look that comes with him sharing credit with every single POC writer on his staff while only doing that with one white writer, but still.
February 6, 2020 @ 1:39 pm
Russel T Davies has stated in “The Writer’s Tale” that he wished he had put a co-writer credit on lots more of his era’s programs. He would definitely have a cause given how much his scripts were criticized at the time. Maybe Chibnall has the same issues? It is clear from the Writer’s Tale that most writers have a lot of problems writing for the style of the program and that the chief writer has to do a lot of rewriting even if the story line is original and good.
February 4, 2020 @ 8:07 pm
I have the distinct impression that Jake, Alan, and Gabriela were being groomed as new companions by Chibnall. There was A LOT of focus on them, their personality, and how the reacted to sci-fi stuff. I say, they can’t come back soon enough.
February 4, 2020 @ 8:55 pm
Could just be a return to the classic Who trope of teaming up with a possible new companion only to wave them cheerily goodbye at the end of the adventure. Worked better when companions actually would join and leave at random at any point, even mid-season, of course.
February 7, 2020 @ 9:54 am
Gabriela and Adam had personalities?
February 9, 2020 @ 7:38 am
Of course they did. Gabriela was black and Adam was gay.
February 10, 2020 @ 8:59 am
Darling, those were genders.
February 4, 2020 @ 8:18 pm
I thought this was a jolly episode. Some nicely scary bits, stuff for the companions to do, sane politics, didn’t make a lot of sense probably on close inspection but barreled along nicely regardless. Not one of the all-time great episodes but Chibnall can be commended for at least moving fairly steadily away from the direction of all-time stinkers. I’m impressed that he got his writers to mix up the style of episode they would be writing too, with fairly good results. This was better than most episodes of recent Moffat seasons, for me.
February 6, 2020 @ 10:16 am
There was a bland competence to this episode that really reminded me of early S11. There was nothing horrifically awful, but also nothing particularly great. No weird/incongruent ideas, no genre mashups, little humour and no alchemy. I was surprised, as I found Kerblam! to be pretty creative and vivid, up until it went completely insane at the end. I was less surprised when I discovered that Chibnall had a co-writer credit on this.
This might be the ultimate 5/10 episode – adequate, but little else. In my ever-updating spreadsheet of ranked Doctor Who stories, it comes in as the 116th-best story of New Who, right between Time Heist and Night Terrors – which might tell you all you need to know.
February 7, 2020 @ 9:34 am
It’s actually kind of fascinating to personally experience the new “DW is shit” era. I’ve always wondered how it must’ve felt back in the 80s, to watch the show you love slowly sink lower and lower. Well, now I know. Not pleasant, but instructive.
“Praxeus” was surprisingly forgettable. I hated the ending of “Kerblam!” but at least there were interesting ideas in play there. Here it’s just “things move forward until they don’t”. And I can’t shake the feeling that the episode would’ve worked much better as an Auton story.
“This becomes something of a masterclass in how not to do a female Doctor—there’s what feels like a conscious decision not to make her angry or troubling at any point, and so she’s left to talk about humanity poisoning itself with microplastics with a big enthusiastic “I love teaching science” grin on her face.”
Yeah. Whittaker keeps reminding me of Tennant on autopilot – making faces, moving about, spouting exposition with way too much enthusiasm. But at least Ten was allowed to get angry, sad and scared. Whittaker’s Doctor always feels to me like she’s vaguely uncomfortable. Like she only reacts to things because she thinks she should and not because she actually feels the emotion.
Also agreed about Yaz. It’s one thing that the companions are barely sketched, but ever since Ryan and Graham got over their personal conflict there has been no character relationships aboard the TARDIS whatsoever. What does Graham think about Yaz? What does Yaz think about Ryan? I have more developed relationships with randos at work who don’t know the first thing about me…
The Vacuum of Comments
November 1, 2021 @ 3:59 pm
“non-consensually at that, which attracted much less fuss than the one in The Crimson Horror for some reason.”
Jack thought Graham was the Dr– someone who Jack knows is okay with being kissed by him (9 didn’t object in Parting of the Ways). Whereas 11 knew who Jenny was and knew that she probably wouldn’t want to be kissed cause she’s married and not into men. That comparison doesn’t really hold up.