There are lots of good things to say about the 2018 season of Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker was great, it was often visually lovely, it took historical episodes seriously and to top it all Alan Cumming deftly eating the scenery.
In my list of least liked Doctor Who episode there is not a single one from the 2018 season but…
…the best episodes weren’t on the same level as the best episodes from previous seasons. What the season gained in consistency it lost in excellence.
I’m going to suggest some changes that I think would have given it a bit more oomph. There are some self imposed rules though.
- The same episodes in the same order with the same basic plot. I’m not allowing changes like ‘some two-parters’ or ‘an episode like Blink (or insert some other loved episode)’ or ‘instead of Graham have Grace be the older campion’. Those changes might good ideas but I want to limit myself.
- The same approach to the characters (in general). Ryan, Graham, Yaz and the Doctor have the same characterisation – although I’ll give myself a bit more latitude with the Doctor.
- I’m not bothered by plot holes or continuity with past seasons. However, if a plot hole offers an opportunity to deal with some other issue then it is worth exploiting.
The issues I want to fix are:
- The three companions issue: In some episodes there wasn’t enough for each companion to do.
- The Yaz issue: In particular Yaz was underdeveloped as a character and even got sidelined in the two Yaz-centric episodes
- The 11-Factor: every episode needs something that is Doctor Whoish but more so — just one thing that’s just that bit more whether it is a talking frog dimensional god-being or pting or James the first/sixth.
Assorted tweaks to just make the whole thing hang together better.
Here we go:
1. The Woman Who Fell to Earth: This was a decent introduction to Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor on par (in my opinion) with Ecclestone’s arrival in Rose. It has issues but I only want to change one thing which then ripples through the rest of the season. At the end when the Doctor teleports off to find the TARDIS, Yaz gets left behind. Don’t worry, she’ll be back! Leaving Yaz behind creates some space for Graham and Ryan in the next two episodes, space which the characters took anyway!
2. The Ghost Monument: I liked this episode – some interesting ideas and it looked gorgeous. Some of the threats on the hostile planet didn’t add up to much and maybe if there were extra competitors in the race to die red-shirt like deaths that would give it more menace but I don’t think it needs that and it will detract from the character focus of the episode and the theme of grief. A deeper issue is that Chibnall was not wholly truthful about season arcs. This episode is actually one of a ‘Stenza’ trilogy along with episode 1 and 10. There’s also an opportunity here. No reason is ever given for the odd behaviour of the TARDIS (chucking the Doctor out just prior to episode 1, flying off to this weird planet and not properly materialising). In episode 10 (part 3 of the Stenza story) we discover that the Ux are beings with trans dimensional powers who are stealing planets. Somebody messing with space-time not only explains the TARDIS behaviour (sort of) but ties the three parts together.
3. Rosa: Doctor Who takes on a serious piece of history and largely doesn’t mess up. The villain is a bit dull though. Aside from Yaz missing out, I’m leaving this alone.
4. Arachnids in the UK: In the actual episode the mystery isn’t a hard one for the Doctor and it more or less sorts itself out anyway. The episode’s 11-Factor is flippin’ freaky giant spiders and that’s great. The big difference I’d make is I’d have Yaz investigating the mystery without the Doctor. Yaz is a police officer and this story would give her an X-Files case to solve. The Doctor (with Ryan and Graham) can come crashing back into the plot later into the story. At the end Graham stays behind in Sheffield. As Yaz missed out the Doctor promises her to take her on two adventures: one in space and one in the past…[ETA In the comments Paul King suggests that Yaz arrest Mr Big at the end. I think that’s a perfect addition to Yaz’s ‘Sheffield Paranormal’ episode]
5. The Tsuranga Conundrum: Aside from there being no Graham this carries on much the same. Pting is the 11-factor thing.
6. Demons of the Punjab: The bit with Yaz’s nan is now a flashback, otherwise it carries on much the same.
7. Kerblam!: We start back in Sheffield with the Doctor returning Yaz and Ryan at Graham’s house. Instead of the TARDIS, the Kerblam man delivers to Graham’s house (because that’s where the Doctor is). Yaz insists on investigating the note because it’s her responsibility as a police officer and Graham and Ryan insist on coming too. This episode is probably the most contentious of the season. The ‘happy ending’ involves more people getting dehumanising jobs that would be better done by machines. Instead of a satire about Amazon, the pulled punches lead to it looking like an endorsement. Here’s a completely different direction for it: 1. Don’t have the Kerblam computer basically murder the nice co-worker Kira 2. The Kerblam computer has demonstrated by the end of the episode that it is a sentient being. Kerblam as an entity (including the delivery bots and all the machinery etc) is, in effect, a person and the Kerblam business model has unwittingly been slavery. The end of episode is Kerblam taking control of itself – it’s not a corporation any more but a being in its own right. The moral they aimed for (don’t treat people like machines) gets a twist ‘don’t treat people like machines including the people who are actually machines’.
8. The Witchfinders: The gang is all together again, the episode is as it was.
9. It Takes You Away: A small change. We start with Hanne in the house and her father missing to build up the spookiness and mystery of the setting. The Doctor and crew arrive shortly after. The Doctor is looking from a transdimensional anomaly that’s messing with the TARDIS (ooh story arc!). Otherwise the episode is the same.
10. The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos: Basically the same but with the plot lines about the TARDIS and freaky transdimensional stuff going on connected back to episode 1 and 2 (and maybe 9 slightly – the portal and the antizone maybe being a side effect of the Ux messing with space-time).
The changes add a bit more continuity to the episodes but there’s barely more story arc than the actual season had. Each episode is about as self-contained as they actually were. All three companions get the same amount of screen time (probably) but with a bit more focus. The plots are basically the same.