Your Humble Blogger is a Whovian, for better or worse. I’ve written about the show a few times, more hatchet jobs than puff pieces, and I feel like I should write for the record that I am really enjoying the new season. I had meant to write about the first episode in detail, and perhaps by the time this note is over, I will have, but I had meant to write it before the second episode came out, and that seems very unlikely* now. On the plus side, I really enjoyed the second episode, possibly even more than the first, so as long as I complete this note in the next few days, I will not have to temper my enthusiasm at all. If you have not been watching the show and are considering starting or re-starting, it seems to be a pretty good time to do it.
Here follow spoilers and overthinking and analysis and opinion and whatnot. I think I’ll break it down by notional topic, but it might well get rambly. I have Thoughts.
Sources of Viewer Pleasure (for YHB):
Subset: pacing. The first episode had a lot to do, and cleverly didn’t attempt to do all of it. It didn’t introduce the Tardis or time travel at all, settling for the Doctor being an alien space traveler, and leaving the time stuff and the police box and dimensional engineering for later. It did introduce the Doctor (in her new regeneration) and three companions, as well as a new race of baddies and a great, great one-off character as well. It didn’t feel rushed to me (at an hour, which is I think a bit longer than the rest of this season’s episodes will be) and it looked fantastic. The second episode also felt well-paced to me. They didn’t choose to do more explaining at this stage—the Doctor dumped the gang in to a random space-plot and then got them out of it, with the Tardis at the end as the escape hatch. They mention time-travel in passing but don’t slow down the story to go into any detail. Two episodes in, there’s no mention of Time Lords or Gallifrey, because we’ve been too busy trying to survive. I like that.
Subset: companions. I like ’em. I feel like Yaz has been shortchanged, but it’s early yet. I like Ryan a lot, and I will eventually stop calling him Clyde, because he’s nothing at all like Clyde from the Sarah Jane Adventures, but he’s just a little bit like Clyde and I would have enjoyed a grown-up Clyde as a proper companion. And Graham is just on the line of being more irritating than pleasurable, but on the correct side of that line so far for me. The actor playing Graham (Bradley Walsh) is clearly terrific, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll like his character. I like how practical Graham and Clyde are, and I like Yaz’ ambition and brains—I hope they’ll all get used well. The dynamic between them seems sustainable, too: Graham’s avuncular (if exasperated) affection for his step-grandchild, Ryan’s resentment of and grudging respect for Graham, Yaz’ obvious fondness for Ryan and his wariness about her. We’ll see, but so far, so good.
Subset: ridiculous plots. Oh, yeah. That’s my show. Both shows had utterly ridiculous plots that set up completely artificial dangers that can be solved with nearly artificial cleverness. Neither threatened the entirety of the space-time continuum. Neither made much sense, nor needed to. Essentially, somebody was in danger, the Doctor helped out, that got her into more danger, then she and her buddies escape and that’s the end of it. Perfect.
Subset: villains. I really liked the first-episode tangle-of-tentacles thingie. The sniper bots were… OK. The cloth-paper assassins were terrifying. The Stenza dude didn’t knock me out, but I didn’t hate him, and I kinda like that the Stenza generally were unseen baddies in the next episode. Also, while he wasn’t technically a villain, Art Malik was entertaining as an effete hologram who doesn’t give a shit about the deaths of innocents.
Subset: continuity fun. I admit that I enjoy the fanservice callbacks to stuff that only fanatics get, but I’m also aware that stuff like that ruins the show. So. I appreciated the restraint with which they handled it. A few mentions of how the Doctor used to be male, or taller, or Scots, but not very many. My favorite thing, honestly, was the Doctor’s dismay at not having stuff in her pockets—I have a fondness for the Fourth Doctor-era running gag about the contents of his pockets, and that’s the sort of callback that is amusing without limited the new Doctor’s character.
Subset: politics. I’m not sure if you have heard, but there’s a woman playing the Doctor—and the Doctor is a woman—for the first time ever, and that’s actually a Big Deal. Also, the gang of multi-cultural Britain seems very on-point. More specifically, two of the three companions are Working Class, and seems to be very grounded in actually being Working Class, which is not unprecedented but unusual. Ryan’s preparing for his NVQs which turn out to be a real working-class signifier. Graham is a retired bus driver. Yaz is upwardly mobile, being a police officer, and the others are please but not entirely comfortable about it. The class thing feels more real than it did with Rose and Mickey and Jackie, where it was playful—and while Wilf was absolutely perfect, Donna’s white-collar temp-job middle-class-ness wasn’t the same thing at all. Also, the first episode felt like it was in actual Sheffield, in a way that the earth-based contemporary episodes often don’t feel connected to their supposed locations.
Subset: titles. The first opening titles sequence I haven’t hated since the diamond lozenge in 1980 or so.
Subset: visuals. Really spiffy looking. I mean, legit high-quality spiff.
Sources of Viewer Irritation (for YHB):
Subset: characters. I’m actually quite upset about Nan dying. I am also putting this in politics, because it’s also political, but since we absolutely knew that Nan wasn’t a companion, we pretty much knew she was going to die, and I’m cross about it because it didn’t need to happen. From a plot point of view, it wasn’t clear what was specifically accomplished by her dying—she zapped the Gathering Coil, but since they had already dispatched the big baddie, I wasn’t worried that the Gathering Coil would still be a problem. It wasn’t handled well.
Subset: politics. The death of a terrific female character—particularly a woman of color—in the first episode is a Problem. It’s not a fridging, as such, but it’s not ideal. I’m also a little worried about the deracination that often happens when people of color are cast in mainstream shows. We’re not there yet, but at the same time, neither have we had anything interesting that places Yaz and Ryan in their communities of color. And while Yaz is a perfectly good character, she is so far underused. If the underused character were a white guy, I would be pretty confident that he would get episodes later, but I trust the show less with Yaz.
Subset: visuals. The Tardis interior is awfully dark, innit?
I think that about covers it.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
*unlikely in the sense that at this stage it would require time travel. And now the third episode has been aired, but I haven’t got around to watching it yet, so that’s all right.
If Yaz gets paired with Ryan before she gets a plot, i will throw stuff at my TV. I don’t have enough (any) experience with common Companion plot arcs, so i don’t know how worried i should be about that.
And, yes, killing Grace off was very annoying. I’m going to reserve judgment on “not a fridging” because if they draw a straight enough line between Grace’s death and Ryan and Graham’s presumably-inevitable reconciliation, well, there you go, and they haven’t finished playing that one yet so we don’t know how they are going to play it.
Nonetheless, i seem to be watching. And enjoying it a fair bit — if the Doctor is the only source of viewer pleasure for viewers who are me, i will still in fact be a pretty pleased viewer, because the Doctor seems to be a lot of fun.
I was initially a little worried that jumping into a 55-year-old TV show at some random season with no context was going to be a problem somehow, but my official conclusion on that is, “enh, why would it be?” There are some things i won’t get. Maybe the internet will explain them to me, or i’ll be confused. It’ll be fine.
I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the season.
The new showrunner has been pushing the idea that this season is a good entry point—a deliberate attempt to create a welcoming context for new viewers. I think so far they’ve done an excellent job of that, but of course you are in a better position to observe that than I am.
And yeah, I hope that Yaz becomes more than the-woman-with-the-crush-on-Ryan, because ugh, and given the recentish history of the show, ugh-cubed. It’s potentially interesting to have a companion with the specific set of skills and training and experience that Yaz presumably has, and to date we’ve seen about a hundred times more of Graham’s specific bus-driver set than Yaz’sses’ police set.
Unfortunately, I disliked the third episode a lot. Sigh.
Getting really, really cranky about Yaz.
It’s not her fault—the character is fine in many ways, but the fourth episode focused on her, and was in her jurisdiction, and still failed to indicate that she has any actual skills or training that one might expect her to have from what we’ve been told about her. She is absolutely being Martha Jonesed, and while I am still enjoying the show, it’s definitely making me cranky.
Also, having introduced Ryan’s dyspraxia, the writers have failed to involve it in the plot in any way, including that the Doctor continues to assign him tasks that might be inappropriate for someone with dispraxia and he continues to perform them absolutely adequately. I’m not as cranky about that as I am about Yaz, but I am aware of it and I shouldn’t be.