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Turn and Face the Strange Ch-Ch-Changes

Doctor Who on Renewal and Challenging Expectations


by Rory Buccheri

aitoff via pixabay.com

Is it possible to be more modern, when modern has been on the screen for the past twelve years?

The new Doctor Who season is the answer to this question. Forget about the 60s and 80s flavour of the original series – this is what this season is here to tell us – and, what’s more, forget about the recent reboot as well. Season 11 is here to confirm once again what Doctor Who has been about for the past 50 years: renewal.


Since the big announcement last summer, all of us have fairly assumed that the more modern approach to the new Doctor Who would revolve around our favourite Gallifreyan alien changing its historical gender from male to female. Now that the first episodes are out, however, we have all the time in the world to acknowledge how much we were mistaken. We assumed that the radical change would be about the new Doctor. Indeed, this metamorphosis is worth talking about: the role becomes pure gold in the hands of Jodie Whittaker, who has wit, charm and a refreshing personality. However, what is remarkable is that the new Doctor Who is not about the Doctor anymore.


What is truly invigorating about this season is the shift from side-kick to downright protagonist status for the companions we are used to seeing in supporting roles. With the four episodes we have so far, we can confidently declare that the counterparts have become the main actors, the leftovers have become the main course and, what is more, the under-represented are those that hold the key of the whole show. And of the TARDIS itself.


Arguably, this is what the side-kicks in Doctor Who have been doing since the very first episodes in the 60s, but I bet no one has shifted the perspective quite as much as the new team of companions. No one has ever shared so much spotlight with the uncontested traveller of the universe.


Straight from the first episode, we are challenged to face another regeneration that is not the Doctor’s. It could appear as just a change within the human cluster she first encounters, but it’s not so simple, and it changes everything. While with every season premiere we are expecting to mourn the previous incarnation of the Doctor and build new expectations for the new one, this time this is just the side to the main course. Since Episode 1, we find ourselves mourning a character that will expectedly stay with us during the whole season. How is that possible? We will find out in due time.


In the meantime, this leaves us with plenty to think about, with the secondary roles becoming the new object of focus and growth of the audience’s response.


And if Episodes 1 and 2 are the appetizers, sit back, relax and prepare yourself to devour Episode 3. You did not know you were craving it until you found yourself immersed in the intricate threads of the plot and subplot of the entire episode. You don’t really have time to stop and wonder if the excitement comes from the brand-new villain or the celebration of the empowering piece of history that the whole episode revolves around. I may be biased, since I’m in awe when the TARDIS goes back in time rather than forwards and towards distant galaxies, but I expect this episode to be among the highlights of the entire season.


Episode 4 is equally unmissable – even if you screamed the last time you found a spider in your shower. What makes this spider-centred episode irreplaceable, is that it shifts our perception and understanding of good and evil and, once again, gives the lead to the external characters. This episode in its entirety is a whole reconsideration of who really holds power, who abuses it and how prejudice and fear of one another are not limited to our troubled relationship with insects.


It’s not just the Doctor that is changing – we are changing, the people that surround our Gallifreyan alien are changing. And besides, we finally encounter a genuine taste of representation of the social scenario we find around us in our everyday lives, and that is, if not modern in the proper sense, something we’ve been longing for.


Despite the criticism and the wave of sceptical comments about the new Doctor, Season 11 is ready to give us exactly what we wanted and even more. The thrill of the ever-changing, the feverish expectations, the taste of continuity and radical renewal all at once – this is Doctor Who at its best. And Season 11 is living up to it.

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