Going into last weekend’s Series 11 Premier of Doctor Who, I sat down and watched all the regeneration episodes I could get my hands on over the course of a week and a half (list below). While I already really like this new Doctor, there are some things I’d like to discuss regarding Chris Chibnall’s new Who.
1. Regeneration: Something always goes wrong
The Doctor always experiences some form of memory loss and disassociate as their body settles into its new form. Sometimes this can be moments of absent-mindedness, while others experience something closer to amnesia. The Doctor also has a history of collapsing into a slightly comatose or unconscious state (3, 4, 10, 12, 13), often experiencing delirium (4, 5, 7, 12). Doctors Six and Ten went beyond delirium into something erratic and even violent. Aside from a brief period of unconsciousness, the first Female Doctor’s regeneration is very much like their Eleventh incarnation, mostly consisting of memory loss, absent-mindedness, and disassociation. This is somewhat jarring as two of the New WhoDoctors have had much more erratic episodes and longer periods of unconsciousness. Remember, this Doctor’s adventure takes place in the space of one night.
2. Location: The North
In the past, New Who has referred to The North as something deserving of capital letters. In “Rose” (Series 1, Episode 1), Rose makes a point of asking the Ninth Doctor why they sound like they are from The North. In “The Crimson Horror” (Series 7, Episode 11), Strax reminds everyone to be on guard as they are leaving London for The North. It’s not unusual for major cities to look on more rural or industrial areas with some form of derision, but this time all the characters are Northerners.
The Twelfth Doctor was unique for their Scottish accent, although the only episode to take place in Scotland was set in the second century (Series 10, Episode 10 “Eaters of the Light”). Here, the new Doctor’s Northern accent debuts in The North.
Okay, so why is this important? Well, as someone from Boston, I can tell you I’m always excited when something is set here and actually filmed here (Boston is NOT like New York or LA, sorry!). Seeing someone get it right always makes me happy and a little proud. As Chris Chibnall attended University of Sheffield, there’s no doubt that he ‘got it right’. Additionally, with it becoming more common for Doctors to use their natural accents (the actor’s natural accent), setting the series opener in Sheffield eliminated any questions about the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker’s) because they all have Northern accents. It’s something that has been taken advantage of in previous incarnations. When their brain is already scrambled, it’s one less thing to worry about.
3. Building a Sonic: Something new!
The origins of the Sonic Screwdriver has not always been clear. Both Eleven and Twelve were gifted Sonic Screwdrivers by the TARDIS, but where Nine got his (and where Twelve got the Sonic Glasses) is something of a mystery. This is the first time we’ve seen a Doctor building their Sonic Screwdriver. Showing the Doctor building one accomplishes a few things. First, the emphasis that it is made of “Sheffield Steel” adds to the Northern pride. Second, it demonstrates a great deal about this new Doctor.
It doesn’t take long for the audience to see that this Doctor is much more charismatic than Twelve and less awkwardly gawky than Eleven. In many ways, they pull on their Tenth persona. However, this Doctor is already shown to be much more hands-on. While the Third Doctor had a lab at UNIT, they seemed to be more interested in observation or tidy science (how often did that suit get ruffled?), whereas this Doctor in their torn clothing doesn’t hesitate to get their hands dirty– in fact, they are rather enthusiastic about how “fun” it will be to build. This makes it clear that this Doctor will be hands-on and resourceful, likely in a way the audience hasn’t seen before.
4. New Wardrobe: Scenes & Significance
Currently, gender politics are a hot-button issue in the United States, so my first reaction to the Doctor in a dressing room trying to decide on clothes was a negative one. However, there is actually a precedent for scenes in which the Doctor chooses a new wardrobe.
How we dress says a lot about us, so it makes sense for the Doctor, upon regenerating, to rethink their wardrobe for something that feels right. As the Doctor said in this episode, ” ” In many ways, choosing new clothes is another way for the new Doctor to set their stage.
In almost every onscreen Regeneration, the audience gets to see how the Doctor finds their new look.
– The Second Doctor goes through a trunk and changes some of his clothes in front of Ben and Polly in “The Power of the Daleks” (Season 4, Serial 3).
– The Third Doctor steals clothes that appeal to him at the hospital in “Spearhead from Space” (Season 7, Serial 1).
– The Fourth Doctor goes in and out of the TARDIS trying to decide on a new wardrobe before finding his signature scarf in “Robot” (Season 12, Serial 1).
– The Fifth Doctor happens upon a cricketer’s outfit hanging on a mirror as he wanders around the TARDIS “Castrovalva” (Season 19, Serial 1).
– The Sixth Doctor and Perri spend time in the Doctor’s closet trying on different things before settling on a brightly colored coat and a cat pin in “The Twin Dilemma” (Season 21, Serial 7).
– The Seventh Doctor again goes through his closet trying on various clothes (including looks preferred by previous incarnations and much to the Rani’s irritation) in “Time and the Rani” (Season 24, Serial 1).
– The Eighth Doctor once again steals from hospital staff– this time, a costume/fancy dress rather than someone’s actual clothes in Doctor Who (1996).
– The War Doctor doesn’t change clothes but does symbolically take up Cass’s bandolier to fight in the Time War in “The Night of the Doctor” (2013).
– The Tenth Doctor spends a portion of a montage rummaging through his closet before finding his signature pinstripe suit and long coat in “The Christmas Invasion” (2005 Christmas Special).
– The Eleventh Doctor once again steals from hospital staff, rummaging for just the right tie-in “The Eleventh Hour” (Series 5, Episode 1).
– The Twelfth Doctor debuts his chosen new look when he returns for Clara at the end of his first episode in “Deep Breath” (Series 8, Episode 1), though it is notable that his costume does not stay consistent during his tenure, deviating from is original look far more than previous Doctors (3, 10).
With these eleven Doctors in mind, it is clear that such a scene is a staple of Regeneration. The only reason the Thirteenth Doctor is in a shop dressing room is because the TARDIS is MIA.
There is also symbolism in the 13th Doctor’s choices
– Her striped shirt contains colors that call back to Tom Baker’s iconic scarf.
– She wears a long beige coat reminiscent of the one worn by David
– Her pants/trousers are cropped short and paired with boots, though they are wide legged to Matt Smith’s costume.
– Her suspenders/braces are in an unusually bright color, but have been part of the costumes of numerous Doctors including Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, and Matt Smith.
– Finally, her shirt, pants/trousers, socks, and even some of her coat is BLUE! Blue like the TARDIS (though not all the same shade).
5. Episode Ending + Next Week Trailer
I was actually a little unsatisfied with this ending until I realized how similar it is to Old Who. In its original run, Doctor Who would frequently experience major TARDIS malfunctions as the Eleventh Doctor explains, “Ooh, I once spent a hell of a long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport” (Series 7, Episode 11, “The Crimson Horror”), referencing adventures with the Fifth Doctor and companion Teagan. Even in its first ever serial, “An Unearthly Child” (Season 1, Serial 1), Doctor Who makes it clear that the Doctor does not always know how to work the TARDIS. That they do not consistently find themselves lost is a new Who concept, so I’m actually rather excited to see what Chibnall, building on the last ten series/13 years does with it. The trailer for tomorrow’s episode makes it clear that getting the new companions home is going to be the Doctor’s main priority.
Chris Chibnall’s background (unsurprisingly) has a big impact on the new series. It’s well known that he was a huge fan of the original series, but expresses that in a way that is different from Russell T. Davies or Steven Moffat.
Davies’s Who was about bringing back a beloved classic, so in many ways, a lot of the episodes were love letters to the old series. However, Davies also made the show accessible for a modern audience, increasing the pacing and adding dramatic elements, such as ongoing plot lines, the Time War and the Last of the Time Lords. He also introduced the companions’ families into the mix. All of Davies’ series contain mothers (Series 1&2: Jackie Tyler, Series 3: Francine Jones, Series 4: Sylvia Noble, Specials: The Woman) worrying over their children and their adventures with the Doctor.
Moffat’s goal was to take it a step further, evoking the joy and excitement he felt when watching the original series, while also examining relationships more closely. With Moffat, we see the Doctor fall in love (Madame de Pompadour, River Song), we are given monsters that scare a modern audience (Weeping Angels, Vashta Nerada, The Silence, The Monks). We also get to see more of the companions’ lives outside the TARDIS. He evokes the childish fantasy of going off in the TARDIS for adventures where the Doctor always wins, then being home before anyone notices an absence. His Doctor Who is, in many ways, about wish fulfillment.
From the first episode, it looks like Chibnall is taking the modern elements established by his predecessors, such as family ties, but brings in his own spin. Chibnall’s filmography includes showrunner or writing for not only Doctor Who and Torchwood, but also Broadchurch, Law & Order: UK, and Life on Mars. All three of these programs are crime dramas that don’t hold back on the grittiness or the death– something notable in Torchwood as well. These elements are all present in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, not just in the plot or the characters (companion Yasmin Khan is a Police Constable), but in the tone, colors, and lighting. The setting even steps away from the wide socioeconomic range of London, the peacefulness of Leadworth, and the austerity of a University, instead choosing Sheffield which has a much more industrial history, so he doesn’t evoke the poverty that is part of London (like Davies), but instead the gritty, hardworking connotations– which as we see when the Thirteenth Doctor builds a Sonic Screwdriver, could very likely be a trait she shares.
So, what can we expect from Chibnall’s new Doctor Who? With the filmography he has, it would be easy to say that procedural drama will spill over, but when you look at the episodes he’s written for Doctor Who it demonstrates something different. Chibnall’s episodes, such as “42” (Series 3, Episode 7), “The Hungry Earth”/”Cold Blood” (Series 5, Episodes 8-9), “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” (Series 7, Episode 2), and “The Power of Three” (Series 7, Episode 4) often depict industrial sites/jobs, family members, and/or connections to the world outside the companion’s purview. This is not all that removed from any other Doctor Who episode or serial. My expectation is that Chibnall will continue to evoke the similar tones we saw in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, harkening back to Davies-era and even Old Who, and I’m actually really looking forward to seeing what he comes up with!