On October 7th fans of Doctor Who LOST THEIR MINDS when Jodie Whittaker took to the screen as the 13th Doctor. When she was announced to be the first female incarnation of the beloved character there were VERY mixed reactions; however, she seems to have won most fans hearts over with her quirky mannerisms and general talent. And while I agree with most fans reactions of her, I have some reservations about some other things from the season premiere.
SPOILER WARNING FOR EVERYTHING BELOW
Note: This is only for the first episode because I pre-write things to keep my schedule and my brain in order. So, at the time I’m writing this (10/12) The second episode has not aired yet.
First of all, the companions, (or “friends” as we’re calling them now). I’ve seen some people get really upset that the writers have decided to not call them companions anymore, but I’m not really bothered by it, because as I’ve seen some people point out, they never had a title in the original series. No, my issue with the companions is I really don’t like them as characters.
This is a writing blog, so I have to talk about the writing, and from a storytelling perspective, this episode was… weird… even for Doctor Who standards. The first good bit of the episode was all companion backstory… without giving much backstory. We have Ryan (Tosin Cole), his grandfather, Graham (Bradley Walsh), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) who from previews look like they all will be recurring characters- and I don’t like any of them.
Let’s start with Ryan who starts out the episode with a Youtube video (which I thought was an odd choice, but I’ll get to that). He’s talking about how he has never been able to ride a bike and then we see him trying to ride a bike on a hill with his grandparents. I have several issues with this… first, riding a bike on a grassy hill is EXTREMELY hard even for avid cyclists… and if you’re going to tell me “Oh, it’s so he has a soft place to land.” No, he wasn’t even wearing a helmet! Second, if they tell us in the episode why he can’t ride a bike, I missed it. It took reading other articles and blog reviews for me to be informed that he has dyspraxia, which is a form of developmental coordination disorder which effects motor skills. Cool! I love when there’s diversity in the media… however, this is the only instance where we see this effect Ryan. I guess you could count when he slips on the ladder, but honestly, a lot of people without dyspraxia would at that height at night.
The most annoying thing about Ryan’s character is… he’s very whiny. I get disorders and illness are hard to work through, especially when they are lifelong. Trust me I live with them every day and it’s HARD. But no one wants a character who just whines and mopes about it (and gets mad and throws a bike). We want INSPIRING characters who are rising above it! And yes, I know this is the first episode and I REALLY want to see these characters grow, but a first episode should at least make me care about the characters. At this point, I don’t.
Then there’s Graham, who started out feeling like Donna’s grandpa, but much blander. We find out at the very end that he is a cancer survivor, and his wife was his nurse. But, for as much screen time as he gets (and is going to get as he shows up quite a bit in the promos) I feel like we should know more. LOTS of people are cancer survivors, I know 3 just in my personal life. What makes him special?
And finally, Yaz, who gets on my nerves. You could stick an actual Dalek in her face, let it exterminate her, and she would claim it doesn’t exist! I get having a rational character who questions things, but Yaz does it to a near pull-your-hair-out frustration level. With the amount of screen time they take up with Yaz contradicting the Doctor and arguing they could have written a second storyline in the episode.
The final character, and honestly the only one I liked, was the grandmother… and she gets killed. She reminded me a lot of Jackie Tyler and was so much warmer and had more depth than the other characters. I’m sure they’ll turn her into some sort of motivation in the character development of Graham and Ryan, but I still thought her death was a little jarring and unnecessary for a season premiere of Doctor Who. We expect this writing from Game of Thrones or even Supernatural, but it really set a very different tone then the whimsical escapism we expect from the Doctor.
Overall, this was just the first episode (as my partner keeps reminding me) and I really hope they deepen these characters going forward because I really want to like them. At this point, from a story perspective, I have no empathy for them. As an audience member, I really don’t care what happens to them and that’s a huge writing issue. Graham’s speech at the end at the funeral is supposed to be emotional and heartbreaking, but it really wasn’t… because I don’t know enough about these characters to care. The same way the first episode of Supernatural begins with a violent death, the difference being the writers of Supernatural know you don’t care yet. So it’s violent and jarring and firey because it’s not meant to hurt (yet) it’s meant to shock. Rayn’s gran’s death wasn’t violent enough to be shocking, but we don’t know these characters well enough for it to be hurtful.
This post got very long on me, so I’m going to post my thoughts about the plot of the episode and my final thoughts moving forward in this season tomorrow.
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