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Media Essays: A Reflection of Chris Chibnall's Doctor Who Part 1

Happy 59th Birthday Doctor Who!

The Power of the Doctor aired last month and brought an end to Jodie Whittaker's time as the Doctor, regenerating in a beautiful scene that sees her turn into...David Tennant again? OK... XD

So with this era of Doctor Who officially over now and a brand new era seeing old showrunner Russell T. Davies back in the writer's chair and our first ever black Doctor coming to the role in a huge 60th anniversary special planned for 2023, I think it's time we looked back on the Chris Chibnall era of Doctor Who and reflect on everything we've seen in this interesting period of the show's time. We'll be talking about the highs and lows and concluding whether this era was a much-needed return to form or a well-meaning misfire. Part 1 will cover the era and the highs while Part 2 will cover the lows. Let's jump into the TARDIS everyone and fly through time and space as we reflect on Chris Chibnall's Doctor Who...

Chris Chibnall's Doctor Who: What Did It Bring?

This era of Doctor Who was daring and willing to break new ground to bring the show into new heights, that's for sure.

For starters, it was this era of Doctor Who that FINALLY gave us what we've been wanting to see for years: a female Doctor. Believe it or not, the idea wasn't exclusively Chibnall's, nor is it something that was floating around just in the RTD era of the show. No, Sydney Newman, the creator of Doctor Who, had that idea floating around as far back as when the Sixth Doctor was due to regenerate. And yet it took us until 2018 for this wish to finally be granted. Chibnall cast fellow Yorkshire actress, Jodie Whittaker, to play the part, a fitting proposal as the two had worked together on Chibnall's very own crime drama series Broadchurch. Jodie wasn't the most well-known actress at the time of being cast as the Doctor but had been in a few roles here and there such as Attack the Block, Black Mirror and the St. Trinian's film series. Her being cast as The Doctor made her a household name and she'll forever go down in history as the first female Doctor to be cast in the show.

Her companions throughout this tenure included Yasmin "Yaz" Khan (played by Mandip Gill), Ryan Sinclair (played by Tosin Cole) and Graham O'Brien with the host of The Chase himself, Bradley Walsh playing the part. Graham and Ryan lasted until the send of Series 12 with Revolution of the Daleks seeing them depart the TARDIS together while Dan Lewis (played by John Bishop) joined the team in the six-part Flux saga and all three specials that came afterwards and concluded the era. Yaz was the only companion to stay with 13 throughout her entire time on the show.

During Jodie's time in the TARDIS, her Doctor would meet the Daleks, the Cybermen, a fantastically awesome new incarnation of The Master (played by Sacha Dhawan), the Sontarans, the Judoon and several new villains never before seen in the show that I'll cover later on. She'd also take us to time periods such as the time of King James I, the partition of India that sees a tragic ending for Yaz's ancestors, the time where Rosa Parks took her historic stand against racism, the time of Nikola Tesla, the Crimean War where we meet Mary Seacole and especially a historical moment in Villa Diodati that sees the Doctor meet Frankenstein writer Mary Shelly and several other famous poets and writers of their time. Needless to say, Chibnall and his writing team gave us plenty of interesting points in history for stories to take place.

This era of Doctor Who has received much praise and much backlash from all corners of the fandom and especially online. Fans were all too happy to finally have a female Doctor and appreciated the new direction that the show was going in while others didn't enjoy the era's overly crowded and poorly paced plotlines and some forgettable new villains and the especially toxic parts of the fandom would throw a hissy fit over the mere THOUGHT of having a female Doctor and would dismiss Chibnall and his entire era as "woke propaganda". Because somehow being woke is a bad thing to these incels but who cares what garbage like them think anyway? Their opinions are worthless to society and nobody sensible will ever take them seriously.

This essay will give a critique of the Chibnall era as a whole with not a single mention directed at the more diverse casting or the politics on display here. I'm not one of those anti-woke YouTubers that wants to generate fake outrage for the sake of clicks and money and I certainly am not the kind of person who acts like something is "ruined forever" because people of colour and women are prominent in a piece of media. Once again, being more diverse and being woke is NOT the problem, it's HOW you handle it that should be criticized or praised. So without further ado, let's dive in to the Chibnall era and reflect on the highs and lows of this era of Doctor Who...

Chibnall's Doctor Who: The Highs

The 13th Doctor was a great incarnation of the iconic Time Lord

I'm sure I'm going to get some backlash for this but I unironically really enjoyed this version of the Doctor. The 13th Doctor is not only the same quirky, intelligent Time Lord that we know and love from many years of the show that has seen many versions of the Doctor, but Jodie Whittaker brings a level of adorkable charm and energy that makes her infectiously enjoyable every time she's onscreen. This Doctor's just a bundle of fun and even when dealing with a bad script like in Orphan 55, Jodie somehow manages to still be entertaining and be one of the highlights of the show. I do like how this Doctor isn't just all fun and games all the time and can still have a darker side to her which she mostly displays when facing her enemies. Put her against the Daleks or the Master especially and she really makes it clear how much she despises these villains and that she's not kidding around anymore. Jodie is the kind of Doctor that can be both fun and serious and she plays both sides so well. I also like how being a woman gives this Doctor challenges that she wouldn't normally have faced during her previous incarnations given men are taken more seriously than women in most of the time periods she visits. The Witchfinders especially gave her a tough time given the whole paranoia about witches back in the day. I understand that some people may not like this version of the Doctor but I personally enjoyed her a lot and I really was sad to see her go. Her quirky charm will be sorely missed...

Chibnall displays a great understanding of The Doctor's greatest enemies

Chibnall's writing gets a lot of mixed reactions from people with some valid points on both sides. One thing that most can agree on though is that he has a great track record with writing old villains in the show. His handling of the Daleks especially felt like a much-needed return to form after the embarrassment that was the Moffat era in which we got the lowest points in the Dalek's career. Stephen Moffat fundamentally did not understand the Daleks and the stories he wrote with them had them barely killing anyone or barely being a presence throughout his tenure. Chris Chibnall on the other hand got the Daleks perfectly and gave them some awesome showings in Resolution, Revolution of the Daleks and Eve of the Daleks in where they're perfectly characterized, are actually a threat again and really bring out the Doctor's more serious side whenever they show up. I even liked how Eve of the Daleks was a more comical story without turning the Daleks into a joke. The Cybermen's time isn't quite as glamorous as the Dalek's as once again they get upstaged by The Master but this era gives us an awesome new concept of Cybermen/Time Lord hybrids that I hope we see more of in the future and Ashad was one of the era's most interesting villains we got.

The Sontarans were also handled well when they appeared during Flux. They're the warmongering Potato Heads we know and love but they're also depicted as really smart and that they're not as dumb as we often think they are. I mean when you're able to trick the Daleks and the Cybermen into getting killed by the Flux event, you know you're one hell of a schemer! I still don't know what that weird Sontaran with the chocolate addiction was about though...

But of course, the one that deserves the most praise here is Sacha Dhawan's incarnation of The Master. Chris Chibnall just GETS The Master so well! He's the insane nutcase who does what he does for cruel sadistic pleasure because he's The Master and that's what he does and it's so in-character for him. He's also the cunning chess master that he's supposed to be too with crazy schemes that see him playing multiple steps ahead of the Doctor and coming dangerously close to winning be it his scheme in The Timeless Child or even The Power of the Doctor where he really was on top form throughout and played everybody for a fool. All this combined with a deliciously enjoyably over-the-top performance from Sacha Dhawan makes for one enjoyable incarnation of The Master and Chibnall deserves so much praise for what he brought to the table with this character.

This era is visually pretty to watch

One cannot also deny that the directing and the visual effects work on this era of the show are some of the prettiest and most beautiful the show has ever looked. Even during a pandemic, they were able to give us some great looking episodes in this show.

Chris Chibnall truly picked some great directors to bring his series to life with a lot of the episodes during his tenure being well-directed, visually stunning and having a lot of neat camera shots and camera angles to give us some great looking episodes. I especially think Demons of the Punjab, Legend of the Sea Devils, Flux and more were really cool to look at and had some pretty imagery onscreen. Not only that but we also get some neat action scenes and some great visual effects work in these episodes. The costume designs are fantastic with some memorable outfits for many of the characters throughout like the Doctor, her companions when they're in a historical time period, The Master and more, the practical effects and prop designs are top-notch with the Daleks looking as great as ever of course, the Cybermen getting some really awesome new designs with both the warrior and Cyber-Masters look, the Sontarans are given a design that's a neat callback to their appearances in classic Doctor Who and most of the new villains look awesome with some truly incredible work on them like the Skithra queen or the Dregs especially looking fantastic. Praxeus especially deserves praise for making the titular virus look painful and agonizing when it kills the victim. The make-up and effects artists especially make it look uncomfortable and no joke, I actually felt a little itchy after watching the episode. That's mad skill if you're able to make the viewers feel uncomfortable despite it only being an SFX job. And of course, they make the TARDIS interior look fantastic here too. They make the set look appropriately huge and alien and I imagine the actors had a lot of fun playing around and interacting with it.

Even the CGI looks pretty good for a TV budget. Advances in technology are truly able to make CGI look more convincing in this day and age and it really does the job well for this era of Doctor Who. I love the way they make the Time Vortex look in this era especially as this surreal looking black void with multicolours sprinkled throughout and various tunnels to suggest all the different time periods and shortcuts through space the TARDIS can take. And they also made the Flux look appropriately chaotic and like it can bring death everywhere it goes. Of course the CGI can be obvious at times but I still think they really knocked the ball out of the park with how they made the series look in this era and truly showed how a TV budget doesn't mean you can't have some beautiful looking visuals. I can easily say that Doctor Who has never looked this good before and hopefully it'll continue to look this good in the next era...

This era has some great and memorable moments

While the writing may not be the best, this era of Doctor Who still has some truly wonderful moments that are worth taking away from this era.

Some of these big moments come from the more emotional and tenders moments of the show. The first and best example I'm naturally going to think of is the absolutely beautiful scene of the Doctor wedding Yaz's grandmother Umbreen with her short-lived husband, Prem, in Demons of the Punjab. That to me is the sweetest moment in Doctor Who history and it's going to be tough to top such a wonderful moment. Can you imagine how sweet it would be to see other Doctors getting to marry their companion's loved ones? I'm sure some of them could make it as tender as 13 does here. And this moment only becomes harshly bittersweet as Prem ends up dead sometime after the wedding and all the Doctor and friends can do is just walk away and let history unfold which gives us one of Doctor Who's most emotional episodes ever. How appropriate they aired it on Remembrance Day too...

Another memorable moment from this era is of course the conclusion to Rosa in which circumstances force the Doctor and friends to be a part of Rosa's arrest by making it so the bus is full so Rosa can be ordered to move, which of course she refuses and makes her mark in history for the brave rebel against segregation and racism as we know her today. Some might think including Andra Day's "Rise Up" was a little cheesy but I think it worked for the scene and it's just heart-breaking to watch that the Doctor and her fam have to essentially condemn Rosa to her fate like that. This is the kind of stuff that makes for some compelling Doctor Who stories and it's great.

And then we have Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror which to me still ranks as probably the best episode of this era. The whole episode was a joy to watch from beginning to end with Nikola Tesla being the star of the show and providing the heart of the episode and given it's one of the few episodes of the era that has a straightforward plot and a manageably sized cast, it's actually refreshing for once. XD In all seriousness, Goran Višnjić's performance as Nikola was really enjoyable, I like how they delved into his rivalry with Thomas Edison and just gave this unsung hero his time to shine for a change.

I also love pretty much all the Dalek stories of this era with each of them being memorable in their own right. For Resolution it's the Dalek effortlessly taking down an army by itself, for Revolution of the Daleks its the Daleks exterminating the Prime Minister and announcing their conquest of Earth and for Eve of the Daleks, it's mostly the gags (especially that one Dalek saying "I AM NOT NICK!") and also the awesome idea of Daleks with Gatling guns. Why is this only NOW being a thing?! That should've been a thing years ago! XD

And who can forget the cliff-hangers of this era? Say what you will about Chibnall's writing but that guy KNOWS how to create effective cliff-hangers. Even his first episode, The Woman Who Fell To Earth ended on a pretty big one with the Doctor and her fam trying to warp to the TARDIS only to end up in the middle of space! For me, the most memorable and effective cliff-hangers include the Spymaster twist in Spyfall, the ending to The Halloween Apocalypse, the Doctor being taken to space jail at the end of The Timeless Child and of course, the unrivalled best one of all...the Doctor becoming a Weeping Angel at the end of Village of the Angels. THAT is a cliff-hanger that rivals the best of the classic era!

And let's not forget The Power of the Doctor and what an anniversary spectacle that was. That thing alone is one of the most memorable moments in the show's history from its high-stakes plot, wonderful fan-service, great cameos from Who characters old and new, The Doctor's beautiful regenration and even that weird-as-hell moment with The Master dancing to Boney M's "Rasputin" song. Yes, that actually happened!

In the end Doctor Who is a family show and as a TV series, it's meant to entertain and this era, in spite of its flaws, does manage to be entertaining and gives us some of Doctor Who's most memorable moments. It's certainly an improvement over the Moffat era where all that did was either confuse the hell out of me or make me want to scream at how idiotic the plots tended to be.

The highs are some big highs and have made the show worth watching, that's for sure. But sadly, every high has a low. Join me in Part 2 as we cover the lows...

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