The BBC’s 57-year-old science fiction series “Doctor Who” ended its 12th season of “New Who” with its 13th Doctor played by Jodi Whitaker. Investigating strange extraterrestrial signals coming from Earth, the Doctor and her new fam’ of Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tasin Cole) and Graham (Bradley Walsh), find themselves entangled in the sinister plot of the Doctor’s oldest friend and enemy, the Master (Sasha Dhawan). Narrowly escaping with her life, the Doctor is left with a final message from the Master that forces her to question everything she knows about her people, the Time Lords, and her own memories. Searching for answers, the Doctor and fam’ travel through time, going on adventures with historical figures like Mary Shelley, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.
“The first season with Jodi Whitaker was fun, but it’s even better this season with classic characters like Jack Harkness, The Master and Cybermen making their return,” says Luke Crowe, vice president and head of casting at Backstage.com, a site which helps recruit talent for various entertainment productions. He’s also a life-long fan of “Doctor Who.” “I’ve been watching ‘Doctor Who’ since I was a little kid. They used to show the old repeats on PBS, and I’d watch it with my dad, who told me he used to watch it when he was a kid.” This latest season of “Doctor Who,” led by showrunner Chris Chibnal, offered its viewers a wide range of adventures through space and time that didn’t have everything in the universe at stake in every episode.
Being able to breathe from one dire episode to another made the show feel more fun, and most of all let Jodi Whitaker’s Doctor have more room to play to her strengths; her enthusiastically geeky moments when meeting historical figures like Tesla and Shelley. This Doctor is such a nerd and is so much fun to watch as she travels from place to place genuinely excited to be there. But this season also gave Whitaker opportunities to play the more dramatic role of the Doctor as she dealt with somber issues of her own identity. “I think she’s terrific,” continues Crowe. “Good energy, captures the spirit of the Doctor well. She also seems to be on surer footing this season than last, really getting into the swing of it. And it’s great for my daughter — she was extremely excited that the Doctor was now “a girl.”
With the Master’s return, this season dances around the line of an overdone gimmick and a welcome classic aspect of the series. Just as the Doctor always finds a way to survive at the last moment, escaping whatever danger may be facing them, so too does the Master and surviving whatever scheme they throw at the Doctor. Having the Doctor and Master locked in their battle of intellect is as fundamental to “Doctor Who” as Batman and the Joker or Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty. But Dhawan’s performance of the Master was sometimes lacking. The strength of his character is a strength he’s carried in a number of his other roles in “Iron Fist” or “Sherlock;” a strong, imposing figure, a softly, but confidently, spoken villain. But his moments of whimsy and craziness felt very forced as if he was trying to recapture the madness of John Simm’s Master from 2007.
This season also had a very obvious message on the subject of climate change, specifically in two episodes. In “Orphan 55,” the Doctor and fam’ travel to a possible future of Earth where humans have evolved into monstrous biped predators living in an ashen wasteland, ravaged by climate change from a world government who chose to do nothing to save their planet. In another episode, “Praxeus,” they discover a microscopic virus made of plastic particles infecting people and turning them to dust when they come into contact with a massive plastic waste heap floating in the ocean. While this message is strong and should be taken more seriously than the flu or a presidential scandal, the end messages of these episodes felt slightly shoehorned in. However forced, taking up a good cause like climate change or social justice is what the Doctor has always done, at least in the New Who that began in 2005.
When we last left the Doctor, she’d somehow found herself in trouble with another group of aliens and her fam’ stranded back on Earth with her TARDIS. We may have to wait until the next Christmas special to find out how she’ll escape and get back to Earth, but hopefully, we’ll be traveling with her a lot sooner.
Attribution: Jodi Whitaker’s 13th Doctor, “She Regenerated” artwork by Deanna Sheehan