2018 is a particularly important year for Doctor Who. Not only do we kick off an entirely new era with a new show runner, Doctor, companion, and production team, but we are also welcoming the first actress to take on the challenging lead role with a TARDIS ensemble unlike any that came before.
It would seem that a lot of the old formulae are being thrown out to make room for a fresh new take on the 55-year-old show. Not even Moffat’s takeover from Russell T. Davies in 2010 was as ambitious as Chibnall’s apparent vision for series 11. Hopefully by connecting the few dots we have we can imagine the big picture of what this will look like.
Around this time four years ago when we were all waiting in anticipation for Peter Capaldi’s premiere, Moffat had promised us a Doctor who was “a little darker, a little less user-friendly” than what we were used to. But right now, we know next to nothing about what kind of Doctor Jodie Whittaker will turn out to be.
So what do we have to go off? Well to start with, there is the final two minutes of Twice Upon a Time that Thirteen very briefly appears in. You wouldn’t be alone in seeing a bit of David Tennant in her cheesy grin. That’s not all though, because her one line, “Oh brilliant”, was a favourite catchphrase of the Tenth Doctor.
So what does this foreshadow? Perhaps we’re in for a bit of a more light-hearted, charming Doctor than the one Capaldi gave us. Her colourful, bohemian costume seems to imply this a little as well. But until we get further interviews with more info, this is unfortunately all we have to draw from.
Chris Chibnall’s previous Doctor Who stories haven’t been terrible, but none of them have ever really been remembered as classics. But before harshly judging his writing, it is important to remember that running the entire show is very different to writing a single episode. And for this reason, we can probably get a better understanding of what Doctor Who will look like in his era by looking at other shows he’s ran in the past—namely Broadchurch.
Broadchurch has undoubtedly become a British classic in recent years, with pretty much every single production element of it being near flawless. Chibnall’s crafting of a story arc is masterful in the series, as he tends to focus more on the big picture rather than creating standalone episodes.
He has also made the choice to produce fewer episodes per series, but with longer running times for each of them. Along with the choice to use anamorphic lenses for the first time in the show’s history, it appears that Chibnall is making Doctor Who a much more cinematic experience than it has been in the past.
But finally, what can we actually expect from Chibnall’s stories? His previous work on Doctor Who has often explored family relationships, such as when he brought Rory’s dad into the TARDIS for a couple of episodes. Broadchurch took a darker spin on that, as we watched the relationships break down within a small town of close-knit friends. This is Chibnall’s strength, so hopefully this is what he plays to. And judging off the casting of the new companions, it looks like that is exactly what he is going for.
We have had large TARDIS crews before, but usually the of most storylines has rested on a central female character who develops some kind of relationship with the Doctor. This time round the emphasis is not on the new female companion, but rather on all three new companions in equal parts.
Bradley Walsh, comedian and television host, is the biggest name to join the cast. Playing the character of Graham, he is expected to bring some humour to the show in a similar way Catherine Tate made her own mark as the hilariously sarcastic Donna.
Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill, playing Ryan and Yasmin respectively, are also lined up to join the new TARDIS team. And with that trio, we have a completely new TARDIS team with an entirely different dynamic to anything we have had since 2005.
Having a more crowded TARDIS might also contribute to the family themes that Chibnall likes to explore so much. Not that these characters are going to be blood relatives, but the bond that will form between them while travelling the universe may potentially explore the way they fill in the gaps in each others lives in ways their families couldn’t.
So how’s it looking overall?
This new era of Doctor Who is looking like it will be the biggest shift in dynamic since its 2005 revival. We may be taking a step back from the classic Moffat-y plot twists and confusing time travel devices, and instead spending more time on character relationships like we saw in the RTD era.
One thing is absolutely certain though—Chris Chibnall’s unfaltering confidence in the face of internet backlash shows that he really does have the guts to run a fandom that is endlessly critical but ever-growing.