Thoughts on … Doctor Who: Season one (2024)

Thoughts on … Doctor Who: Season one (2024)

[This is part of an occasional series where I ramble without much focus about an old episode/episodes of Doctor Who what I have just watched on my tellybox or a new audio one I listened to on my pocket computer device. You can find them all here]

I have already written 6,500 words about this season for the Guardian. What is another 1,600 on my own website among friends?

My top-line is that I think Ncuti Gatwa has already had some absolutely brilliant moments as the Doctor, and he is clearly infectiously charismatic. The chemistry between him and Millie Gibson on and off screen has been fun, and despite the downbeat background of her sadness at not knowing her birth mother, she has been the kind of companion who grabs adventure and opportunity with a big grin, which has been very watchable.

This was the first pass at RTD2 and Bad Wolf making an eight episode Doctor Who season, and just as his series two with David Tennant in 2006 improved aspects of the production formula over series one with Chris Eccleston, I am sure they will all have learned a lot in making it.

I think they delivered three consecutive all-time worldie episodes – 73 Yards, Dot and Bubble, Rogue – all of which I have rewatched multiple times for the pleasure of it. They were great, great Doctor Who, by turns a weird and experimental folk horror/political thriller, a brilliant and rage-inducing social commentary, and then a glorious period romp. Three consecutive episodes that are all Doctor Who but also worlds apart tonally, visually, in setting and in mood. Great episodes.

What I think they maybe struggled with a little was the pacing across the whole season, with only eight episodes to play with. It was only really Space Babies and Rogue where we saw a traditional “Tardis arrives and the Doctor and companion have an adventure and save the day somewhere!” kind of episode. Everything else was either “series arc build-up/payoff” or “here’s a (Susan) Twist on the format”.

It is a weird experience watching Doctor Who for me in 2024 …

… and not just because imagine explaining to me when I was watching Pyramids of Mars in 1975 that one day I would grow up to review the sequel *checks notes* 49 years later.

I watch the show in a slightly odd way these days as I write the recaps for the Guardian. Sometimes it is a bit of a scramble to find the time to watch and review the episodes when I am also covering wars and elections and writing quizzes, and in a way it has sort of made my very favourite thing into work rather than play.

I end up watching them the first time quite anxious about what I am going to write, trying to pick up every continuity reference and spot the dialogue that are catchy hooks to write about. I enjoy watching them a second time much more relaxed after I have finished writing about them.

Millie Gibson trying to work out what the hell I am going on about in the first draft of one of my recaps

I also try and watch them with my kids on the iPlayer before they go out on BBC One, which always gives you a different perspective from approaching the programme as a grown-up overly-obsessive fan.

That perspective is helpful when I am in the comments under my recaps and people are moaning something was too on-the-nose or too much of an obvious reference to something else. It is good to have seen whether these are things that my kids noticed with their fresh(er) eyes. Let’s face it, I was not going “Oh, this is just a Hammer House version of Frankenstein, but in space” when I originally watched Brain of Morbius as a nipper, was I?

All of which makes me sound like an ungrateful wretch, as I know getting to write a recap for a national newspaper website and seeing the episodes before most other people is something millions would kill for, so I’ll hush my moaning. And quiet my inner monologue that worries “what if I say an episode is good, and then the internet decides actually it was bad” and “what if I have to rewind the screener 1,057 times and still can’t place who that additional face is in the Doctor Who regenerations line-up*” and so on.

Social media is sucking the joy out of life more effectively than Sutekh would

I do find the social media fandom absolutely exhausting though. As I look at it, in the olden times, you used to watch Doctor Who, and then you might discuss it with a couple of mates and decide whether you enjoyed it or not. Maybe you’d each point out one slightly janky thing about it.

Now though, you go on the socials after an episode and it is like you are discussing the episode with 1,057 “mates”, and each of them wants to tell you that one janky thing that bugged them. But they are all slightly different, so now you’ve heard 1,057 things that are slightly wrong with the episode. I now take to trying to avoid the internet between the episode dropping on iPlayer and my recap being published, so I can approach joining in that comment thread without already feeling jaded by reading lots of criticism.**

It still strikes me as actually incredible that Doctor Who Magazine can do a five page feature about one tiny incidental VFX shot that was months to plan and design, it is on screen for a few brief seconds, and someone will immediately be shouting “Look at that lazy CGI shot, don’t the people working on it care about this show?”

I’m also a big fan (not) of one half of the internet shouting “SHOW! DON’T TELL!” at the writers, while the other half shouts “LAZY WRITING! PLOTHOLE!” at anything that isn’t explained on screen down to then nth millionth degree. See also the concept that something can be a deliberate callback/reference/pastiche without being “an obvious rip-off of [something in the canon of art and entertainment]” which a lot of people online don’t seem to get.

And this is before we get to the Not-We chipping in with “Go woke go broke Doctor Who RIP 1963-2005/2010/2017/2023” depending on which axe it has become popular to grind that week. I get plenty of those in the comments on the Guardian website this week. “I’ve been watching since 1963, but that is the final straw, I am out”. They are usually back the following week.

Even Callie Cooke as Lindy Pepper-Bean is judging your social media usage

Ratings and glass half-full/half-empty

Nobody, but nobody, is as obsessed with TV ratings as Doctor Who fandom and anti-fandom is. The Not-We have got every excited that it has been pulling in weak viewing figures for the show in the UK compared to its own history. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to compare viewing figures now with viewing figures then.

To put it into context, Dot and Bubble and Rogue both secured viewing figures historically low for Doctor Who. They were also both the #1 most viewed thing on British television on the Saturday they were broadcast.

Pick the bones out of that.

It isn’t that nobody is watching Doctor Who, it is that nobody is gathering in huge numbers to watch television that isn’t a live event like Eurovision, the Euros, or a royal funeral/wedding/coronation.

I guess from the Disney side of the equation their streaming numbers will be important to them. For the BBC what will be key is if the people watching it are younger than their average BBC audience, and whether it continues to rank relatively highly as a drama and carry cultural capital.

So in conclusion …

I love my job, I love Doctor Who, and I am an absolutely hopeless nerd about it all.

Millie Gibson and Ncuti Gatwa in the Tardis in Boom

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy: The six sentences I hate writing about Doctor Who

Here are all my season one recaps with their one-line reviews …

Regular readers of this blog know I love a one-line review. So in the recaps I try and review the episode, draw together the strands of the series arc as it unfolds, and sign-post weird and obscure continuity references thanks to my encyclopaedic knowledge of vitally important things to know about Doctor Who. I also try to “sum it up in one sentence”. Here are those sentences and links to the recaps …

  • Space Babies: What if Doctor Who did Alien but it had incredibly cute babies in it?
  • The Devil’s Chord: What if Doctor Who did the swinging sixties but nobody was swinging?
  • Boom: The Doctor stands still for 40 minutes while trying to avoid blowing up a planet
  • 73 Yards: Ruby Sunday saves the world from a Welsh nuclear megalomaniac after a lifetime of running away from herself
  • Dot and Bubble: Doctor Who makes a Black Mirror episode about social media, but adds alien slug monsters because, of course, it is Doctor Who
  • Rogue: The Doctor gets his heart broken while attending a Bridgerton convention in 1813
  • The Legend of Ruby Sunday: The Doctor and lots of people we’ve already met this season spend 48 minutes gathering together for a cliffhanger reveal
  • Empire of Death: One of the Tardis crew finds the secret of their foundling status, while the other becomes a monster to bring down a monster

*This genuinely happened. I spent several days agonising over what I was gonna write because I could see it was someone who wasn’t in the main run of known Doctors, but did not recognise it as Richard E Grant. Fortunately in this case the midnight iPlayer drop was a lifesaver, as the internet identified him for me before it transmitted on BBC One and my piece was published, so I could tweak the copy. Phew.

I honestly nearly went mad spending a few days trying to identify Richard E Grant when I wasn’t allowed to ask or show anybody before transmission

**I am 100% aware of the hypocrisy of moaning about this when I quite clearly always put my “but there was this one janky thing” tuppence into my own recaps and this blog post.

Previously in this series …

You can find them all here. I’ve also reviewed The Faceless Ones and The Macra Terror animation for the Guardian.