As I come to the final examination in my Fallout series, I look back on the season with a bit of sadness. I love good stories and I’ve been a fan of The Doctor for nearly 40 years! (40 years!!) To watch a story in the Doctor’s universe is a gift! It’s fun, exciting, comical, nerve wracking, awe inspiring… the list goes on. Yet, season 11 had very little of any of that. It wasn’t completely devoid of those things, but they came in small doses when they did show up and they never lasted long. Perhaps this is because Chibnall is simply not a great writer. Or perhaps it has something to do with the lack of character- or story- building. The events of any episode simply do not carry weight! There’s no other way to say it!
I know, that’s counter-intuitive to say that during our look at the first episode of the season because there was fallout from it! The events of this episode are directly responsible for Tim Shaw’s appearance in the final episode. The death of Grace has an impact on Graham and Ryan; they carry that burden with them throughout the rest of the series. And you know what? Episode one was a strong opening. Odd that, isn’t it? The one episode that did show some ramifications and character building actually did have associated fallout! It made the episode have meaning. Events that happened in The Woman Who Fell to Earth actually have mattered later. And that might be the one strength in this season: what happens here matters. But it doesn’t last!
I mean, the whole episode has the Doctor checking her pockets repeatedly and commenting on how empty they were and a single episode later, lead writer Chibnall writes in a line about how the glasses she’s lending Graham were borrowed from a movie star! (Yeah, I’m still really irked about that…) How can you put the effort into an episode to lay the foundation for a season that will be about the Doctor’s actions… only to have it mean almost nothing at all later? There’s the sense that even if Tim Shaw didn’t come back, there would be ramifications from this episode but we never hear of the humans again, and by the time we see Tim Shaw, it’s a shadow of the character he was in this. He’s angry at the Doctor but why? She allowed him to live and he’s gone on to other things. Supposedly so much time has elapsed, one wonders how the events of this episode even tie in with the future. Sure Chibbs did make the events mean something but too much time has gone by and Tim is in a place we don’t care about using beings we couldn’t care about who can make things appear using their minds… it’s all a jumble. So, I say this with great pain, but … who cares?
Doctor Who is largely a number of stand-alone adventures and that’s alright; we can do that in this show if we chose. Like classic Star Trek, the episodes can be totally alone in a sea of other episodes, all equally alone. But they need to rely on a standing principle or something like that. The Doctor is very whimsical, so it won’t be about a guiding principle, per se. Thus, it has to be about his/her adventure and how it changes him/her and the companions. The Woman Who Fell to Earth did give us a hint of it but it was the start of a season that almost willfully ignores all of the fallout of decisions made throughout the run. And I think at the heart of it, that is what is wrong with this season. Maybe next season will be better. We’ve got a while before we find out. I just hope the writing improves because I really like the cast. I just wish events mattered more because right now, it’s got the same depth as a Tom and Jerry cartoon; do what you want to the characters and the surroundings, and next episode it can all be reset. I expect more from my television shows and even more when it’s the greatest hero in the history of science fiction! ML