Jodie Whittaker has been falling for an awfully long time. Her first series of Doctor Who expected to land on BBC One sometime in October, but between her first appearance at the end of Twice Upon A Time last Christmas, the usual influx of tidbits about plot details and guest stars is all but non-existent.
Where previous executive producers of the 21st century revamp, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat, would usually have given away something by this stage, incoming head writer Chris Chibnall has thus far been incredibly successful in keeping the forthcoming eleventh series under wraps.
With only a couple of months to go, we know very little about what to expect. From the usual trickle of updates in Doctor Who Magazine to the various massive leaks that have plagued the previous series, Chibnall has effectively put a dam up to keep information getting out. Even the last week of publicity, including a specially-shot teaser trailer that aired during the BBC’s World Cup final coverage and a further trailer released after last night’s panel at San Diego Comic-Con, has been unusually guarded.
“It’s really so that we can get it to you guys and everyone else in the world at the same time all polished,” Chibnall explained at the panel. “I really love television when it’s a communal experience […] I want you guys to all be talking about it at the same time, and we have things you’re not going to want to be spoiled for.”
Shy of a couple of updates to directors’ CVs and a pesky leaked clip from the first episode, the new production team have effectively locked most of the details down. This approach has more in common with the secretive marketing for JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens than previous series of Doctor Who. The 50-second teaser shows no new monsters, but instead shows off the new cast in action.
“All of this is new to me,” the new Doctor says. “New faces, new worlds, new times. So if I asked really, really nicely, would you be my new best friends?”
If Chibnall has his way, it’ll all be new to us too and that’s no bad thing. But we’re Doctor Who fans, so that’s not going to stop us trying to figure out what we can all the same. So, here’s a round-up of what we know so far and what we can expect from this brave new start to the Doctor’s adventures.
Aside from Whittaker and Chibnall taking over the TARDIS on their respective sides of the camera, the new Doctor will come with three new friends. It worked back in 1963 when the First Doctor travelled with his granddaughter Susan and her two teachers Ian and Barbara. Generationally speaking, we’ll get a reversal of that dynamic, with two young friends alongside an older companion.
On the younger side, there’s Tosin Cole as Ryan Sinclair and Mandip Gill as Yasmin “Yas” Khan. These characters are young police officers who will run into the Doctor as she recovers from her regeneration. You would think more coppers would have stepped into the police box over the years, but Yas and Ryan will be the first that we can think of.
The Doctor’s other companion is Graham O’Brien, played by Bradley Walsh. Having previously worked with the new boss playing DS Ronnie Brooks on Law & Order UK, Walsh could be playing a third police officer, but we’re expecting Graham to be more in line with Brian Williams, Rory’s dad, who was created by Chibnall for the 2012 series and played by Mark Williams. While promoting his appearance in a Peter Pan pantomime last Christmas, Walsh described Graham as “the Doctor’s Smee” in interviews.
Sharon D Clarke completes the regular cast as an as-yet-unnamed regular character. She doesn’t show up in the teaser and she’s remained tight-lipped about her role, which could as easily by either a Camille Coduri or a Michelle Gomez-type turn.
On the guest star front, we’ve been promised some big names, (not least by RTD, who used his guest Production Notes column in a recent Doctor Who Magazine to tease the casting of a huge star that Chibnall had told him about) but they’re not in evidence in the trailer. We do get a glimpse of the great Shaun Dooley, another Broadchurch alum, running around in the dark with the new team TARDIS. Otherwise, the teaser focuses on the new regulars.
However, outside of the trailers, we’ve had some unofficial confirmations by guest stars themselves. Alan Cumming revealed during an interview on the Homo Sapiens podcast that he’s playing King James I in the series. The following week, while Clarke was keeping shtum about her role in the new series on an episode of Radio 4’s Loose Ends, Lee Mack quite happily revealed that he has a small role in one of the new episodes.
For many though, the main attraction will be Whittaker. More than just the first female Doctor, she’s a marvellous actress with enormous range, as seen from her emotionally strong turn in Broadchurch to her brilliantly eccentric turn in the underappreciated Adult Life Skills.
Chibnall has described his leading lady as “incredibly warm, funny, energetic, inclusive – she’s the greatest friend you could wish to have as your guide around the universe.” While Peter Capaldi’s portrayal of the character is unfairly described as too grumpy, she should present a marked contrast from his approach and even those who went before him, with their last-of-the-Time-Lords angst.
It’s all change behind the scenes too. While Moffat experimented with the 13-episode format across his tenure as executive producer, there wasn’t some vast changing-of-the-guard from Davies’ run, with writers and directors being carried over to Series 5. Expanding the general feeling that the show is heading for a new frontier, there won’t be so much continuity for the impending changeover.
In fact, as it stands, all indications are that Chibnall might be the only writer working on this series who has previously contributed to Doctor Who. BBC Head of Drama Piers Wenger has previously stated that several scripts would come from female writers this year, but if it’s all-change, that might scupper any hopes of a return by Series 10 writers Sarah Dollard and Rona Munro in the short term.
At Comic-Con, Chibnall addressed the rumours of a US TV style writers’ room for Series 11, saying that they’ve employed a mix of the British and American models. It’s also been confirmed that Chibnall is writing five episodes and that two of the five guest writers on this series are women, including the first-ever woman of colour to contribute to the TV show.
Grab a pinch of salt for this one, but there was a rumour last year about former children’s laureate Malorie Blackman writing an episode. Having previously written The Ripple Effect, a Seventh Doctor short story for Who’s 50th anniversary in 2013, Blackman is best known for her Noughts & Crosses novels, but a track record in writing for children’s TV that includes Byker Grove and the BBC version of her own Pig Heart Boy.
On the other hand, we do know who’s directing the series. Jamie Childs will direct four episodes, including the extended premiere and the finale. With a CV including Poldark, Next Of Kin, and Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, it was Childs who directed the clip that revealed Whittaker as the 13th Doctor to the world, as seen on BBC One after the 2017 Wimbledon men’s singles final.
Taking two episodes apiece, the other announced directors are Mark Tonderai, (whose film work includes The House At The End Of The Street and 2009’s Hush) Sallie Aprahamian, (CBBC’s The Dumping Ground and Wolfblood) and Jennifer Perrott (Newton’s Law, Doctors, Hollyoaks).
At the moment, the only director with past form on Who is Wayne Yip, (Series 10’s Empress Of Mars and The Eaters Of Light) who is reportedly working on the currently filming Christmas special. He’s one of the few who has been carried over though. Even Murray Gold, who’s composed music for the show since it returned in 2005, retired from Who with Twice Upon A Time. The score for the new series will be composed by Segun Akinola, whose BBC documentary track Mount Nyiragongo might give us an idea of what to expect from his arrangement of the iconic theme tune.
Another significant announcement out of Comic-Con was that there will be no two-parters and that each episode of the next series will be a self-contained adventure, series arcs notwithstanding.
Chibnall told Digital Spy yesterday: “What we want is for people to feel like we’ve got the range and variety of Doctor Who this year. So if you’ve never seen it before, you’re gonna fall in love with it, and if you have seen it, you’re gonna get those things that you love about the show across the 10 episodes.”
The idea of this series as a jumping-on point seems to be the prevalent theme of what we’ve heard so far. As fun as the fan service of the last few years has been, this really feels more like a fresh start, not only because we now have a female Doctor but because the show gets to cast off from the same opportunity that the showrunners had in 2005 and 2010 again.
That’s compounded by the notion that we’re not going to see any returning monsters in the new series. It’s a lovely idea and one that’s been floated many times before each series, but it’s hard to credit. RTD and the Grand Moff were both branded as liars at different points for not giving away spoilers for their own shows.
It’s unsurprising then that a sector of online fandom is now determined that the Daleks must be in the Christmas special, based on Chibnall’s comments about not having seen them yet. On the other hand, if there’s a Dalek or a Cyberman or a Weeping Angel around this year, the current teasers don’t go for the easy money shots by showing them to us.
Instead, the focus is entirely on the characters. We’re promised lots of new monsters, but then Doctor Who has always had monsters. What glimpses we do get of the new (orange!) sonic screwdriver and alien worlds still put the characters in the centre of attention. It’s a big cast of regulars and it looks like they know how to use them.
More than any other show, Doctor Who gets to reboot itself every few years, but there shouldn’t be a race to touch every base before the new start is properly worn in. But compare 2005’s Dalek, which came halfway through the first series, to 2010’s third episode, Victory Of The Daleks.
When you know the show already, isn’t it better to get to know the Ninth Doctor first and look forward to that showdown? If you were new to that series, didn’t you learn the Daleks so much better by seeing how this lovely bloke in the leather jacket reacts to them? Putting characters before the iconography is an approach that satisfies both long-time fans and newcomers.
If and when the Daleks do show up in the new series, it’ll be nice to have got to know the characters first. But by the same token, I might be just as glad to look a pillock when they show up ten minutes into episode one. The poker face that the series is putting on thus far is part of what makes it so exciting.
It feels like ages since we met the Thirteenth Doctor on Christmas Day, but from now until the first episode of Series 11 drops, it’s Christmas Eve. Publicity will ramp up between now and October-ish and we’ll probably get more of a peek at what we’re getting, but what we’ve gleaned so far is that this is a show that looks hell-bent on making some new best friends out of the audience.
The eleventh series of Doctor Who will air on BBC One and BBC America later this year.