Doctor Who is back! And there actually seems to have been a lot of hype for its return – at least in the Whovian side of Twitter that I seemed to have ended up in over the past year. And a good chunk of these people hated the previous Chibnall series. I guess at the moment, as the world falls to pieces around us, it’s nice to have something like Doctor Who to come along and make everything alright again. Even for just six weeks. And based on the reaction to this first episode, we’ve got an exciting six weeks ahead of us.
It’s a hectic return for the Timelord, as showrunner Chris Chibnall throws a lot of elements at us. Firstly there’s John Bishop’s Dan – possibly the saddest man in Liverpool with a comically empty fridge. He’s being chased by a furry fella named Karvanista, who belongs to a race of dog-like beings who are tasked with protecting Earth against a new, universe-ending threat called the Flux. As well as that, the Doctor is having visions of a weird and surprisingly creepy guy called Swarm (The Swarm? Mr Swarm?) and his sister (who was previously in disguise as a human in the Artic Circle). The TARDIS is acting up too, and creating new doors in the floor. On top of all that, there’s a new face called Vinder, stuck on the edge of a collapsing galaxy that’s being destroyed by the aforementioned Flux. Throw in the return of the Sontarans, and a haunted house and you’ve got a busy 50 minutes. And oh yeah, there’s also woman being stalked by a Weeping Angel, who tells the Doc that she’s got some important info for her “in the past”.
I’ve been reading some reactions about how stuffed this episode is, but it was only when I wrote the previous paragraph that I realised HOW much Chibnall and Co manage to get into this opening episode. And it’s pretty much successful in every aspect. The final couple of minutes of the episode show us glimpses of all these disparate storylines, as the danger closes in around each of them. and you realise that Chibnall is in control of each of these elements. Like a master spinning his plates, he’s got us all enraptured. If he can carry this on for five more weeks, well that’s another matter.
The team behind the show also deserve kudos for making all of this feel original. How often have we seen the universe threatened in this show? But here, they manage to get the tension ramped up to eleven and leave you believing that universe might actually end. The Flux is seemingly invincible. How will the Doctor get out of this? It’s honestly exciting, and the cliffhanger really leaves you fearing for Team TARDIS. I don’t remember that last time the show manged that. Even under Moffat, the Doctor would always have some bullshit MacGuffin to save the day. But it seriously feels like the Doctor is out of tricks this time.
John Bishop is hell of a lot of fun. His character of Dan fills the void left by Bradley Walsh with charm and some genuinely funny lines. He also has the thickest Liverpudlian accent I think I’ve heard, so apologies to US viewers (and probably any UK viewers south of Sheffield). I hope Liverpool makes more of an appearance, because I have a special place in my heart for that city – and until they start filming the show in Manchester it’s the closest the production will get to me. It’ll be interesting to see what role Dan plays going forward, and how useful he’s going to prove to be. Within minutes of the show returning, it became very clear that we were dealing with a different Yaz. She’s been with the Doctor for a while now, and is very accomplished at the whole saving the day thing. So I do wonder what Dan is bringing to the table. But John Bishop is a delight nonetheless.
Visually, the show looks the best it ever has. I’m still awed by just how good the special effects are in the new series. Doctor Who looks like shit, it always has. That was the charm. But I won’t lie and say the new pretty space vistas aren’t awesome. The restraints of the COVID pandemic aren’t super apparent yet, though there hasn’t been many scenes with a lot of people. We’ll see how the production managed to deal with this issue in the next episode, which looks like it contains a bloody big battle.
I feel like there’s not much more I can say right now. We’ve only had a taste of where the show is going this series, and its very, very promising. I’m glad they’ve not dropped the stuff with The Division, and are running with it at the forefront. People might have hated a lot of the last season, but you have to respect Chibbers for doubling down. And the overarching threat of The Flux is terrifying in just how unknowable it seems to be – add to that a genuinely scary villain and you’ve got a great season (hopefully).
I will defend the Chibnall era because I think it’s closer to Who than lots of people give it credit for. The show hasn’t changed that much. But, despite some outstanding episodes, the last two seasons have been uneven. On top of that, there was something missing. I don’t think I was ever excited for the show like I was in my youth, like I am again now. I’m not saying this series will keep the hype going for six weeks, but they’ve got me very excited again. And after spending the better part of the past year rewatching the show, I’m just glad it’s back.