Doctor Who returns to screens on Sunday, October 7 and new showrunner Chris Chibnall promises something of a reset for Series 11. Writing for Radio Times, Chibnall said you don’t need to know anything about Doctor Who to get into the latest series.
“If you’ve never seen Doctor Who before, the first episode this year is the perfect place to start. You need to know absolutely nothing about the show’s past. There’s no barrier to entry for this series. Start here: we’ll take you by the hand.”
10 slightly longer, standalone episodes means room to develop three brand-new companion characters, as well as Jodie Whittaker’s first woman Doctor. It also makes for an ideal framework within which to introduce new monsters and villains. Theoretically, then, Chibnall’s approach in his first series in the hot seat is a great way to draw in new viewers and reignite the passions of any lapsed fans. And by the looks of the series premiere – which we’ve seen – it’s off to a great start, well on its way to fulfilling those promises. In fact, it’s arguably the funniest and slickest incarnation of Doctor Who ever.
Bradley Walsh Brings the Laughs
Doctor Who has almost always dealt in humour, with certain series and Doctors bringing more, or less, comedy flair. In the past, there have been sombre, irascible or intimidating Doctors like William Hartnell’s First Doctor, Paul McGann’s Eighth or Patrick Troughton’s Second. The Twelfth Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, revived the serious tone of old, somewhat, with Capaldi bringing a generous helping of his own caustic wit. Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor looks to be a tad more enthusiastic and scatty, and less jaded, channeling elements of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor.
While Whittaker gets her share of funny lines, delivered in an “I’m-mad-as-a-box-of-frogs-me” style – coping ably with the weight of the role, let it be said – it’s in Bradley Walsh’s “elder statesman” grandfather figure Graham O’Brien where the true comedy lies. You might well perceive the gag count to be down on previous series, but Series 11 is a whole lot funnier – and that’s largely thanks to Walsh.
In the UK, Walsh has long been known as something of a jack of all trades – his trump card being he’s proved himself master of all. Walsh is more or less a national treasure, having started off as a professional footballer before conquering roles as comedian, singer, TV presenter, and quiz show host. There are even compilations of his funniest moments hosting The Chase online.
A popular TV personality, Walsh is also an actor, of course, appearing in well-loved British soap Coronation Street as well as Law and Order: UK. It was through the latter that Walsh came to the attention of Chris Chibnall, who cast him in the British version of the show and vowed to work with the talented screen star again.
And here we are. As O’Brien, Walsh is the perfect foil to out-of-this-world Doctor Who shenanigans. His delivery makes lines that might elicit a smile on the page instantly laugh-out-loud. He has a down-to-earth, deadpan manner about him that you both identify with and can’t help guffawing at. He’s a revelation in the series. Bradley Walsh will steal every scene he’s in, so get used to seeing the Doctor – and everyone else – upstaged now.
The Special Effects are Cinematic
In the past, Doctor Who has been criticised for shonky special effects. Granted, they’ve got considerably better over the years as budgets have increased and technology has improved, but Series 11 presents the show’s best special effects yet – we’re talking both practical and visual. While we can’t say much at this stage about the premiere’s antagonist, we can say that the special make-up effects both horrified us, and grossed us out. Truly impressive for a TV show that’s previously brought us the creepy Silence, vampire-like mutant humanoids, the Haemovores, and giant maggots.
When it comes to the show’s visual effects, though, they’re positively, seamlessly, cinematic. From those in the early train sequence, part of which you might have already seen in the recently released clip from the Series premiere, to all of those you glimpsed in the trailer and more, this series represents a step-up for its digital effects. They’re not overused though, and should put to bed once and for all the criticisms levelled at its efforts in the past.
With Tosin Cole’s Ryan Sinclair shaping up to be both a complex and highly sympathetic character, and Mandip Gill injecting a huge amount of likeability into her character, Yasmin Khan – a young woman out to prove herself – this series asserts from the very first episode that it’s setting foot in all-new territory. It sets up a rich bunch of characters with much to explore in the process.
With a fresh feel akin to Christopher Eccleston’s outing as the Ninth Doctor in the original 2005 relaunch, we’re also in comfortingly familiar territory too. A balance Chibnall was no doubt out to capture – and one it’s looking increasingly like he’s nailed.