The biggest change in Doctor Who season 11 was Thirteen herself


The biggest change that came to Doctor Who in season 11 was the Doctor herself – but not because she’s a woman now. (Though that was a pretty nice bonus.)

For over a year prior to Jodie Whittaker’s debut on Doctor Who, all anyone could talk about was the fact that this iconic 55-year-old science fiction series was about to have a female lead for the first time.

This was fitting, obviously, as the fact that a stodgy old British series was finally catching up to the modern era (a little bit anyway) was – and still is – a pretty big deal. The fact that the Doctor is now female is important and magical, deeply satisfying, and oh, such a very long time coming.

But the fact that Thirteen is a woman isn’t the most important thing that happened on Doctor Who this season – or to the character of the Doctor herself.

(Though, let’s be real. It’s a nice bonus.)

But in truth, the most important transformation the Doctor underwent this year wasn’t an external one. It’s the fact that she became fallible again, for the first time in a long time. For once, the Doctor isn’t always the smartest person in the room. She doesn’t have all the answers all the time, though she’s capable of coming up with a lot of them. She makes mistakes; she can get things wrong. Sometimes, there’s a problem she can’t solve, no matter how much she might like to.

And it’s refreshing, honestly. Because Doctor Who is a show about change on every level – and that’s true for the Doctor herself, too. She must also become someone different, and not just in terms of the person who plays her. Season 11 deftly handles this shift, giving us a Doctor who has changed in ways that go far beyond her gender and appearance.

Here, instead of a Lonely God or a Time Lord Victorious or the Good Man (who) Goes to War, we have Thirteen, a Doctor who promotes pacifism and does her best to eschew conflict, who promises that we can honor the people we’ve been and still become something new and better.

She understands that sometimes there are moments she cannot control, and things that even she, a Time Lord, cannot touch. Thirteen knows they cannot help Rosa Parks, or that they must let Yaz’s grandmother’s first husband Prem die alone. Events such as these no longer inspire bombastic rants, or super clever plans to outwit the laws of space and time, but spark bittersweet regret instead, along with a larger understanding that sometimes things happen because it is simply time for them to happen.

(Not for nothing but “time can be rewritten” was one of the worst rules Steven Moffat ever introduced to Doctor Who.)

Thirteen’s shift into a more fallible sort of Doctor has paid dividends in other areas of the show as well. Unlike previous years, the TARDIS no longer has an obvious hierarchy on board. Though, to be fair, it’s obvious that every modern-day Doctor genuinely cared about his companions. But it’s also been equally clear that the Doctor was the star of the show, and the companions were the supporting cast. That dynamic is much less present – if almost not entirely eradicated – in the Thirteenth Doctor era. Graham’s comment to King James in “The Witchfinders” about how the group has a very flat organizational structure wasn’t far off, really.

All four members of Doctor’s team treat each other like equals, whether they’re Time Lord or human. (This is subtly reinforced by the fact that the show constantly refers to them as Thirteen’s “friends.”) While they’re out on adventures, they each get tasked with various responsibilities, and mix and match partner-wise from episode to episode. No one outranks anyone else, and the Doctor doesn’t talk down to her friends, even when she’s at her most chatty and exposition-y.  Whovians often refer to the folks traveling with the Doctor as Team TARDIS, but in this ca,se it feels more apt than it has in quite some time, and the “fam” designation the Doctor likes to use feels earned — largely because it feels like this is a group of people who reciprocally need and depend on one another.

As Doctor Who heads into season 12 – which, sadly, isn’t coming until 2020 – the show feels poised to take off in a completely new and fresh direction. After all, Season 11 featured an episode in which Thirteen communed longingly with a sentient universe who presented itself as a talking frog. (And it sort of made us all cry?) Could Steven Moffat’s version of this show have ever pulled anything as weird and wonderful as that off? (My money would have been on the frog eating someone, TBH.) The show these days is deeply weird, and deeply heartfelt, and that’s because this Doctor is too.

It’ll be interesting to see where she goes from here.

light. Related Story. Ranking Doctor Who’s modern day companions

Doctor Who will return for season 12 at some point in early 2020.