What do the new Doctor Who writers tell us about Jodie Whittaker’s first series?

Will this series of Doctor Who be the biggest shake-up in years?

Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Jodie Whittaker and Tosin Cole in Doctor Who series 11 (BBC, HF)

After months of speculation it’s been revealed exactly who’s writing the eleventh modern series of Doctor Who, with Malorie Blackman, Ed Hime, Vinay Patel, Joy Wilkinson and Pete McTighe joining showrunner Chris Chibnall in bringing Jodie Whittaker’s new Doctor to life.

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You can read more about their newly-announced involvement here – but what clues do these particular writers offer as to what we can expect from the new episodes? And how will the dynamic be different this year compared to series past?

Well, using what we know about the writers so far, and rumours about the new structure of the writing team under Chris Chibnall, we’ve made a few predictions…


A more collaborative series

Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall and star Jodie Whittaker (Getty, BBC, HF)

Way back in 2016 RadioTimes.com reported on tentative plans to have a writers’ room approach to Doctor Who’s eleventh modern series, trying out the American style of collaborating writers instead of the usual UK model (and the one used by Doctor Who in the past) of hiring writers to work on individual episodes.

Since then, Chris Chibnall has suggested that the model they actually ended up adopting was somewhere between the two versions, with his five new writers collaborating with him on the series’ overall arc (and presumably on each others’ episodes) but not becoming an official in-house writers’ room. Which makes sense, really – it’s hard to imagine an author as in-demand as Blackman setting up shop in Cardiff for months.

So now that we know which writers are involved in this process, what can it tell us? Well, it suggests that the five writers’ influence might extend beyond their individual episodes (assuming they’re all only working on one each – Ed Hime’s CV suggests he’s only credited for one), meaning that while there may be a “Malorie Blackman episode” or a “Vinay Patel” story, they might have also had some input into Chris Chibnall’s series 11 opener, or where the Doctor goes after their specific story has concluded.

Of course, Doctor Who writers haven’t just existed in a vacuum until now – previous showrunners Steven Moffat and Russell T Davies worked closely with them to develop and occasionally redraft their scripts – but this could mark the first time that writers other than the showrunner could offer some help (assuming this is how the new model works – it’s still not entirely clear).

Overall, the writers working together could lead to a slightly more consistent arc and tone to episodes, which Doctor Who has sometimes lacked – for example, in 2006’s The Girl in the Fireplace, a plot point about Billie Piper’s Rose resenting her ex-boyfriend Mickey’s presence on the Tardis from the previous episode is dropped because writer Steven Moffat didn’t know it had happened.

On the flipside, it could mean that the series’ individuality from episode to episode (which has always been a creative high point of the series) could be slightly diluted, in an attempt to find something more consistent. Although to be honest, it seems like this is something Chibnall and company would want to preserve, so it may be that this is a worry over nothing.

Overall, it’s hard to predict exactly how a more collaborative Who would change the series, as we haven’t seen it before – but we have our fingers crossed that it’ll only make it a richer experience.


A wider perspective

Following on from this, it’s also worth noting that this more collaborative version of Who could give the series a wider perspective. Much has been made of the fact that Jodie Whittaker is the first female incarnation of the Doctor, accompanied by a particularly diverse group of companions in terms of age and ethnicity – and now, it seems that same diversity is reflected behind-the-scenes too.

Blackman and Patel are the first ever writers of colour to work on Doctor Who, while Blackman and fellow new writer Joy Wilkinson also bump up the comparatively small number of female writers who’ve worked on the show. If they really were involved in the wider planning of the series, this could be the year that Doctor Who broadens its horizons, including people with different life experiences and outlooks in the storytelling, providing a fresh approach for audiences.

Of course, none of this is to say that female writers have been brought in specifically to write about women, or that BAME writers have been hired because there are now more BAME characters – just that when there’s a more diverse pool of minds working on a show like Doctor Who, it can only create a richer tapestry of sci-fi stories.

And of course, if any stories do happen to deal with race or gender issues (for example, a rumoured US Civil Rights-themed episode), it can only help to have some people with relevant experience on hand to give their perspective.


Doctor Who background 

Malorie Blackman
Malorie Blackman

While all this year’s writers barring Chibnall are new to Who, two of them have a bit of a pedigree with the series – Malorie Blackman and Pete McTighe.

Back in 2013 Blackman wrote a short story starring Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor for a collection based around all eleven (at the time) incarnations of the Doctor, and it makes for interesting reading.

In the story, the Doctor and Ace accidentally create a universe where the Daleks have always been good, and are a positive force of peace and learning throughout the galaxy (they even do dentistry on the Time Lords!)

The Doctor immediately suspects the new Daleks of foul play and wants to turn things back – but as Ace points out, this version of reality may actually be better, and the Doctor’s issues with it might be because of his (admittedly well-founded) prejudice against the Daleks.

All in all, it’s an interesting twist on the Doctor Who formula that raises some good questions, and is well worth a read (we haven’t spoiled the ending here). It demonstrates both Blackman’s knowledge of and love for the series, and her ability to play with its most well-known conventions.

As much as we might hope for it, it seems unlikely she’ll be given the Daleks to play with this time around (Chibnall has suggested they’re not in it at all), but who knows what other Who conventions she could provide a new spin on?

And as mentioned above, McTighe is also a bit of an old hand at the Whoniverse. A lifelong fan, the screenwriter (who has worked extensively in both UK and Australian TV) has spent a lot of time writing booklets, sleeve notes and other material for the DVD releases of classic Doctor Who episodes, and even penned a sketch (above) promoting a new Fifth Doctor release that was posted online the day after his new role on the main series was revealed.

He joins a long list of old-school Doctor Who fans working for the series (like Steven Moffat, Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss and of course Chibnall himself), and it doesn’t feel like too much of a leap to suggest that his episode may nod back more to the classic days of Who than other stories in the series.


Other themes

A promotional image from Vinay Patel's Murdered by My Father (BBC, HF)
A promotional image from Vinay Patel’s Murdered by My Father

On the other hand, it’s arguably just as likely that McTighe will create something completely new for Jodie Whittaker’s first series as well, and overall it’s hard to predict what the writers will carry over from their previous work.

Sure, Ed Hime is best known for working on Skins – but that obviously doesn’t mean his episode will be based entirely on drug-taking teenagers and their relationships. He MIGHT bring over some of the more grounded ideas from his other work – for example, in an episode set in the present day – but he also might have some great ideas for a far-flung space adventure that he’s been sitting on for years. Who knows?

Similarly, just because Vinay Patel is best known for his work on the critically-acclaimed single drama Murdered by My Father doesn’t mean that his writing for Doctor Who will primarily focus on race and religion in society (as that film did).

You might as well assume that fellow new writer Joy Wilkinson would write an episode all about medical miracles because of her work on Doctors and Casualty!

Of course, we can wonder at what reflections of past work will be pulled through – Blackman’s frequent theme of prejudice, McTighe’s love of old-school Who, Wilkinson’s experience writing period dramas and historical plays, etc etc – but it might be easier to see the influences after the fact.

In other words, this is our way of not predicting anything in case we look stupid, while also hinting at a few thoughts so that if we’re right, we’ll look a bit clever. Win-win.


And finally – what this means for Chris Chibnall

Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall together in 2014 (Getty, HF)

While we already sort of knew that there would probably be five new writers joining the series (and we can’t be entirely sure how the series will be parcelled out between them), the announcement of their names seems to have confirmed something – that Chris Chibnall is likely to be the primary writer of many more of the series’ episodes himself.

Rumour has it that Chibnall has taken the lead on a total of five stories while the other writers have primary responsibility for an individual episode each (it’s already been confirmed that there are no two-part stories this year, and it seems unlikely, though not impossible, that only one or two of the new writers would be given more than one new episode to lead) in addition to working with Chibnall on the shape of the series as a whole.

Five episodes might seem like a lot, especially given the smaller 10-episode run time this year (down from 12-13 in every series since 2005), but it’s not without precedent. When Russell T Davies rebooted Doctor Who in 2005 he wrote eight out of the 13 episodes, while in later years the showrunner tended to hold onto about half of the series as a whole (or slightly under).

And if Chibnall’s suggestion of a new, more collaborative team of writers is true, it seems likely that there’ll actually have been more voices helping to shape his ideas and storylines, resulting in an even more layered version of Doctor Who.

That, or something completely different will happen. Again, we like to cover all the bases here.

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Doctor Who returns to BBC1 this autumn