Jodie Whittaker’s first Doctor Who series properly came to an end on New Year’s Day 2019, and there’s a long old wait until new episodes crop up again in early 2020. Overall you’d have to say it was a success, with decent ratings, new fans converted and some critically-acclaimed episodes as the Tardis team travelled to 1950s America, the Partition of India and far-flung alien moons together.
But Doctor Who is also a show with an ardent, passionate fan base who hold it to a high standard. So what would they like to see change when the sci-fi series does eventually return to TV?
That’s the question we put to a group of RadioTimes.com readers and Doctor Who fans in the aftermath of series 11, and their answers (including the parts of the series they’d rework, expand or bin entirely) make for a wide-ranging discussion of new boss Chris Chibnall and Whittaker’s first series.
In short, while they loved many parts of the series, they felt there was also some room for serious improvement, particularly when it came to series-long storytelling, Doctor Who’s relationship with continuity and the make-up of the Doctor’s Tardis team.
Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
One of the most popular requests we saw for the 2020 series was a return for multi-part stories, which were set aside in 2018 in favour of standalone, weekly episodes.
Multi-part episodes allow for more story development and exciting cliffhangers, many fans argued, and most seemed to believe the most recent series had suffered for their absence.
“Some of the episodes felt a little rushed and could have been done better in two parts,” one fan suggested.
“Returning to multi-episode stories would be a good move, but the writing needs to be better and tighter,” said another.
“There were several possible cliffhanger moments in this series but, sadly, the single-episode format means the writers can’t make the most of that tension.”
Others suggested that the episodes themselves could be longer, with the 50-minute runtime – five minutes longer than the average Who episode since the series returned in 2005 – cited as not lengthy enough to service the larger cast and the standalone storylines.
“The Tardis team are great but the 50 minute run time does not leave room for all of them to actually do anything,” one fan argued, while another suggested that extending just one or two episodes would have the same effect.
“Although the 50-minute length did work at times, I feel that extending some to 60 or 65 minutes (like with The Woman Who Fell to Earth) would enable the characters and plotting to be thoroughly developed,” they said.
In other words, fans want more from Doctor Who stories going forward – even if that’s just making them a little longer or stretching them over multiple episodes.
More Daleks! And other old monsters
A Dalek in Doctor Who’s New Year’s Day special
Unsurprisingly, the return of the Daleks in the New Year’s Day special was a big hit with RadioTimes.com readers, and many were keen to see them return – though others were also hopeful that some other classic monsters could crop up in 2020.
“I would like a good mix, next year, of new and returning enemies, and definitely more Daleks,” one person suggested, while others earmarked emotionless cyborgs the Cybermen for a return.
“I’d like the Cybermen but with a new twist,” said one fan, while another suggested a return for the style of Cybermen introduced in 2013’s Nightmare in Silver (a design rarely used since then).
“The Daleks must be in a dangerous scary two parter,” was another proposition. “They draw the viewers every time.”
Still, not everyone was so sure about an overload of familiar Doctor Who foes, with one person writing to suggest the 2020 series found a new balance between old and original monsters.
“I find returning baddies a turn off other than the occasional,” he said.
“You need a balance between the old and the new monsters,” another reader agreed.
John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness
And it wasn’t just familiar enemies the fans we asked for series 12 tips wanted to return. After a year that largely kept Doctor Who continuity in the background, many of those who responded wanted plenty more comebacks in 2020, especially former companions who could react to the Thirteenth Doctor’s gender change.
“Would also really LOVE to see a previous companion meet Thirteen and being surprised by the fact she is a lady,” one fan said, before noting her particular preference – a certain immortal Time Agent played by John Barrowman.
“Captain Jack would be a good one as he would not a give flying squirrel. They should have done that in this series. Show a former companion accepting that woman or man the Doctor is the Doctor.”
“There’s only one thing I really want to see, and it’s a very simple thing – I want to see Captain Jack return,” agreed another reader.
And Jack wasn’t the only ex-time traveller fans wanted to see come calling for the Doctor…
“Give a nod to the past,” one suggested. “Bring back Jack, Rose, River Song maybe or K-9.”
We certainly know a few of the actors would be up for it – and more generally, beyond companions and monsters, the other thing viewers wanted to see was a return of references to Doctor Who’s past, some of which appeared in series 11 but were few and far between compared to other recent years.
“I’d personally like to see a few returning characters or at least references back to the previous seasons, as there were a lot of missed opportunities that I saw with this series,” one fan said.
After all, the Doctor can travel in time – why not let the series delve into the past a little too?
Give us some jokes!
Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who series 11
Think this series was a little light on humour? Well, you weren’t alone, with a handful of fans hoping for more belly laughs in any future series.
“Ok, so Steven Moffat could sometimes be a bit try-hard and self-conscious with the kookiness and the jokes,” one wrote, “but more often than not he got the humorous side of the Doctor – and of Doctor Who – right, with dialogue studded with one-liners and funny asides.
“There’s a lot less of this with Chris Chibnall and co, and quite often the jokes we do get are just a bit naff, and fall flat.”
“Basically, fit in more laughter!” another agreed. Time for the Doctor to crack open her book of Gallifreyan knock-knock jokes, perhaps…
More of an arc
In a similar vein to the call for more multi-part stories, many fans felt that series 11 lacked an overall arc, and hoped that the 2020 series would bring more of an ongoing story for the Doctor and her companions.
“I’d like to see a plot-line carried over several episodes such as a recurring monster, a life issue with one of the companions, or even just a running joke,” one RadioTimes.com reader suggested, while another suggested series boss Chris Chibnall look at the eras of his predecessors Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat for inspiration.
“Both the lack of strong continuity and story arc didn’t work for me at all,” they said, “so I suggest going back to doing something like Bad Wolf or the Cracks in Time to retain its popularity and attract more fans (old and new).”
We’ve gone over this in some depth before, but suffice it to say that plenty of fans are still missing the “cold open” of episodes, aka the pre-credits stinger that generally opened modern episodes of Doctor Who prior to 2018.
So far, Jodie Whittaker’s episodes have either gone straight into the credits or skipped the credits to delve directly into the action – but where’s that beautifully balanced compromise? Still nowhere to be seen.
Shake up the companions
Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole in Doctor Who series 11
An awful lot of readers also seemed to think that the current Tardis team dynamic needed some reworking, arguing that Ryan, Yaz and Graham (Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh) presented too large a gang for the Doctor over the course of the series.
“The Tardis feels too crowded,” one wrote. “Three friends worked in the 1960s with the more leisurely pace of drama at the time and longer stories: in the 21st century with 50 minute complete tales it slows things down too much.”
“Somehow, I still feel like I don’t really know them very well, in comparison to previous companions,” agreed another Who viewer.
“They still don’t really mesh as a whole alongside the Doctor.”
The solution? Well, some fans want the series to drop a character or two – even if they can’t agree which companion should get the chop.
“Get rid of Yaz – she contributes very little and the idea of a grandad and grandson exploring space with a mad time traveller is great,” one suggested.
“Personally I like Yaz and find her a far more interesting character than Ryan; so I’d drop both Ryan and Graham,” said another.
“I like the idea of an older person on the Tardis team, so make Ryan go away with a Bang, give a more explosive and distinct personality to Graham and expand Yaz,” argued a third.
Another solution put forward was that the series actually spend more time with the trio, giving us a better idea of their inner selves and making them into more distinctive presences.
“I’d also love to see more background on each of the companions,” wrote a fan.
“When the episode ends I want to see them go back to their families, relationships, jobs and see their lives beyond the walls of the TARDIS.”
“Companions must have bigger personalities,” said another.
“Ryan and Graham are interesting, their arc is great on paper and Ryan gave a wonderful performance in [New Year’s Special] Resolution, but I don’t think their serious and grounded styles are a good combination for the types of stories Chibnall decided to tell.
“Because of runtime, different plots and guest characters to be introduced every week, you need less companions or at least very unique and big ones, so they can leave an impression even if they have little to do.”
“Give Yaz some more to do!” cried one fan, echoing the sentiments of many others.
All in all, everyone seems to agree that something’s gotta give when it comes to the companions – even if they’re not quite sure what that something is.
A different side to the Doctor
Jodie Whittaker (Richard Grassie)
Whittaker’s Doctor herself largely escaped too much criticism, with most viewers commending her performance as the Thirteenth Doctor.
However, one or two people hoped that the 2020 series would add more shades to this particular Rebel Time Lord, and hoped for a “less passive, more dynamic Doctor.”
“I think it’s as much the scripts as anything, but Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor can feel a little flat sometimes,” one viewer wrote.
“Quirkiness is a big part of being the Doctor, but we also need to see the confident, focused problem solver – and sometimes a bit of fire in the belly, even a bit of darkness.
“I’d like to know more about her as the Doctor,” added another fan.
“At the moment (and maybe I’m being a bit cruel), she seems to be doing an impression of someone playing the Doctor.
“I don’t know what her personality is like – she’s not eccentric like Tom Baker, crotchety like Hartnell, professorial like Capaldi. I’m not sure what her characteristics are supposed to be. I couldn’t describe her in three words, for instance.”
In other words, perhaps we should hope for a Doctor that’s drawn a little less broadly in 2020, building on the good work Whittaker and the series have already done to create something more distinctive.
Fans seemed to enjoy the new series’ focus on Sheffield as a hub for our heroes – though one pointed out that the real city seemed a little under-served by the action onscreen.
“I don’t really know Sheffield, and after this series I still feel like I don’t know it, or its local vibe and residents,” she wrote.
“More name-checks of specific locations, please, and Northern humour like the kebab-throwing hero.”
We’re sure the Sheffield Tourism Board would be happy to get involved…
Make it scarier
Series 11’s fourth episode introduced terrifying giant spiders to audiences, but in series 12 many fans said they’re hoping for even bigger and better scares.
“They need to be a bit braver when it comes to scaring the audience – the monsters generally felt underpowered,” wrote one RadioTimes.com reader.
“I wasn’t a fan of the tooth monster,” agreed another. “He just seemed a bit ludicrous, rather than uncanny or genuinely scary.”
“I did think there were a lot of missed opportunities in this series to make it scarier/more thrilling,” added a third. “A lot of the time the villains just walked off and that was it.”
Could 2020 see longer arcs, multi-part stories, a richer character for the Doctor and a properly fleshed-out team of companions? Only time (and space) will tell – but whatever vision Chris Chibnall and the team have is definitely something we’re very excited to learn more about in the coming weeks and months.
And if nothing else, endlessly speculating about what will or won’t change will keep us busy for the next year or so. What more could a Doctor Who fan ask for?
Doctor Who returns to BBC1 in 2020
This article was originally published on 5 January 2019