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So was the 13th Doctor's era THAT bad?

People love Doctor Who. It's easy to see why, when you have character with a magical box that can go anywhere and any time.

It is one of the most genius concepts that television has ever produced, and you need no further indication of that than the fact it's been going for nearly sixty years. However, with a show that goes on that long there inevitably comes the disagreement around what era of the show you prefer.

This is always the key conflict between overeager fans, all of whom fell in love with the incredible concept of the show during any particular era. While some fans accept the show in whatever form it takes (embracing the change, as you will), there will inevitably be an interpretation that you may just not click with. Either that, or you react negatively to and see it as getting away from what made the show great.

Me personally? While I have my favourite periods of the show, I find it hard to fully hate an era, because every era has usually brought something new and interesting to the table and given us a new spin on the Doctor that I haven't seen before.

It may make some recoil in horror, but the era that made me fall in love with the show is actually an especially controversial one, being Colin Baker's time during the 1980s. I know it is an era with flaws; filled with violence and an over-reliance on previous lore of the show, not to mention several generic stories and questionable decisions. But The Doctor being this unstable figure made for such an interesting dynamic change to previous eras, his progression made him such a compelling character, and when stories hit, they hit hard. Colin Baker is the reason why I fell in love with this show.

So when Jodie Whittaker was announced as the new Doctor, joining Chris Chibnall as showrunner in 2017, the backlash and differing opinions was nothing out of the ordinary. Every Doctor has had detractors before they began. But let's get the obvious exception with this backlash out of the way.

Full disclosure, I know that we live in a world still struggling with patriarchal issues and structures, and while it is important to break those down and strive for a world of open equality, we're not there yet, sadly.

But, the discussion of the Doctor's gender has ALWAYS been around. From genuine discussion to parodies and more, it was an inevitability that in a show about exploring the universe and embracing change, that something like this was going to happen.

To put it simply, what matters most in Doctor Who is having a wonderful and complex character who gives us fun sci-fi adventures, and if you're focusing on the gender of a character and using THAT as the determining factor of your opinion, you're focusing on the wrong thing. You only have to look at Michelle Gomez and her performance as Missy (as a recent example), and how quickly she has risen up the ranks of the best Masters to see that what matters most is what you do with the character. The best part about Missy was how incredible her story was, and Gomez embodied it perfectly.

In November last year, we said goodbye to the Whittaker era, and while it was heart-warming to see many new fans sad to see her go, it was also disheartening to see fans happy to see the back of her. It was a moment of such toxicity for something that is just meant to bring joy. And as such, I find myself in a weird place with the show, the fans, and the last five years.

I don't hate the creators of the show. When you are putting this much effort into what is now a tent-pole production for the BBC, it is fair to acknowledge when that effort actually translates to screen. Applying a blanket-style criticism and assuming everything in an era is trash is not an objective argument: in fact, it is similar to the arguments that fans were levelling at the Star Wars prequels during the 2000s and 2010s. Yet, now people are increasingly coming round to those films, and that the strengths of the storytelling and ideas far outweigh their shortcomings.

We are only a few months post the Whittaker era at the time of writing, so it is too early to determine how this era will sit in the greater context of the show's history. But we are able to look at it in full, with time to digest. If that is the case, what are the episodes that stand out? What is the Thirteenth Doctor's era defined by? Are the criticisms levelled at it legitimate?

I can only give you my opinion, and to me I can only summarise it like this: it is an era that COULD have been one of the best.

The production design is immaculate. The aesthetics are some of the most gorgeous the show has ever had. There is a great bunch of directors and an incredibly talented cast and crew leaping out of the screen with every episode. Even episodes where the subject matter is laughable, most of the time it still looks great on screen.

I love Jodie Whittaker as an actress. I honestly do. Whether you love or hate the portrayal (we'll get to that) there is no denying she brings a breezier energy and a new lease on life that I think the modern era of Doctor Who needed. There comes a point, especially after ten seasons, that you can't have a character being endlessly bogged down by the guilt of the Time War. That natural recovery is part of the change, and she is able to embody that when the show writes to her strengths.

So what holds all of this back from being an era that COULD have been one of the best? Well, like a clunky segue, we need to talk about the writing and direction of this era, because here the criticism is not unfounded.

The sad part is, Chris Chibnall is an excellent writer. I know it's easy to criticise now, but back when he was announced as showrunner in 2017 he was regarded as one of the biggest writing stars in the UK, having delivered Broadchurch, some great episodes in season two of Torchwood, and he's made some good episodes for the main show as well. So, what happened?

The more I've looked at the show, the more I've realised how well Series Eleven has aged. When Series Twelve rolled around, the show really started to lean into previous lore. Yeah, while that is great for those familiar with the show and those willing to jump on the nostalgia train, it isn't necessarily good for the long-term health of the show.

We've been down this road before during the 1980s, especially when the Fifth and Sixth Doctors had returning villains week after week. It is important to remember Doctor Who is at it's best when it moves with the times, it's a major reason the show under the eras of the Third and Fourth Doctors, not to mention under Russell T Davies and arguably Steven Moffat, are viewed as the most creative times of the show.

The Whittaker era definitely tried new things, not just changing the Doctor. There was increased emphasis on historical stories, and even a few globetrotting stories that harken back to older eras. However, from Series Twelve this emphasis on previous villains and characters becomes the driving force of the show, and not for the better.

It's a well-talked about comparison, but a lot of similarities have been made between Jodie's performance and the performance of Peter Davison. The Fifth Doctor was, for sure, likeable. But often he had moments where he was cheated out of a more complex examination of his character. For the Thirteenth Doctor, there was an additional issue: actual moments of questionable morality. The murdering of a whole bunch of spiders in Arachnids in the UK. Or committing actual genocide in multiple moments of Flux. There's actually quite a lot of instances where I thought, I am supposed to be cheering for this character?

However, when the Thirteenth Doctor was at her best, I would argue that she outshone her lowest moments, and gave us something new that the show hadn't seen before: a Doctor in recovery, with a new lease on life. While the Thirteenth Doctor's era is not one I will personally gravitate to, that doesn't mean that there isn't enjoyment to be had. At the end of the day, this era has it's fans who will enjoy it no matter what, and if you do, more power to you. So no, the Thirteenth Doctor's era wasn't all bad.

So what are the best episodes? Well, here is my top five in no particular order (only just from the TV series, not expanded media). If you haven't seen these episodes before, (or maybe even if you have) I think you should check them out. Or, indeed, re-evaluate.

Series 11, Episode 9: 'It Takes You Away'