WhoThrough: Doctor Who Season Eleven

Sarah Jane Smith arrives and Jon Pertwee leaves.

Andrew Ellard
8 min readJan 1, 2022

When my wife and I married in 2014, we started watching Doctor Who in order, one story a week. Five and a half years later we finished and started again. These are a combination of my scattershot notes from the first and second WhoThroughs.


New titles, new logo, but the same Doctor staring his final year. Funny time to do that. Bizarre to start so dynamic and then have the characters…decide not to check out the fallen star until later. “If this is a rag day joke”/“It’s a tourist altercation” is the original version of Rose thinking the autons are students. God, it’s funny — Linx bemoaning the inefficient human reproductive cycle. Linx is a solver of mysteries (such as Sarah-Jane’a origin) and an interferer in time, and it’s not hard to relate that to being a Time Lord/War Lord mirror of the Doctor.

Lynx keeps insisting on making a killer robot even though Irongron doesn’t want one, like he’s a producer on the show. How did Lynx get his ship into the basement through the one small door? Surprised this story — which is funny and pacy, joins present and past through time travel and makes strong use of a new companion’s arrival — doesn’t get used as more of a touchstone akin to City of Death, of which it feels like a significant relative.

Really good design on this one — Lynx being mistaken as wearing armour is a near-impossible brief, but they get close, and both he and the castle sets look great. The show revels in the dialogue ‘of the era’ in a way akin to Gatiss. It seems like Pertwee’s distinctive voice has given away his presence in the robot disguise to the audience, but actually the show knows what it’s doing and the fight scene ONLY works if we know he’s in there and worry about the outcome. The killing of Linx has no narrative function — the same explosion would happen either way — which makes it seem weirdly vindictive.


We’ve totally skipped Sarah seeing the inside the TARDIS, and the Doctor using an actual phone box to make a call is small compensation. The Doctor is offered the choice of fleeing captivity or explaining himself to the military — funny, since he’s prone to both. The guy in the shed in ep two, lurking behind Sarah in the shadows, is some incredibly skilled direction, generating crazy tension. (See also the evil door sliding shut behind Sarah in episode three.) “How much do you think we’ll learn from a dead dinosaur?” asks the Doctor, thereby cementing his contempt for archeology.

Lovely gag in episode two where the Doctor refuses to do the exposition twice. (Part of a gorgeously structured comedic sequence in the lab.) Mike’s betrayal is really upsetting. It also plays like Jo’s departure is what upset him enough to become enviro-crazy. Benton being told Mike had betrayed them is the best bit of acting Levine has done. The taser gun is a great practical prop, really well designed. The puppets get a lot of justifiable stick, but the T-Rex breathing in the (CSO) background as the Doc, Brig and Sarah debate it in episode three is a lovely, gentle detail. The Reminder Room is a creepingly chilling name .The “months later, in space” cliffhanger is AMAZING. Struck by how regular the writers in the Pertwee/Letts/Dicks years are — the same names over and over.

The first pterodactyl attack is nasty and scary in the Jurassic Park way, right down to the tight space and breaking glass. For the season that supposedly Pertwee felt sad to do without Delgado, he’s on sprightly, witty form. The episode five runaround is badly in need of some third element to make it fun — some character for the Doctor to interact with, or the Whomobile getting some gadget-laden use to escape the pursuers. Like all UNIT-facing monsters, the dinosaurs are presented as basically bulletproof, which is probably the nadir of that whole idea. There’s something nostalgically delightful about the Doctor and Brigadeer returning to the London Underground to blow things up.


Sarah asking “You won’t go anywhere, will you?” nicely shows her as still new to the Doctor. The attack on Sarah inside the TARDIS — all POV shots and door crank handles — is proper horror movie stuff, good score and dark lighting, too. The craggy, foggy planet in studio is equally good, except…we can’t tell that the rock Sarah screams at looks like a humanoid figure, which makes her look daft for screaming rather than the show bad at communicating.

Sarah battering her attacker in the TARDIS feels like violence, the Doctor fighting several feels like action — and there’s probably an essay in that. Sarah finding the city is the best executed CSO we’ve seen so far. In fact the whole of episode one is, one rock aside, so crazily well executed that I might be a fan of just this one episode. It’s like Halloween or something for the first 15 minutes.

Only Nation would write “She finds his blood-stained oil lamp” and think it was totally appropriate for the show. I’m glad not to have names like ‘Vardon’ for once, but Peter, Jack, Jill, Dan…these are the dullest collection of names available. Making an alliance with powerless Daleks is a great start to a story. The fiery destruction of the desperate-to-attack Dalek in episode two is a mix of spectacle, action and…Dalek characterisation? How bizarre and wonderful. And mirrored moments later by the Doctor jumping in to save Sarah, for equal reasons of powerlessness.

The Daleks are given very silly music that diminishes them even more than the slack editing of the part one ‘powerless’ cliffhanger. The Exxilons have amazing faces. A room with “three different ways to run” is the Doctor’s definition of a safe place. The root creature destroying Daleks is proper, huge entertainment. Also good: the metal tube Dalek POV shots.

As the story goes on the Daleks become irrelevant chasers — the alliance, the weapon power, all nothing to do with the Exxilon story being told. Just like their use of invisibility last time.

It’s a tiny thing, but episode three has a walk and talk scene where the underground tunnel is long and the ceiling low, so Pertwee has to hunch and has so much more verisimilitude then usual. It’s honestly all quite exciting and scary and fun until you get to the “tests” at the city, which are lame beyond all reckoning. I think this is my favourite look for Pertwee, red trim, grey jacket, pale blue frills.


Sarah spends the early minutes being right a lot, puncturing the pomposity and arrogance of the Doctor. A job worth doing. It also forces the format to be a flaw in the Doctor’s character — his confidence and casual approach mean he lands in odd, adventure-starting places. Less and less is it about the TARDIS. Good call.

Daft to have “a race of miners” — how did their species survive without hunters, medics, etc.? Is making bodies vanish the best way to fuel an outcry? Where do they go? (Are they the ones the Queen is dragged past near the end?) And are they teleporting the Aggedor statue or projecting it? Because it seems like the latter except it does also disappears from the temple and have physical effects. “The Doctor is dead” mislead is played three times in six episodes — which I guess might play interestingly to audiences anticipating a regeneration.

They struggle to sell Peladon as a full society, rather than a castle hooked up to a mine. It’s not really clear why the revealed Ice Warriors are instantly in charge. Lovely bit in episode one where the Doctor says that miners in revolt probably have a legitimate grievance, then Sarah-Jane tries to reassure Alpha Centauri about her appearance. There’s no idea for the Ice Warriors beyond “they’re bad again” which leaves them feebly characterised and uninteresting. Alpha Centari is idiotically incapable of guile, which at least suggests the Federation are trustworthy, I guess.

The first visit to Peladon was about showing you new, weird and wonderful things — coming back to show them again is rather against the point. Even basic things like “How do we escape the monster?” is dulled by the inevitable answer “Do what we did last time.” Because of COURSE the Ice Warriors are here again — it was either them or the wiggly fella in his jar.

Eckersley’s gun fires beautifully — a simple flashlight flash, but the zap in episode six is gorgeous, looks like a video effect you can’t quite work out. With the standard emotionally-stunted handling we get Sarah sad the Doctor seems to be dead…but also completely unaware that this traps her on Peladon. See also the hilariously forced “should we stop pretending or should we do it a bit longer?” chat between Eckersley and the Ice Warrior, which only makes sense if it’s meant to be overheard by Sarah-Jane.


A lovely start, in media res, with actual character restatement for the Doctor and Brigadier. Lovely dropping in of regeneration recap exposition…even though it’s actually a new term. Doctor’s “greed” connects to the death he caused at the start of the story, the theft of the crystal — and his theft of the TARDIS, in fact, mentioned only moments later. Transformations all over. The spiders taken beyond their Earth origins, Mike from his exile, astronauts into natives, Tommy of course.

The Professor Clegg discovery is proper ‘Doctor as detective of the strange’ stuff. The Crystal arrives with the same level of insane fluke as it’s usefulness the first time. Tom’s revival by the crystal is one of the best acted moments in the series. Rather delightful that episode four ends on a funny cliffhanger.

The helicopter is from You Only Live Twice, but the comedy cop is from Live and Let Die. The Whomobile taking off is excitingly written…but lumpenly executed. Episode two’s padding action, swapping vehicles, all moot when you could just teleport away. The spider shelves of Metabelis 3 are hoopelessly bad design.

Four superpowered enemies — wow that feels huge and threatening! And them facing Tommy feels vast and satisfying. It strikes me that the Pertwee era got interested in the joins between worlds in a way we’d not seen before even with Evil of the Daleks — Time Monster, Day of the Daleks, etc. Moffat’s Who in embryonic form, everywhere synced by story.

Episode five really hacks around the events of episode six to create a cliffhanger, which means six feels like a mess of stuff we’ve seen already and new bits. Episode six is also cursed to do the whole regeneration story — not least the reveal of a whole of time lord about to regenerate — where it clearly needs threading through the whole adventure.

Check out the WhoThroughs for Season One, Season Two, Season Three, Season Four, Season Five, Season Six, Season Seven, Season Eight, Season Nine and Season Ten.



Andrew Ellard

Writer of things, script editor of things you actually like. The home of #tweetnotes. www.andrewellard.com