TL;DR – We barrel into the 11th season with an opening episode that will hit you in the feels, make you go ew, and have you sitting in wonder, so basically everything that makes Doctor Who work.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Doctor Who is a show that is one that I have an interesting relationship with. There are times that it rockets to the top of my must-see list, and times where I feel like I am watching more out of obligation than anything else. However, unlike any other franchise, other than maybe James Bond, Doctor Who is always reinventing itself both metaphorical and literally, and today we see the next step in that evolution with The Woman Who Fell to Earth. With that in mind today we are going to have a look at the debut episode of the shows 11th season (well 37th if you want to get technical) and answer the question: can they reinvent The Doctor again.
So to set the scene, at the end of Season 10 (see review) The Doctor in the final (well as final as one can be when time travel is involved) battle with his arch-nemesis The Master was fatally wounded. Thinking that it would be best to just go boldly into that good night he decided to ignore regenerating (when The Doctor dies they can regenerate into a new body, a clever way of allowing you to recast the role when necessary) however after some inspiration from himself (once again time travel) he began the regeneration in Twice Upon a Time, and today we see the other side of that as we jump to moments after the TARDIS exploded. Cut to Earth where we get to meet everyone who will be coming along for the ride like Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) who suffers from dyspraxia that makes things like riding a bike difficult, which is what he is trying to do under the watchful eyes of his Grandma Grace (Sharon D. Clarke) and her second husband Graham (Bradley Walsh). In a fit of rage, Ryan throws his bike off the moors into a valley below and has to go retrieve it while Grace and Graham make their way back on the last train. When he finds the bike he also finds a strange light that triggers a pod to appear, and as a smart move he calls the police and they send Yasmin ‘Yas’ Khan (Mandip Gill) who went to primary school with Ryan. If this is not odd enough for the people of Sheffield, well the last train just got hit by a flying cable monster, oh and The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) just feel through the roof.
The first thing we have to look at is the new Doctor, as they are the titular character of the show and can make or break the series, and frankly, I think Jodie Whittaker did a fantastic job on her first outing. There have been a lot of comments about The Doctor becoming a woman, many of them unpleasant, and ill-informed. But the one thing that is clear is that the show has been putting this in motion for years. To begin with, the fact that Timelords can change sex during regeneration has been a part of fanfic and non-cannon works for decades. Then it was made canon by a reference in The Doctor’s Wife all the way back in 2011. We are introduced to Missy the female reaeration of The Master in 2014, and indeed we even see it onscreen in Hell Bent in 2015. With all this setup, did it work, well when you cast someone as wonderful as Jodie Whittaker, then you can’t go wrong. The first episode of a new regeneration is all about them finding their feet in a new body, with new teeth, new hair (still not ginger), well new everything. So you have to play a character that is in flux, down to the fact that you are still wearing the clothes of the old guy. That is a hard distinction to pull off, you have to be a bit of the old characters, yet also charting your own course, and Jodie pulled it off with amazement.
However, The Doctor is just one part of the equation, there is also a universe around them, including the companions. The companions are humans (most of the time) that travel along with The Doctor and are part comic relief, part audience surrogate, and part conscience for The Doctor. This season we get three companions who are all different people with different drives, and all with a previous relationship with each other. This means that there is a bond their right from the start, so you hit the ground running. You have Ryan, someone that from the outside is full of confidence, but goes up into the hills out of sight to try and learn how to ride a bike, Yas, who is trying to be taken seriously as a police officer, and Graham who is trying to be a good role model for Ryan even though there is the oddness of him not being related to him. This creates an interesting dynamic in just the first episode, but also provides an interesting framework for the rest of the season as you see these three different yet united characters interact with a world that they could only have dreamed about … sometimes in their nightmares.
From the production side of things, there has been a clear attempt to upscale the look of the show, while still retaining the core of what makes it work. So for example, you still have those quirky moments with The Doctor, but also there has been a commitment to find ways of expanding the depth of shots, and I would not be surprised if there have been some tech changes behind the scene. Though I do want to say that whoever lit the episode did an absolutely fantastic job. Add to this new/old feel I don’t think it was until the credits started rolling that I realised that we didn’t get the opening title crawl and theme, so it will be interesting to see if this is just for the opening episode or if this is the new norm going forward. The alien design was both familiar but also really off-putting, even before they took off their mask and well no, no, no, no, no, nope, ew. This was also the first season of the new Doctor Who without the music of Murray Gold guiding it, and I have to say while those where big musical shoes to fill I did like the new direction the show took. It was also good to see the show go to a location that it has not really visited as much in the past to get out of London, or Cardiff pretending to be London.
As stories go, you have a lot of ground you have to cover in the first episode. You have to set the tone of both the show and the new Doctor, introduce the new companions, and also put in motion the rest of the season. This is a tough act to do on any show, but when you have one with such a historical push behind it and such passion of the fans, well that is not a job I would have wanted. However, as the episode raced ahead I was captivated with the twists and turns of the story. There were some moments that did feel a bit forced, like ‘hello let’s give this character one line of dialogue so you feel something when they die in 3 seconds”. However, there were also these moments that hit me in the emotional feels. It was also a good idea to strip back everything from The Doctor, no TARDIS, no anything, so it was only her wits that saved the day. Like for example having to forge a new sonic screwdriver from things laying about in a workshop, rather than have one pop out of the TARDIS consul.
In the end, do we recommend The Woman Who Fell to Earth? Yes, yes we do. It was a fantastic opening to both a new season and a new Doctor. It did everything you needed to do and more, and better still it captivates you to want to see where they go from here. This is a show where reinvention is not just a necessity but part of the DNA, and there is more to come from here.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you seen Doctor Who yet ?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Trailer – Click Here to View (all trailers have heavy spoilers)
Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Doctor Who
Directed by – Jamie Childs
Written by – Chris Chibnall
Showrunner – Chris Chibnall
Starring – Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole & Mandip Gill with Sharon D Clarke, Samuel Oatley, Jonny Dixon & Amit Shah