Doctor Who: Season 11 Episode 1 “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” Review
On October 7, 2018 a woman stepped into the shoes of one of Sci-Fi’s most venerated heroes. And it was brilliant. Despite what those /r/incels might have been hoping for.
Yes, in spite of the wailing cries of the internet, and the boo-hooing of wannabe alphas everywhere, the beginning of what is hopefully to be a long reign of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor came and went with grace, aplomb, and unmitigated success.
Though it took 10 minutes for her to make her bombastic appearance, our new Doctor wasted little time affirming herself in the hearts of Whovians everywhere by doing what the Doctor does best: regenerating in a somewhat humorous fashion and saving humans from the fantastical and timey-wimey. However, The Woman Who Fell to Earth is not about what the Doctor does best, it’s about what the Doctor does new. And this time around, there’s an avalanche of new for us all to get used to.
Gone are the days of Moffat’s muddled story arcs and Capaldi’s pointy eyebrows, replaced by a new showrunner, new writers, and – of course – new Doctor. All this new has been at once a point of dread and glee for Doctor Who fans across the world; fortunately, however, new seems to be exactly what the Doctor ordered.
After an enjoyable introduction to our new cadre of companions, Jodie Whittaker makes her mark immediately. Displaying a keen mix of humor and straight to the point determination, it doesn’t take long at all before the strangeness of not seeing the familiar white-haired Scotsman wears off. She assumes the role seamlessly, flowing from scene to scene, quipping when appropriate (or inappropriate, for that matter) and taking charge when necessary. Just as the Doctor should.
And yet, there was an essence of childlike wonder infused in her performance that felt fresh and original. This aspect not only is new to the Doctor – particularly when considering the recent, more grim performance of Capaldi – but also really gives 13 a personality all her own. I won’t spoil anything, but two scenes in particular – one involving the introduction of a familiar screwdriver – display this childlike wonder in a truly touching and brilliant way. To me, these scenes announced that Jodie Whittaker is indeed the new Doctor we’ve all been hoping for, and there really is nothing to fear. In other words, #totallymydoctor
Doctor Who, though, is not just about the Doctor. It’s about the people she touches on her journey throughout the cosmos, specifically the companions she totes around in her little blue box. This time around, Doctor Who spoils us with three companions – Ryan, Yaz, and Graham – and each brings something different to the table.
Though the episode is not quite long enough to get us a true feeling for who these companions are or how they’ll mesh with our new Doctor, you see just enough to start to care for each of them. They are well portrayed, offer interesting and snappy dialogue, and immediately ingratiate themselves to you with amusing character foibles. Each of them is also quite likeable, Graham specifically, and even though they’re still strangers to us, the potential for any one of them to become fan favorites is certainly apparent from the start.
Most intriguingly, however, unlike companions of Doctors past, Ryan and Graham struggle with very real physical flaws that could have major implications in the future. Specifically, both suffer from health maladies that already alter their everyday lives and could also alter the TARDIS world saving dynamic. Will these potential roadblocks ever evolve past simple character flavoring? Hopefully, but only time will tell. Still, it is interesting to see companions saddled with potentially disastrous flaws.
For those wondering how Chibnall would do as the new showrunner and head writer, those doubts – at least so far – can also be put on hold. Chibnall’s writing does a brilliant job of allowing each companion their moment in the sun. Truly, his chops on Broadchurch shine through in how he manages multiple viewpoints, giving each companion their due and even allowing the personalities and voices of one-off side characters a chance to make an impression. I had worried that that the multiple companions competing for screen time would be too much for Doctor Who’s runtime to handle; but, at least so far, this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Perhaps my only complaint is the actual timey-wimey, fantastical aspect of the show. The Doctor may have been a dream come true, and the episode deftly directed, but the primary adversary was somewhat lacking.
This new baddy did provide a creepy factor that I certainly appreciated, and Chibnall did a great job infusing this antagonist with some violent and adult themes that I wasn’t quite expecting; but, even so, it’s obvious that episode 1 shines in other departments. It’s not that this new baddy is a terrible villain, or that the tension generated by it is lacking. It’s just that this specific villain – which is a bit too reminiscent of a certain warrior race from a certain red planet – feels much more familiar than I would have expected in an episode with so many other new beginnings. Then again, Doctor Who is notorious for utilizing the “throw away” villain during the regeneration episode, so hopefully we get to see something a bit more…well, fantastic when episode two comes along.
Even so, once credits rolled, I found myself basking in the thought that Doctor Who was back. Chibnall seems every bit the showrunner we Whovians have been calling for since Davies left the show, while Whittaker is – or should be – every fan’s dream come true. It wasn’t a perfect episode by any stretch, and there are certainly still questions I have about the future of the series. However, The Woman who Fell to Earth did everything but disappoint.
Rejoice, Whovians, we’re in for a ride, and a fun one at that!