Television review: “Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell to Earth” (Episode 1, Season 11)

“Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell to Earth” (Season 11)



Ten Episodes

Produced by: Chris Chibnall

Featuring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill

Tim Shaw: “Who are you?” 

The Doctor: “I’m glad you asked that again. Bit of adrenaline, dash of outrage, and a hint of panic knitted my brain back together. I know exactly who I am! I’m the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe.”

After what seems like an inordinate amount of time the latest season of “Doctor Who” returned to screens with some of the biggest changes in its fifty year history which in my mind are not only welcome but long overdue. The most significant as well as most obvious change is the Doctor’s latest regeneration from the older male Scottish actor Peter Capaldi to the more youthful female Jodie Whittaker is going to divide fans of the show like no previous alteration. The other changes that have occurred this year are a new show runner, a different screening time, a cosmetic change in the look of the show and the way in which the companions are going to be used in relation to the Doctor herself. To be fair on everyone it is far to early to tell how all these changes are going to be received or which ones are going to work and of course which ones are going to fail, you cannot please everyone all of the time.

After viewing the initial episode, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”, it appears on the surface that their have been some very wise decisions made and the decisions to cast Whittaker was a canny one by Chibnall who does share a past with the actress after casting her in previous roles. Change whether it works or not is good, it shakes things up, challenges the status quo, keeps audiences guessing and introduces new points of view. After introducing two new ‘Doctors’ as well as following the person that re-started “Doctor Who” in Russell T. Davies, it was time for David Moffat to hand over the reigns especially since the show had seemed to reach a peak and was seemingly a little lost in terms of its arc for the characters as well as feeling that casting Capaldi may have been a mistake as well as little backward looking. There had been from some quarters a call to have a regeneration from Matt Smith that was not a white man, but in fact asking the question that if the Doctor was indeed an alien why would race or gender need to be the same each time, especially for a being that is hundreds of years old, after change is the spice of life.

There is no doubt that Davies struck gold with the casting of David Tennant who was an instant success as the Doctor, he ‘got’ the role like few before, possibly second only to Tom Baker whose career it must be said was to the point of being cast very similar to each others. Tennant, of course has gone on to be in many successful television shows and a few movies that have realised his strengths in creating characters and have let him shine in whatever he appeared in. It was always going to be a struggle following Tennant but the then new show runner cast a seemingly unknown Matt Smith who acquitted himself well, then followed by Capaldi who was an extremely well known actor, he had stamped his authority in movies and film for over four decades, who as I have said may have been too senior for the role in this new millennium. Whoever followed Capaldi was going to have to reset the character as well as be someone who could carry a series that had been around for fifty years. It could have been viewed as stunt casting by having a woman but that really is not an issue when you look at Jodie Whittaker’s oeuvre, she may be one of the most experienced Doctor’s to ever be cast, that is extremely impressive to say the least. I believe she is one of the better actors to be cast, in her career she has played some complicated characters as well as acting opposite some truly great actors, matching them in talent every time.

In contrast to the casting of Whittaker, Chibnall as the new show runner has made some smart choices in supplying a mixed supporting cast to help the main star with her first season in a very unique role where she must be many things to a great many people. So we have young as well as older companions that will be offering very different skills in each adventure, possibly with the light shining on each in different stories involving different antagonists, which is something “Doctor Who” has been doing for years. The other element in the all of the new casting is that there are no holdovers from previous seasons in terms of characters, plot lines and even the TARDIS so that we, as viewers, are starting from the beginning of a narrative that has lasted for decades.

In terms of this first episode it is very definitely an introduction to all the new elements of the show, especially of course with a female Doctor. However in terms of the story it is an example of the kind of first episode that is common for a new Doctor going back to at least the Jon Pertwee era where there was a reset of sorts as well, these type of episodes have become routine, concentrating not on an antagonist but how a new Doctor begins to interact with the world around them. So what we have is the new Doctor with her new friends without a TARDIS facing off against a villain of the week that matters little, in fact this villain is extremely forgettable once the credits roll. What is important is how this new Doctor interacts with everyone as well as delivering lines that may sound absurd but actually link to a greater story as well as being completely believable in regards to the previous incarnations of the character. In terms of this episode it did everything correctly not only delivering a new Doctor but setting up the rest of the season whetting viewers appetites, hopefully living up to this episode for the next few months.

The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Written: Chris Chibnall

Directed: Jamie Childs

In Sheffield, Ryan Sinclair accidentally calls an alien pod to the planet, leading to a strange being attacking his grandmother Grace and step-grandfather Graham. He and traffic officer Yasmin Khan attempt to stop it when the newly regenerated Doctor falls out of the sky and sees it flee. Investigating the strangeness, the five discover a second alien is tracking a local construction worker as a hunting game. The Doctor manages to rework the alien’s systems, causing it to flee home, but Grace is killed in the fight against it. After Grace’s funeral, the Doctor reworks one of the alien’s escape teleporters to find the TARDIS. She bids goodbye to Ryan, Yas, and Graham, but accidentally teleports all four of them into deep space.

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