“Now, please – get off this planet, while you still have a choice.”
After a bit of time off, Doctor Who is back. And once again it’s being touted as a soft reboot, or a jumping on point for new fans (you may remember the first episode of last season, which someone had the ridiculous idea to call ‘The Pilot’ – geddit?). But unlike the previous times, The Woman Who Fell To Earth has a legitimate claim as an actual reboot – or at least as close to a reboot as a gargantuan 50-year franchise can get. It has a new showrunner, new writers, new directors, new overall style with new cameras and aspect ration, a new cast of characters, and most of all the groundbreaking addition of the first female Doctor. In a perfect world, this would be a non-issue. But it isn’t, so it’s not. Let’s jump right in.
Firstly, new showrunner Chris Chibnall and his crack team of fancy writers make the very smart decision of not introducing the new Doctor straight away. We have a while to get to know the new characters first. We first meet Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) and his grandma Grace (Sharon D. Clarke) and her new husband Graham (Bradley Walsh). First impressions are good, Ryan is a likeable character. His relationship with his grandma’s second husband Graham is realistic and adds a bit of tension (albeit fairly safe tension) into the group. It is Ryan who stumbles upon/causes the alien plot that kick-starts the episode. He presses a magic floating button he finds in the woods (I loved that he claims anyone would have pressed it, to which Graham shouts “I wouldn’t!” – Graham is on the level) which in turn makes an alien pod appear. The pod itself looks like a massive iced gem, which is reassuring, because even though the show has got a glossy Hollywood makeover, it’s not above using a papier-mâché prop every now and them. This discovery forces Ryan to ring the police (again acting like an actual human being) bringing in the final member of the new cast, Yasmin (Mandip Gill).
Yes this is a diverse cast of BME characters, no it isn’t a big deal. There is a subset of people who will be quick to judge and claim this is a stunt by those dastardly liberals at the BBC, with their Cultural Marxism and their force-fed left-wing politics (genuine comments I’ve seen, just whilst Googling this episode). But this is absolute nonsense. I’m not sure if any of these naysayers have actually left their hovels recently, but this is what Britain looks like and I’m all for it being reflected on our TV screens. Doctor Who has always been progressive, and I’ll agree that the Steven Moffat-era could have taken some cues from the subtlety on display here, and it’s nice to see in post-Brexit Britain that they don’t pussyfoot around it – they double down. And besides, it’s not the supporting cast that the naysayers are concerned with – but more on her in a moment.
The plot of the episode is Predator 2. There’s no beating around the bush on this one, it’s Predator 2. An alien has come to Earth to hunt humans as trophies. It may not have much more depth than that, but the villainous Tim Shaw (and his gross tentacle-y gathering coil) was a great, simple, first villain for The Doctor to take down. It allowed for some great interactions between the two and, at the end of the day, he is actually really scary. Stephen King once wrote that there are three types of scares – the gross, the horror, and the terror. And for my money, Tim Shaw is in the first camp. After brutally dispatching his victims, he tears a tooth out of their heads and sticks it in his face (think the Predator again, marking itself after killing). The violence is all implied, but his toothy face certainly isn’t! It’s the stuff of trypophobic nightmares, r/cursedimages come to life. And ok, even if it’s not that gross to you, it’s still a strong monster design.
Before we talk about the big change, I just want to mention how the show feels and looks from a production standpoint. First, the direction is spot-on this episode. Other series of the show have looked great, but not consistently. Hopefully this series can keep up the gorgeous lighting and cinematography – it finally feels like a big budget show. On top of that, the writing is a massive improvement. That might be a few witty Moffat-esque lines, but these are thankfully now the minority and not the majority. And let’s not forget the music! Murray Gold had some good themes, but my god the music became so overbearing. Now there’s a new, lower key, synthy score courtesy of new composer Segun Akinola. Though we’ll have to wait until next week to see the new opening titles and theme.
Now, The Doctor. Jodie Whittaker is superb as the 13th incarnation of everyone’s favourite timelord, and this first proper look at her gives us some idea of the quirks and eccentricities she’s brought to the role. Gone is the belligerent grumpiness of the previous era (which is good because no one can do angry old man like Peter Capaldi) and making a return is the wide-eyed optimism of Matt Smith or David Tennant (with a touch of that Christopher Eccleston Northern charm). She has to deal with the usual post-regeneration rigmarole; pointing to bits of herself and commenting very quickly and erratically about how they’ve changed. It’s Who 101. The difference is that the regeneration in The Woman That Fell To Earth comes with amnesia to boot. Is the amnesia necessary? Not really. But it does lead to a very cool moment when she remembers who she is.
Oh and now The Doctor is a woman. It’s a big deal in that it is a historic moment, but it shouldn’t be a big deal for the character. Lots of people have very strong opinions about this, but it’s really no different to The Doctor being Scottish. Sure the accent might be different, but you’ll get used to it. If you can believe this character can change into a different man of a different age, appearance, and nationality, then becoming a woman shouldn’t be a big deal. The problem is not that it doesn’t work within the lore of the show, it is with them, the small subset of closed-minded fans. I’ve seen these people all over the internet threatening to quit the show. Well good riddance.
Overall it’s a really great slice of science fiction. The plot is not one of the most memorable but The Doctor and the new cast of characters certainly are. After being bogged down by the weight of years and years of stale lore, this fresh start is more than welcome. It’s the reinvention that the series needed, and who better to spearhead it than the charismatic Jodie Whittaker. This Doctor will be a lot of children’s first experience of the show, she will be their Doctor. And I can promise you that those kids really don’t care what gender she is.
Reviewed by Jack