In the first episode of the eleventh series of Doctor Who, a woman falls to Earth. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
I loved this so very, very much, and I am so happy to have fully met the Thirteenth Doctor, Graham, Grace, Yaz, and Ryan. It’s time for me to enter a new era of Doctor Who, one that already feels different from what came before it. But isn’t that one of the possible readings of Thirteen’s brilliant monologue about change? There’s a way to honor who you’ve been, to cherish those experiences and memories, and still change into something new. That’s exactly what this show has done, and I’m opening this by stating that I am so incredibly excited to see what this show will become now that we’ve got Whittaker as the Doctor and Chris Chibnall—who was the showrunner of one of my favorite shows, Broadchurch—at the helm.
I want to save most of this review to talk about the story, the characters, and the talented group of actors who brought “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” to life. But one thing that stood out to me that I want to make sure to spend time discussing is how this premiere felt different. Some of those distinctions were tangible and easy to categorize, but others are more subjective in nature. It wasn’t that long ago that I finished Broadchurch for my Patrons on Patreon, and so I still had a lot of the visual style in mind as I watched this. I knew Chibnall was the showrunner, and I knew Jodie Whittaker was the new Doctor. (That was one of the few spoilers that was impossible for me to avoid, since I couldn’t block her name from all the filtering programs I use.) Whittaker portrays the Doctor nothing like she did Beth, but I did see some similarities in style from the production team. I don’t know if Chibnall used any of the same crew, but there’s a crisp realism to the way this episode is shot. I loved all the wide angle shots of the landscape around Sheffield, a place I’ve not visited before BUT NOW WANT TO. The color palettes felt so much less fantastical than during Twelve’s run, too, and that might just be this episode, since it all takes place on Earth, and much of it is at night. But this felt like a movie! Visually, at least, and I think it was a bold decision that paid off in terms of storytelling. This was likely the first introduction to Doctor Who for plenty of people. Still, it’s gorgeous. It’s different. The same goes for the musical score, and I’m super into how this was noticeably new as well. WHO IS THE NEW COMPOSER, I LOVED THE SCORE SO MUCH.
The New Doctor
The premiere of a new Doctor generally has to achieve a few things for me: I need to see their new personality. I wanna know what food the Doctor is craving. I want to see the new Sonic Screwdriver, the new TARDIS console, and the new costume. While one of those things is clearly saved for the next episode—WHAT WILL THIRTEEN’S TARDIS CONSOLE LOOK LIKE!!!!—this manages to hit every single mark for the introduction of Thirteen. And it does so while giving us one hell of a story!!! That’s all I could ask for, right?
And so, after falling to Sheffield upon regenerating, the Doctor lands in the middle of a hunt. We don’t know that’s what is happening, but there’s such a vibrant energy to Thirteen as she does her best to figure out who has invaded Earth and who she is now that she has a new body. Both of these stories are intimately entwined within one another, too! The story of Tim Shaw (I don’t know how to spell their actual name, and this is what their name sounded like) is about the choices we make—the intentional ones and the unspoken, subconscious ones. Even Karl’s journey to self-improvement fits in nicely with the Doctor’s journey and Tim Shaw’s refusal to play this “game” by different rules. Does this episode give us all of Thirteen in a single hour? No, and that’s why this is a journey. We meet Thirteen and she’s funny, she’s witty, she speaks rapidly, and she’s got an immediate kindness that we did not see in Capaldi’s version of the Doctor. He was so much more rough around the edges, but there seems to be none of that here. (Yet.) Thirteen is open. Excited. Wide-eyed. Ready for an adventure. Adoring of Ryan and his willingness to pose new theories. Interested in Yaz’s desire for something new. Intrigued by how Graham experiences the world.
Let’s talk about them.
Three. THREE OF THEM IN ONE EPISODE. Well, technically four, but the only traveling Grace does with the Doctor is by car. (More on her in a moment.) I love that this episode spends so much time introducing us to the Sinclair family—Ryan, his nan Grace, and her second husband, Graham—and Yaz, and then bringing these four people together because of the arrival of Tim Shaw. Not since Amy and Rory has this felt quite like a family affair, and I love the dynamic. I love that these four characters are incredibly distinct from one another. Yaz has been in her probationary period as an officer for so long that she’s bored and eager to do something else with her life. (A classic dilemma for a companion of The Doctor!) Ryan is perhaps the first companion we’ve seen who has a neurological disorder, and it’s woven into the story in a way so that we can’t ignore it, but it doesn’t dominate his storyline. (I loved the little acknowledgment of it when he and Yaz were about to climb the ladder of the crane; she was aware of his mobility issues and gave him a chance to decline, but he still did it anyway.) And Graham…
Well, it’s hard to talk about Graham without talking about the ending. Prior to Grace’s fate, Graham struggles with acceptance. His wife loves him dearly, but her grandson, Ryan, is still uncomfortable with the idea of Graham being his step-grandfather. He’s also someone who plays things straight, who doesn’t rush into danger, and who certainly does not run towards a frightening alien who collects the teeth of their victims. (NO, THANKS.)
But then Grace dies. (And she fulfills the title of this episode in a much more tragic way.) And there’s no way this isn’t going to affect his role as a companion, so I’m curious to see how that will manifest in the show itself. We only get a tiny glimpse of that towards the end, so I feel less comfortable making assertions about who he is. I also have to take a moment to point out that we have yet another dead Black woman on the show, and the second dead mother in a row, since part of Bill’s development was her dead mother. I know that Grace’s death is most likely a pivotal part of this series, but that doesn’t negate that Black women don’t seem to fare well on Doctor Who. I mean, technically, Bill is dead? But sort of not? (I seriously miss her.)
Anyway, one criticism amidst a whole lot of praise. I loved this episode, and I desperately want to know what’s next. What does the console look like??? What about the interior design of the TARDIS? Why are they in the middle of space????
The video for “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
– The paperback edition of my debut, ANGER IS A GIFT, is now OUT! If you’d like to stay up-to-date on all announcements regarding my books, sign up for my newsletter! DO IT.