Monday, October 8, 2018

Doctor Who: Series 11.1 - The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Alwyn Ash reviews the debut of new Doctor Jodie Whittaker. Was it all hype and no substance, or has the Doctor Who team managed to produce a gem?

Though early days, Jodie's take on this new Doctor was a perfect blend of past Doctors

On Sunday 7th October 2018 a mysterious woman fell to Earth in spectacular fashion, crashing through the roof of a train and facing a sinister alien probe. Just another day at the office, then.

From the moment Peter Capaldi left the TARDIS in the 2017 Christmas special "Twice Upon a Time", it was inevitable his replacement would have big shoes to fill - the Scottish actor delivered award-winning performances during his stay from 2013-2017. The appointment of Jodie was a surprise to many, some fans even refusing to accept the casting. Thankfully the majority didn't feel this way, embracing the news and looking forward to a full season with this Thirteenth Doctor. So how did the first episode play out? I'm glad to say it was a success, in my opinion at least. A debut story isn't always the easiest to write for, especially as for the most part the newly-regenerated Doctor spends time adapting to a physical transformation. There was no shortage of humour throughout, thanks to writer and showrunner Chris Chibnall, and superb direction from Jamie Childs. The gender swap had no real significance beyond an acknowledgement that the Doctor had previously been a "white-haired Scotsman". Instead, the plot threw everyone straight into the action, well, following a short period of exposition, as two separate incidents occur in the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield. The Doctor quickly makes herself at home, making friends with total strangers and leading them on an investigation.

Though early days, Jodie's take on this new Doctor was a perfect blend of past Doctors: Number Three's love of gadgetry; Number Two, Eight and Ten's excitable childlike quality, and Seven's scheming. It is a wonderful mix of excitement, curiosity and the desire to do good, just as any previous incarnation would have done. There is no doubt, Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor!

The Stenza makes for an intriguing new enemy and it will be interesting to see if they return in future stories. Tzim-Sha's arrival was a simple one: to locate and collect a trophy, in this case a Human male. Success in this act would result in claiming leadership of the Stenza. The Doctor's intentional calling of him as "Tim Shaw" was brilliant, I'd likely mispronounce an alien's name by accident. Many have called him a Predator, referring to the creature in John McTiernan's 1987 movie. I can certainly see the resemblance until Tzim-Sha removes his faceplate to reveal a look that is all teeth-and-no-curls (see what I did there?)


I applaud the production team for highlighting Dyspraxia, fully known as Developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD). We see this through the eyes of character Ryan (played by Tosin Cole). During the launch of this new series in Sheffield, Chibnall had said, "We did a lot of research into that, we worked with the Dyspraxia Foundation… it was important, because people live with these things. It’s a relatively common thing among kids, so I think it’s important to see that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. That’s the most important thing about Doctor Who and you will see that happen a lot across this year".

Final Thoughts

The threat was very minimal - one life in jeopardy instead of a whole planet - but the pace kept things interesting. Jodie clearly has comedy chops and presents a mad woman in a blue box very well; the lack of a TARDIS doesn't mean it won't appear: we have all seen those images of the new TARDIS interior - if you haven't, then you're in for a real treat, I think. There were solid performances from Bradley Walsh and Sharon D. Clarke as Graham and Grace O’Brien, it had that Ian-and-Barbara edge that could have really developed through the series. However, the way things ended, we clearly get a sense that the message is: there are always consequences...

...unless something timey wimey happens to change all of that?

Tosin (Ryan Sinclair) and Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan) are well cast in their roles, and I look forward to seeing how they develop over the course of their stay with the show. And with Bradley making up the third, it feels just right, as it did back in the old days of the Doctor, granddaughter Susan, Ian and and Barbara. A time traveller and three companions.

Doctor Who is well and truly back!