Review: Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Doctor Who has to live in a cleverly ambiguous spot between anarchic children’s television and serious drama. Often co-opting aspects of horror while deliberately undermining that drama with a central character who is essentially immune to the monstrous, the latest season/reboot places itself in this crossroads. Tentacles, a face full of teeth, dark things on a train make up the furniture for a story centred on a silly person that’s fallen out of their ride home.

The sci-fi plot is essentially a Torchwood episode transported from Cardiff to Sheffield and that’s fine. I like Sheffield, it’s one of my favourite cities and certainly deserves defending from alien invasion by the Doctor. Rising up above the science-fiction elements is the four human characters who become embroiled in the alien plot. Bringing in a broader range of companions is a promising move for the new series.

Jodie Whittaker is placed in that unenviable position of having to play the Doctor more as an impression of previous Doctors but she does it with a comic flair that is convincing and charming in equal measure. It’ always a mistake to judge what a given Doctor will be like from their first story but Whittaker grabs the role with a lot of confidence. She’s aided here with this new season being a stronger reboot of the veteran TV show than the last regeneration. She’s clearly enjoying the role

There’s other stuff that I’m still unpacking but overall it was an entertaining hour of television. Not a particularly remarkable Doctor Who story when separated from its role introducing a new cast of characters but easily as strong as Ecclestone’s, Smith’s and Capaldi’s first stories. Now I’m off to read other reviews that I’d been avoiding!

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22 comments

  1. KasaObake

    I enjoyed it more than I’ve enjoyed Doctor Who since Smith left. Whittaker was fantastic and is really nailing her version of the Doctor so far. Most of the supporting cast were good too – I particularly liked Ryan as a character and I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops too. Walsh has so far done nothing to convince me he can actually act though, and I’m hoping he gets quietly removed from the series sooner rather than later.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. jonesnori

    I enjoyed it, too. The monster story was brief but scary, and the character intros were terrific, especially the Doctor’s and Ryan’s. I appreciated that Graham’s character was the one to pull back, going against the usual white man hero trope. I also liked the crane operator who was afraid of heights. I have said mantras very like Karl’s.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Mark Hepworth

    I got a particular delight out of how Northern it was. Not just Whittaker, pretty much the whole cast except Bradley Walsh (with his West Ham scarf on!)
    I could dig at the episode a bit*, but post-regen episodes have a different job to do than normal ones and this did a solid job of having a bit of plot going on while giving space to present the new Doctor – and what an intro! It’s probably foolish to read too much into one episode but I’m completely sold on Whittaker right now.

    *mainly I’d just say that I’d have swapped Grace for Graham in a heartbeat

    Liked by 3 people

    • Bonnie McDaniel

      I got to watch it (yay me!) because BBC America streamed the first episode for free without signing in.

      Yeah Mark, I’d rather have Grace too.

      The only thing that briefly cracked my suspension of disbelief was “Tim Shaw” arriving in a giant blue Hershey’s kiss. Otherwise, when Jodie Whittaker stepped forward and said, “I’m the Doctor”–oh YES SHE WAS.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Lurkertype

    I was quite chuffed, as they say. I really liked her, she was proper Doctor-y. The villain’s face made me want to hide behind the sofa but I just averted my eyes.

    Those Yorkshire accents are going to take a bit of getting used to. Worse than Scottish. Also BBCA likes to turn the background music and noises track up to 11, louder than the dialogue. That happens a lot in TV nowadays; I need to get some sort of techie thingum to reverse that on my speakers.

    I’d rather have had Grace as well. A trained nurse who isn’t afraid of anything would be a useful companion. Still, perhaps Walsh will get eaten by something while he’s cringing in a few episodes (I just kept expecting him to crack some tired old vaudeville joke and then introduce a terrible singer at the Palladium).

    That really got quite a lot done in just over an hour, what with introducing a new Doctor, all-new companions, saving Sheffield (and Carl), and explaining the plot for noobs.

    Hope the writing holds up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Hepworth

      “Those Yorkshire accents are going to take a bit of getting used to. Worse than Scottish.”

      Now that’s fighting talk!

      They got a proper “would of” in there, but I was waiting for them to use “us” for my/our as well. They obviously didn’t want to push the dialect that far though 😦

      Like

    • jonesnori

      I depend on captioning to follow the dialogue. I’m partially deaf, but you don’t have to be deaf to turn on the captions. It helps a lot when the music or background noise is too loud, or the accents unfamiliar.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Rick Moen

      I’d rather have had Grace as well.

      For just one appalled moment, there, I thought you meant the character Dr. Grace Holloway (played by Daphne Ashbrook), the Eighth Doctor’s companion in the American TV Movie That Should Be Disregarded. But yes, I’ll miss Sharon Clarke’s character Grace. Damn that showrunner habit of trying to increase the stakes by killing good characters. In that case, should have killed the bus driver and saved the interesting spouse.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lindsay Taylor

    I thought the best thing about the episode was Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, closely followed by Grace and Yaz. I thought that Ryan was ok, but Graham didn’t really mesh for me. I think he was completely overshadowed by Grace.

    Interestingly, the biggest change I felt was the absence of Murray Gold and his ever-present over-powering soundtrack. That sounds like a criticism, but I actually found myself missing it. I also feel like I should be helping to pay the BBC’s lighting bill, because they’re obviously trying to cut some corners there. (Yes, it was mostly at night, but even when they were inside buildings, things were dark, dark, dark.)

    Generally speaking it’s really hard to criticize plot in a Doctor’s first episode, as it’s really there just to hang all the introductions on and hit all the marks that a regeneration episode has to hit to assure the audience that this is still Doctor Who. That being said, I think this was probably better than pretty much all the new Who premieres other than Matt Smith’s Eleventh Hour and probably on par with Chris Eccleston’s Rose.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. delagar

    I finally got to watch this last night (when it appeared on Amazon Streaming). Liked it a lot — especially Jodie Whittaker and the dialects. Also the bit about Sheffield steel. 😀

    I too would have liked to keep Grace in the show.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Rick Moen

    I like Sheffield, it’s one of my favourite cities and certainly deserves defending from alien invasion by the Doctor.

    As opposed to Leeds, which deserves to be destroyed during an invasion by fascistic alien elves. (Sorry, just smoking out fellow Stross fans.)

    FWIW, I agree that Whittaker had a wonderfully strong start, leaving me eager for more. And, let’s face it, most of Moffat’s plots and particularly the Clara thing were regrettable. I just kept wanting Peter Capaldi’s Twelve to have his fill of Clara and those dumb Moffat plots and go full Malcolm Tucker, but he never did.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Kat Goodwin

    Every actor does their own take on the Doctor but they have to have the key components that link them all, which are fascination at surroundings and puzzles, impulsive jumps of thought and memory, brusque impatience with the slowness of others, seat of the pants confidence that is mainly hope, and a fierce determination to protect along with resigned guilt when protection fails. And Whittaker nailed them all very nicely, along with the confusion that comes with regeneration. I can almost forgive them the costume they came up with for her, which I hate because the first woman Doctor shouldn’t have an infantilizing costume that mainly makes people think of Mork from Ork.

    The episode did okay story-wise and was actually a pretty good intro to the world of Doctor Who for those who were new to the show, especially as Whittaker taking the part is bringing some new folk in. I particularly liked Yasmin, wanting to get into the thick of things in her police work, pretty quickly deciding to throw in with the authority of the Doctor over her dismissive sergeant and proper cop procedure. But then we got to the inevitable and badly set-up fridging, somehow thought necessary to motivate Ryan and Graham because men can’t do anything committed unless a woman they love dies apparently. Obviously Grace would make a better companion than her husband — you don’t have to have a white man — but even if they want it to be Graham instead, and I did enjoy the bus driver jokes, Grace could have remained alive and on Earth as an anchor character who stays at home but sometimes participates, like Rose’s mom and various other characters over the years. Actually, they had a surfeit of good possible companions — Karl was fun and would have made an interesting companion dealing with self-esteem and daddy issues. And the brief character of Rahul, determined to find his sister, seemed like he’d be a good team member too and handy with tools.

    But as new starts go with this show, they did pretty well.

    Like

  9. JJ

    Yay, I FINALLY got to see it.

    I adore her, she’s delightful. And I really like Yas. And I’m pissed about Grace, she was far more interesting than Graham. And I agree, I think the clothes are infantilizing, but her performance is going to override it, I think.

    I thought that the way both Ryan’s dyspraxia and Karl’s self-esteem issues were played straight rather than in a hurr, hurr ridiculing manner was fantastic.

    Bear in mind that the only Who I’ve seen is maybe 2 or 3 of the Tennant and Smith episodes. But I thought that the soundtrack in this episode was fantastic, so I don’t know what all the fanboyz are whining about.

    I imagine I’ll watch at least the next episode, but whether it will become a regular thing for me is still up in the air.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Kat Goodwin

      Put her in a short trench jacket with lots of pockets, maybe in pale lavender grey, pale blue shirt, medium grey slacks with a flared leg at the bottom, sensible grey or black short boots with no heels, she’d have looked fab and paid homage to seventies Who. Instead she’s wearing a voluminous sack, rainbow suspenders and grandma’s gardening trousers. It’s like, we can’t have the first woman Doctor look authoritative or cool; she must look ridiculous to be seen as “approachable” and non-threatening to men. Sigh.

      Like

  10. Paul Weimer

    Finally saw it. I am still thinking about the fridging. Was it done effectively? Could it have been done better? Was it even necessary? (Grace being left behind at the end of the first episode alive, for instance)

    Liked by 1 person

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