Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth review – “A Regeneration For the Show”

Broadcast Date: 7 October 2018
Writer:
Chris Chibnall
Star Rating:
 4.5/5

A new era of the most popular science-fiction TV show in the world kicked off last night, on my birthday of all days. Every executive producer brings a new flavour to Doctor Who, from Russell T Davies’ social commentaries to Steven Moffat’s convoluted story narratives. From the first episode alone, Chris Chibnall moves away from recent trends on the show and towards a more human, emotional connection that harks back to the very first season of the show, back in 1963.

The action for ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ does not take place anywhere remotely close to London, practically the hub of the show since the show was revived in 2005. Instead, it is the industrial city of Sheffield that is the background for the companions and it is worth it solely for the stunning opening shots of the hills around the city, now in a higher definition cinematography than ever before. Having a smaller base also allows for a wider variety of sets, from the forests and hills to the police station and construction site. The locations, for the most part, are another way in which Chibnall is focusing on the human side of life, something that hasn’t really been explored since the first couple of new-Who series, with Rose and the Powell Estate, and really reflects the diverse nature of the companions this year.

The Woman Who Fell to Earth Promo Shot
The Doctor and the Crane (BBC, 2018)

It was also a good move from Chibnall to have the companions all know each other prior to the episode as the emotional connection between them has already been established and gives the sense that The Doctor truly crashed into their lives. Recently I have been watching the very first run of the show with William Hartnell and it struck me how similar in tone the connection between the companions are from Ian, Barbara and Susan. With the latter, there were many fractious moments in the early episodes between the human and Time Lord pairs as they disagreed on issues of morality. It was good to see some kind of tension between Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Ryan (Tosin Cole) that I hope won’t just be in the first episode. These two definitely had the best character arc following an emotional climax. Based on the promotional material, I knew that one of the primary characters would not be joining the TARDIS crew and I was dismayed since they were the one who popped the most on camera, but the plot involving them will help Graham and Ryan to keep developing. The third companion, Yas (Mandeep Gill), has the most potential in my opinion, but we didn’t see much from her other than using her Police skills and contacts to move the plot along.

I have seen many people on social media expressing their disappointment at how slow the plot was and I completely understand. Though Chris Chibnall has produced some great pieces of television, including the Broadchurch series and several of the best Torchwood episodes ever, his Doctor Who record is strictly average at best; I admit that I was worried coming into this series about the quality of his writing. The villain of the episode is essentially an alien hunter who wears his victims on his face; imagine a monstrous alien Tooth Fairy crossed with Victor Zsasz from the DC Comics. I feel like every opening episode of a new Doctor will now be compared to David Tennant’s introduction, where he duelled with the leader of an invasion force on a spaceship above London on Christmas Day. If Chibnall was to follow a similar narrative then it would risk portraying the companions in an unrealistic way; for the most part they were involved and reacted in a way that is relatable. Also, by having the antagonist as a hunter that only had one target in mind, it links back to what Chibnall’s focus seems to be on, which is the emotional and personal side of the characters. No-one in the primary cast have perfect lives and that makes it more realistic but this is where the new Doctor comes in, as she says “When people need help, I never refuse.” Even if there is only one life on the line, she will do everything possible to save that one person.

This brings my review nicely onto my personal thoughts on the Doctor. The Time Lord regenerating into a female was not a concern of mine, for I felt that the character had already transcended traditional conventions of how a male should act. Before watching the episode, I was unfamiliar with the work of Jodie Whittaker, potentially being the only person on the country who had not seen Broadchurch. I wondered whether she could bring the versatility required for the role. I’m glad to say that I enjoyed her portrayal and could already see what kind of Doctor she is, which after one episode is a great achievement. Her Doctor is caring; her first reaction to discovering the deceased train driver being “poor woman” and you could see how sympathetic she is when Graham talked about his cancer and meeting Grace. Her Doctor is also an engineer, brilliantly creating her own sonic screwdriver in the backroom of a garage, though I’m not a fan of the emitted light from the device going down the whole length of it. But most of all, her Doctor is a ray of sunshine, and that is when she is at her best in this episode. Her Northern accent is a lot more pronounced and used for comedy value than Christopher Ecclestone’s. I loved how she kept mispronouncing the name of the villain as “Tim Shaw”, to the annoyance of the hunter. Coming after Peter Capaldi, who had fantastic Shakespearean gravitas when delivering monologues, the serious speeches didn’t have the same impact but I’m sure that Whittaker will come into the character more as time goes on – it is only episode 1 after all!

Finally, I loved that the episode finished on a cliffhanger. For me, this also harked back to the first ever series back in 1963-4, where the stories flowed into each other. Seeing The Doctor and her companions floating in space, terrified, without the TARDIS, was a brilliant moment that keeps me waiting with baited breath to see how it gets resolved. Even without an opening credits scene (which I imagine was done to reveal the title music right at the end), I loved the music, which felt like a modern rearrangement of that very first soundtrack. What I loved less was a montage of the guest stars that will be appearing in the future episodes, especially since I have only heard of about four or five in total. The trailer for episode 2, ‘The Ghost Monument’, sees Yas, Graham and Ryan thrown into the deep end, trapped on what appears to be a desert planet with no obvious way of returning to Earth. It certainly has a lot to live up to after the success of this first episode.

 

So what did you make of ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’?
Did you enjoy Jodie Whittaker’s portrayal of The Doctor and what do you want to see for the rest of the series?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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