In Sheffield, three individuals are about to have their lives changed forever. A mysterious stranger crashes to Earth, unable to remember her own name. Can she be trusted? And will she be able to stop the strange events happening across the city?
Chris Chibnall’s writing for Doctor Who has had quite a lot of scrutiny since he was announced as the new showrunner and he, like most writers for the show, has a number of supporters and detractors. Personally, I find Chibnall’s earlier work on the show and on Torchwood to be average to good. His stories don’t tend to be my absolute favourites of a particular series, however, he is quite adept at writing for Doctor Who. My personal favourite episode he has written for the show (so far) has been Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which is a good fun romp, with honourable mentions going to The Power of Three, which is good up until the rushed conclusion, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the opener for series two of Torchwood.
The best opening episodes of Doctor Who feel like a breath of fresh air, and one of the most wonderful things about The Woman Who Fell to Earth is that it completely fits that description. The visual appearance of the show is beautiful, there’s new theme music (although we have to wait until the end to hear it in its full majesty) and there’s a new Doctor in town. Oh, and the Doctor’s a woman now.
Speaking of the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker gives a strong debut performance as the titular Time Lord, with a performance more akin to David Tennant or Matt Smith than Christopher Eccleston or Peter Capaldi, delivering a more scatty performance than her immediate predecessor. Her final confrontation with Tim Shaw towards the end of the episode is great, and I particularly like the fact that she still wants to resolve the issue peacefully, but she still has a backup just in case, which I found to be reminiscent of The Christmas Invasion, although she is horrified by Karl killing the creature. Her entrance is quite low key, which I also quite liked, with it being punctuated by a brief burst of the new theme, and the fact that she is without her TARDIS and sonic screwdriver makes her feel more vulnerable. At times, she does flip between serious and eccentric as the story allows, but her post-regenerative trauma is quite short-lived, so we should hopefully find more out about the type of Doctor she will be as she stabilises. All in all, I feel that it is a promising start for Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor!
I am the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe!
With the number of changes that have taken place to the show, the plot is small in comparison – the fate of the whole world isn’t at risk just yet, but if the Doctor doesn’t intervene, it could be – and the main crux of the plot revolves around saving one life. This allows us to focus on the relationships between the new companions, as well as the ill-fated Sharon D. Clarke’s Grace, and for the most part, these characters feel really lived in. If I had to pick out one flaw in this element is that I feel that Yasmin isn’t as developed as I would like and she doesn’t have a lot to do beyond the first half of the episode, with the focus understandably shifting more towards Ryan and Graham towards the episode’s close. Grace is a great character too, and I’m a little upset that she died in the course of the episode as I’d have liked to have seen more of her. All of the new companions have dissatisfaction in their lives when we first meet them; Ryan is struggling with his dyspraxia, Graham desperately wants a bond with this step-grandson, Ryan, and Yaz is looking for more interesting work with the police force. Graham is perhaps the most likeable, and definitely the most grounded and cynical of the three, reminding us of things like the DNA bombs, but I’m really excited about this new TARDIS team.
As for the villain of the piece, I like “Tim Shaw”. His design, both in full armour and without the helmet is distinctly creepy, and the fear factor is definitely helped by some competent direction by Jamie Childs, and the episode being mostly set at night. The idea of the species taking a tooth of their victims is also really sinister – I’ve seen the villain being labelled as the Predator meets the Tooth Fairy online! The design of the Data Core is also really good, although initially, I compared it to the Scribble Monsters from Fear Her. The idea of “Tim Shaw” cheating seems to irritate and annoy the Doctor even more and make her all the more determined to defeat the would-be leader of the Stenza, which I really like.
I’m just going to make a brief mention of the new theme music, composed by Segun Akinola, which is more reminiscent of the classic era theme than the orchestrated versions that we have seen since the revival. It’s quite good, and I feel that I will warm to it more as the series progresses. The incidental music is good too.
The end of the episode is certainly intriguing, and I like the idea of the three companions being brought along by the Doctor unwillingly. I’m intrigued to see how they get out of their perilous situation that the end of this episode finds them in, and despite mentions of no overarching plot through the series, I think the hunt for the TARDIS will take them through until episode 10.
Verdict: A good debut for Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, and a new dawn for the show. Counting down the minutes until the Ghost Machine. 8/10
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Jamie Childs
Cast: Jodie Whittaker (The Doctor), Bradley Walsh (Graham O’Brien), Tosin Cole (Ryan Sinclair), Mandip Gill (Yasmin Khan), Sharon D. Clarke (Grace O’Brien), Philip Abiodun (Dean), Hazel Atherton (Sissy Roberts), Jonny Dixon (Karl), Asif Khan (Ramesh Sundur), Asha Kingsley (Sonia), Stephen MacKenna (Dennis), Janine Mellor (Janey), Samuel Oatley (T’zim Sha/”Tim Shaw”), Amit Shah (Rahul), James Thackeray (Andy), Everal Walsh (Gabriel)
Behind the Scenes
- As well as being the first episode to feature a female Doctor, similarly to The Eleventh Hour, this episode features a major overhaul of several features of the series, such as the logo, a new variation of the theme and logo.
- Jodie Whittaker was announced as the Doctor on the 16th July 2017, with the announcement being broadcast after the Wimbledon Singles final.
- The TARDIS does not feature in this story at all, making it the tenth not to see the Police Box make an appearance. The most recent episode before this was The Lie of the Land, and it joins episodes such as Midnight, Genesis of the Daleks and The Silurians.
- This is the second episode not to feature opening credits after Sleep No More.
- This is the first non-special episode to be broadcast on a day other than a Saturday since Survival.
- The first time since The Faceless Ones that the Doctor is seen travelling with two male companions on a regular basis.
- The third post-regeneration story to not feature any scenes in the TARDIS, after Spearhead From Space and Robot, and the first to not feature the TARDIS at all.
The entrance of the Doctor on the train. Delightfully underplayed!
Right now, I’m a stranger to myself. There’s echoes of who I was and a sort of call towards who I am, and I just have to hold my nerve and trust all of my new instincts.