A new Doctor. A new showrunner. New companions, sonic, setting, composer. A new era all-round. We have had a long wait for ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’. Anticipation has been building for months. But are viewer’s reactions being influenced by their expectations? Is the reality that for all the changes things are still very much the same?

In The Woman Who Fell To Earth, Ryan (Tosin Cole) runs to save lives alongside the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and his Nan, Grace (Sharon D Clarke) (C) BBC/BBC Studios - Photographer: Ben Blackall
In The Woman Who Fell To Earth, Ryan (Tosin Cole) runs to save lives alongside the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and his Nan, Grace (Sharon D Clarke) (C) BBC/BBC Studios – Photographer: Ben Blackall

On watching ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ I was left feeling underwhelmed. This is because my expectations were that I was going to be presented with a vastly different interpretation of Doctor Who. An instalment of my favourite TV show the like of which I had never seen before. Something I wasn’t confident that I was going to enjoy as much. With all the change in the air, my major concern was that the show wouldn’t feel the same anymore. Instead of this however I was presented with Doctor Who that I was very much familiar with. I was not expecting that.

Expectation and Interpretation

If you were expecting a Doctor Who that was boldly different, unlike what had gone before, your expectations were probably not met. If you were expecting the same methods of storytelling that have served the show well over more than half a century, then those expectations were probably met. A great way of looking at it is to consider a novel that is made into a movie. Both are telling the same story. The characters and plot remain identical. However, the interpretation of those characters and plot are slightly different. That is what ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ is. It is a different interpretation of the same story seen again and again over the past 55 years.

Doctor Who - Series 11 - Episode 1 - The Woman Who Fell To Earth - Yaz (MANDIP GILL), Ryan (TOSIN COLE), The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER), Graham (BRADLEY WALSH), Grace (SHARON D CLARKE) - (C) BBC / BBC Studios - Photographer: Sophie Mutevelian
Doctor Who – Series 11 – Episode 1 – The Woman Who Fell To Earth – Yaz (MANDIP GILL), Ryan (TOSIN COLE), The Doctor (JODIE WHITTAKER), Graham (BRADLEY WALSH), Grace (SHARON D CLARKE) – (C) BBC / BBC Studios – Photographer: Sophie Mutevelian

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

When you break down ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’, it abides by a traditional Doctor Who formula. Firstly, an Earth setting. For a change we weren’t in London but Sheffield. But frankly the story could’ve played out in any town or city. Secondly, the traditional ‘man in a suit’ portrayal of an alien creature. Doctor Who has a history of putting an unfortunate actor/supporting artist in a peculiar ensemble. Cybermen. Silurians. Sontarans. The list goes on and on. The humanoid shape concealed beneath a strange costume and mask to convey an alien creature. This was also supported by a standard CGI creation in the form of the Information Gatherer. Very competently delivered and an enjoyable addition to the story. The phrase, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ springs to mind.

The standard Doctor Who jigsaw pieces obviously require companions and the Doctor. Incredibly likeable companions. A Doctor full of energy and invention. We’ve seen that many a time before. This was also a debut episode for a new incarnation of The Doctor. Therefore, the Time Lord has to be suffering the ill-effects of the regeneration process. What was different however were the individual actors in those key roles. Jodie Whittaker, whether deliberately or unintentionally, had elements of previous incarnations in her performance. The family dynamic of Ryan, Graham and Grace has similarities to Donna, Wilf and Sylvia. Yasmin is a police officer who is more capable than her current life allows her to be? That could be said of so many previous companions. Starting to see a pattern?

Change My Dear…. What Change?

The gender of the actor playing The Doctor may have changed but very little else has. In production terms, the same methods of bringing alien creatures to screen remain in use. Grounding the show in the reality of an Earth setting and human relationships. A portrayal of The Doctor with fast-talking and boundless energy. This is less a reboot of Doctor Who and more of a repackaging. The core themes remain. What we have is simply a new interpretation.

Ultimately ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ failed to meet my expectations and was all the more enjoyable for it. The earth-shattering changes to the show I adore never materialised. It was Doctor Who, just with a different cast list.

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