At Blogtor Who, we create spoiler-free previews to be read before the episode airs and spoiler reviews for once the show has broadcast. This is a spoiler review and a such we suggest that you watch The Woman Who Fell To Earth before reading this review.
The Doctor is Back!
Doctor Who is back. We have a new showrunner. We have a new Doctor. We have a new sonic screwdriver. Or is it a Sonic Swiss-Army Screwdriver? We have new companions. A lot of them. We have new music. And we’ve lost the TARDIS. The series is back. But what has changed?
This is the first episode after a regeneration. The structure of this first story has been established for years. The Doctor regenerates and has a big oops with the TARDIS. The TARDIS kicks the Doctor out, thoroughly annoyed with her Time Lord. (Personally, I think the TARDIS has simply kicked the Doctor off the TARDIS, fed up with the Time Lord messing up her décor due to yet another ill-timed and mishandled regeneration. But I digress.) The Doctor has only half a mind because he’s suffering from regeneration sickness, but someone or something alien is on Earth, and she has to fix things. Along the way, she gets rid of her old clothes, meets some new friends and saves the day. There you go. That is the plot to this regeneration episode, the last regeneration episode, the one before, and the one before that.
The only difference is the mixed pronouns.
But the secret here is how it’s done. And that is where things are new. ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ has a fresh look and feel, as the series about change transforms itself yet again.
Graham, Yaz, Ryan and Grace
Chris Chibnall cleverly starts off the episode by introducing the new companions. We are well into the episode before the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) is even seen. We first meet Ryan (Tosin Cole), Graham (Bradley Walsh) and Grace (Sharon D Clarke) via Ryan’s failed attempts at riding a bike. It is difficult to pull the audience into caring about so many characters within the constraints of an hour programme, but Chibnall succeeds. He’s an experienced writer of many successful ensemble shows and it certainly helps. The empathy between the characters and the audience is created almost immediately, particularly amongst the O’Brien/Sinclair family as Ryan’s attempts to overcome the limitations of his dyspraxia. It is made even more potent by not explaining the condition immediately.
Meanwhile, Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) has perhaps the best introduction of the episode with her rant at the two squabbling women fighting over a parking spot. Yaz is someone who is seeking more from life – a perfect companion for the age-old Time Lord. She is sure to become a Doctor and fan favourite as the series progresses. But for this episode, she is somewhat underused, as the primary focus is on the introduction of the Doctor and the impact she has on Ryan, Graham and Grace. So it is appropriate that Yaz has the firm initial nod, not to be forgotten.
That just leaves Graham and Grace, played expertly by Bradley Walsh and Sharon D. Clarke. Bradley is the straight man, the voice of caution and reason. A cancer survivor who is currently in remission, he is scared to venture beyond his comfort zone. And yet for a man who is frightened to live again, he married a woman who is both ferrous and fearless.
As for Grace, she is the companion that never was. Is it wrong that I too, was enjoying seeing an older woman taking on the role of hero? Stepping right into the path of danger, Sharon D. Clarke stole the scenes every time she was on screen. An equal match for the Doctor as the head and protector of her family. I was stunned and shocked by her death at the end of the episode since I was hoping to see much more of her character. Perhaps we will.
Jodie Whittaker is The Doctor
The Doctor, last seen falling out of her TARDIS from high above Earth, lands with a crash into a train carriage with her soon to be friends all onboard. Immediately she jumps in between the data gathering creature to defend the humans on the train. From the first moment, she is utterly believable as the Doctor. There are strong similarities between Whittaker’s performance and the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors’. She has Ten’s mood switches, and the spinning and jumping from place to place of Eleven but with her own unique twist.
There are plenty of moments for Whittaker to showcase her take on the role. The delightful interlude in the episode where she constructs her sonic screwdriver is sure to be popular. The speech on top of the crane could have been delivered by any of the previous Doctors and provides her with a moment to plant her interpretation on the role. Once she steps out in her new costume and with her beaming smile, there is no question that Whittaker is perfect for the role.
A Darker Mood
The monster from this episode is a fairly typical Doctor Who creature, apart from the usual name – Tim Shaw – and face implanted with his victim’s teeth. Overall, this wasn’t a challenging foe for the Doctor which is fine since this episode is about introducing the Doctor and her companions. But what was surprising were the number of deaths. Including Rahul’s sister Asha, seven characters were killed (Asha, Rahul, drunk man, Security Guard, Tim Shaw, Grace). These characters remained dead with no magic reset button to resurrect them. It seems that in this season, there are consequences, and this Doctor can’t always find a loophole to make things right again.
And while the producers have stated that there are no story arcs between episodes, I would be surprised if the impact of Grace’s death was not a recurring thread throughout the season. I also wonder if Graham may be at risk since the script made it clear that he was in remission rather than cancer-free.
There are no easy answers. No magic wands. Ryan’s father did not arrive for his mother’s funeral. Ryan did not succeed in riding his bike no matter how many times he tried. It sets a darker, more sombre tone than we’ve seen recent years.
Beautiful – Visually and Musically
Having watched the episode several times now, I have been able to adjust to the different look and the musical score. After getting over my initial reaction, I am a fan of the changes. The visuals look cleaner, more professional and more cinematic. Director Jamie Childs creates a broader, more expansive look to the filming, and the show definitely shines with Sheffield as a backdrop. I am looking forward to seeing how he handles the South African landscape in next week’s The Ghost Monument.
After a few views there is no doubt that Segun Akinola’s score soars. I missed quite a bit in my initial viewing and was able to pick up the numerous themes throughout the episode the second and third times. As for the closing theme, I completely fell in love with it. I’m sure to be racing to purchase Segun Akinola’s score for Series 11. Hopefully, it will be out in January 2019. Hint. Hint.
Great but Not Perfect
The episode was great but not perfect. This episode had to do a lot of heavy lifting given the number of changes. There were four new companions (yes I’m counting Grace) that needed to be introduced and fully realised as well as a new Doctor, her new costume and a new sonic. That is a lot to do in one episode. Thankfully, the new TARDIS, the bigger on the inside and all of Time and Space have been wisely pushed off to a later point. ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ does a great job of making all of these introductions, but there were a few too many for the time permitted. As a result, we didn’t get to meet enough of the characters, in particular, Yaz, this time around. Regardless ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ is an excellent, strong opening for a new Doctor. As the cast and Chris Chibnall stated at the Q&A, this is an introductory episode, and there is more to come as the series builds upon this solid foundation.