Doctor Who Series 11, Episode 1
“The Woman Who Fell to Earth”
Posted by Kim
In my six years of watching Doctor Who, I’ve now witnessed two regenerations in real-time. I’ve dealt with the grief of having to mourn a Doctor I’ve been so attached to (listen, I’m still not over Peter, okay?) and I’ve had the anticipation of wondering who would be next and I’ve had that moment of “Yes, okay, it’s still the Doctor and this one is my new fave, what was I even thinking being sad?” Change is the very DNA of Doctor Who and while it’s okay to be sad about what it used to be, it’s so so so important to be able to continue to look forward and grow and evolve. Because who are we if we aren’t willing to do so?
What’s struck me about the first post-regeneration episodes, “Deep Breath” and “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” is that, in the midst of a great time of change for our beloved show, the episodes take a moment to stop and break the fourth wall in a way, directly addressing the sense of discomfort and fear that the audience themselves must be feeling. In “Deep Breath,” when there was a great to-do amongst the fandom regarding Peter Capaldi’s age and whether or not the “fangirls” would accept a man in his 50s with gray hair after the young and hot Tennant and Smith incarnations (Um…yeah okay, how did that turn out again?), we got this scene, delivered by the Eleventh Doctor himself:
CLARA: Why? Why would you do this?
DOCTOR 11: Because I think it’s going to be a whopper, and I think you might be scared. And however scared you are, Clara, the man you are with right now, the man I hope you are with, believe me, he is more scared than anything you can imagine right now and he, he needs you.
DOCTOR: So who is it?
DOCTOR 11: Is that the Doctor?
DOCTOR: Is that the Doctor?
DOCTOR 11: He sounds old. Please tell me I didn’t get old. Anything but old. I was young. Oh, is he grey?
DOCTOR 11: Clara, please, hey, for me, help him. Go on. And don’t be afraid.
And then, in the Series Eleven premiere, where Jodie Whittaker makes her historic debut as the Thirteenth Doctor, the first female to ever take on the role, we got this speech:
DOCTOR: Because we’re all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve while still staying true to who we are. We can honor who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next. Now’s your chance. How about it?
Some may say, considering the uproar in certain segments of the fandom upon Whittaker’s casting, that this speech is a little on the nose. Me? I’m pretty sure I screamed “SUCK IT HATERS!” in our little viewing party. It’s such a pointed speech, a speech that is practically defiant in the face of any criticism.
The Doctor is a woman now. And you better get on board with it or get left behind, because the show is 100% soldiering on in this brand new era.
Now that we got all of THAT out-of-the-way, the real question is: how did she do?
Well, to quote her very first words in “Twice Upon a Time,” Jodie Whittaker is simply brilliant. She IS the Doctor, from the very second that we meet her. (Can we also talk about how the episode made us wait a full ten minutes before we even GOT to meet her? I’m sure Chibnall was like, they’ve waited this long. what’s another ten minutes? If there is one thing Doctor Who will always be, it’s a withholding and dramatic hoe, and that’s why I love it so much.) Part of why this episode is so brilliant is because it strips the Doctor of everything that is immediately identifiable AS The Doctor. Seriously. Has there ever been a post-regeneration episode where the Doctor has been this fucked? No TARDIS. No sonic screwdriver. For ninety percent of the episode she can’t even remember her own damn name.
Even when she doesn’t know who she really is, the Doctor still knows who she is from the moment she sets foot on that train. She springs into action, fearlessly confronting the alien invader. She immediately recruits a new rag-tag gang of companions (friends? fam? More on them in a bit, I promise.) to help her. She welds her own goddamn ergonomic sonic screwdriver with her own bare hands. She’s so deliciously alien, as most Doctors are immediately post-regeneration. She’s sassy and she’s curious and she still has the innate sense of right and wrong that is so crucial to this character. She leaps across cranes, forgetting that her legs used to be longer. She has an incredible sense of empathy, from the way she scolds Carl for kicking Tim Shaw when he was already down (“You didn’t have to do that.”) to the way she observes Ryan tearfully trying to ride his bike after he loses his grandmother to how she sticks around for Grace’s funeral, offering her support. I really think she took her previous regeneration’s last words to heart because this Doctor runs fast. She laughs hard. And above all things, she is kind.
She is the Doctor and I love her already.
Not since “The Eleventh Hour” have we had what feels like a complete reboot of the show: new showrunner, new Doctor, new companions. “TWWTE” has the unenviable task of making us care about all of these new characters within the span of an hour and twenty minutes (give or take). In lesser hands, the episode would have collapsed under the weight of so much exposition. Lucky for us, new showrunner Chris Chibnall is pretty much a master of character introduction and immediately giving us reasons to care about all these new people. (See also: the sprawling ensemble of Broadchurch.)
Like I said earlier, the episode establishes who all the Doctor’s friends are going to be before we even have the chance to meet her. Our main entry point for the series, our Rose Tyler so to speak, is Ryan Sinclair, a 19-year-old (THE SAME AGE AS ROSE WHEN SHE MET THE DOCTOR I AM FEELING A LOT OF THINGS) black man with a condition called dyspraxia, which severely affects his motor skills. Ryan’s main parental figures are his grandmother Grace, a woman who carries herself with such dignity and authority I should have known right away that she was doomed, and her new husband Graham, who immediately gives off Wilfred Mott but a chicken-shit and slightly more dickish vibes. The Barbara to Ryan’s Ian (yes, I know I just compared him to Rose but it’s my recap and I do what I want) is old school chum Yasmin Kahn, and yes, I shipped it as soon as they laid eyes on each other, and you should too. Yaz is in her second year of probation as a policewoman (raise your hand if you couldn’t help but think the whole first shot of her being in uniform was a slight jab at Amy Pond and her kiss-o-gram outfit) and is desperate to prove herself capable of more than breaking up parking disputes between grumpy housewives.
Proving that I don’t adjust well to change myself, when it was first announced that we were going to have a crowded TARDIS (or are we?) this series, my first response was “Ew! No!” (Perhaps I was still sore over the crowded TARDIS for Capaldi’s last season where Nardole managed to get more of the spotlight than Bill Potts? That’s definitely it.) However, I can be the first to say that I got on board with this team the moment that it was revealed that they all had pre-existing connections to each other. Clearly, Ryan is the center, the glue that’s gonna keep this whole little group together. Really, he’s the reason they meet the Doctor in the first place, given that he’s the one that opens the gates for Tim Shaw to start his hunting game in the first place. What sticks out to me the most about this little gang is they all seem like people who need the Doctor, even if they don’t necessarily realize it at first. I can’t wait to see where they are all gonna go.
Was the episode perfect? No, of course it wasn’t. While Tim Shaw and his face of human teeth was probably the grossest thing I’ve ever seen on Doctor Who, I didn’t find him all that compelling as a villain. The fridging of Grace feels unfortunate, uncomfortable, and quite unnecessary, given the fact that the show had JUST killed off a woman of color in a brutal fashion in the previous series. Seriously. Why? I get that Bradley Walsh is a bit of a get, casting wise, but did we really need to kill off Grace? Couldn’t she have just Jackie Tyler-ed and been a character that we would check-in on every few episodes? (Even though it was clear to me that she was the one who would have wanted to see the stars the most. SHE WAS HAVING SO MUCH FUN.) So there is still some work to be done on the show. But Doctor Who wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it were perfect. I love this show because it’s messy and it has big ambitions that shoot for the moon, occasionally landing them in the stars. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” ultimately did exactly what it needed to: it solidified our new Doctor and served as a great jumping off point for this new era of the series, and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited for it.
“Change, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon.”
- I know it’s wrong to judge based on one episode, but I miss Murray Gold already. SORRY I DO. I would love to know what kind of theme he would have written for Thirteen.
- I DO love the visual style of the episode. It feels very epic and cinematic and it’s what she deserves.
- I’m sorry, you say the word “Sheffield” and I only think of this.
- Jodie’s delivery and expressions are A+
- Will we see Grace again? I’m feeling like they didn’t bring up Graham’s backstory as a cancer survivor to just drop it. I’d love to see some flashbacks to how they fell in love.
- THE SASS THOUGH.
- I love that it looks like Ryan and Yaz took her to a thrift shop to find her new outfit. Which is glorious.
- I can’t under state what it felt like to hear a woman say “I am the Doctor.” I watched this episode with some of my girl gang after New York Comic-Con, when our photo-ops made it very difficult for us to get to Madison Square Garden in time for decent seats at the panel. (Plus, despite the fact that Jodie was there for a panel, we all wanted to watch with the comfort of wine and pizza.) When we all realized the moment was coming, we all held hands, most of us with tears in our eyes. And then we all screamed with joy. It finally happened, y’all.
- Where. Is. The. TARDIS.
- Related, HOW ARE THEY GOING TO SURVIVE FLOATING IN THE VACUUM OF SPACE?
- I couldn’t help but wonder if Chibnall was making a dig at fanboys by making Carl be the one who had to keep repeating all the self-affirmations to himself. “I am valued, I am important.” To quote Shannon from our chat today: I think with the misreading of those affirmations and like him kicking off Tim Shaw, thinking it’s what he should do, shows that the affirmations aren’t doing what they should/he’s still suffering from toxic masculinity.” MY FRIENDS ARE SO ASTUTE.
- Fandom in a Nutshell:
- Listen, I love Thirteen’s new look, but I would not at all be mad if she went back to some sort of suit look with the button-down and the vest, I’m JUST saying.
- In another costuming note, I loved how Grace and Graham’s looks complemented each other, color-wise.
- I was also a big fan of how we’re set up to think that Ryan’s vlog at the beginning is supposed to be him talking about the Doctor, but he’s ACTUALLY talking about Grace. Related, the title “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” is an excellent use of double meaning, with the parallels of the Doctor falling from her TARDIS and Grace’s demise. I truly, truly hope that we don’t just sweep what happened to her under the rug and that it all comes back around somehow.
- Having the Doctor clearly reference her past companions, who have always been her chosen family always does something to me. She remembers them all.
What did you think of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”? Are you as excited for this new era of Doctor Who as we are? Let us know in the comments.