After a long absence, Doctor Who returned to our screens last Sunday. With a brand new Doctor, brand new companions, brand new Head Writer, brand new composer, brand new… You get the point, literally everything is brand new. This is the biggest change since the show returned in 2005, some would even argue that this is a bigger change.
Doctor Who has always been about change, it is why it is still going 55 years after it first came on to our screens, it reinvigorates every few years, allowing new audiences to join the fun and ensuring that it doesn’t get stale for current viewers. It truly is unlike anything else on television, that’s why I adore it so much.
Of course, change can be risky, initial reactions to the first episode have been overwhelmingly positive, which is fantastic, as fans we want the show to be successful, we want it to thrive and prosper for many years to come. However, my review is going to be a little bit different to all the others out there, because unfortunately, I am in the minority that did not necessarily love the first outing of this new era of Doctor Who, allow me to explain why.
I think it is important to note here, that I was (and still am) a massive fan of the Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who, I know his tenure as show runner often divided opinion amongst the fans, but overall, I enjoyed it thoroughly. His era gave me some of my favourite episodes of all time, as well as giving me my favourite incarnation of The Doctor, Peter Capaldi. I am mentioning this, because I am fully aware that my love for the previous era may well have impacted my feelings towards this episode, because I will be the first to admit that when Peter Capaldi left last year, I wasn’t ready to let him go, and I do wish that he was still The Doctor. (An opinion that it appears isn’t shared by the BBC, who appear to have recently been determined to throw Peter Capaldi under the bus and undermine his era of The Doctor, which I feel is deplorable.)
Anyway, enough rambling about times gone by, it’s time to focus on the present. Here we go!
The thing that was immediately noticeable as soon as this episode started was the new, cinematic look. Gone are the times when Doctor Who was quite clearly a TV production, now we have been given something that looks more like a feature length film. The widescreen, the cinematography, there is a visual flair in this episode which we have never seen in Doctor Who before. I have read reports that the BBC forked out on new cameras for this new incarnation of the show, and it most definitely shows.
This isn’t a criticism at all, as I think this fresh new look will undoubtedly compliment Doctor Who and it is absolutely the correct move going forward. But, I do believe it will be difficult to adjust initially and I think it will take me a few episodes to embrace this new look. When the show changed show-runners back in 2010 from Russell T Davies to Steven Moffat, there was a clear distinction between the two eras in term of look, but equally, it was still recognisably Doctor Who. I didn’t get that vibe this time watching the episode, to reaffirm my feelings, I went back and watched parts of the final episode of the Moffat era, Twice Upon A Time, and I then went straight into watching The Woman Who Fell To Earth, to see if I could see any forms of continuity or similarities between the two eras, I couldn’t see any. This new era is unrecognisable compared to its predecessors. That is absolutely fine, and again, not a criticism, it has been made well known that this series is designed to be a natural jumping on point for new viewers, so for many, this will be all they will ever know.
This will be the best looking version of Doctor Who we will ever get, fact. I got serious Broadchurch vibes in some of the vast landscape shots of Sheffield during the episodes conclusion, I adored the shot of The Doctor overlooking Ryan in the episodes climax. It was a grand, impressive shot and it looked stunning, moments like that reaffirmed to me that this is the right way to go, and I can’t wait to see what is in store, visually. I do believe that once I adjust to this new series I may look back on this episode with more admiration, but I did find it difficult, I watched the episode with two of my friends, who shared my thoughts, we all agreed it looked good, but we also agreed it “looked weird”. This is a normal reaction to change, our idea of normality is now being shaken up, and some people will transition slower than others, again, I want to reiterate this is not a criticism, but I think it’s important to highlight as I do feel it may have been a contributing factor as to why I didn’t enjoy it as much as others.
Like everyone else, I couldn’t wait to see Jodie Whittaker play The Doctor ever since she was announced. Did I have doubts about a female Doctor initially? Yes, I did. But these doubts and fears were quickly quashed when I saw interviews with the Jodie Whittaker. Her enthusiasm and her passion was infectious, and it was quite clear early on that she was The Doctor, I was confident that if anyone was going to prove that anyone can play The Doctor, regardless of gender, race, orientation etc, it was going to be her. In the build up towards Series 11, Jodie Whittaker has proven that she is going to be an impeccable ambassador for the show, and I now strongly believed that this is the perfect time for a female incarnation of The Doctor. But, would I feel the same when I saw her first full episode?
For the most part, yes. The Thirteenth Doctor makes quite an entrance, literally crashing through the roof of a train, (that bit annoyed me, but I’ll save that for later.) immediately she hits the ground running with an boundless energy, within seconds, you forget that you are watching “the first female Doctor”, you are just watching The Doctor.
One of my biggest worries was that this new Doctor would get hung up on the fact that she has changed gender, I felt that it was important that it was going to be a “business as usual” scenario, and I’m so glad we got that. I give credit to Chris Chibnall here, in an episode that is breaking down stereotypes, the smartest thing to do is not treat this regeneration as an anomaly, to not beat fans over the head with it and keep pointing out that the new Doctor is a female. For lack of a better phrase, he very much made gender irrelevant, in a world where gender equality issues are rife, I’m glad he has done this. At the end of the day, The Doctor is The Doctor, and it is now clear that anyone can be The Doctor, and that is the way it should be. It is not only a strong message to Doctor Who fans, it is a strong message to modern day society in regards to equality.
I’ve rambled a bit here, but it’s quite fitting really, because that was one of the most prominent traits I noticed from The Thirteenth Doctor. Every Doctor possesses attributes of their predecessors, when I was watching 13, I was sensing a /David Tennant/Matt Smith/Tom Baker hybrid of sorts… The powerful charm of The Tenth Doctor… Flickers of the silly, discursive Eleventh Doctor… The energy and excitement of The Fourth, yearning for adventure.
It usually takes a new Doctor a few episodes to settle in, before we really begin to notice the elements that make each incarnation unique and different to their predecessors. But my initial feelings towards 13 are positive. If there is one thing I am confident on, it’s that the fans who are always crying out for a “darker Doctor” will probably be disappointed , as I don’t think Whittaker’s incarnation will go down that road, nor do I think she would suit it.
Gone is The Doctor ravaged by war, the warrior with a dark past… This is a clean slate, I feel this Doctor will not be haunted by her past, in an era that is determined to be progressive, I believe we’ll see the RTD/Moffat era left behind us. Now, we’ll have a Doctor who has a newfound sense of purpose, a love for life and chomping at the bit to get out there and see the universe. This is a perfect Doctor for new audiences, whilst also providing a fresh outlook for those who have been there since Eccleston appeared on our screens 13 years ago. I embrace this with open arms.
Welcome, Jodie. You are The Doctor.
Yes, “friends” instead of “companions”, they’ve been very clear on that. For the first time in a while, we’re going to have a proper TARDIS team, harkening right back to the Hartnell era in the 60s.
Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh play Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien respectively, and they’re all… fine?
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike any of them, but equally, I didn’t see enough from any of them to really care that much, either.
Personally, I think the episode was overcrowded. I understand that the new era is intended to be an “ensemble piece” and each of these characters will be fleshed out as the series goes on, but I don’t think they were all needed here, especially not in an episode that really needed to be about the new Doctor.
When you have a new start, it is important for the audience to be invested in the characters, which is why the common “Doctor + Companion” dynamic has worked well in recent years, when Pearl Mackie was introduced last year as the next companion, I was on board as soon as the credits started rolling at the end of her debut, as much as I wanted to feel the same for the current companions by the end of this episode, I simply didn’t. In a cast this size, someone is always going to miss out and lack some development compared to others, but I really don’t feel like they got the balance right at all. I found them all to be quite one dimensional and bland, ultimately, at least in this episode, they were all quite forgettable.
I of course, acknowledge that it is a 10 episode series and character development can (and most likely, will) be stretched out over this period, with an individual taking centre stage in each standalone episode. That’s fine, I’m sure I’ll grow to like them all, but I don’t think it’s a good sign that I just didn’t care about any of them at the end. Personally, I think they could have cut one or two of them and introduced them at a later stage in a series, it was a lot to take in and I felt like we got “new character overload”. Juggling each character and giving them ample time (and purpose) would have been difficult, of course. Sometimes, it worked, but a lot of the time it didn’t, Yasmin in particular felt like an afterthought and upon reflection, I don’t really think she was necessary, at least not in this story.
I would just like to quickly mention dyspraxia representation through the character of Ryan, it was done brilliantly, kudos!
I was always skeptical when Chris Chibnall was chosen to become the new lead for the Doctor Who writing team, sure, his work on Broadchurch was commendable, (Season 1, at least…) but when it comes to Who, I have never been a big fan of his work. 2007’s 42 was okay, but apart from that, I think the rest of his work on the series has been poor at best.
Say what you want about Steven Moffat, but when he was appointed the new lead many years ago, it felt like the right decision and few would have argued against it, given the quality of his work. But Chibnall? I didn’t have that same confidence. I wanted to be proven wrong, but, I was proven right by what ultimately was a poor script, reminiscent of his previous work of the show. Clunky, uninspiring dialogue meant that at times, the episode felt more like a parody of Doctor Who, a lot of the lines felt like they belonged in a pantomime and it took me out of the action every time.
It was incredibly lazy, when The Doctor was falling through the sky last Christmas, I wondered how she would get out of it, having her literally crash through a train roof after falling thousands of feet, to then get up as if it was nothing, was utterly ridiculous, it wasn’t even explained. Even a throwaway line to say that recently regenerated Time Lords are clearly tougher than Superman on steroids would have been enough for me. Even in science-fiction, where almost anything can be explained, it felt out of place and comical that someone could fall from such a height, with not even the slightest complications… You’ve got to remember, this is the same Doctor that died after falling off a telescope. Instead of focusing on what should have been an iconic sequence, I was too busy thinking about how stupid that part was.
I also felt that the majority of attempts at humour fell quite flat. The RTD/Moffat eras were cleverly written, and it would be quite rare that an episode wouldn’t make me giggle at some point, but I didn’t laugh at all during this episode, which was worrying when you could tell certain sequences were solely there to be played for laughs. Look at the character of Karl, clearly being used as the comic relief , with his self-help tapes and being the “lad in distress”, there were many moments that I could tell were meant to be funny, but I was just getting really, really annoyed. I could disregard this as a one off, but I’ve never found any of Chibnall’s Who work funny, it usually delves into the silly and ridiculous, and it does come across as “try hard” a lot of the time. I appreciate the tremendous pressure that a job like this brings, but it’s a common trait among Whovians to complain about “writing letting the actor playing The Doctor down”. I am scared to say that the main vibe I got from this episode was that, if anything in this era is to fail, it will be the writing style, which could ultimately cause The Doctor herself to fail.
Please, Mr Chibnall, I want to be proven wrong.
I’ll keep this one short, because the less I say about this, the better. Chibnall has said that there will be no returning monsters this series, if that is the case, I hope they get a lot better than what was on offer here.
The monster looked cool at first, despite being aided by what looked like a flying Pot Noodle. Sadly, it ended up taking off its mask, leaving us with what I can only describe as something that looked like it had been stolen directly from an episode of 90s Power Rangers.
It was bad enough that the episode basically ended up ripping off Predator, but every time I had to see this monstrosity with human teeth sticking out of its face, (an extra point, if this thing conquests multiple planets, then why is every tooth in his face reminiscent of a human tooth? Weird.) I ended up face palming. There have been some weak monsters over the years in Doctor Who, it’s part of the charm in a way, but this is an era which is clearly going upmarket, trying to be more cinematic and high budget… The monsters need to look better than what we got.
I am on board with the “no returning monsters” promise, if it is true. But I don’t want to get halfway through the series wishing I could see something familiar because the new stuff is so underwhelming. Fingers crossed that this is just a blip.
Segun Akinola takes over from the incredible Murray Gold, and his score fit in extremely well, again, it’s early days, but I have no issues with it. It definitely felt more atmospheric and refined than the epic pieces of the Murray Gold era, but I think the greatest compliment I can give here, is that I didn’t come out of the episode missing Murray Gold too much!
We also got a brief glimpse of the new Doctor Who theme, which sounds like it will be the most “classic” version of the famous tune since it returned in 2005. I was getting some proper 70s Doctor Who vibes from it, which was awesome. I look forward to listening to it in its entirety very soon.
This was not the worst Doctor Who episode I’ve ever seen, but it left a lot to be desired.
Jodie Whittaker shone as the new incarnation as The Doctor, she was charismatic, energetic and instantly likeable, she was so comfortable in the role that it felt like she’s been playing The Doctor for years, I can’t wait to see her grow and develop. However, I felt at times she was let down by Chibnall’s clunky, poor dialogue and I do fear that if this continues, she could begin to appear like she is playing a parody of The Doctor, rather than The Doctor herself.
The focus on an ensemble cast, although bold and interesting, didn’t land for me, it felt overcrowded and I think some of the characters suffered as a result. This may not be a big problem in the long run as each character is fleshed out as the series progresses, but this initial introduction it did leave me quite disinterested in them, I felt no connection as I have with previous companions, or “friends”.
Chibnall’s writing left a lot to be desired, and I didn’t see anything to suggest that the quality will improve compared to his previous work on the show, but I am willing to give him a fair chance. I do get the impression he is taking the series in a completely different direction to his predecessor, Steven Moffat, which I know will be welcomed by a large number of fans.
The monster was quite bland and boring, and it looked terrible, but even in a show that revolves around change, some old habits die hard, Doctor Who has, and always will, have bad looking villains from time to time, I just hope that this doesn’t become a consistency in the new era.
The new look, although hard to adjust to initially, is taking the show to a new level, and I can’t wait to see what kind of cinematography and visual spectacles we will be treated to over the next 10 weeks.
I didn’t despise this episode, I didn’t think much of it either. I did however see enough that, for now, will maintain my interest, and I look forward to the future.
I give The Woman Who Fell To Earth a 5.5/10.
See you all next week for Episode 2!