A Woman Fell to Earth, and, Despite Some Worries, She Showed Everyone She is The Doctor

Posted: October 7, 2018 in Entertainment, Life
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**SPOILER FREE REVIEW**

Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Director: Jamie Childs

Writer: Chris Chibnall (also the new showrunner)

Stars: Jodie Whittaker, Sharon D. Clarke, Mandip Gill, Tosin Cole, Bradley Walsh

Tonight (or today depending on when you watched) we got to see the debut of the new Doctor. Any time there’s a new actor coming into the role, there are worries by the fans and speculation about how the character will now be played. When a new showrunner is coming in, there’s much the same thing.  For this debut, the level of worry, speculation, and general gnashing of teeth was unprecedented. However, one would expect that given this would be (officially) the first time we saw the Doctor as portrayed by a woman rather than a man. 

So how did she do? Come on, like I didn’t give it away with the header…

I’m going to start out looking at Chris Chibnall’s writing for the episode. 

Chibnall has an impressive resume that includes science fiction and fantasy works, so there was very little worry in that department when it came to whether or not he had a grasp on writing for genre. What might have served him best here, however, was his work in British mystery and detective shows. 

Regeneration stories have traditionally been the weaker episodes of a season. We start out with an incapacitated Doctor, we see the Doctor struggle through and with the difficulties of breaking in a new body, and we see the Doctor overcome these difficulties to defeat the big bad. Occasionally, we even get a few new companions depending on whatever the seasonal needs demand. There’s usually a lot of padding and stalling.

We didn’t get that here. The opening moments of the story felt like Chibnall was giving us a British police procedural or mystery. We saw a few characters going through their day, some grumbling their way through their day, and then we saw the beginnings of what would be our big bad. But it wasn’t a super flashy, over the top, or immediately obvious big bad introduction. Something happened, but we didn’t know what. The story continued to build around the characters and the mystery of whatever it was in a manner that reminded me more of Chibnall’s work outside of genre. 

This actually worked quite well. How well? I was enjoying it quite a bit before I realized that we hadn’t actually had the Doctor show up yet.

I did feel the Doctor’s introduction into the story was a bit of a cheat, however. How so? Well, keeping it spoiler free… You know how we left the last season with the Doctor watching her TARDIS disappear as she fell towards the ground from high enough up that hitting the ground would be a bone shattering, organ rupturing, human body becomes pancake type of impact? If you were looking for a clever or logical moment of the Doctor pulling a rabbit out of the hat and saving herself, we don’t actually get it. The Doctor is introduced into the story in a fantastical way, but it’s a way that feels like almost a cheat given the cliffhanger we were left with. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, by the way, so I hope this is a one off when it comes to that feeling. 

Chibnall’s monster is a mixed bag. It’s an alien hunter, but that’s all I’ll say about motivation or origins. A nice touch is the big bad having a bit of the horror genre worked into its concept. The horror vibe is also found in the directing of this episode. This was absolutely a good thing as Doctor Who tends to be at its best when there’s a nice dollop of horror mixed in to balance out the comedy and the adventure.

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I’d call the companions a mixed bag right now, but I don’t say that in a bad way. The companions serve their function as companions and then some, but we’re getting four people introduced to us along with a new monster, various side storyline characters, time for some of the usual regeneration side effect moments, and a new Doctor having to do more than we see in most regeneration stories. 

The downside of this is getting new companions introduced that don’t have any time to be anything but necessary story props. We don’t get a lot of feel for who most of them are and who they’ll be as the season unfolds. This is true to a degree whenever we get new companions, but the issue was compounded here with four new companions introduced to us. However, we still got more to help us get their characters than we have sometimes been given in such episodes in Who history. 

The upside here is what we did get out of the new companions. You don’t find yourself disliking a single one of them. They feel like people getting sucked into something strange and extraordinary should feel like, they can deliver moments of comedy and drama equally well without being the occasionally seen companion who is just good for that one story note, they’re all resourceful in their own way, and the actors playing each of the four of them make you like them almost instantly. These feel like people you’d enjoy being on a long and crazy journey with, which is not something that can be said of every companion or set of companions in Who history. 

Okay, enough beating around the bush. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. How is Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, and does her Doctor feel like a worthy addition in the long line of Doctors we’ve seen before her?

1

I had one reservation. I had one big reservation when it came to this. Was this going to be filled with change for the sake of change? I don’t even mean the change of having the Doctor going from male to female, either. I mean, would they go a little too far into left field with trying to establish that this was an all new, all different, all modern, and decidedly female Doctor Who?

A lot of people- including a lot of fans -were talking about how much they wanted to see the Doctor changed with this new direction. They were looking forward to seeing the big changes in the Doctor and the show because of the Doctor becoming a woman. 

I didn’t quite subscribe to that idea. As I mentioned HERE, being the Doctor was a bit like doing a job. You could be whatever you wanted to be when you weren’t on the job, but the job itself had certain demands and requirements. This Doctor could be vastly different in how she interacted with the companions or acted in quieter moments, but you can only change the Doctor so much when the time came in the story for her to be the Doctor and act like the Doctor. 

So, did they change too much? Did they make a Doctor that feels too off the mark? Does Jodie Whittaker feel wrong in these moments as written or in how she’s having to find her footing in the role? The answer is a resounding no across the board. 

Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor. Jodie Whittaker plays the Doctor as the Doctor in every important way, and she adds her own flourish here and there with the big things while putting her personal stamp on the very important quieter moments and in how she interacts with her companions. Do I feel like there’s potential there for her to be my favorite Doctor? No, but only because I like my Doctors having a little more darkness bubbling below the surface of their nature. But, I’ll tell you this; she has already shown everything needed to be damned high up on my list of favorite Doctors. 

Jodie Whittaker is, in a word, magnificent as the Doctor. Nothing in her performance feels in the least bit out of place when compared to almost any Doctor in the show’s five-plus decades of adventures. Even better, the writing lets her be a Doctor we can enjoy from the get-go. The writing and conceptual problems we’ve seen with introductions in the past- like with Colin Baker or Peter Capaldi -are completely absent. This is an attempt to go into a “new direction” by returning us to a Doctor who feels like she came out of some of the shows most fun periods. She plays the role with everything the Doctor needs to have and a bit more, and the first taste of her Doctor just makes you want to see how much better she’ll become as she grows into the role and shapes it into her definitive version of her Doctor. 

As someone who was openly skeptical (but open-minded when it came to giving the new crew a chance) of the idea of changing Doctor Who in this way purely for the sake of changing it, I can confidently say this after having seen The Woman Who Fell to Earth (twice if you count having the repeat of the broadcast it on in the background as I write this) tonight. If you are or have ever been a fan of Doctor Who, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for you to dislike this version of the Doctor. 

Okay… Maybe that outfit. But, hey, we eventually (almost) got used to Colin Baker’s outfit and might even stop making fun of it one day.

Understand this, because I cannot say it any more clearly than this. Jodie Whittaker is not the female Doctor. Jodie Whittaker is not playing the female Doctor. Jodie Whittaker is playing THE DOCTOR.  Whatever else she brings into it by virtue of the fact that, yeah, she is a woman, is nothing more than what every actor brings to the role to make it uniquely theirs. However, when the key moments in the story played out on the screen tonight, Jodie Whittaker was the Doctor in every way that mattered, and her portrayal of the role rang as true or truer than some of the Doctors we’ve seen in the past. 

Jodie Whittaker is given a line when facing the big bad for the final showdown about change and evolution while being true to what we are. It was the perfect line by Chris Chibnall that sums up this Doctor and what she will be going forward. 

Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor. There is absolutely no disputing this. Further, if this first story is any indication, there will likely be no disputing the fact that she will be a great Doctor. 

Oh, the new music seems to work right now, but I want some more time for it to grow on me before commenting. It works well for the mood of the episode, but I need to see how the new show composer does with a wider range of moods and feelings. 

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Grading a regeneration story is historically a tricky thing. I was considering grading it on a curve. You know, just grading it against other regeneration stories. As I noted earlier, they are typically the weakest story or one of the weaker stories in a new season in many people’s estimations. I sincerely hope that this was the case here, because, if it is, this is going to be an amazing season. 

The Woman Who Fell to Earth is not without its flaws. No regeneration story is. For that matter, few Who stories are. But this is a regeneration story that is in moments strong enough to stand with some of the better seasonal stories. 

I’d rate it a 3.5 out of 5 against Who stories in general, and a solid 4.5 out of 5 when it comes to regeneration/introduction stories in Who. 

Seriously, if you decided to sit this season out because of the new Doctor’s gender swap, all things point to you missing a truly wonderful season of Doctor Who. The overbearing weight of what Steven Moffat had built himself into a corner with is gone. The feeling of Doctor Who not knowing where it is or what it wants to be is gone. Even the episode having the companions have so much to do and feeling so important to the story felt less like the problem it became with  Steven Moffat’s seeming desire to make them too important to the story, maybe even more important than the Doctor, and more like the introduction of characters that will become fan favorite companions who actually serve a purpose other than hiding behind the Doctor, screaming at the right moment, and being confused about something every five minutes so that the Doctor can explain to us what everything is. 

This is the Doctor. 

This is Doctor Who

This has the promise of being a fantastic season. Miss it if you must, but you will very likely be missing some of the best Doctor Who we’ve seen in a while. 

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. He has in the past contributed to websites like Needless Things,  Gruesome Magazine, and others while occasionally remembering to put up the odd musings on his own blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, on Decades of Horror, and on the Nerdy Laser. He is also a regular co-host on The Assignment: Horror Podcast as well as the primary writer for its affiliated blog.

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Comments
  1. rickkeating says:

    “You know how we left the last season with the Doctor watching her TARDIS disappear as she fell towards the ground from high enough up that hitting the ground would be a bone shattering, organ rupturing, human body becomes pancake type of impact? If you were looking for a clever or logical moment of the Doctor pulling a rabbit out of the hat and saving herself, we don’t actually get it.”

    Would you believe that like Rick Jones with exploding Skrull spaceships, the Doctor always carries a parachute in case she has to jump from an exploding TARDIS? Her chute got tangled in a tree that was just above the stopped train. She unhitched herself and fell the few feet through the roof. Simple.

    You find that hard to believe?

    How about it’ll hopefully be explained later in the season?

    Rick..

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