Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth

“Right! This is gonna be fun.”

What an interesting start, with such a clearly defined group dynamic and a totally different look and feel. Yet this is still Doctor Who, no matter how much has been changed.

The title is a word play, describing both our lead and the consequences of the climax of the episode. I really liked Grace and her sacrifice, while a bit foreshadowed, was well handled. It gave our heroes an important event to focus on, leaving Graham and Ryan in particular in emotional turmoil. Ryan and Graham's relationship was already strained and in need of strengthening, which leaves a lot of character growth potential. Graham’s guilt over his wife’s death will also likely be a strong note for him to build on.

This was mostly Ryan’s episode, though, and he was a good every-man to hang the adventure on. He has a coordination disorder, which prevents him from riding a bike. A point of frustration earlier, which turned into a moment of perseverance later on. Not that it stopped him from volunteering information even when it made him look bad, or risking his life to climb a crane despite his disability. It showed him to be brave, selfless and courageous without being blunt about it.

Yazmin didn’t get quite as much attention, although we did get a good feel for her character. She’s smart, and compassionate and hungry for adventure. Her job as a rookie cop scrambling to get the most interesting cases made her relate-able and easy to like. She was also the one to point out the small details others missed, obviously being drawn as a detective in the making.

Which brings us to our titular hero. She was, and this is the greatest praise I can think of: The Doctor. Her transformation into a woman feels almost like a non-event. It’s directly referenced twice, and the rest of the time she is just this presence that immediately steps in to protect and help everyone. The gang, group, team... fam almost instantly defer to her opinion because she clearly knows what is going on, or at least has an idea how to solve it. She's brilliant, heroic, a little chaotic, and clearly not fully formed. There are shades of Tennant, Smith and Capaldi in Whittaker's performance, but that was clearly intentional. It does make it a little hard to judge her as a Doctor yet, but that's fine – it's our first dance with her.

While I did really like the companions, and there's a chance Whittaker could become my Doctor, I didn't care as much for the story. While the monster of the week was good on a surface level (and appropriately gross, she was totally right about the teeth thing being offensive), the hunt plot is overly used, and in this case a little nonsensical. Why would an alien travel from 5000 galaxies away to abduct one human? How could he possibly even know about us? Perhaps the easiest answer is that no one would know, anyone else in his galaxy wouldn't be the wiser and it would be hard to prove the abduction of one human when he is taken that far away. It still doesn't work for me on a practical level.

That was really the only negative for me. There was some less than great dialogue, but that's nitpicking. Chibnall's touch on the series is clear, the look, tone and feel of the series is totally new. It was gorgeously shot, atmospheric and dark. Tim Shaw killed three people brutally, which could be hard for younger viewers to absorb. The tentacle creature was also very creepy and effective, and the makeup on Tim Shaw was very well done. In all, this was a solid first outing, and a great start to the new series.

I love this shot
Bits:

The Doctor cobbling together her new Swiss Army Sonic was a delight, with her smile at the spoon a direct nod to Capaldi.

The dressing room scene was cute, and thankfully they didn't show her trying on a dozen outfits. Her final costume is, well, eccentric and very much the Doctor, and I do love the coat.

The final show down with the alien was almost textbook Doctor Who, switching out the bombs so that it's her opponent that ends up as the instrument of their own destruction. I also loved her chiding Karl about kicking Tim Shaw off the crane.

FWIW, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a 1976 movie starring David Bowie as an alien. I don't think the movie and episode have more than that in common.

The cliffhanger was kind of pointless, because we know they aren't going to die in space. That being said, I did like the idea that the companions aren't necessarily willing travelers through space and time, but are pulled along by accident.

Quotes:

Ryan: "Did you just make that?"
The Doctor: "Sonic screwdriver, well, I say 'screwdriver,' but it's a bit more multi-purpose that that. Scanner, diagnostics... tin opener. More of a... sonic Swiss army knife. Only without the knife. Only idiots carry knives."

Yasmin: "Hold on there, please, Madam. I need you to do as I say. This could be a potential crime scene."
The Doctor: "Why are you calling me 'Madam'?"
Yasmin: "Because, you're a woman?"
The Doctor: "Am I? Does it suit me?"
Yasmin: "What?"
The Doctor: "Oh yeah, I remember! Sorry, half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman."

The Doctor: "These legs definitely used to be longer!"

Tim Shaw: "Who are you?"
The Doctor: "I'm glad you asked that again. Bit of adrenaline, dash of outrage, and a hint of panic knitted my brain back together. I know exactly who I am! I'm the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe."

3 1/2 out of 4 Swiss Army sonics, now with added Sheffield steel.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

9 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I'm really happy with Jodie Whittaker's Doctor. It wasn't at all like a woman *playing* the Doctor -- she was just the Doctor already. I also liked the companions, especially Ryan. The story, not so much. As you said, the hunt thing has been done to death, pun intended, and the teeth thing was a bit on the icky creepy side.

But hey, so far, so good. We shall see. Excellent review, JD.

Franni V said...

We’re used to something comparatively gentle from BBC on an early Sunday evening, eg Call the Midwife, but after the opening episode we’ll definitely be watching. Good alien, despite the gross teeth - worse from my perspective was his tentacled (?)accomplice, as I can’t abide eels and that’s what it looked like, first sight if it was definitely my behind the sofa moment. Hope the granddad character will develop as the series goes on 😊

An Honest Fangirl said...

I really enjoyed this one. It's a bit early to tell what Jodie's Doctor will be like, but I definitely liked what I saw. I liked all of the companions too, even if I feel like Yaz kinda got the short end of the stick. Ryan is probably my early favorite, if only because it's very, very nice to see someone els with dyspraxia depicted on screen.

I think this episode would have been more powerful, though, if I didn't know who all the companions were going to be. Grace was the odd woman out, and she loved the adventure too much for me to see her just sitting at home while everyone else went off through space and time. Her death was inevitable.

But that, in addition to the three murders, in addition to the very creepy Alien of the Week, certainly made for a darker episode than what I normally expect from Doctor Who. I like it, because I like dark stuff, but I'm curious to see if this will be a trend or a one-off. Also very curious to see who gave "permission" to hunt on Earth. That line seemed like it was setting up bigger plot stuff.

migmit said...

Oh, yeah, that's the Doctor!

I have to say, Jodie Whittaker is the first Doctor whom I've seen and liked before. Well, technically, I've seen Capaldi before too... but only in Doctor Who, and didn't really remember him. But Whittaker? St.Trinians, where she was as funny as it gets, always either drunk or hungover — and then Venus, where she played alongside Peter O'Toole and proved to be an equal partner to him. So, I knew she was going to give us a great Doctor... question was how. And yes she did, yes she did. I won't be surprised if she surpasses Smith and becomes my favorite — too early to tell, but it's totally a possibility.

Mark Greig said...

Afraid to say i was very disappointed, and my expectations were so low they could be Donald Trump's approval ratings. The plot was weak, more like season 1 Torchwood than Doctor Who. Tim Shaw was a naff villain whose scheme go more ridiculous the more he talk about it. Which he did a lot. A badly. Chibnall really doesn't have RTD or Moffat's gift for great dialogue. Grace's death was blatant fridging and clumsily handled fridging at that. There was no need for her to die. The bad guy was defeated, the squiggly thing was posing no immediate threat to anyone, it was just a stupidly pointless death. Jodie was good, but Chibs seems to be playing it safe and given her a rather generic Doctor character to play with. The rest of the cast was also good, if a little bland.

sunbunny said...

I agree with Mark about Grace's death (we've already discussed this ad nauseam) but I'm a little more hopeful about the season. Or series, if we're being British. Every change in leadership at DW has marked a soft reboot for the show and it can't be easy to write one of those that appeases die hard fans and newcomers alike. The ep had to introduce all these new characters, set a new tone, create a new Doctor, I mean...it didn't do a great job but it was better than Rose. Not as good as The Eleventh Hour but that had fewer characters to introduce too.

I like Jodie's Doctor so far. And I've decided that even if I don't like her I'M GOING TO LIKE HER because of all the trolls and evil "the Doctor can't be a woman" idiots. I've already started buying up merch. Hoping to get a Sheffield sonic for Christmas. :) Anyway she seemed cute and quirky, very Eleven-ish, which works for me since Matt was by far my favorite Doctor.

Also, as someone who loved the Moffat Era (mostly; it definitely had its weak spots and flaws), I have a tiny aneurysm every time anyone says "Finally Doctor Who is good again." That's irrelevant to the episode just a personal trial that I'm undergoing and felt like sharing.

Thanks for the review JD!

#BringRiverSongBack #SpaceWives

sunbunny said...

Oh I also ADORED that the companions got dragged along by mistake. Classic.

Patrick said...

Matt Smith is still "My Doctor", but I'm enjoying Jodie's take on the role so far. I never really could get invested in Capaldi as The Doctor, so I wasn't sure if I was going to give this new run of the show a chance. The new visual style definitely feels cinematic, heck it's even in a new aspect ratio(2:1 instead of 16:9, which one of CW's new shows is doing too, for some reason).

While they could've handled Grace's death better, I'm assuming the intent is for the relationship between Ryan and Graham, as they figure out what they are to each other with her gone.

Am I the only one who thought Jodie looked really cool in Twelve's slightly tattered outfit and wish she'd kept it? I'm sorry, but the new outfit just looks goofy to me. Granted, it's not "celery on the lapel" goofy, but still. :)

migmit said...

Patrick, I'm with you on both counts: Matt Smith is definitely my doctor, and yes, I wish she would keep Capaldi's outfit — well, maybe repair it a little.