Image Credit: BBC/Ben Blackall
Ever since Jodie Whittaker fell out of her TARDIS on Christmas Day, fans, including myself, have been waiting with baited breath to find out just what happens next. It certainly made one hell of a cliff-hanger, and with Chris Chibnall keeping tight-lipped about the direction of his series, there were only the smallest scraps of information to go on, leading to rampant speculation. Would the Doctor spend the series looking for the TARDIS? Would there be a return to earth-based stories of the 1970s? Would the Doctor simply splat onto the floor? Despite the hopes of some so-called ‘fans’, this series-opener did not fall flat-cometh the hour, cometh the woman…
For me, the episode reads as something of a dark fairytale. A son, annoyed with his family, descends into the forest, whereupon he finds strange, mysteriously vegetable-shaped objects that give him a new way of looking at the world. A wizard drops from the sky, complete with magic wand. Even the tooth fairy puts in an appearance. Of course, it can’t be a ‘happily ever after’ ending for everyone. A criticism of some of previous showrunner Steven Moffat’s writing was that there was a tendency to ensure that “everybody lives”, as the 9th Doctor would say, and Chris Chibnall ensures this is not the case. That’s not to say that it becomes a much more sombre affair, à la Broadchurch-humour has a key part to play in the rebirth of the series. Like other fairytales, the dialogue is at times clunky, sometimes predictable, yet it still manages to entertain while crossing into a new frontier-the North.
For an episode notable for moving to the north of England, specifically Sheffield, it is notable that the episode doesn’t want to force the issue. Instead, it builds a Sheffield from strength of character, rather than pointing out landmarks like the Arts Tower. Family has been mentioned as a key watchword of the series, and this shines through in the interplay between Graham (Bradley Walsh), Grace (Sharon D Clarke), Ryan (Tosin Cole) and Yasmin (Mandip Gill). This episode also sets forward the cause of diversity in Doctor Who significantly, continuing the work of series 10. Not only do we have a first female Doctor, we double the number of non-white companions, while advancing the representation of disability (especially hidden) and older people in a major television show. Behind the scenes, we see the first non-white composer and writers, ensuring that a show that has spent 55 years exploring the universe will do so in a way that is more open to everyone.
Of course, what many people will be looking at in this episode is how the 13th Doctor appears. Jodie Whittaker, in addition to the weight of years of history upon her shoulders, has fan expectation and media pressure to deal with in addition. Her Doctor certainly shows snatches of what has gone before-the youthful energy of Matt Smith, the humour of Patrick Troughton, the adventurousness of Jon Pertwee, but also the hard edges of Christopher Eccleston and Peter Capaldi-while also adding a certain something that makes the role uniquely hers. She is also able to do this without a needless focus on why The Doctor is now female, with just the one line laying the matter to rest.
As much as I would like it to be, the episode is not without its issues. The dialogue, as mentioned, could do with perhaps a final polish, just to ensure that it doesn’t feel slightly out of kilter with the episode at large. A few thematic choices are also somewhat cliché-admittedly, they’re still impactful and emotional, but not particularly inspired in an episode making great strides in other areas. One moment in particular stands out as being particularly off in this area, as well as in terms of both pacing and story. To adapt a quote from Eric Morecambe, the episode reliably hits all the right notes. But occasionally not in the right order.
In all, The Woman Who Fell To Earth is a spellbinding, engrossing way of spending just over an hour getting to know a new Doctor. Whether you are someone who has never heard of the show, or someone who has watched every minute of the show since it first began, you will find something to enjoy in the new series of the show. And for those who still insist on boycotting it, I suggest you stick the sonic where the sun don’t shine-just now with added Sheffield steel.