The Woman Who Fell to Earth

womanwhofellThis is all very different.  The amazing thing is that the Doctor being female is one of the easiest changes to get used to.  Jodie Whittaker is immediately brilliant as the Doctor, so this whole gender change is clearly going to live or die on the quality of the writing.  Maybe the tactic was to change absolutely everything to make Doctor Who feel like something very new, and then the presence of the Doctor herself is the only comforting and familiar thing in the episode, helping the viewers to accept her.  I don’t know, but either way it works.  Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor, and clearly a very, very good one indeed.

But that was never going to be the most important thing, as strange a statement as that may seem.  We have seen great actors play the Doctor, and have their time marred by terrible scripts, and on one occasion we have even seen the opposite of that.  So let’s look at everything that surrounds this new Doctor.

Probably least importantly, although worth mentioning, this is a visually stunning episode.  It manages to look slicker and more expensive than anything we have seen before: extremely filmic, and not just because of the widescreen format (I’m not keen on deliberately not using part of the television screen, having lived through all that once before, but I’ll control myself and not go on a rant about that here).  Everything is modern and fresh, from the liberal use of aerial shots to the way that the rest of the series is trailed at the end by showcasing the acting talent.

The pacing was perhaps a little slower than we are used to, part of a wider impression that the whole episode made of being more akin to an adult drama.  That was the impression given by all the direction, pacing and in particular the incidental music.  It’s all very slick, and what it does it does extremely well.  There remains a slight worry in my mind that the family remit is still being neglected, as it has been basically since Matt Smith left.  What was there to interest children?  It didn’t feel like a show for them.  With an early evening broadcast time it all seems something of an awkward fit, but if there’s one series that can break all the rules and thrive, it’s Doctor Who.

How about the story itself?  The post-regeneration trauma was kept to a minimum, little more than a quick nap for the Doctor, and that’s exactly how it should be done.  The balance was just about right, with the Doctor held back for the first ten minutes of the episode. allowing the new companions to get established as well.  The alien invasion I found instantly guessable as a war between two races, and then when that turned out to be the wrong guess it was replaced by something no more interesting or original.  The aliens reminded me a bit of Tennant’s debut in The Christmas Invasion: a big brutish race of bullies – again nothing to write home about.  But the first story doesn’t need to be something hugely original.  Generally what works best is to throw the new Doctor into a traditional kind of Doctor Who story and see how he/she responds, exploring the new characterisation while the Doctor learns who he/she is.  That’s what happens here.  And I’m already fed up with having to type he/she.  We need to invent a gender neutral pronoun that isn’t “it”.

We have a group of four companions here, of sorts, so anyone who has followed any of the pre-publicity will have guessed that one of them was for the chop.  Again, this seemed like a very adult-demographic thing to do, but it was handled with tact, a far cry from the lingering shot of Clara’s death we had to suffer a couple of years ago.  I still prefer companions to join the Doctor’s travels because it’s an amazing thing and they want to do it, rather than the other two alternatives that have been tried many times over the years: (a) make them orphans, or (b) have the Doctor kidnap them.  There are elements of both of those ignoble Who traditions here.  Bradley Walsh is going to be magnificent though, just as I expected.

There was a sense of saving some of our treats for later, which could be a clever tactic.  What do we expect to see in the first episode of a relaunch of Doctor Who?  The new title sequence and the new TARDIS, for a start.  Neither of those things were present here, although the former can presumably be guessed to a certain extent from the end credits playing over a vortex that was highly reminiscent of the Pertwee era.  With so many viewers tuning in out of curiosity, particularly for the first female Doctor, it makes sense to leave the TARDIS reveal back for the second episode.

So what else is there to say?  I mentioned the aerial shots above, but that was part of a wider attempt at vertical storytelling, which gave the episode impressive scale.  The major plot beats were to be found vertically as much as horizontally within the story: Ryan, Graham and Grace sat on the outcrop of rock, shot to appear a lot more precipitous than it probably was, the Doctor’s arrival from above, the location of the cable monster, the fabulous chase sequence on the cranes…

…speaking of which, was it just me, or was all that jumping stuff made a nonsense by the design of the cranes?  Maybe it was just shot badly, or maybe the director was trying to hide the problem with the shot, but surely there was a safety barrier that would have prevented anyone from jumping from either direction, at least without climbing up onto it first.  A running jump looked impossible.

Speaking of impossible things, the creation of the new sonic from bits and bobs lying around in a workshop is fun but silly (although not quite Pertwee silly).  The “Tim Shaw” joke was fabulous, but he seemed to be wearing only human teeth, which doesn’t quite fit with his modus operandi.  It also has been established that the Doctor is virtually indestructible post-regen, but it would have been useful to have explained within the episode itself how exactly the cliffhanger to the end of the previous episode of the Doctor falling from the sky is resolved by her just falling to her death and then not dying.  I also had to groan a bit when the Doctor changed into her awful new outfit.  Even Capaldi’s tattered threads were better than that.  I suppose we’ll get used to it.

In fact, we’ll get used to it all.  The new music, direction, widescreen, modern approach, three companions, female Doctor.  In fact, I’m used to that last one already.   RP

The view from across the pond:

As our friends here at the Junkyard know, Doctor Who has always been a very personal journey for me.  For the premiere of Jodie Whattaker as the Doctor, I was lucky enough to see it with some 500 other fans in Madison Square Garden as part of the NY Comic Con experience, with Jodie Whittaker, Chris Chibnall and Matt Strevens in attendance.

Is it wrong to be enjoying this?

The sound system in MSG is fantastic.  Clock chimes akin to Big Ben began counting up.  1… 2…3… and on 13, the crowd went wild.  The little child that lives in my soul was ecstatic doing flips.  I was so excited.  The cinematic feel was amazing, especially over some of the landscape shots. The outdoor areas were sprawling and beautiful.  I do think the episode was a little too dark though.  I think it would have been even more impressive in daylight.  I was also bummed that the TARDIS was not seen yet, which was a bit of a letdown even if I knew that was going to be the case.  And I am dying to hear the actual opening theme.  But when you have an experience like a season premiere with a Comic Con crowd, it’s hard not to be carried by the excitement and ignore those minor things.   There was just so much to enjoy.

The villain: Tzim-Sha was a violent creature and the teeth extractions were brutal but he made a memorable villain.  While I think it would scare some of the kids in my family, I still think they would enjoy it.

The cast: they were spectacular.  Bradley Walsh as Graham is great.  The relationship he has with Ryan as a step-grandparent, is difficult and his outburst with Ryan is believable.  I love how Grace (Sharon D. Clarke) tempers that.  She was such an asset to the whole story.  Mandip Gill as Yasmin plays her part with authority as well as compassion.  When Ryan climbs a ladder, her in-charge attitude gives way to genuine concern.  And Tosin Cole as Ryan comes off as flawed, but capable.  He is already proving to be a complex, multifaceted character.

And this is where being in a ComiCon crowd added to the experience because during the Q&A session, a brave audience member brought up the fact that she knew she’d have “representation as a woman” in the form of Jodie and Mandip, but she never expected to have representation by Ryan’s character who suffers from a coordination disorder called Dyspraxia.  Chris Chibnall explained that this will remain a part of the character with which he will have to cope throughout the season.  (Chib’s took inspiration from his own nephew who has the disease.  See what I mean about those heartfelt, personal moments?  Doctor Who has always been like that for me.  The right words at the right time.)

But what of Jodie?  What of The Woman Who Fell to Earth?  

Of the woman part, thankfully, they make very little of it.  There’s a single moment which we’ve all seen in the First Look.  The only other line a friend of mine caught was “It’s been a long time since I’ve bought women’s clothing”.  But that doesn’t say “worn”!  We know the Doctor has been male since his first incarnation now (“The orginal you might say”,Twice upon a Time) so this merely says “bought” which one must assume he would buy for his granddaughter, at the very least.  Other than that, the Doctor’s gender remains “the Doctor” and it’s perfect.

The episode itself is as much a love letter to the past as it is an acknowledgement of moving forward and Jodie embodies it perfectly.  She expresses it like this:

Right now, I’m a stranger to myself.  There’s echoes of who I was, and a sort of call towards who I am.  And I have to hold my nerve and trust all these new instincts.  Shape myself towards them.  I’ll be fine, in the end.  Hopefully.  But I have to be, because you guys need help and if there is one thing I’m certain of, when people need help, I never refuse.

The beauty of that dialogue is that it’s not just the Doctor, but Jodie as an actress taking on a magical, wonderful role that will change her life.  She has to trust herself to know how to make the character work.  Plus, she has to get it right because we, the fans, are counting on her.  And she won’t let us down.

This episode carries all the excitement of Matt Smith’s first story too.  The Doctor does have a brief “regeneration nap” but it gets interrupted and like Smith, she’s all manic and action.  After an iconic leap to save the day, and with the right alignment of adrenaline, outrage and panic, she delivers the next defining speech about the character, the show, and what we all carry with us:

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.

Yeah, that’s about the size of it.  Jodie will choose who the Doctor will be.  She describes herself as “Sorting out fair play throughout the universe.”  And she tells her friends at the end “I’m just a traveler.  Sometimes I see things that need fixing; I do what I can.”  These are the traits that define our hero, and she’s the latest incarnation.

The funeral scene was beautiful, unexpected and I have to draw attention to it for a personal reason.  On the way home from NYCC, I received a text: one of my best and dearest friends lost his wife, also a dear friend, on Sunday after nearly three year battle with cancer.  She’s at peace now, but for my friend and his family, it’s going to be a tough haul.  When I got home I told my wife; I was beat from a long day and from really sad news.  So she offered to watch the episode with me before I called it a night.  And during that second viewing, the magic of the series hit me once more.  When the Doctor is asked about family, the Doctor says she lost them to which Ryan asks how she copes with that, the Doctor imparts this wisdom:

I carry them with me.  What they would’ve thought and said and done.  I make them a part of who I am.  So even though they are gone from the world, they are never gone from me.

I can vouch for that.  It’s how it is for me since my dad passed and how it will be for my friend and his family.  So this post is for Ada; another incredible woman.

Doctor Who is an amazing show, full of hope, inspiration, inclusivity and heroism.  I’ve said it so many times before, there is no better hero in all of fiction.  The episode leaves us hanging… in space… and I can’t wait to see what comes next.  As for this reviewer, I’m sold: Jodie Whittaker is The Doctor. 

Right… this is gonna be fun!

ML

Read next in the Junkyard… The Ghost Monument

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Doctor Who, Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television, Thirteenth Doctor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Woman Who Fell to Earth

  1. Karandi says:

    I haven’t watched Doctor Who really since Tennant left but I was tempted back to the show with another new Doctor and such a change with a female doctor, and I’m kind of glad I checked this out. It was every bit as fun as Eccelston or Tennant were and it was just kind of a joy to return to a show that I’d always enjoyed. Hoping this continues to be entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      Hi Karandi! Yes, it was very good wasn’t it. I must admit I was quite concerned beforehand as I thought the trailers were very poor, but I loved the episode and it has reignited my excitement for new episodes of Doctor Who again. By the way, I pop along to your site every so often and I think it is an amazing site. I can only aspire to one day achieve your depth of knowledge about anime, but I think that will take many years! It’s a relatively new world for me to explore, although I’ve enjoyed Studio Ghibli films for years, but now I’m really getting into some of the television animes. My wife got me into Assassination Classroom, I adored Hyouka, and more recently we are nearing the end of The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki Chan, and I have absolutely loved that whole Haruhi franchise. I do hope they make some more eventually.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Karandi says:

        I’m glad you have enjoyed my blog and it is great to hear that you’ve found some anime that you love. I’m a huge fan of Assassination Classroom and Haruhi Suzumiya as well (not so into Hyouka).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Roger Pocock says:

        I’ll keep checking your site for ideas about what to get next. I have bought both series of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU. Only three episodes in but it’s looking promising. A shame there’s not an official dub. I found a fan dub on the internet which is excellent, but they’ve only dubbed the first two episodes so far.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Anonymous says:

    😢always with us. I like your tie in to both Dad and your friend Ada.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mike Basil says:

    You’ve all addressed the many good and great points on The Woman Who Fell To Earth. First let me say, ML, that I recently lost someone too, a relative to heart failure during the summer, and so the realistic issues of life and death in Doctor Who are thankfully quite honored by how Jodie puts her own signature on the Doctor’s wisdom.

    I always think that the Doctor’s vast wisdom and humbling flaws can equally work when they both work in unison, which Patrick Troughton embodied quite nicely for us, and Jodie achieves this for her Doctor just as nicely without jarring us in any way. We can always get the sense that upon a Doctor’s regeneration, all previous baggage from the departing incarnation is finally released and forgiven, which can be symbolized by the images of the departing Doctor’s companions (which is more established thanks to G7TV’s companions-flashbacks edits for The Tenth Planet, and for a minisode rework of Devious called “Death Of A Time Lord” which also cleverly adapts Troughton footage from The Omen). As classic-series fans we first saw it used in Logopolis and The Caves Of Androzani and last year more extensively in The Doctor Falls, which for anyone who saw that example can understand that Capaldi’s next regeneration wasn’t going to most significant where releasing past traumas and karmas are concerned. So even though Jodie’s first full adventure of course works without specifically characterizing the gender-change, we can all interpret from her comforting feminine energy that the feminine ingredient for this new Doctor will most significantly succeed. With all the new female SF role models coming to our cinemas and TV screens, which also now include Melissa Roxburgh as Michaela Stone for Manifest, the appropriate impressions that the world deserve today speak for themselves.

    Ryan’s dyspraxia is a dramatically good idea for showing how a companion with a down-to-Earth disorder can still be worthy as a companion. I always felt that an autistic companion should also improve the realistic drama of Doctor Who, speaking as an Aspergian. Doctor Who is agreeably drama with the same SF/fantasy extensions and sophisticated humor that still work for Star Trek and The X-Files. So Jodie, Bradley, Tosin and Mandip, certainly after all they’ve openly enjoyed (as shared in their responses so far) will make a great team with Chibnall at the helm.

    I can certainly agree that The Woman Who Fell To Earth is well-suited to the Halloween season with a particularly new alien monster who wears the teeth of its victims. It was effective whether they make it a recurring villain or not. Thanks for all your feedback. Season 11 has just begun.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Mike Basil says:

    To clarify my point on what’s actually most significant in how Capaldi’s regeneration into Jodie will be positive and healthy, it’s the fact that as a woman, the Doctor will quite agreeably not be given such troubling scenes as the 3rd (The Three Doctors) and 4th Doctors (Warriors’ Gate) getting in violent or humiliating scraps. Quite generally, Jodie’s Doctor will be more like Troughton’s for the realism of relying more on wit and osmosis with the ensuing situations and dilemmas. Jodie quite naturally will be a realistic female role model, not just for women but for everyone, and so we may easily agree that the traditional forcefulness of male Doctors will finally be mellowed enough and I know a female Doctor, certainly where the period-piece adventures will be concerned, would work more harmoniously with a compassionately good attitude, even when she promptly tells someone (as she does here): “You had no right to do that!”. Because the appropriate attitudes towards the villains, especially without the Doctor potentially becoming the villain, is what fans can appreciate most of all and I’m confident that Jodie with honor that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      I liked the “you had no right to do that” line as well. It’s good when the Doctor has a strong morality.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mike Basil says:

        Strong but never bullying and no more near-breaking points. That’s what I’m particularly looking forward to with Jodie. If her Doctor has a moment of vulnerability, I think for her that will be dramatically nourishing as it was for Davison and McGann. The Doctor may work best of all by reminding us that vulnerability can be a strength all its own. Thanks, Rog.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. “Generally what works best is to throw the new Doctor into a traditional kind of Doctor Who story and see how he/she responds, exploring the new characterisation while the Doctor learns who he/she is. That’s what happens here. And I’m already fed up with having to type he/she. We need to invent a gender neutral pronoun that isn’t “it””

    I think the word ‘they’ fits. It works for men and women.

    “I also had to groan a bit when the Doctor changed into her awful new outfit. Even Capaldi’s tattered threads were better than that. I suppose we’ll get used to it”

    It would seem Thirteen has regained some of the Sixth Doctor’s fashion sense.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Roger Pocock says:

      Using the plural grates a bit from a grammatical point of view, but perhaps it’s the best we have! Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 2 people

      • scifimike70 says:

        I find that just using ‘he’ when I refer to the male Doctors and ‘she’ for Jodie works easily enough for me. In the past-tense, ‘he’ would naturally be appropriate. Because Jodie is reaffirming that each new Doctor’s era is virtually a whole new series in its own right, her clear capacity to address herself in her episodes so far as indeed being her own Doctor, until we get to references somewhere about her past selves (or multi-Doctor adventures for that matter), makes it additionally easy to settle with ‘he’ in the past tense and ‘she’ in the present tense. It’s just my opinion. But I hope it helps.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Roger Pocock says:

        It works to a point, but when I am writing about the Doctor in general, rather than referring to a specific incarnation, it is now necessary to use something like “he/she”, which is clumsy, “it” which is obviously insulting, or “they”, which is plural. Clumsy seems the least worst option.

        Liked by 1 person

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