Doctor Who - Episode 11.01 - The Woman Who Fell To Earth - Review
At long last, the Thirteenth Doctor is here! The long awaited season premiere of Doctor Who finally aired, and there was a lot to unpack, so let's get to it. There will be SPOILERS throughout, so only read if you've watched the episode.
This episode felt different than every episode before it, and that was even before the first ever female Doctor arrived. We open with Tosin Cole's Ryan on his vlog talking about the Doctor, or so we think. As the story unfolded, we find out of course, that he is actually talking about his grandmother. Then it cuts to Ryan trying to learn to ride a bike. It isn't the only weird cut in the episode. There are several of them throughout the episode, and they are quite jarring. in fact there is one scene, where the group ends up on a rooftop to catch an alien, and I thought I had missed a scene or two before that. Other than that though it was great. Director Jamie Childs does a wonderful job moving the camera and balancing everything. The whole episode looked gorgeous.
The story was very bare bones - but it was to be expected. This episode had a lot to accomplish. It was exposition central, but we had to meet the new Doctor and three new companions. That makes the precious hour already crowded. So the alien story was streamlined and simple. This isn't the first time that has happened; a lot of the first outings for a new Doctor are quite simple so we can focus on the character herself.
The companions are strong characters. Ryan, Graham (Bradley Walsh), and Yaz (Mandip Gill) all have a ton of potential. Yaz was a bit wasted this time, as the focus was on Ryan, Graham and Ryan's grandmother Grace (Sharon D. Clarke). We've seen a "cop who wanted more" in the Whoniverse before Yaz though - that fits the description of Gwen Cooper who ended up being second in command on Torchwood. I am excited to see more of her.
Jarring edits aside, the flow of each scene was great. The music from new composer Segun Akinola worked extremely well. We got to hear a piece of the new theme, but didn't have any proper opening titles. Hopefully next week have that - and the TARDIS too.
The choice to not introduce the TARDIS in this episode was something I didn't really understand at first. Then the more I thought about it, it makes sense. Everything the Doctor offers is a bit much for people - especially people who just faced a shock and trauma. So to do it in pieces will help the other characters relationships with the Doctor become stronger. They will trust her, then when she says "this box is bigger on the inside and can travel in space and time" it will go down easier. Plus, she could have done it on purpose - her very first scene in last year's Christmas Special had her press a very specific button. The TARDIS always brings her exactly where she needs to go, so it could very well be the catalyst for the rest of the season.
This paragraph might delve into crazy theory territory, but I noticed something the Doctor said sounded like new showrunner Chris Chibnall commenting on the canon of Doctor Who - something that is hard to keep straight and is always very much in flux. The Doctor was trying to decipher a code to get a transport working and she said: "139 layers. 7 of which don't make sense!" 1+3+9 = 13. She's the 13th Doctor. The 7 layers that don't make sense could refer to the first 7 Doctors - also known as "Classic Who". I took it as comment about the canon of the show and how it doesn't make sense as a whole. But maybe I am just insane.
I do love the symmetry of the episode. As mentioned above, the trick with Ryan's vlog, to make audiences think he is talking about the Doctor at first, when he is really talking about his grandmother. Then there is the episode title itself "The Woman Who Fell To Earth". That is very much how we were introduced to the Doctor, but that is also what happened to Ryan's grandmother. She got shocked when she was part way up the tower, and then she fell to Earth!
The cliffhanger in the episode was a big one, but it was very reminiscent of what happened to Leia in The Last Jedi. Stranded in the middle of space, with no one to rescue her but herself. If the Doctor is going to take after General Leia - one of the best female characters to ever be put on screen - then we are going to be in good shape.
Speaking of which, Jodie Whittaker did a fantastic job as the Doctor. She embraced everything there needs to be for the character to work. Warmth, curiosity, respectable, a bit weird, and very smart. I look forward to many adventures with her.
Overall, the episode wasn't perfect, but hardly any are. It was a very strong entry, after you get over being rattled by how different it feels. I have not noticed any "season arc" yet, though it could very well be the Tzim-Sha ("Tim Shaw?") returning. Only time will tell, and only in Doctor Who could that be a pun.
Next week, the Doctor's friends visit their very first alien planet. Which we might not want to get used to as it feels like a lot of this season will be on Earth. But little is known, so I could be way off base.
It is an honor and a privilege to be a Doctor Who fan. I am so glad this show is back.
Doctor Who airs Sundays on BBC One and BBC America.