Series 11 Episode 1: “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”
Staring: Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Sharon D. Clarke, and Samuel Oatley
Written by: Chris Chibnall
Directed by: Jamie Childsr
“Why do you keep calling me madam?” “Because you’re a woman.” “AM I?!…does it suit me?”
IT BLOODY WELL DOES, DOCTOR! Hello and welcome to Rogues Portal’s coverage of Series 11 of Doctor Who! The Chibnall and Whittaker Era! And what a goddamn episode it is, everybody. There are two ways that one should usually take a post-regeneration episode. One, how is it just as a standalone DW experience? Like, is this a fun story or crisis to watch the Doctor work her way out of? (Quick Note: I am going to be referring to the Doctor exclusively with female pronouns unless otherwise specified.)
But the second one, and probably the most important one, is how does this new Doctor and her showrunner establish themselves from the previous incarnations and tone of the previous Doctor? To be quite frank, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” really nails it in regards to BOTH. With an accessible, beautiful, and unexpected series opener that stays true to the spirit of Who, while also being something, and someone, completely new.
“We don’t get aliens in Sheffield,” grumbles Graham, one of Thirteen’s new companions. But, nevertheless! Some are spawning in plant-like bulbs in forests! Others are attacking trains! And others are…falling through the roofs of trains after they have fallen out of their TARDIS mid-flight. Chris Chibnall’s first plot isn’t really much to write home about, and that will surely be something you have heard by now. Most post-regeneration stories don’t have the best of plots, mainly because the regeneration stuff is always more interesting. The Series 11 opener isn’t an exception to this rule. BUT at the very least, Chibnall really establishes a more grounded, intimate tale of alien incursion. One that skews more toward being a horror/thriller than some grandiose tale of world-ending stakes.
BUT, all that said, Chibnall’s cast and Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor absolutely shine through the drab plot and give this new series a very real beating heart. Mostly focused on Tosin Cole’s Ryan, Chibnall really works overtime to introduce our new companions and their characterizations naturally. It does the episode a world of good, giving Thirteen an instant party to banter off of and a group of genuinely great characters for us to invest in. Cole’s Ryan is, what the kids would call, a “precious cinnamon roll.” At 19, estranged from his father in the wake of his mother’s death and living with his nan (a luminous Sharon D. Clarke), Ryan is struggling to find his place in the world, which is compounded by his dyspraxia, a disorder which makes it difficult to find and keep his balance.
Mandip Gill’s Yaz is a new police officer, gasping to experience some real action but finds more than she bargained for when Ryan calls in something strange he found in the woods. She brings a real deal skill set to the mystery, securing the “crime scene” and taking notes in order to protect her hometown. Think of her as Who’s answer to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Amy Santiago.
Rounding out the group is Bradley Walsh’s Graham, Ryan’s step-granddad, who adds a fun, irascible everyman quality to the group. Graham is a cancer survivor, just trying to connect with Ryan, and live his best life after getting a “second change” and meeting Ryan’s nan Grace, who was his chemo nurse. Chibnall really injects major pathos into every character and even gives them a novel, naturalistic way of bonding with each other, and the Doctor. Ryan and Yaz went to school together and Graham being Ryan’s well-meaning stepfamily. It is a real breath of fresh after nine “magical, impossible” girls (but Bill Potts still deserved better). It’s also a wonderful step forward for the show in terms of diversity. The “Coming Soon” teaser after the episode also teases a lot of wonderful POC characters, and CHRIS NOTH, which is fantastic to see.
But while I have spent a lot of time on the companions, HOLY CROW, GUYS JODIE WHITTAKER. From her truly hilarious entrance to her finding her voice and personality throughout the episode, Whittaker takes to the part so well, honoring Peter Capaldi’s previous incarnation and confidently building her own take with a fun goofiness and steely gravitas. My stalwart editor, Insha Fitzpatrick, described Thirteen as a mixture of Tom Baker’s Four and David Tennant’s Ten and the comparison is really apt. (Editor note: HELL YEAH IT IS BUD.)
All throughout, this being post-regeneration, she is all over the place. She rambles through a list of synonyms of “group” in a minute and then forgetting the word “tongue” in others. But Whittaker’s natural charm and infectious energy really bleeds through this first episode. She nails all the technobabble and speechifying inherent to the part and wearing the long coat of this new lower tech Doctor really, really well. Seeing Thirteen building her brand new sonic screwdriver and yelling “OI!” at deadly aliens really hooked me deep y’all. I think it is going to hook a lot more new fans to the series while pleasing other, not idiotic and hateful, Doctor Who die-hards.
And there is so much more to talk about! All new monsters! Jamie Childs’ sleek, highly detailed direction (honestly, this might be the best Who has ever looked)! Segun Akinola’s TREMENDOUS new score, anchored by a proper weird and classic sounding theme tune! The episode isn’t perfect by any stretch, I will admit. The plot isn’t anything groundbreaking, aside from the novelty of all new monsters. Some also might be turned off by the fact that she doesn’t have her TARDIS just yet. It does give this series a potentially cool season arc that feels earned instead of just weirdly tacked on. I am looking your direction, Steve Moffat.
But all that said, I would seriously die for The Thirteenth Doctor and her new best friends. The immediate grounding and emotionally based storytelling of this opening episode is really a great change of pace for the show and fits Whittaker and company like a glove.
Verdict: Watch It
I think by now you kinda get that I really dug it. I really think you all will to. Doctor Who is kind of this looming, uncrackable nut for would be fans and it is really hard to find an era or episode that will really click with people. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” FINALLY gives Doctor Who that universal example of the kind of things it can do. Without all the strings of continuity and with a dynamite actor leading the charge and waving around the sonic. We will see how history will look on the whole of Series 11. For now, the Doctor is back in a big, grand, and imminently entertaining way.
NEXT TIME! “The Ghost Monument” also by new showrunner Chris Chibnall! First proper planet! Big yes! Be seeing you.