On Sunday, the 7th of November, the eleventh season of Doctor Who broadcasted its premiere episode. Entitled ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’, it quickly became a firm favourite of mine. But before we delve into my thoughts on this episode, we need to channel some of our favourite Time Lord, and do some time travelling.
My first memory of Doctor Who is hazy. I don’t even know if I was old enough to read. My dad and I were sitting in our lounge, channel surfing on our boxy, behemoth of a TV. We stumbled across an old rerun of the classic series. My dad remarked that he used to love the show as a child, and we spent a moment reminiscing on the nostalgia of his youth, before switching the channel. I’ll be honest, I was more inclined to rewatch Toy Story at the time.
I had a few more vague memories of the show over the years, such as when I was visiting some family and they settled in to watch the series finale of the second season (all I remember were some robots). It wasn’t until 2010, however that I really got into the show. One of the more obscure TV channels was rerunning the third season, with Martha Jones. My brother was the first to get into it, and although I at first refused to watch something my little brother thought was cool, it only took an episode or two of me pretending not to watch the show before I had to admit that I was a fan. It was like nothing I had watched on TV before. Before then, my only experience of television was basically from Disney Channel.
All of a sudden, I was introduced to the entire universe. The first episode I saw was Human Nature, where the Doctor becomes a human to hide from hostile aliens. The characters weren’t one dimensional. They had motives, they had personalities. The aliens weren’t just cookie cutter monsters of the week, and they were clever! It was as exciting as a book, except on the screen! Suffice to say, I became a firm fan, and I still am today.
My relationship with the show has grown and waned over the years, but it has always been there. I remember anxiously awaiting the frame-by-frame reviews of the series 6 trailer in 2011, and in 2015 when it took me a few weeks to watch new episodes because I wasn’t that interested in the writing style at the time. Toward’s the end of Capaldi’s tenure, I got back into the show. Some of his last episodes (particularly the ones involving Cybermen) were some of my favorites. The show has kind of moved into Harry Potter status with me, in that it’s always going to be a favourite, but never THE favourite of the moment. But if I need something to rewatch, Doctor Who is always there.
So, after that bit of personal history, back to the present. Context is always important, after all!
This episode was always going to be special. It introduced a new writer, a new aesthetic, and new companions. And most importantly, a new Doctor. And this time, for the first time, it was a female Doctor. When Jodie Whittaker was announced, I didn’t know how to react. Of course, I had dreamt of the day we’d have a female Doctor, but to see it actually happen? I was dumbfounded. I had an inkling of a feeling that the show would be ready to try something new, but at the time I just put it down to wishful thinking. I guess when the show has a had a male lead for the last 55 years, that familiar ‘nothing will change’ feeling isn’t entirely crazy. Finally, a Doctor that was like me!
The anticipation continued to grow as more and more details came out. I smiled as the first photo of her costume was released, and watched the first trailer with baited breath. I hadn’t been this excited since 2011.
And you know what? It didn’t disappoint. All of annoyances with previous seasons were resolved. Gone were rushed plots that never had time to fully focus on anything. No longer were the companions the focus of the story. I liked Clara at the start, but she tended to dominate the story-lines more often than not. Bill was great, and although the plot quality vastly improved that season, I still feel like there was something missing.
“I’m the Doctor. Sorting out fair play throughout the universe.”
Last Sunday, for the first time in years, I felt actual suspense from Doctor Who. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I was rooting for the characters! In less than an hour, I already felt attached to people. Heck, I even got attached to the characters were weren’t the main companions. The villain of the story was indulgently and refreshingly dark, but not dark enough to remove the family friendly rating. Although, even as an adult, the alien in this episode gave me chills! The overall tone was much more somber, and there were very real consequences to actions. Although in previous years viewers may have been accustomed to happy endings in the show, this episode introduces a mood a little closer to reality.
I couldn’t help but compare this episode to the last time there was such a significant shake up in the show. That was 2005, when Doctor Who had been off the air for a decade. The first shot that viewers in the new millennium saw was a satellite view of the earth, only for the camera to zoom in and focus on the London, in it’s most hectic and cosmopolitan state. Don’t get me wrong, I live in London and love it, but considering there’s the potential of the entire universe, there’s only so many times you can see aliens swarming out of an iconic landmark.
On the contrary, this episodes starts off entirely differently, with our first glimpse of the physical world being rolling Yorkshire hills, bathing in the late afternoon golden hour. Instead of being encouraged to buckle up and pay attention by the bustling time-lapse of a Piccadilly Circus teeming with people, you get to instead bath in the serenity and calm of only three people, alone, framed against a expansive, beautiful view over the surrounding hills. The world seems more open, somehow. From that moment, you know this is going to be a different kind of show to its predecessor.
“There are no aliens in Sheffield”.
For a show as belovedly British as Doctor Who, they don’t really explore the UK. And yet, this episode is set in Sheffield, a city of a respectable size in South Yorkshire, but not particularly as glamorous as the more famous British cities. Maybe I’m biased because I have family from Yorkshire, but isn’t it cool to hear a different kind of accent in Doctor Who? The fact that there’s aliens in Sheffield is a recurring source of amusement and/or bewilderment to characters throughout the show.
One local chap comes across our villain on the way back from a drunken night out. When he spots the alien, he assumes that it’s just someone in fancy dress at the wrong time of year, and proceeds to start throwing bits of lettuce picked out of his kabab at this deadly alien.
“Eat my salad, ‘alloween!”
At the end of Capaldi’s regeneration scene, we see the Doctor fall out of the TARDIS and towards Earth, a common regeneration trope in the show. However, this time she doesn’t immediately get the TARDIS back. Stripped of the iconic phone box and screwdriver, and not yet with familiar companions, this Doctor effectively starts from nothing. But the show reminds us that this is the Doctor, one of the most brilliant minds in the universe. Without a doubt, Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor.
“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.”
The 13th Doctor’s personality is like a cross between the 10th and 11th Doctor’s, with a cheeky northern accent to top it off. The new companions have no doubt that the Doctor is both outrageously quirky and wickedly clever; within a great montage scene, you spot a rather brilliant shot of the Doctor staring at a tablespoon in wonder while she creates a new sonic screwdriver from scratch. Or as the Doctor remarks, more like a “swiss army sonic”, rather than a screwdriver.
“Swiss army sonic. Now with added Sheffield steel.”
Previously in the revived series, the creation of the sonic screwdriver was never done personally. It was always just there, and the only time you’d really see it being made is when it appears, magically and conveniently in the TARDIS. It’s a great sequence, and in a way it subtly tells us that this Doctor is every bit as clever as the previous ones.
This new Doctor is less brash and unapproachable than her predecessor of 12, but also a bit more grounded than the manic energy of 11. There are echoes of 10 in the more open emotional state, but this one seems to have much more of a ‘let’s get on with it then’ sort of resilience, akin to 12.
“We’re all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve, whilst still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we’ve been, and choose who we want to be next – now’s your chance. How about it?”
The Doctor is an alien, first and foremost. An alien known for completely changing it’s appearance and personality, which is a fact forgotten by many of these who objected to a female lead. And you know what? The only time the Doctor’s change of gender was mentioned, or even relevant, was during a brief humorous exchange near the start of the episode.
The Doctor: Why are you calling me madam?
Yasmin: Because you’re a woman?
The Doctor: Am I? Does it suit me?
The Doctor: Oh yeah, I remember – sorry, half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman!
With the conclusion of the episode, we were left with a cliffhanger, which sets us up with a healthy dose of anticipation for next week. In my case in particular, much of that anticipation is reserved for our first glance of the new TARDIS interior! We are also teased by the audio of the new theme tune in the end credits, which for the first time in the revival series, has been composed by a someone other than Murray Gold. I love it; it echos the 70s theme tunes, and definitely fits the more somber and atmospheric mood of the new style.
And with that, I must leave this blog post alone. I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a TV show in a long time, and I’m excited to see what Chris Chibnall’s new season has in store for us.