The Thirteenth Doctor is officially here, and she’s finally fallen to Earth after her mishap in the TARDIS on Christmas Day. The question is, have I fallen for the Doctor and her friends in this opening episode, or did this episode not land for me?
“We don’t get aliens in Sheffield.” In a South Yorkshire city, Ryan Sinclair, Yasmin Khan and Graham O’Brien are about to have their lives changed forever, as a mysterious woman, unable to remember her own name, falls from the night sky. Can they believe a word she says? And can she help solve the strange events taking place across the city?
It’s seemingly a normal move for series’ with big changes to start by introducing the companions (or “friends”, as they’re being touted this series). We started with Rose Tyler in Rose, we started with little Amelia Pond in The Eleventh Hour, and now we started with Ryan Sinclair in The Woman Who Fell To Earth. It’s a great way for the audience to almost instantly have a character to relate to, as the friends are often the characters we connect with most.
Ryan having dyspraxia is a great idea, and Chibnall manages to show the frustration that he feels at his condition is really realistic, and, whilst throwing the bike off a cliff may be a stretch for how a nineteen year old behaves (I’m officially older than a friend for the first time, which is quite depressing), it serves the plot in a subtle way. It’s nice to see that this series, the companions and the Doctor are drawn together by coincidence, rather than some over the top fate or destiny arc that was so prevalent in the Moffat era.
The dynamic between Ryan and Yasmin is great; they have a history together, but it’s not too convoluted. They went to the same school, and that’s seemingly it (for now), this is the kind of thing that would happen in a city, you’d occasionally see people you knew from school, or lived on your street, or a friend of a friend. If there’s one thing that Chibnall really manages to excel at, it’s writing real people. No doubt his time at the helm of Broadchurch helped in that regard.
I have to admit that I loved the Doctor’s entrance, a simple thud through a train roof and she’s right in the action, saving the day by being calm and not being violent. That is the Doctor. Speaking of being the Doctor, Whittaker’s scene with Yaz where she’s asking why the Police Officer should be in charge is brilliant too. It’s annoying how much of this episode I really enjoy so early on. Only 15 minutes into the story, and I’m already enjoying it so much. Sometimes new Doctor stories can be slow burners, but this has really hit the ground running. Or should that be hit the train carriage running?
Speaking of true to life characters, I have to talk about Karl; the reluctant bystander in the Doctors madness. He’s written so true-to-life too. When you think about the “could-have-been-companions” we’ve had in the past, such as Adam from Series 1, you realise that their traits were exaggerated to get the point across that they wouldn’t hack it with the Doctor. Karl, on the other hand, is written in such a nuanced way, that you almost forget he’s a scripted character.
Once the new gang (I can’t call them a TARDIS team yet, as there’s no TARDIS) get together, their chemistry is almost instantly compelling. Ryan, Yaz and Grace are all loving the adventure, with the Doctor at the helm, whilst Graham is the more reserved, unsure type of chap. As much as I like to think I’d be a Yaz, I feel like in reality, I’d be a Graham.
There’s one scene I just have to talk about. You probably know the one I mean. The one where the yet to be named alien is attacked by a drunk man who’s picking at a kebab in an alleyway. “Eat my salad, Halloween” will now undoubtedly be on merchandise and be echoed throughout the fandom for years to come.
The Stenza are a great concept for a villain; and them wearing the teeth of their kills on their face is a grotesque and brilliant visual idea. Chris Chibnall said he wanted to create a plethora of new aliens, baddies, and villains, and if this is him getting started, Tim Shaw is going to have a lot of competition this series.
If there’s one aspect that I wasn’t too keen on, it was the Gathering Coil, it felt somewhat superfluous, and just a way for the script to allow the new FX team to flex their muscles in the opening episode. It would have been better if they’d have waited for a proper CGI villain to be their major debut, but what can you do?
Karl’s reappearance and significance at the beginning of the final act is really great; and, even though he doesn’t have the most dialogue, the snippets we do get really solidify him as a character. He’s a kid lacking in confidence, and he’s determined to be something more.
What I really loved was the subversion of expectations when Karl decided to jump from the crane. A part of me really expected the Doctor to catch Karl, and Tim Shaw to jump after them, but what happened instead lead to a great moment of television; and the fact that Jodie did her own stunts is a real testament to her commitment to the part. I certainly wouldn’t have done it.
Jodie’s scene on the crane with Tim Shaw, where she got to have her “I am the Doctor” speech for the first time was absolutely captivating; it may be because I’m somewhat biased, but hearing those four famous words said with a Yorkshire twang really got to me.
Now here’s the part I didn’t expect. The emotional wallop at the end of the third act where Grace dies. This is something that I hope stays done. As you know if you’ve watched Who recently, during the Moffat era, there was a tendency for characters to die, only to come back and die, and come back, and die and come back. Yes, I’m looking at you Rory and Clara. I hope that Chibnall sticks to his guns and leaves Grace dead; otherwise it would undermine all the raw emotion that both Ryan and Graham portrayed in the last few scenes of this episode.
I also never thought that Bradley Walsh would be able to hammer home raw emotion like he does in the funeral scene. Anyone who doubted his casting as a friend should watch this scene and be won over.
Speaking of emotion, Jodie’s speech about her family really hit an emotional nerve. There won’t be many people who watched The Woman Who Fell To Earth who haven’t been affected by a loss, and it’s nice to know that there’s a comforting message and mantra that maybe we should all live by; just because they’re gone, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep them with us.
The cliffhanger to the story was brilliant, and somewhat unexpected; when the gang all pinged out of Sheffield, I have to admit, I expected them all to either be on the planet that next weeks episode, The Ghost Monument would be set on, are within the TARDIS, but to see the team sucked into the vacuum of space has left me with a lot of questions, and I only hope they’re answered at the beginning of next weeks episode, and there’s not a time jump to gloss over it.
I’m going to talk about the score and cinematography in a later article, but my overall of thoughts of The Woman Who Fell To Earth are mainly positive. Jodie Whittaker was instantly the Doctor, Tosin Cole managed to portray Ryan brilliantly, and it will be interesting to see how his dyspraxia plays a part in the rest of the series. I can’t wait to see Graham throughout the rest of his series, as I wonder if his grief will play a part, as he’s not really had time to mourn properly, and I can’t help but think that Yaz will be more of an integral part to the coming stories, as she felt slightly sidelined here.
The pacing was fantastic, the acting was great across the board, and the script did Doctor Who proud. It wasn’t a perfect episode, but then again, I don’t know what is. What I do know though, is that Doctor Who is back. Roll on next Sunday.