Possible spoilers ahead…
The Doctor is back, and this time things are a bit different. Well, okay, there’s one very obvious change which has been dominating the conversation about Doctor Who for over a year now. But it’s a testament to Jodie Whittaker’s excellent performance in this debut episode that, for me, that particular aspect of the series is not even particularly noticeable. Doctors come and go, but the biggest shift in tone always comes when there is a new head writer in charge of the show. The Woman Who Fell to Earth marks the beginning of Chris Chibnall’s version of Doctor Who and, all things considered, it’s a promising start.
First of all, though, to our new Doctor. I was never a sceptic but, putting gender aside, you can never be sure if a new actor can truly convince you they are the Doctor until you see them on screen in their first proper episode. And I am delighted to say I was able to buy Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor almost instantly. She absolutely feels like the same character we are used to, with her own individual quirks and characteristics that help to make each new incarnation distinct. Of course it’s far too early on to properly judge Jodie Whittaker’s portrayal, but in this episode I can wholeheartedly say she does a brilliant job of capturing the essence of the Doctor.
You may have got a sense already that this reviewer is a bit of a fan of the show, and you’d be right. But one of the promises that has repeatedly been made about this new series is that it would work well as a good stepping on point for new viewers. To watch the new series you do not need to be a sad character like me who knows his Macra from his Mandragora Helix, and that’s great. Steven Moffat (the previous showrunner) was responsible for many excellent episodes of Doctor Who, but I always got the sense he was writing more for the fans than for a general audience. Doctor Who should be a show for all the family. After all, if Doctor Who can remain alive in the imaginations of children, surely there can be no greater achievement. I still feel as if this episode did assume a certain amount of familiarity with the show; there was no attempt to make a big mystery out of who the Doctor is as was done when the show was relaunched in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston in the starring role. But it does appear that a ‘back to basics’ approach is being embraced. No obsession with continuity, no returning characters, possibly even no Daleks if the writers are to be believed. Just a great spirit of adventure. As the Doctor says, “I’m just a traveller.” She does what she can and that’s all you need to know.
The plot itself was perfectly serviceable Doctor Who fare. It had quite an action-packed finale but overall it wasn’t anything particularly ground-breaking. Of course, Chris Chibnall did also have the task of introducing three new main characters as well as a fourth main character who never was, so we’ll let him off. It’s clear that characterisation is going to be a strength of Chris Chibnall, something that harks back to the Russell T Davies era when the show was arguably at its peak of popularity in the UK. The opening scenes, in which 19 year old Ryan with dyspraxia tried to learn how to ride a bike with the help of his grandparents, set the tone. This will be a mix of the fantastic and the mundane, the alien and the human. Just as it should be.
In all the episode wasn’t perfect but it certainly showed great potential for the rest of the series. It did succeed in managing to feel both fresh and recognisably Doctor Who at the same time. Ironically, given all the gnashing of teeth her casting inspired, I think Jodie Whittaker was largely responsible for that feeling of familiarity. Among brand new characters, she kept the spirit of the Doctor alive.
Only time will tell if this series of Who succeeds in revitalising popular interest in the show, but it certainly promises to be an interesting and noteworthy run of episodes. I’ll be aiming to review every episode in the series each week for Concrete Online, so why not join me on the journey? Next week the Doctor and friends try to track down her missing TARDIS, but will they succeed? Stay tuned to find out…