Doctor Who is back, a woman has taken the lead role, and society hasn’t crumbled as a result.
Jodie Whittaker’s first episode – to give it it’s full title, The Woman Who Fell To Earth (but showed no signs of injury) – was a huge ratings success and has received acclaim from just about anyone who watched it.
Though I did see it when it was broadcast, I was away on holiday with friends, hence the delay in the review, but I’ve watched it again and am now ready to put the proverbial pen to paper.
So what did I think?
Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell To Earth Review: What’s This One About?
The new Doctor arrives in Sheffield in the middle of a rather mild alien invasion. She makes new friends, but one of them dies. Then she accidentally takes them across the universe.
Thoughts – The Standard Opening Story
The first story for a new Doctor is always a tricky one. It serves to introduce the character and very occasionally like it does here, an entirely new supporting cast. As a result, history has shown that you’re not likely
to get the deepest of plots, and that’s exactly the case again here.
Watching it the first time, I enjoyed it because it was all new and the experience was about being introduced to those characters. Watching it the second time, it didn’t have that much replay value; certainly not a mere five days later.
But that’s just the way it is. The plot and the alien become second fiddle; they have to. And remember too before anyone says “But Spearhead from Space managed it ok”, that was over four weeks rather than one. I don’t think it’s a relevant comparison.
Much like Rose, The Christmas Invasion and – and I actually have to look this up because it was so forgettable than I don’t even know the episode’s name off-hand -Deep Breath, this will go down as one that will never top anyone’s favourite episode list.
The New Cast
Now since the episode was all about introducing the new cast, what were they like?
Well the two younger actor companions – Tosin Cole as Ryan and Mandip Gill as Yasmine – seemed fine enough. Character-wise, Yasmine is definitely the stronger one on first impressions, but that wouldn’t be too difficult since Ryan’s main attribute is a developmental disorder of the brain. Neither has come to the fore yet so I’ll reserve judgement.
Bradley Walsh’s character – Graham – seemed to have more about him, but maybe that’s because I personally paid more attention to him, to see if Bradley Walsh can actually act. What’s interesting is that while some of the people who watched it with me thought he was dreadful, I thought he was fine. He’s not the most lively character, but then why would he be? It’s like my dad being the companion.
And what about Jodie Whittaker and her portrayal of the Doctor? Well, my first impressions are that she is definitely suited to the role, but that she may need to tone it down a bit. Whittaker is a good actor (or should that be actress? My initial instinct was to go with the former) and definitely has that little spark that you need to play a character like the Doctor, but once or twice she came across as being overly wacky, and that’s not good. It was a bit like she was trying to do her best impression of David Tennant at times. That could be down to writing of course, but hopefully whatever the cause, the Doctor will be a little more subdued next time.
The New Vibe
It’s not just the change of cast that makes this season of Doctor Who different; the presentation has changed too.
They’ve gone for a more filmic look, which is great and they’ve also hired a new composer in Segun Akinola, which I have mixed feelings about.
What I mean by that is that I liked how understated the incidental music was, and the new theme tune is miles ahead of the last few there have been, but part of me will miss Murray Gold’s style.
While at times Gold’s stuff was overbearing, he would occasionally pull one out the bag that was absolutely tremendous. In the last couple of seasons, tunes like The Shepherd’s Boy, The Singing Towers and the as yet unreleased music from Peter Capaldi’s death scene in The Doctor Falls have made good scenes great. They are beautiful pieces of music.
I sense the less orchestral style might mean we get less of that, but I’ll wait and see.
That being said, Akinola’s output has been fine so far.
- While I understand the need for a fresh start, I’d have liked an explanation for two things. One: How she survived that fall. Two: Does she have a Yorkshire accent as a result of her first story being set there, or is it just a coincidence?
- From the moment the episode started, it was obvious that poor old grandma would die, but alas it was still a disappointment when she did.
- But speaking of her, why would she expect her adult grandchild to start calling her relatively new boyfriend “Granddad”. Liberty hall…
- The drunk guy definitely got what was coming to him. But the actor playing him was rubbish.
- The “Tim Shaw” gag fell a bit flat. To me it felt more like something you’d expect in Red Dwarf.
- An unfortunate knock-on effect of the Russell T. Davies era is that whenever characters in contemporary Britain don’t believe in the existence of aliens, it feels stupid. Then again if I was to take that to the limit I’d also argue that everyone on Earth should be aware of the Cybermen since the events of the Tenth Planet took place in 1986. But I’m not the sort of person who would do that, am I… 😉
- Why is it that the Doctor – and I don’t mean the Jodie Whittaker Doctor, but the Doctor in general – feels like they only need one outfit? Yes, occasionally that outfit might vary very slightly but it remains true to a theme. Why not after the next story does she not wear something new and clean?
- The alien pod looked like the biggest garlic bulb ever seen. I’d have preferred it if that was the villain.
- The speech towards the end about accepting change as a good thing is that sort of breaking the fourth wall thing that I dislike, and to be honest, I don’t think it was necessary.
- The list of guest stars they showed included a lot of people I either don’t know or are underwhelmed about. But in the room I watched it, cheers went up for Lee Mack and ‘Special Guest Star’ Chris Noth.
- After watching the episode for a second time, I went back and put on the last few minutes of Twice Upon a Time for comparison. Watching it back, it feels very much like the difference between the end of the War Games (even down to the Doctor saying goodbye to two companions) and the beginning of Spearhead From Space.
- The other thing to note is that the critics who have panned Peter Capaldi in recent weeks are wrong, and quite simply, are arseholes.
Doctor Who – The Woman Who Fell To Earth Review: Final Thoughts
This was never going to be an all time classic episode, and I don’t think it’s one that will be re-watched a huge amount but it did what it set out to do.
It also brought in new viewers; I know of a few people who watched the show for the very first time at the weekend, and enjoyed it. That can only be a good thing.
When Jodie Whittaker was cast, I wrote on this blog that I was unsure about the casting of a female, but that I would give her a chance. Fast forward fifteen months and I’d like to make it clear that as far as I’m concerned, the gender of the actor doesn’t matter. Whether or not I thought she might have been a little too wacky at times, that has nothing to do with her gender. The Doctor is the Doctor, and that’s the main thing.
There are people who hold an opposing view, and have vowed to never watch the show while a female is in the lead role. I don’t want to get involved in any arguments about it because even if I find that view daft (and to be honest, the sort of viewpoint that hints to a deeper, underlying issue away from the show) people are still entitled to not watch if that’s what they want.
But I suspect they’ll be missing out.
Because it’s still Doctor Who, and thankfully, it looks like society as a whole have taken it back into their hearts.
Remember that you can read selected Doctor Who reviews on this blog, and all reviews (up until Last Christmas) are available on Amazon in ‘Stuart Reviews Doctor Who’ books one and two.