Doctor Who has always been a progressive, social justice kind of show – hell the Doctor fought Nazi analogues in only the second ever adventure – but incoming Showrunner Chris Chibnall has decided – in his remarks and stated intent and the marketing of the series, to make the subtext text. In the current politicised and polarised climate, it’s a bold strategy, if not an entirely undisingenuous one.
“The Woman Who Fell To Earth” sets out an ambitious agenda for this new era of “Doctor Who” as we spend a good while getting acquainted with our new friends in the North before the Doctor even shows up, conveniently crashing through the roof of a train that happens to be under attack from a rogue Tangela from Pokemon GO. [Side note – between surviving this plummet with barely a scratch and the 10th Doctor’s sub-orbital faceplant in “The End Of Time Part 2”, modern Who is at this point just trolling the Fourth Doctor’s barely six-storey life-ending fall, isn’t it?].
Instantly and encouragingly dealing with the most obvious change with a dismissive ‘half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman’, Whittaker is immediately, completely the Doctor. So much so, that when Chibnall finally gets around to breaking the fourth wall and addressing those disaffected fans in a short soliloquy about honouring who you’ve been while moving towards who you’ll be, it feels a little bit redundant and ever so slightly cringy. It’s too early to tell what his storytelling style and scope is going to be, but he’s definitely not got Moffat’s or Davies’ ear for gnomic dialogue quite yet.
There’s a palpable sense of self-consciousness permeating through the episode that’s hard to ignore and while most Doctor’s first adventures are often a mixed bag, there’s an obviousness to the writing here that I hope evens out as the season progresses. The emotional beats are well handled by the cast but none of them come as a surprise, especially the most potentially poignant one which was telegraphed way in advance by the publicity surrounding the new companions.
The companions themselves are an interesting and likeable bunch, with Bradley Walsh and Mandip Gill showing the most early promise thanks to neither of them being saddled with quite so much backstory as Tosin Cole’s Ryan. It’s a very welcome return, too, for the idea of the Doctor’s companions being dragged along involuntarily instead of leaping at the chance to go galivanting around the cosmos with a mad person in a box. Of course, the box was conspicuous by its absence this week and I found myself wondering if and when we’ll actually see the TARDIS again or will the Doctor keep chasing it from week to week as it darts around the universe leading her a merry chase? I did enjoy the Tony Stark-esque sonic Swiss army not-knife creation montage and even smiled at the indulgence of ‘sonic technology with a touch of Sheffield steel’ and the ‘Doctor choosing a new outfit’ sequence was mercifully brief and free of the callbacks to previous costumes.
As to the adventure itself, it was a bit of a bog-standard Doctor Who story, only this time not particularly interested in its sci-fi trappings so much as the character-driven stuff going on around it. The initial appearance of the freezing space gourd had me mentally reciting the routine from “Life Of Brian” (“Four for the gourd. Four!! Look at it, that’s worth ten if it’s worth a shekel.”) and the initial bait and switch of ‘their war, our planet’ to the twist of actually being a team-up between the flying spaghetti monster and the Guyver Tooth Fairy was pretty good and it has to be said the show seems admirably willing to kill people off again. It has to mean something when, in one hour, “Doctor Who” manages to do a much more innovative spin on “Predator” than “The Predator” did. Of course, Mertmas and I are old hands at watching “Who” by this point but this was the littlest Craggling’s first proper taste of “Doctor Who” and it was a nostalgic throwback moment when me and Mrs Craggus decided to cover her five-year-old eyes when frosty tooth face took off his helmet in close-up (she eventually peeked through anyway).
The new theme tune sounds pretty good too, although – like Mertmas – I wasn’t a fan of the lack of opening titles, so I’ll need to wait until next week to let it seep into my consciousness and, no doubt, become another favourite. How I wish it had ended there instead of the leadenly heavy-handed ‘Coming Soon’ montage, not of exotic locations, weird monsters or exciting action to come but instead a parade of forthcoming guest stars and actors which did little but hammer home the series’ admirable commitment to increasing the diversity of “Doctor Who”. I get it, Mr Chibnall, you’re ‘woke’. Well done; all the applause for taking the show’s inner voice since time immemorial and forging it an external manifesto. Now just get on with making Jodie’s tenure as The Doctor worthy of her and let the stories and the show’s ethos speak for themselves.