Doctor Who is back with arguably the most contentious move – the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. The controversial new Doctor premiered with her first episode on Sunday night.
On the outskirts of Sheffield, Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) discovers a strange alien pod. Ryan calls the police, leading to a reunion with his old friend Yaz (Mandip Gill). However, by making contact with the pod, aliens come to the city and target these ordinary people. Fortunately, they have an ally in the form of a mysterious woman who happened to be a white-haired Scotsman 30 minutes beforehand. This is the introduction of our newest, female Doctor.
Since Whittaker’s reveal, a vocal minority of fans called the move ‘a disgrace.’ Several threatened to boycott Doctor Who over the choice of a female doctor. I will admit, I had some reservations, as casting a woman could be seen as agenda-pushing if mishandled. Along with that, the new showrunner Chris Chinhall’s previous Doctor Who episodes are far from the best. But Whittaker knocked it out of the park, and is already winning over doubters. She shows The Doctor’s eccentricities and energy in a stronger debut than Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Plus, the show handles Whittaker’s reveal simply, basically saying “I’m a lady now, okay?” It launches right in, and doesn’t dwell on the swap.
“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” bears some resemblance to Matt Smith’s first episode – “The Eleventh Hour.” Both episodes see The Doctor land on Earth, disoriented after regenerating. They have to stop an alien threat without their tools, and meet new companions. Both have a stripped down, back-to-basics approach that make a good jumping off point for new viewers. But “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” and “The Eleventh Hour” definitely have differences. Whittaker’s version of The Doctor was already shown as a tinkerer, being able to turn everyday objects into advance sci-fi items. Along with that, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” has a more straightforward narrative with smaller stakes.
Chibnall and director Jamie Childs give Doctor Who a light for a breezy hour of television. It aptly reintroduces The Doctor, sets up new characters with their struggles. Yaz and Grace are a police officer and a nurse who are smart and skilled while Ryan is reasonably intelligent and Graham is personable and resourceful.
There are some changes I didn’t like, the biggest being music. Previous composer Murray Gold has left the show. Gone is his cinematic orchestra and bombard sound. Segun Akinola took over scoring Doctor Who, and he goes for a more minimalistic, modern sound. This is a case of personal preference, and it might be a case that I need to get used to the new direction.
Previous showrunners of the modern Doctor Who series have put their own local stamp on the show. Chibnall is doing the same with the historic county of Yorkshire. The two leading ladies are from the county, and everyone in the episode had a Yorkshire dialect. There are reports that American audiences couldn’t understand Whittaker’s accent, which is baffling. The Yorkshire accent is far from the thickest regional accent from the British Isles. Setting the first episode in Sheffield does make for a welcome change because it moves the show from its usual settings.
“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” is a strong start for a show that continually reinvents itself. Whittaker shows a lot of promise, and it will be interesting to see where the show goes from here. Doctor Who has proven it knows how to introduce Whittaker’s Doctor, and it will be fun to see what she does next.