SPOILER WARNING – THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SEASON 11 PREMIERE OF DOCTOR WHO – “THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH”
I’ve been a massive fan of Doctor Who since I first saw it in 1983.
There have been times when I haven’t loved it as much, and times when I’ve thought it was the best thing ever. But regardless of how I might have felt about any current iteration, I’ve always loved the franchise and its history.
The 2005 revival made me very happy, despite my expectations to the contrary.
A few years after the return I joined the Earth Station Who podcast to have bi-weekly discussions about the franchise with a wonderful crew. I appeared on over a hundred episodes, participated in panels at various conventions, and fairly early on launched my own Needless Things Podcast.
Eventually toxic fandom and what I perceived as a decline in quality (of Doctor Who, not of ESW – we were still fantastic) led to my amicable departure from Earth Station Who.
To keep things brief – I loved Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, but absolutely nothing else about the show. I started to lose interest around the end of Matt Smith’s run and to this day I wish he’d had the opportunity to work with a different showrunner. The same goes for Capaldi.
But I don’t want to belabor that.
It’s a new day (yes it is) and we have a new Doctor in Jodie Whittaker and a new showrunner in Chris Chibnall. I went into season 11 (40, actually, by my count) hopeful about the future of the franchise.
Am I still hopeful? Read on.
1 – If Only This Were Broadcast in HD – BBC America has always looked and sounded like garbage on my TV. It’s the only channel we watch that’s grainy and sounds like it’s being broadcast from inside of a barrel. Is this the case for anyone else?
Anyway, that has nothing to do with the quality of the show. Let’s move on.
2 – She – Whittaker is compelling. Her comedic timing is very good. Her presence is strong. As with any new Doctor in their first appearance she’s feeling the character out (both as an actor and within the context of the narrative), but she has the required quirkiness down already.
The fact that she is a female is just that. There were no eye-rolling Girl Power moments or overt statements about it. No, “Well, it takes a woman to save the day” or anything like that. This shows me that Chibnall – who wrote this episode – is smart about messages. We don’t need a neon arrow that says “LOOK THE DOCTOR IS A WOMAN HOW COOL” because she just is cool. She’s showing us that it doesn’t matter rather than having every character who encounters her talk about how amazing her gender is.
3 – Stop Touching Things, Ryan – Ryan Sinclair (played by Tosin Cole) immediately proves himself to be a perfect companion by touching all of the weird alien shit he encounters. The episode even points out how foolish this is later.
He’s not a complete bozo, though, and gets to show some heart later on. I like him.
4 – Excellent Script – This is the tightest episode of Doctor Who I’ve watched in a long time. The dialogue was clever, everyone had purpose, and there were several small moments where things didn’t go as I expected them to.
I hate to put it this way, but it felt like a real show, not something that I had to put my fandom hat on to enjoy. It was legitimately engaging.
5 – Score, Not Scoring – New series composer Segun Akinola did a wonderful job. HOT TAKE ALERT – After being assaulted by Murray Gold for the past thirteen years, it was nice to have music that enhanced the action rather than distracting from it.
6 – Stay on the Train! – As soon as the train stops, everyone leaves. Obviously you shouldn’t leave the train (until the ball of electrical tentacles shows up, anyway), but as a fan of horror movies I cannot complain about people being foolish.
7 – Speaking of Horror… – Much of the first half of the episode was shot like a horror movie. This made me happy because so much of what I loved about Doctor Who when I was young was rooted in its horror elements. Lighting, framing, and pace were used to create tension in a very effective manner in this episode.
8 – Monsters – We got a couple of great new monsters that looked excellent. The floating electric tentacle ball didn’t look like cheap effects, and even looked like practical props when it was broken down. Tzim-Sha (hilariously referred to by the Doctor as “Tim Shaw”) was awesome. I want a box set of him and the tentacle ball as figures yesterday.
Tim Shaw was an excellent design. The armor evoked the same “is that a robot or a suit of armor?” feeling that Darth Vader’s design did when I was a kid. And when his true nature and face were finally revealed…
PUT IT BACK ON.
I can’t handle tooth stuff, so a lizard man with teeth embedded in his face is going to give me nightmares for weeks. I definitely need a toy of Tim Shaw.
Oh, and I loved his voice. It was sinister and easy to understand. It wasn’t all over-the-top corny or too laden with effects.
9 – No New Monsters – And that’s a good thing.
The showrunners stated that we wouldn’t be seeing any classic Who monsters this season, and after seeing how different and exciting Tim Shaw and Tentacle Ball were, I’m all for that. Sure – I want to see Whittaker face off against Daleks and Cybermen and Omega and the Valeyard (sorry, Director Faber). But save that stuff for later. Let’s inject some mystery and wonder back into the franchise first.
10 – The Pickiest of Nits – I didn’t like the “white-haired Scotsman” line. It felt like it was done for the laugh without consideration for the character. The Doctor was not and never has been a Scotsman and I don’t think she would refer to herself as such.
In the grand scheme of things I know I’m being nitpicky and it doesn’t matter, but it’s a little thing that I hope doesn’t become a habit. Character integrity first, jokey-jokes second.
11 – Time Shift – If every episode is going to have this many effing commercial breaks I’m not watching any of them live. For Boe’s sake.
12 – Running At the Alien – Bradley Walsh was lots of fun as Graham. I was concerned we were going to end up with another Wilfred, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. His delivery of, “Why’s she running at another alien?” and then, “We’re all running at it!” was fantastic. I look forward to more working class pragmatism as he journeys through space and time.
13 – Groovy! – If you want me to fall in love with you, a Sam Raimi homage is a good start. Every second of the Doctor building her new sonic screwdriver was pure Raimi. If you don’t believe me, go watch Ash building his hand in Army of Darkness, then watch that scene again.
14 – MESSAGE – While rambling (in very entertaining fashion) about her new sonic the Doctor mentions Swiss Army knives, then corrects herself and says, “Only idiots carry knives”.
This is another – tiny – instance where I felt like Chibnall just really wanted to get that line in and didn’t think about it in the context of Doctor Who. Unless he meant to imply that the Doctor thinks Leela – one of his longest-running and best-loved companions – was an idiot.
I get the message and I understand that “violence is bad” has been a message of Doctor Who from the start, but there’s a way to get that stuff in without it 1) reeking of agenda, and 2) undermining character history. I’m not opposed to the sentiment expressed, but the delivery was bad and the line was unnecessary.
15 – The Predator – OH! This is Doctor Who doing the Predator. Neat! I’m up for all kinds of “This is how the Doctor would handle this familiar pop culture thing” stories.
Can she meet the Warrens next?
16 – Oh, Karl – “Somebody out there wants me” is the line of the night. And there were a number of good lines. I was kind of hoping Karl would be one of the companions.
Note – I haven’t been paying the closest attention to casting and whatnot. I wanted to go into this with no preconceptions, so aside from Whittaker and Cole I had no idea who the cast were.
17 – Fall From of Grace – Oh, COME ON. Did Grace really have to do a Baker off the crane?
I mean, yes; I suppose she did for the story to go the way it went. But dammit. I liked her.
18 – Space, the Final OH CRAP WE CAN’T BREATHE – I LOVED this ending, as it immediately put me in mind of the first few Tom Baker episodes that, while separate stories, ran into each other.
I’m happy that there aren’t supposed to be any two-parters this season, but it’s fine by me if they use a sort of ongoing journey as the framework. Heck, it’d be cool with me if they don’t even find the TARDIS until the end of the season. It’s be a hoot if the final line of the season comes from Graham and it’s a variation on the “bigger on the inside” thing as the door closes behind them. Then, the opening shot of season 12 (41) is a shiny, new TARDIS.
THAT ISN’T THE DOCTOR’S BUT BELONGS TO THE RANI.
Hire me, Chibnall.
19 – Let’s Do This – I’m back on board. I thoroughly enjoyed this premiere and plan to watch it at least one more time before making my triumphant return Earth Station Who later this week. It’s just for one episode, but I’m excited because I get the opportunity to talk to that amazing crew and go a little deeper with my thoughts than I did here today.
Heck, I didn’t even mention Yaz.
If you didn’t watch, give it a shot. It didn’t feel like recent Doctor Who or classic Who or really anything else, it was just good.
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