The Woman Who Fell to Earth sparks new life into Doctor Who, giving it the breath of fresh air that the series needed. Whilst the Capaldi storylines were good, giving us one of the show’s finest hours to date in Heaven Sent, it had an increasing sense of staleness to it that couldn’t really afford another male Doctor in the role, especially in the current era. So it was a welcome change to see Jodie Whittaker step forward into the show’s lead role, and absolutely knock it out of the park.
Directed by Jamie Childs and written by Broadchurch showrunner and Moffat replacement Chris Chibnall, who has penned a handful of Doctor Who scripts in the past, The Woman Who Fell to Earth is pure fun. It’s family friendly, super enjoyable and contains all the elements of a classic Doctor Who script. Switching the tired location of London for Sheffield, the show introduces us to a diverse assemble of interesting characters beat-for-beat. We first meet Tosin Cole’s Ryan Sinclair through YouTube, and then we’re quickly introduced to Yasmin Khan, played by Mandip Gill. They both went to the same primary school together and are reunited, drawn together by an alien object found in the middle of the woods when Ryan goes looking for his bicycle while he is learning to cycle. The series’ other main companion is Bradley Walsh, who plays Graham O’Brien, reminding audiences of fan-favourite Wilfred Mott from the Tenth Doctor era. It’s a good move to make it an ensemble rather than just The Doctor and another character, and everything pays off really well.
As always with Doctor Who premieres with the attention is largely on introducing the new cast so the monster is left to the sidelines. It was a good decision to not include any classic, overused monsters in this episode – or indeed in this season, as this gives room for the show to grow and evolve, coming up with interesting new threats. The monster, credited rather bemusingly as “Tim Shaw” in the credits, makes for a decent first bad guy that has all the echoes of a classic Doctor Who foe.
Most Doctors have made strong first impressions but The Woman Who Fell to Earth feels something more than just your average premiere. Whittaker needs no time at all to get into the character and establish her as an iconic figure for a new generation of Who fans, but the decision to focus more on drama and horror rather than the out-there sci-fi felt like a welcome touch that gave this episode an almost grounded feel. Hopefully there won’t be much nonsensical technobabble that populated the Moffat and Russell T. Davies eras.
Out of the two, this feels closer if anything to a time when Davies was showrunner (Chibnall’s previous Doctor Who scripts include 42, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, The Power of Three, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Magician’s Apprentice – well as multiple excursions into the spinoff show Torchwood). There are echoes of The Christmas Invasion here on a smaller scale, and Whittaker will no doubt appeal to fans who miss Tennant. Whilst there’s no TARDIS shown this week, which is kind of a shame, the show does have a lot on its plate to juggle regardless and it does so very well indeed.
Overall, The Woman Who Fell to Earth couldn’t have been more of an excellent start. It works great as a new episode for first-timers to the show, and it does enough to draw back jaded fans of the series, heralding the start of an exciting new era for Who.