Alien She: A Julie River Review of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”
The Horror of Fan Blog is officially dead. Long live Mile High Who! Over the years, I’ve expressed my opinions on Doctor Who over Facebook notes, then my blog, plus another blog with some friends that was short-lived, and then the Mile High Who podcast which was also short-lived, and now Somer has asked me to move my blog over to the Mile High Who site instead. I’ve also been hesitant to call these reviews in the past but, from now on, I’m admitting that that’s what they are. So y’all ready for a new adventure? Let’s go!
In an era where feminism finds itself as embattled as it’s been since the early 60’s, we enter the shouldn’t-be-controversial-but-it-is era of the first female Doctor in the history. That she debuts the day after an obvious rapist was installed on the United States Supreme Court with the intention of stripping women’s rights in the US seems almost appropriate, as we need a female hero now more than ever. Say hello to Thirteen!
When Chris Chibnall was announced as the new head writer of the show, I wasn’t upset, but I wasn’t particularly impressed, either. I had been keeping a mental list of Doctor Who writers who I thought would be best for the position in case Steven Moffat ever left. Number one on the list was Neil Gaiman, who was of course only a pipe dream. Number two was Jamie Mathieson, who sadly didn’t have enough experience writing for Doctor Who at the time they were choosing the new head writer. Three was Toby Whithouse, who wasn’t given the job for whatever reason. And four was Chris Chibnall, who has done some outstanding work outside of Doctor Who, but whose writing within Doctor Who has largely been mediocre. Fourth choices aren’t usually something to get excited about, until he announced his pick for the Thirteenth Doctor. Then he had my attention.
The massive misogynist backlash to Jodie Whittaker being picked for the role just made me more excited to see her kick ass on the show, and her debut does not disappoint. “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” is easily Chibnall’s best Doctor Who episode to date, and one of the best season premieres in the show’s history. Chibnall seems to thrive more in creating his own characters from the ground up, like on Broadchurch, than he does in working with characters that other showrunners created, like with his other Doctor Who episodes. I’ve always felt the wisest choice in introducing a new Doctor is to go with a very simple villain like the Nestene or Prisoner Zero who you can easily wrap your head around while the focus is on introducing us to the new Doctor, especially if you have to introduce a new companion at the same time. Chibnall bucks that wisdom entirely, introducing a new Doctor and not one but four main characters (three of which survive to the end of the episode), all while winding his way through a complicated mystery and some really interesting sci-fi concepts, and he manages all of it without overloading the audience’s attention span.
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor doesn’t look flustered for being female for the first time, and she’s in the face of one of the most toxic, hypermasculine villains in the recent history of the show. As he shows his terrifying face full of teeth (seriously, how did they get away with that on a kids show?) the 13th Doctor doesn’t flinch. She’s brave and brilliant as she’s always been, but her character seems somewhat disconnected from any of the past Doctors, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. That’s likely a first episode problem, though, as I didn’t really see the Doctor in Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor until his third episode, but I worry that the fact that the coming season has no classic villains or characters will keep the character feeling too separate from the Doctors that have come before her. That said, I see a lot of similarities between her first performance and Matt Smith’s: the confused yet confident Doctor who eventually finds their voice to tell the villain off and defeat them with one clever trick. So I guess what I’m saying is she does and does not feel like the Doctor, but I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to feel at this point with a new Doctor.
The companions were excellent. Chibnall really gave us three interesting characters that I want to get to know better, and uniting them behind the death of a loved one seems like something the Broadchurch creator is very equipped to do. Graham feels a lot like a slightly rowdier version of Rory’s father, Brian, who was introduced in a pair of Chibnalll written episodes. Ryan is a really endearing character, and the addition of his dyspraxia makes for both a huge victory for the representation of people with disabilities and a great personal obstacle for him to battle against as the season progresses. Yaz is a character that we still have a lot to learn about, but I feel confident that there are a lot of depths to mine with her. My only disappointment is that we’ll only get 10 episodes this season to watch these characters progress instead of our normal 12-13.
I was curious about the ending, with them failing to find the TARDIS before the end of the episode. Is this going to be a full season of them trying to find the TARDIS, with the Doctor transporting them to the next adventure at the end of the episode with whatever technology happens to be available to her at the moment? That wouldn’t be a terrible premise for a season, but it does keep us from getting to see the new TARDIS interior. Also, they put out promotional photos of Jodie Whittaker standing in front of the TARDIS, which would be a bit odd if she was going to be out of it for the whole season. It also seems like we’re going to ditch the Steven Moffat idea of companions being part time only, living their lives independently of the Doctor most days, and then popping out for an adventure with him whenever he drops in to say hi. Companions before the Moffat era always lived on the TARDIS full time, and it looks like these three might be like Tegan from the 5th Doctor era or Ian and Barbara from the 1st Doctor era in that they’re more stranded with the Doctor than they are voluntarily coming along for the ride.
And we don’t get to see the opening title sequence for the new season yet? Why are they teasing us so much? But if the closing titles are anything to go off of, we’re going to be going really old school classic series style here.
Also, the handmade sonic screwdriver was a great idea. I was growing tired of the idea of the sonic being so disposable that the Doctor could constantly lose them and the TARDIS would just spit out a new one when needed. And if the season is actually going to be completely TARDIS-less, then that one sonic becomes all the more precious because it took her a lot to make the first one. It makes it more important to hold on to.
Chibnalll has managed to overcome my doubts about him in less than one episode, so I’m suitably impressed. I can’t wait to see where he’s going next with this season, especially since he’s managed to keep a much tighter lid on things than Moffat was able to, as the Moffat era saw the leaking of entire episodes before their premiere date and we don’t even know the episode titles for any of this season’s episodes past episode three. But Chibnalll has gone out of his way to hire a more diverse writing and directing pool than Moffat and Davies did with their mostly white male writing staffs. More women and people of color will be coming in this season. It means that the normal writers from the past few seasons are gone now, with none of them announced to return this season, but aside from Jamie Mathieson and Toby Whithouse, I can’t say that that’s a huge disappointment. And it means we finally get rid of Mark Gatiss’s annual stinker of an episode. Get ready, because this season has “promising” written all over it!