Review – Doctor Who Series 11, Episode 1: ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’

The following review contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Doctor Who.

Jodie Whittaker makes her full-time Doctor Who debut in 'The Woman Who Fell to Earth'
Jodie Whittaker makes her full-time Doctor Who debut in ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’

As I sat down to watch the first episode of the latest series of Doctor Who, I felt a flutter of anxiety very similar to the one I felt as I took my seat for the reboot of Ghostbusters. Sadly, the world in which we live is seldom prepared to forgive bad female-starring content, particularly if that content was previously made with a man at its centre. The decision to follow Peter Capaldi‘s tenure in the TARDIS with Jodie Whittaker – the police box’s first female custodian – sparked a deluge of manbaby whining that would only have grown louder if the show had stumbled. Thankfully, it doesn’t miss a step.

It helps that this is a complete clean slate for the show, which hasn’t happened since Steven Moffat and Matt Smith took over in 2010. Whittaker is joined by debutant showrunner Chris Chibnall, who has previously written several rather middling episodes, and a new trio of companions in dyspraxic teen Ryan (Tosin Cole), his step-grandfather Graham (Bradley Walsh) and young police officer Yas (Mandip Gill). They’re a colourful bunch and are all nicely drawn in this exuberant opener, which also gives Ryan and Graham a very solid and affecting emotional arc surrounding their shared relationship with Grace (Sharon D Clarke) – Ryan’s grandmother and Graham’s wife.

The ragtag group unites when something very weird happens on a train and an odd tentacle beast attacks Grace and Graham, with Ryan and Yas racing to the scene after finding a strange, glowing object nearby. Soon, a rather frazzled and confused Whittaker falls through the roof of the train, just in time to save some lives and do what the Doctor does best – take charge of a mad situation in order to neutralise an alien threat. As is common for these intro episodes, it’s very bright, basic and doesn’t tell us much in terms of character. The Doctor doesn’t know who she is yet, so the audience can’t know that either.

But the early signs are very good indeed. Anyone who has seen Whittaker in Attack the Block or the more recent Journeyman will know she’s brilliant at playing both comedy and emotion, but it’s only really the former we see here. Her consistently warm Northern charm is a refreshing counterpoint to the sardonic prickliness of Capaldi and the Northern setting is equally nice. When was the last major TV show to include a shot of Bramall Lane? It’s also a rare example of a show that actually reflects the real diversity of its setting, in another touch that will no doubt annoy some.

This is certainly being set up as a less edgy, more light-hearted Doctor Who – and that’s no bad thing. Every incarnation of the Doctor has preached overall tolerance and goodwill to all, but it seems Chibnall will be walking the walk in a way that the tricksy Moffat era never did. It’s heartening and inspiring to see a woman leading the BBC’s flagship family drama, but it’s just as important that the people around her reflect the wide tapestry of society. It remains to be seen whether this TARDIS crew will be as entertaining as recent others, but it’s a good start.

‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ isn’t going to go down as a vintage episode of Doctor Who, but it does deserve to be considered one of the better debut outings for a new Doctor actor. It’s visually impressive, consistently amusing and tonally charming throughout, and has nailed a terrific score in the overnight ratings. There’s a long way to go, but this brave new Who is on sturdy foundations.

Next Time: The TARDIS Team is in place, so how will they deal with their first alien planet? And we’re bound to get a look at the interior of the TARDIS, which will presumably have benefited from a trip to IKEA and a few cans of paint.

Doctor Who is airing on Sunday nights on BBC One and is available on BBC iPlayer.

Do you agree with this review? What did you think of the latest episode of Doctor Who? Let us know in the comments section and be sure to read the rest of my Doctor Who reviews.

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