“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” aired the day after a controversial appointment to the Supreme Court, and one thing is abundantly clear: A female Doctor is needed now more than ever. Thankfully, Doctor Who is a show that allows its protagonist to evolve and grow with the times.
When last we left the Doctor, she was expelled from the TARDIS, as it dematerialized. Instead of picking up immediately after this, the episode follows several humans as they encounter another alien landing on Earth and their path intersects with the Doctor when she crashes into them. One of the smartest decisions in the first episode of the reboot was to start from Rose’s perspective. We meet the Doctor with her and learn about him through her eyes. This formula has not always been followed, but it should when reintroducing a new Doctor after a regeneration. One of the major functions of the companions is to be an anchor for the audience. Forcing the Doctor to prove herself to her companions is a great way to ease the transition.
As for her new companions, not too much is known about them at this point; however, they are immediately intriguing and dynamic characters. The episode begins with Ryan Sinclair, a young man with dyspraxia (a neurological disorder which affects his coordination and motor skills). We then meet his grandmother Grace and step-grandfather Graham. Graham is a cancer survivor, and the pair met when Grace was his nurse. Completing the ensemble is Yasmine “Yaz” Khan, a recently reunited childhood friend of Ryan’s who is currently a police officer.
They encounter an alien named Tzim-Sha (which the Doctor keeps purposefully mispronouncing as “Tim Shaw” in some of Jodie Whittaker’s seemingly effortless comedy that helps lighten the mood) who is a member of the warrior race known as the Stenza. The Predator was clearly a major influence on writer Chris Chibnall’s creation of this race, which is an interesting choice for the second (yYes, I said second; more on that later.) female Doctor’s maiden voyage. The Predator, both as a character and a franchise, is so steeped in toxic masculinity that modelling a female Doctor’s first foe after it creates an interesting foil. There has been backlash at the casting of Whittaker, because some fans seem to believe that the Doctor requires a Y chromosome in order to be an effective hero. The Doctor facing off against a symbol of testosterone-fueled machismo allows her to be a social commentary icon with all of the impact of great allegorical sci-fi.
Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor is a breath of fresh air that has revitalized the show. This iteration of the Doctor seems to be one of the sillier versions but, at the same time, is not afraid to scold those who act inappropriately. The Doctor has always been one to tinker with devices in her past, but Thirteen appears to be the MacGyver of Doctors. We see her construct a couple of things in this episode, including a new sonic screwdriver. I am not a fan of the modern retcon that the sonic screwdriver is just an extension of the TARDIS, so I am happy to see Chibnall get away from that. As glad as I am, I have to say that my one problem with this episode is the sonic screwdriver itself. It is a bad design and strangely phallic. I really hope this is changed as soon as possible.
Whittaker is great as the Doctor; however, she is neither the first female Doctor nor the first Thirteenth Doctor. Both of those titles belong to Joanna Lumley. While Doctor Who was off the air, a comedy special was produced called “The Curse of Fatal Death.” It was written by future showrunner Steven Moffat and saw several celebrities portray different versions of the Doctor, ending with Lumley. It is not officially canon, but my personal belief is that the Doctor was trapped in a time loop during the Time War, so the Eight Doctor’s regeneration into Rowan Atkinson’s Ninth Doctor in “The Curse of Fatal Death” and Richard E. Grant’s Ninth Doctor in “Scream of the Shalka” are both splinters from this time loop. As far as I am concerned, now that Peter Cushing’s Dalek movies are canon, all of the extended continuity is on the table.
I am excited to see what Chibnall and Whittaker have in store for us, and if this episode is any indication, then the new energy they bring to the show is exactly what it needs.