The Doctor Is In: "The Woman Who Fell To Earth"

Sunday, 7 October 2018

I had intended titling this review, “The Lady Doctor” but, truth to tell, on the basis of tonight’s episode of Doctor Who, Jodi Whittaker’s character is simply The Doctor. There are a couple of passing references to the fact that this iconic character is now played by a woman but no big deal is made of it by the script writers and that is as it should be. From the get-go Whittaker owns this characterisation of the Doctor and inhabits it. There are overtones of her predecessors - especially David Tennant, but there is also a freshness to this Doctor which I found very enjoyable and there is a lightness of touch I hope continues.

Perhaps it has helped that there is a completely new team behind the scenes for this new series. There are new writers which, I think, helps. For me the first season of Peter Capaldi’s era was blighted by writing that still seemed to be scripting for Matt Smith. As author of this first episode, as well as being new show-runner, Chris Chibnail was able to write this new Doctor from the ground up and it shows.

The plot for this pilot episode is, it has to be said, nothing out of the ordinary, but the scripting and the production make it shine. Direction and pacing are pitch-perfect. Photography and camera work are as good as you’ll get on a BBC television production. Supporting characters, especially the new companions, were also good. Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill are young actors with comparatively little experience and that showed in places during what were otherwise solid performances. On the other hand Bradley Walsh was magnificent as Graham. It was good, for a change, to see an older man in this kind of role. We wrinklies have to have someone to identify with in the show now that Capaldi has gone.

It was an interesting gambit to require The Doctor, in this episode, to deal with the threat without the Tardis and without, initially at least, a sonic screwdriver. In some ways this reminded me of some of the earliest Doctor Who stories, before the screwdriver made its debut and when the Tardis was so unreliable in terms of navigation  that its sole purpose was to get the main characters to the scene of their next adventure and extract them at the end. That said, was I the only person, when The Doctor was knocking up a new sonic screwdriver and a teleport device from bits and pieces in a scrapyard that found himself thinking of The A-Team?

So, we have a new Doctor. We have new companions. We have a new show-runner and we have new writers. The writing for this episode was, for the most part, sparkling (though I found some of the lines given Whittaker to describe what a good egg The Doctor is rang a little false). Chris Chibnail seems, on this outing at least, to have found a way of blending the old and the new of Doctor Who to create something fresh. The new companions have yet to do any creaming - which is definitely a good thing - and Bradley Walsh could become a classic companion.

I thoroughly enjoyed this outing of a show I have followed since my first Doctor Who Annual in 1966. In no small part this is due to the vivacity and the sense of childlike curiosity that Whittaker brought to her performance. She may need to temper that enthusiasm with a little reflectiveness in the episodes to come but honestly? As far as I’m concerned she absolutely nailed it.

The Doctor is well and truly in.