What I thought of Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth

An awful lot was riding on this episode. First female Doctor. New showrunner in the shape of Chris Chibnall who has a patchy at best record on Who, and with things like the scene below on his C.V, we were right to be worried.

On top of this there’s a vocal group online ready to lead boycotts for a series which worldwide is one of the BBC’s top three money-earners, but here in the UK the audience has declined during the Stephen Moffat years. And there’s a point; the first Moffat series is excellent but he quickly falls into a convoluted mess of plotlines and character arcs which means that if you’ve not seen Doctor Who at any point over the last half century, or have been away for a while you’d often turn on a Moffat episode and be lost from the first scene. Then there was the fact many of the scripts being commissioned were just dreadful which made it feel that actors of the calibre of Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi were often wasted.

In short the programme was in a similar state to where it was in the Colin Baker to early Sylvester McCoy years where it was falling in on itself from the weight of continuity and the urge to follow it ahead of story and character. Basically Moffatt changed the programme from a mass audience one to one for fans, which works to a limit but certainly the programme had basically fell up it’s own arse.

So The Woman Who Fell to Earth is the programme rebooting itself for the age of mass audience programming with works like Broadchurch and The Bodyguard, proving that loads of people will tune in at the same time if there’s something they want to see. The revamped Doctor Who is now 13 years old and frankly, wasn’t going to keep an audience where it was going, so in come Chibnall fresh from the success of Broadchurch,  to essentially take the programme back to 2005. All you need to know going into this is there’s a character called the Doctor, who has just regenerated because they’re an alien, and they fight evil on and off Earth throughout time with their companion/s. Chibnall has also promised no old recurring baddies for this series which is good, and I hope finally lets the new series build up its own mythology.

Which brings us back to everything riding on this episode. The BBC have spent what must be millions in sending Whittaker around the world to publicise the relaunch (which the BBC never admitted it was) and it has to be said, she did her job brilliantly showing an enthusiasm and love for the show that belies the fact she wasn’t a hardcore fan when first cast. The first episode itself has a pretty old-school Who B-plot with an alien landing in Sheffield (the programme uses its Sheffield locations, and the fact we’re not used to seeing programming set outwith of London very well) killing people seemingly randomly. It frankly is only there to push along the A-plot which is who is this woman who crashed from the skies and how come she knows how to fight an alien menace? There’s also the start of three character arcs in the shape of the companions ( Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and a surprisingly good Bradley Walsh) so there’s a lot going on in a busy opener.

On the whole it works. A major death is telegraphed from the minute the character is introduced which detracts from the tension, also the alien menace looks great and not a monster out to destroy the universe but is dispatched with a finality which suggests it won’t return which is a shame.  The companions, sorry, ‘friends’ are all fine and good though I’m still worried there may be too many of them, but it’s Jodie Whitaker that the new relaunch hinges on and she carries the entire thing off so well that you forgive the odd cliche, or clunker of a line.Added to the fact there’s a real effort in upping direction (though Moffat should be praised for letting people like Ben Wheatley loose on Who) and cinematography (Sheffield has never looked so good)that things do feel exciting and fresh.

In fact by halfway through the episode you forget all the fuss about a woman Doctor and just accept that this is The Doctor, it’s a regeneration episode and I can’t wait to see where Whitaker goes from here to develop the character though you can spot influences, especially when she’s bumbling around trying to build a new sonic screwdriver there’s a touch of Troughton, Tennant and Smith there, then a touch of Tom Baker and Eccleston during the climatic scenes. There’s even a few scenes where she carries herself as Capaldi would to show shes not fully regenerated yet. Is it perfect? No though as introductory episodes it is up there is the show’s 55 year history (Spearhead From Space remains my favourite) but it had a number of jobs to perform which it did well.

We now have a new Doctor. There are complaints about how the ‘agenda’ is spoiling it from mainly sad wankers, then there’s Americans complaining about the Sheffield accents which is so sad it’s funny but the response so far has been good, though the tough work really starts now. Will Whitaker keep people coming back or, like Smith and Capaldi, will she be let down by scripts? There’s still the Tardis to re-indtroduce too

We’ll see but for now there’s an almost blank slate to play with and Doctor Who feels fresh and exciting. For that a well done to all involved is deserved. Bring on next week!

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What I thought of Doctor Who: Twice Upon A Time

In terms of stakes this episode of Doctor Who had a lot to achieve. It wasn’t just the last episode of Peter Capaldi’s run, but also head producer Steven Moffat, as well as being the first introduction of the first female Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. Add into this the fact the story was a multi-Doctor story with David Bradley doing a good job of portraying William Hartnell’s first Doctor plus we’ve got a WW1 army officer played by Mark Gatiss who has been displaced in time for some reason. It sort of works as long as you’re prepared to ignore the plot as that’s really secondary to what else is going on here.

The episode starts with a recap of the very first regeneration 709 episodes ago as the First Doctor (One) faced down the Cybermen, and that nicely leads into One meeting Capaldi’s Doctor (Twelve) at the South Pole after he’s just faced down the Cybermen. Both are refusing to regenerate; in One’s case because he wants to die in the same body he was born in and in Twelve’s case because he’s done with it all. He’s tired of fighting and just wants some peace. In the middle of all this is the riddle of why a WW1 officer has be placed out of time with both Doctor’s? Enter a group of glass androids powered by memories called Testimony who harvest people’s memories at the moment of death, so when Twelve’s former companion Bill Potts returns she can only remember everything up the point of her death. Twelve suspects something bad is going on, and One and Twelve team up to find out what’s going on.

It turns out the plot doesn’t really matter. Testimony aren’t baddies, but actually an academic project from the future to preserve human memories and experiences. This plot device allows Moffat to bring back all of Twelve’s companions (yes, including Clara) to give Capaldi’s Doctor a farewell, and deals with the idea of memories never being replaced. We’ll just make new ones and move on instead of wallowing in past memories which is as subtle a way as possible as saying we need to move on but we’ll still have memories to fall back on when we can. to an audience partly made up of people concerned the new Doctor will be having adventures while not in possession of a penis.

As an episode it is probably the best Christmas special since A Christmas Carol, and a nice sendoff for Capaldi who again shows that he can make any script sing, and here’s been the problem with Moffat’s time as head writer; all the promise of his first year with Matt Smith vanished as plots became needlessly convoluted and were rarely resolved in any satisfying manner. Twice Upon A Time is a fairly simple story by Moffat standards but the hundreds of thousands watching for the regeneration who aren’t regular viewers would have been scratching their heads over some of the plot which did involve having a bit of knowledge of Moffat’s run and indeed, the 54 years history of the programme. Indeed one of the other problems of Moffat’s time is a viewer needed some knowledge of the history to appreciate the programme fully. That said the revelation of just who Mark Gatiss is playing is a lovely wee touch for fans of the programme going back to Patrick Troughton’s time, though I found Moffat making Hartnell’s Doctor a sexist prick

Yet this episode feels like a palate cleanser for what’s to come. A new producer/head writer in the shape of Chris Chibnall, and of course, a new Doctor in the form of Jodie Whittaker. Everything is set up at the end of this episode for a totally fresh start which brings me to the regeneration. Isn’t my favourite. That’s still Peter Davidson to Colin Baker at the end of Caves of Androzani. That story also featured a Doctor fighting off a regeneration, but in this case it was to save the life of his companion and it features the best opening lines from a new Doctor while breaking the fourth wall.. It still can’t be beat.

Capaldi’s regeneration is good though and is essentially a monologue outlining what the Doctor should be; never cruel or cowardly which is the line former Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks has used for years to describe what the basic character of the Doctor. How Moffat uses that line here is to tell the audience that as long as the Doctor remains these things then they are the Doctor, regardless of how they look.

The new Doctor has a cliffhanger to resolve but she comes to the audience as either a blank slate, or as an evil example of how the snowflake Femnazis are making everything awful from the ”we’ve got blue passports” brigade. She’s got the potential to give the programme the jolt it needs as long as Chibnall remembers that not every viewer will be dripping in the history of the programme and to make stories accessible while at the same time keeping the hardcore fan happy. Not an easy task, but I wish them well and although I’m full of regret we never saw Capaldi hit his full potential that we’re going to get something very special with Jodie Whitaker.