By Kezia Newson
A real TARDIS, a red carpet entrance and the actual Doctor in the audience… not quite our normal viewing of Doctor Who! No pyjamas or cups of tea in sight.
Before the episode begins, I have a moment of reflection – this is the newest Doctor Who has been since, well arguably Rose. With not just a new Doctor, but new companions, a new showrunner and all-new crew. There will be girls and boys (and awkward 14 year-olds) starting their journey just as I did and falling in love with the show on October 7th, boy is that exciting.
The Woman Who Fell to Earth begins as a slow unfurl into our new reality of the show, something which is quite unexpected. There’s a sense of change coming in every word the characters speak, but we have time as an audience to settle into these new people we’re going to know so well. We live with them for a while, are given small pockets of who they are; and it’s a joy.
The cast, maybe unsurprisingly are what stand head and shoulders above anything else in this first episode from the Thirteenth Doctor. I never had any doubts, but Jodie Whittaker is truly everything that is the Doctor, and everything you want to see from a Doctor in their first episode. Post-regeneration and not quite knowing who she is yet, she knits her own existence together throughout the story, and her new friends seem to weave effortlessly into this recent incarnation, creating new foundations of Doctor.
These companions are never unneeded or in the way – this small gang of surprised humans all have their own skills, attitude and determination to be justified, and the dialogue between them is perfect. A warm, comfortable rhythm of relationships old and new, moulding around the strange situation they find themselves in. Each person is individual and wonderful, and I cannot wait to see more of them.
Jodie’s performance feels both familiar and unrecognisable, which is surely everything a new Doctor should be. In the Twelfth Doctor’s costume, she navigates who or what she is, with the subtlest hints of previous incarnations. Nothing is in-your-face Doctor Who, you just believe instantly that she is the same Time Lord as the one Patrick Troughton, Tom Baker and Matt Smith have played before her. This subtlety that Chris has got down so well means that truly anyone can watch The Woman Who Fell to Earth and not feel left behind. There are no ‘nudge nudge, wink wink’ moments, you simply feel the reverence and respect for the past, but this story is firmly placed in the here and now.
The light and dark in episode one show Chris’s strengths as a writer. It’s a brilliant balance that if gone too far either way would be on the cusp of something not quite right, and yet it oozes confidence in its choices. This is the point where it’s incredibly hard not to spoil anything, but feel reassured that while there are jokes, quips and moments of fun, this is Doctor Who that trusts its audience, whatever age to take it seriously. Scheduling wise, it’s nailed it. This is high-level, beautiful drama and sits proudly as a younger sibling next to the sought after 9pm slot.
This high-level feel is surely largely down to director Jamie Childs whose every shot is like nothing Doctor Who has been before. The impeccable pacing allows for tight shots on characters we would never have had real time to appreciate before; showcasing performance over quick wins, whilst stylistic choices such as the strong depth of field throw a contrast of human and not-so-human into stark horror for viewers.
And what is incredible drama without music? Segun Akinola’s score has a masterful effect on your blood pressure as it marries perfectly with the script and direction. It’s very ambient – contributing to the atmosphere of the story rather than demanding your attention. In this way it’s both humble and exciting, and absolutely what’s best for the show. Although other parts of episode one may not be shouting from the rooftops about its ancestry, Segun’s sampling of Delia Derbyshire’s work is such a treat it almost brings tears to your eyes.
And so we leave it there. The Woman Who Fell to Earth is not nervous or faltering – it crashes into our comfortable world of what we think Doctor Who is and raises the bar of what it could be. It’s slick, fun, warm and scary all at once, with fantastic performances and beautiful direction. We’re absolutely onboard and ready for all the adventures the Thirteenth Doctor and her friends want to take us on.
“I hope it demonstrates everything that you come to love about Doctor Who. There’s fun, there’s monsters, there’s action, adventure and an amazing new Doctor… What we’ve tried to do is show the range of what Doctor Who can do visually, emotionally and geographically through time and space… the whole range of everything.”
– Chris Chibnall at the Q&A event post screening
The Woman Who Fell to Earth will be broadcast on BBC One at 6:45pm, Sunday 7th October.