TARDIS 11-01: The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Welcome back, my lovely readers! If you listen to This Week’s Episode [link], you know how much I missed this show and how I’ve kept the torch burning with news stories about it nearly every week of its absence. Last we saw, the Doctor regenerated, said one word, touched one button, and then all hell broke loose and she fell out of the TARDIS’s open doors above (presumably) Earth as her ship simultaneously exploded AND dematerialized. So, not much of a cliffhanger there.

Before we get going, I have to get one huge negative out of the way. While I was tremendously pleased with the episode, I was tremendously unhappy with how it was presented. I was unable to watch the global simulcast, so I had to wait for the 8 pm rebroadcast during which a 1 hour episode was stretched until it broke in a 2 hour broadcast, preceded by pre- and post-show fabricated “watch party” segments. First of all, these “parties” were complete garbage and added nothing. The insipid host should have been replaced with someone who actually knows/cares about Doctor Who. I get that Chris Hardwick is persona non-grata, but Hannah Hart would have been a great choice. Wil Wheaton was the only recognizable name in the post-show segment, and good on him, but he was cancelled out by the presence of another woman on the panel credited as an “Influencer.” Just stop. Doctor Who is for fans, keep your influencer BS away from it. And throughout the episode, the commercial breaks were made at least twice as long as normal, sometimes including clips from that day’s Doctor Who NYCC panel inserted. Guess what, BBCA. We can all catch that shit on YouTube without further interrupting the narrative flow of an episode we have waited 10 months to see. It totally threw off the pacing, made it difficult to connect with emotional moments and throughlines in the episode, and was just annoying as hell. It went far well above and beyond your normal “too many commercials” to the point where it actually harmed the episode. There was also no intro or closing credits. This was a decision that was known/made ahead of time, but it’s still not clear whether it was a creative decision or a network one, and I for one missed getting to hear the new theme tune and see the credits. (Here, go listen to the new theme tune, it’s GREAT and incorporates recordings of the original 1963 classic.) Deplorable presentation. Just, ugh.

That said, everything I did get to see, I loved, beginning and ending with the Doctor. And she is The Doctor, full stop. Her performance embodied the spirit of all her previous incarnations and still gave us something fresh, new, and playful. I kept thinking, “how would this look or sound if this were played by a man?” and the answer is, exactly the same. They did exactly what I’d hoped when we learned they’d cast a woman, they cast the best actor and let her loose. She got some fun action hero bits, lots of good bits of cleverness, nailed the confusion that comes along with regeneration, and took good care of her new friends. I feel like she’s still being written as a little too vulnerable/female, but that could be me still clinging to the Capaldi era. I can’t put my finger on it and it’s also possible that the performance was another thing damaged by the hacky network presentation. We’ll have to see upon rewatch. My other tiny gripe is that we’ve no idea how she survived the fall to Earth without a spacesuit. The Moffat era has conditioned me to think “wibbly wobbly timey wimey, time lords can survive falling tens of thousands of feet while they’re still regenerating,” but it would have been nice to address it. (Or maybe it was, but was cut to fit in more ads, BBCA?)

The story itself was an excellent intro story, a really great way to draw in fans new and old. It’s funny, while aliens themselves and the situation they found themselves in were nothing we’d ever encountered before, they had a very classic Who feel. The baddie Tim Shaw (yes he’s actually credited as such on imdb), his travelling pod, and his data collection coil all had very cool designs. His motivation was fresh and surprising, not predictable, but also not what I’d guessed. I did a lot of guessing as I watched and every time, I was wrong in the best, most delightful way possible. Every outcome was neither the most obvious, nor the opposite of that, but something else entirely. The writing could be a little clunky at times, lots of thinly coded messages to the fans about “new can be scary, but it’s going to be ok” and “evolving into something new while still holding on to who you were.” Whittaker did her best with those sorts of lines, but hopefully that type of dialogue will fall away after the first ep. For now, we’ll chalk it up to new showrunners and focus on the good, which was just about everything else.

I really love the new TARDIS(less) team and am excited to see all they bring to the table. Doctor Who has always been very inclusive and diverse and now we add another demographic to that with Ryan’s invisible disability. And along with that inclusivity is a strong showing against toxic masculinity. Absolutely no one gives Ryan crap for the things he can’t do because of his condition and at one point Yaz explicitly tells him it’s ok not to try to do something if he feels like he can’t do it. It was delicately handled and well done. I absolutely LOVED that he still hadn’t learned to ride by the end of the episode, but was still trying. I really enjoy how both young companions don’t have to know all the answers, they just need to ask good questions and know where to look for the answers. It’s a refreshing departure from Clara, who was this close to becoming the Doctor herself, and Bill, who didn’t seem to know anything but was game to be taught. I like the direction they’re going with both young companions, and I think both will work out quite well. Not too sure whether I see a long term future for Graham. Not that I didn’t like him, but he really worked well as one half of a duo with Grace and with her sadly gone, I’m not sure how he will fit into the dynamic. It’s possible her loss will give him new purpose and a sense of adventure. To be honest, he could have pulled that motivation from being a cancer survivor, without the show killing off an awesome WOC character, but I can’t argue with her death. It served to establish stakes with new fans, so they understand the very real danger of not listening to the Doctor. I also appreciated the character of Karl, who served to demonstrate that life with the Doctor isn’t for everyone and there’s no shame in that either. The building of the sonic was a cool fun sequence. Normally we see the TARDIS provide a new sonic as needed, but I chose to see that as a user programming a machine to do a task that they could very well do themselves if needed. It’s fun to see the Doctor’s innovative spirit used in this way.

That was one helluva cliffhanger to be left with (again, without end credits, it took a moment to realize that that truly was the end of the episode). I’ve seen people complain “Where was the TARDIS?!” but I personally enjoy the sort of lost in space direction they seem to be headed. I can’t wait to see what’s next! Until next week, let’s get a shift on.

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