Synopsis S11xE1: A mysterious woman falls to earth, and she’s forgotten her name and identity. But she hasn’t forgotten the most important bit: she’s here to save the day. In the new season of Doctor Who, we meet the three new companions and fight a tooth-faced Big Bad.
To quote the new Doctor Who posters, it’s about time. Fans have been waiting for Jodie Whittaker’s premiere as the Doctor for over a year, and it’s finally arrived. Was it fantastic? Yes!!! And it moves away from the dark and heavy Steven Moffat era into something wholly refreshing.
The first face we see is a nineteen year old boy Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) talking about the most incredible woman he’s ever met, and about his dyspraxia. Dyspraxia is a very real disease that affects the body’s coordination; therefore, it’s difficult for Ryan to achieve seemingly basic skills like riding a bike.
Ryan’s Nan, Grace, does her best to encourage Ryan to ride. She’s a wonderful mix of maternal affection and tough love. Her husband Graham is also supportive, though Ryan visibly doesn’t like his step-grandfather. Nor does he like bike riding. He throws his bike off the hill in frustration. Grace admonishes him, tell him to retrieve it, and tells Graham they’re heading back to the train home. Grace clearly wears the pants in her relationships, and she has fun in the process.
Ryan goes to get his bike, and runs into the season’s first alien: a series of lights (which he touches), and a big blue Hershey’s Kiss. It’s freezing to the touch; Ryan calls the police.
Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) is the patrol officer on duty, and she’s itching to prove herself. After being dispatched to the big blue alien thing, she and Ryan realize their old schoolmates. Sheffield must be a small world.
Everything converges on Grace and Graham’s train ride home. We meet the important and valuable Carl. Grace calls Ryan who, along with Yaz, run to the scene. And everyone is attacked by a bundle of alien electrical cords.
Enter the Doctor! As the titular woman who falls from the sky, she barely skips a beat getting into the action. In true form, she takes control of the situation with confidence and bravado, barely stopping to remember that she’s still not quite sure who she is, or to grieve the loss of her sonic screwdriver.
Sans Carl, who’s made his way to work, the team hunts down other weird occurrences in the Sheffield nighttime. That includes tracking down the Icy Hershey’s Kiss to an abandoned warehouse. A man, obsessed with his sister’s disappearance, has transported the bulbous mass.
Now enter the Big Bad! Tzim-Sha (pronounced Tim Shaw) is a stenza warrior who’s hunting for a human trophy; remember the important and valuable Carl? Turns out his race comes to earth to hunt designated humans for gains in leadership. (The man’s sister died on such a hunt. Tzim-Sha killed the man once he exited the bulb). But Tzim-Sha has cheated, sending the alien coils ahead to tag his assigned human. And the 13th Doctor will not abide cheaters.
After making her own Sonic Screwdriver out of Sheffield steel and some stenza alien tech, the Doctor and crew head out to find Carl before Tzim-Sha. The Doctor does her classic move of coming up with a plan on the go. Unsurprisingly, the impromptu plan works. Facing off on a crane above the city, Carl is saved, and Tzim-Sha is defeated. But Grace, who’s is excited to be involved in the Doctor’s adventure, is a casualty. She died in action, having her own impromptu adventure. Grace versus an alien coil monster. Both are soundly defeated.
The woman in Ryan’s video, the greatest woman he ever met, was his Nan. Presumably, the rest of the season will show the evolution of Ryan’s relationship with Graham, and how the two of them will mourn Grace. Lord knows they’ll have plenty of time, as the last shot of the episode is the four new friends (the Doctor, Yaz, Ryan and Graham) floating in a Tardis-free space.
Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is highly refreshing after three seasons of an angry Scot. Don’t get me wrong; I adore Peter Capaldi. His Twelfth Doctor rose above some of the worst writing seen on New Who. He was serious where the Tenth and Eleventh were goofy. He was simultaneously pithy and a master at epic speeches. Peter Capaldi will certainly be missed.
But he also got tiresome. Not Capaldi’s fault. I blame former show runner Stephen Moffett for the tone. Every episode was truly the End Of The World, and there was always a huge speech to go with it. The show got heavy; it got dark. Frankly, it got dull. It was the same Doctor, who did what was right for the sake of the few and for the many. But in the end, the weight of being the Twelfth Doctor became too much. Cue Thirteen.
Jodie Whittaker and new show runner Chris Chibnall (previous head writer of the Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood) are no strangers to drama themselves. Jodie spent three seasons crying and grieving on Chris’s show Broadchurch (starring DW alum David Tennant). They can do dark and heavy.
But they veered the opposite direction. They swerved towards light and kind. Instead of battle eyebrows, we got a reliable nose. Instead of monologues about who is the Doctor, what is right or kind, we got concise words of advice. The Doctor didn’t save the entire universe; she saved just one life. This simple switch felt like a return to the Russell T. Davies’ era. An era of more camp and fluff, but also an era of love and lightness. (Except for you, “Doomsday”. You’ll always be upsetting.)
Each regeneration episode has the Doctor finding themselves in their new personas. Sometimes they’re lucky, sometimes they’re warriors. Sometimes they don’t give second chances. Jodie knows who her Doctor will be. She’s a traveler who fixes the problems she sees them. She’s a solo voyager in need of friends. Not companions, but friends. Hopefully her new friends will help her find her ship, as the Tardis is still missing.
Having a female Doctor is as revolutionary as it sounds. But the show doesn’t pound down the point that she’s a woman. Truthfully, the entirety of last season felt more heavy-handed than this episode. The show still focuses on the Doctor as the Doctor. If you’re only watching for a male Doctor, kindly see yourself out of the fandom. But if you’re here for a regenerating year old alien with two-hearts who travels through time and space, then pull up a chair. It looks like it’s going to be a delightful ride.