TV review: Doctor Who, The Woman Who Fell to Earth - Jodie Whittaker excels CONTAINS SPOILERS
PUBLISHED: 14:53 12 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:53 12 October 2018
The time (and space) is right for a brand new feel to an old favourite. Doctor Who is being steered by a new Doctor and a new writing team and on first impressions, it's fun for all the family while retaining the behing-the-sofa moments we all know and love.
What looked like a gigantic blue frozen garlic bulb appeared in a tangle of lasers and a train was brought to a standstill by a creeping electrified bird’s nest being chased by Jodie Whittaker: the 13th Doctor Who had arrived.
The opening episode of this brand new series – The Woman Who Fell to Earth – set a whole new agenda for the show which is so beloved: less dark, more self-contained, more family-friendly without losing all the scares, incredible visuals and, of course, a brand new Doctor.
“Half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman,” said Whittaker, who later set the tone by telling the concerned humans whose train had been attacked by many-tentacle-owning aliens (and those who believed a woman couldn’t drive the Tardis), “all of this is new to you, and new can be scary.”
The production feels very different: more Netflix and Marvel and Spielberg than BBC, and I mean that in a good way, like the better episodes of Stranger Things if Stranger Things were transplanted to Sheffield and everyone given northern accents.
Writer Chris Chibnall created a simple but compelling story which not only introduced us to Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, but also to her new band of trusty companions: dyspraxic Ryan (Tosin Cole), bored rookie police officer Yaz (Mandip Gill, who was brilliant in Hollyoaks) and the wonderful Bradley Walsh as Ryan’s Nan’s husband, Graham.
But to recap: after a dispiriting attempt to learn how to ride a bike with his Nan Grace (Sharon D Clarke) and Graham, Ryan stumbled across strange lights in the forest and speaks to them, at which point the frozen blue garlic pod appears and he calls the police.
Former schoolfriend Yaz arrived and as the pair caught up about their lives – neither of them were enjoying their lot – Ryan’s Nan and step-grandad were having a somewhat eventful train journey involving floating orbs of electric tentacles and a new Doctor Who falling through the ceiling.
After implanting everyone on board with glowing pink DNA destroying bombs, the Doctor and the companions-to-be tracked down the pod Ryan saw in the forest to a warehouse where another man had witnessed it ‘hatch’ into something that looked like Predator/the Hirogen from Star Trek , shortly before it despatched him. But handily, he’d left a message for the future, which Ryan discovered as a video link to be opened in the event of his death.
“It’s come back, the thing I saw the night my sister…everyone always says disappeared, but I know she was taken. Seven years now, tracking energy signals, building predictive programmes so that I’d know when the atmospheric disruptions matched what happened that day and tonight, it came back again and I’ve got it. I am going to find out what happened to my sister.
If anything happens to me…
I can’t let anyone else go through this…”
While the Doctor and her newfound human chums dealt with the glowing tentacle birds’ nest – which it turned out was a set of data-collecting coils, a bit like an electrified questionnaire – the alien who had killed the energy tracker was wandering around in Sheffield and being pelted with bits of kebab.
Note to self: do not pelt aliens with kebabs unless you want to be incorporated into their creepy human teeth mask.
Warrior and human hunter Tzim-SHa, whose name sounded a lot like ‘Tim Shaw’, was looking for his target - a chap called Karl and we discovered that under the robot mask, Tim looked a bit like Old Gregg from the Mighty Boosh crossed with the Tooth Fairy’s handbag –
a blue-skinned creature with black and white teeth, the latter taken as trophies from every human it killed, the former being its own fangs.
It all got a tiny bit technical at this point - lots of talk about coils and implants, making me feel as if I was at a family planning clinic - but the upshot was that the Doctor outwitted toothy Tim, went shopping for some new threads and accidentally blasted three humans into space with her, all of whom have their reasons to want to be a long way away from Sheffield and, indeed, planet Earth.
It was an assured, bold start to a series which looks as if it will be lot of fun and won’t involve mastering a lexicon of conspiracy theories which takes a PhD to interpret (Stephen Moffat, I am looking at you).
“We can evolve while still staying true to who we are,” the 13th Doctor told grim Tim, earlier in the episode, as he fondled his horrific face of teeth, and in this episode, Whittaker proved it.
* Doctor Who continues this Sunday on BBC1 at 6.55pm.