Doctor Who?

Review: Doctor Who Series 11, Episode 1: “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

Starring: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill

Confessions of someone as confused as a regenerated Doctor.

I watched an episode of Doctor Who for the very first time last week.

Oh, I’ve tried watching this classic sci-fi show before. I’ve got vague memories of having a look when Peter Davison had the role, if only because I’d enjoyed his Triston Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. I tried again 25 years later when my daughter and her best friend went through a very Whovian phase a few years back and the wonderful actor, David Tenannt, was in the role. It just didn’t gel with me, the plot seemed ridiculous and the alien threat made no sense at all. As a confirmed Trekker (that’s Star Trek fan in case you didn’t know), I wasn’t convinced.

However, I heard an interview with the latest Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, on ABC Breakfast with Robbie Buck last week and decided on the strength of the way she talked about the role that I’d give it another go. Her appearance on Graham Norton on the weekend clinched it. If she was going to bring that spark and enthusiasm to the role, it should be good.

Episode 1 of Series 11 – and the new Doctor – didn’t disappoint! I enjoyed it immensely.

I liked the characters, with the early action drawing me into wanting to know more about the young man, Ryan, and the police officer, Yaz, who quickly work out that they went to school together, but whose lives have taken somewhat different paths since. Ryan’s grandparents are also involved, which is an interesting twist that becomes very significant as the story unfolds. After a scene with a bicycle that introduces Ryan, the ensemble comes together on a train that something weird has happened to and …..

And then the Doctor makes her entrance. It’s electric! Jodie Whittaker plays the role with an impressive mixture of chaos and control, full of energy and a positivity that’s infectious. Expecting to have things available that aren’t there (like a sonic screwdriver, or even more important, the famous Tardis) she’s constantly frustrated, but then quickly adapts and works on alternatives. All the while she’s trying to figure out who she is. It’s fun to watch.

Of course, it is sci-fi. There are alien contraptions and beings – in this case an ice cold orb, a sort of snake-like ball and a humanoid creature who gets really annoyed that the Doctor keeps mispronouncing his name as “Tim Shaw”. The super-intelligent Doctor realises that Tim Shaw is up to no good and sets about trying to work out what and why and how to stop it.

Because, I learned, that’s what Doctor Who is all about. This ever-regenerating, super intelligent alien, who looks human but is really a Time Lord, goes around helping people in need and saving civilisations.

The Doctor is not Jesus, the Messiah, but all the best stories echo God’s story in my view. The parallels with the Christian gospel story were obvious, to me at least, in this episode. Here we have a saviour figure, human but far more than human, who gathers a few unlearned followers (friends, or I take it in past episodes called ‘companions’) who are taught new things and play their part in the mission to save the world from an enemy that’s more powerful than the mere humans that get drawn into the drama. There’s self-sacrifice (and, at the risk of a big spoiler) is it coincidence that the one who dies to save others in this episode is named Grace?

Long time Whovians (ie fans of the show) will probably be saying right now, ‘well, dur, we could have told you that’. But that it came out in this one, stand-alone episode, that introduces a new Doctor, and a woman for the first time at that, shows how these themes must be in the show’s DNA. Even if the writers don’t overtly intend it, it’s there.

I wasn’t expecting that. It made a very enjoyable sci-fi show exciting.

Yes, there are script glitches and sub-plots that don’t seem to contribute much to the storyline, but “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” has tweaked my interest enough to watch some more episodes now and see if it can sustain my interest.

Jodie Whittaker, you may well have won a new fan for the Doctor…

The Woman Who Fell to Earth is available on ABC iView and the new series is available weekly on ABC every Monday at 5.55pm.

Warren Bird, Executive Director, Uniting Financial Services




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