Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Source: BBC via Wikipedia

I’ve noted before that I’m a long time fan of Doctor Who, so naturally I tuned in to watch the first episode of the new Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker.  I’ll be honest here, I wasn’t sure what to expect with a female Doctor.  As a progressive, I was certainly for it in principle, but I could see all kinds of ways the execution of it could have gone terribly wrong.

I was pleased to see that Chris Chibnall, the lead writer for the show, decided to play it straight.  The new doctor is ever bit as competent, assertive, and brilliant as any of the male versions.

Indeed, I got the impression that Chibnall intentionally wrote her in as close to the same manner as he would have if the new Doctor had been male.  This feels like the right move, since although the Doctor is now female, she’s still supposed to be same character we’ve known for so long.

And I like Whittaker.  I’ve heard she’s well known in British television, but this is the first thing I’ve seen her in.  Being the first female Doctor strikes me as a very tricky role.  It’s not fair, but women are held to a different standard than men.  Peter Capaldi, Matt Smith, or David Tennant could be a lot more bumbling and slapstick without losing any presumption of authority.  For better or worse, the writers are going to have to be more careful with Whittaker in that regard.  I thought both they and Whittaker herself managed the right balance in this episode.

Another thing I was happy to see was that the story wasn’t ridiculous.  Doctor Who has always been more fantasy than science fiction, but the stories from the old show still managed to stay mostly coherent.  Since its restart, despite vastly improved production values, the new show has been pretty uneven.

I thought Steven Moffat, the previous main writer, was incredibly talented at coming up with awe inspiring stories, but his instinct was not to worry about coherence.  Indeed, he seemed inclined to brazenly flout it as often as possible.  Many of the stories during his run felt more like the throwaway material in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy than Doctor Who.

I didn’t detect that same impulse in Chibnall’s first episode.  I hope it’s a harbinger of what’s to come, although I’ll be disappointed if it simply regresses back to the monster of the week pattern of Russell T. Davies’ time.  It looks like the next episode is going to be in an alien setting, so that could give us a better feel for how serious or silly the stories will be.

So I liked the new Doctor, Whittaker herself, the initial story, and her new companions.  I’m cautiously optimistic for this new season.  What did you think?

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14 Responses to Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth

  1. Callan says:

    I kind of think it’s a male character expressing his feminine side for a change (just as a female character can express a masculine side at time – or a female time lord character could regenerate as male at times), I don’t really see Doctor Who as female. In fact I think it’s a bit of a rip off for anyone thinking its a female main character, because it’s still basically a male character – who happens to be showing the female side at this point. If you want a time lady, you need an actual time lady. And if we had a time lady who was female across 10 regenerations (or however many) then had one male regeneration, I wouldn’t call it a having a male lead character. It’d be a female character expressing a masculine side for a time.

    To me each regeneration is basically a mood of the character – a time lords moods last much longer than a humans moods do. This regeneration is another expression of the characters persona and character development.

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    • That’s an interesting take. It might hold if a female Doctor is a one time aberration.
      But I wonder, as we continue to move through Doctors, assuming that moving forward they’re more or less evenly balanced between males and females, if thinking of the Doctor as predominately one or the other will be sustainable.

      It’s worth noting that the show implied that the Doctor has been female before. At the end of the episode, the Doctor exclaims that it’s been “a while” since she had to select female clothing. (Although that doesn’t square with the fact that time lords are only supposed to get 13 lives, and the show went through 13 males before Gallifrey apparently freed him from the limit. Of course, the overall franchise has never been scrupulous about maintaining canon consistency.)

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      • Callan says:

        I don’t think it’s a flip of a coin – does the character seem to have been male all this time? It’s bad writing to just have characters suddenly change utterly – you even describe it yourself that this regeneration acts in ways similar to past regenerations. Trying to go all female – is that really going to fit the character? If we are to draw off real life, trans people seem to often feel a difference early on in their life, as I understand it. That’s not the character here as it’s been portrayed over a long time. To me it’d be bad character writing to suddenly try and go half and half. Where does that come from? It’d be out of the blue and would stink of meta/politics. I’m assuming they are going to have some writing integrity rather than let politics dictate stories.

        Over 26 regenerations I could imagine a couple of female ones due to the Doctors personality. But I don’t think this gender change is arbitrary, I think it’s part of a character development arc (as it is for the Master/Missy). I could be wrong, but if it’s not part of a character development arc then I think it’s garbage. It’s good for character development to involve expressing a feminine side (or a female character expressing a masculine side – IMO a few female companions have shown that during the series). But some kind of right hand turn so we flip flop between genders not due to characters/story but to pander to politics? That’d be arrant garbage – indeed it’d be sexist in a way, treating gender as just a pawn to push around rather than to respect any gender as it is.

        Currently I prefer to think they have some integrity and it’s a character arc. What worries me is while Tennant’s doctor might be called the heroic doctor for example, will a female doctor get to be called something as well? Or just get to be female and that’s it as the defining feature? Which hasn’t exactly got much oomph to it.

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        • I suspect politics is a part of it, but mostly business, the business of understanding that a large part of the Doctor Who audience is female. But they also laid the groundwork for it to at least appear like a character arc with Missy and the General. Pure artistic integrity is hard to maintain for TV since the money involved comes with many stakeholders. It’s a lot easier for a stand alone author.

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          • Callan says:

            It depends – an author/authors responding to a cultural trend can be profitable because responding to a cultural trend. All writing that goes to a mass audience is at least partially contaminated by how it relates to business (and how often do writers write about that? Ha!).

            But ‘At least appear like a character arc’? Harsh words.

            To me, any character who does the whole ‘Oh, I want to save the innocents and not just murder all the bad guys’ is displaying a nurturing quality. The doctor is basically a shape changing alien – why not reach out to female culture and create some fiction/culture about a female shape change for a character who does express nurturing tendencies and who shape changes? (though as I said, it’s not having a real time lady – have a female time lord who mostly expresses female regenerations to have a proper female time lord).

            As said, I think all writing that goes to a mass audience is partially mercenary. It seems a bit harsh to say this change is just fully mercenary though. The character is nurturing and changes shape (other time lords characters in the series have decided to replicate other characters (same actress, in other words), for example). How does this seem entirely mercenary rather than an expression of how alien the doctor is and like all writing should be, writing that reaches out to one or more cultures?

            Then again my 11yo daughter compares it to avocado plants changing gender during the day and night, saying the doctor is like a space avocado.

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  2. Steve Morris says:

    I hope you’re right. I’ve been a Doctor Who fan since my childhood in the 1960s (when I literally had to hide behind the sofa when the monsters appeared.) I have given up twice – first in the 1980s when the BBC seemed to grow bored with the series and stopped taking it seriously – and when Stephen Moffat took over as lead writer. As you say, Moffat often seemed not to care whether anything he wrote made any sense. Maybe I will be lured back by the combination of a new actor and new writer …

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d actually forgotten just how good the old shows (prior to 1980) were. The new show suffered by comparison when BBC America went through a period running the classics from Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee.

      I will warn you that this first episode isn’t completely free of what most of us would consider writer mistakes, such as the Doctor literally dropping in to a situation at just the right moment.

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      • Steve Morris says:

        I actually still remember a lot of those old stories, even though I remember very little of other shows I watched then, such as Space 1999 and Star Trek. I remember the characters, the monsters, and even the plotlines. I have no idea if I’d still like them as an adult, but I suspect I would. Characters like the original Master and the Brigadier made an incredibly strong impression on me.

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        • There was probably a selection effect for the ones BBCA showed, but I thought they held up well (with allowances for cardboard props).

          I’ve seen the Star Trek ones several times over the years. Recently, for a brief period, Space 1999 was available on Amazon Prime. I watched a few episodes. The science is utterly ludicrous, but aside from that, the shows held up decently. (I didn’t watch any of the second season because even as a kid I recalled those being bad.)

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  3. Steve Morris says:

    If you like old British sci-fi shows with spaceships made out of cardboard boxes, you might enjoy Blake’s 7. Think “1984” merged with “Robin Hood” and set in space. The first series is 40 years old this year. I’ve started rewatching the first episodes on Youtube and I’m finding them surprisingly involving. It’s all about the characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. J.S. Pailly says:

    It took me a few days before I had a chance to sit down and watch it. It’s been a real struggle avoiding spoilers.

    I absolutely loved Jodie Whittaker’s performance. There was one storytelling touch that I thought was particularly clever. It was sort of a “show don’t tell” thing. We spend almost the whole episode being shown that this is the Doctor, in the way that she talks and behaves, but she’s lost her memory so she can’t tell us who she is. So by the time she does get her memory back and is able to finally say “I’m the Doctor,” I don’t think anyone could doubt it anymore.

    Also, that cliffhanger… I am so incredibly eager for the next episode! I haven’t been this excited about Doctor Who since David Tennant left the show.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point about the storytelling technique. I remember thinking at multiple points in the episode, “Yep, I totally buy that this is the Doctor.” They gave Whittaker a chance to thoroughly sell it before making it explicit.

      Agreed on the cliffhanger, although I’m expecting the Tardis to be just behind the Doctor or something.

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