A review of ‘Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth’

Jodie Whittaker’s performance saves a script that is, unfortunately, a little bit all over the place.

So here we are again, first time since 2010. Not just a new Doctor, but a whole new TARDIS crew, with Chris Chibnall heading a new group of writers, and a whole new look and feel. It is an exciting time to jump into the show if you haven’t already. Hopefully avoiding spoilers along the way: let’s take a look!

Thankfully the highlight of the episode is Jodie Whittaker’s performance as the 13th Doctor. She encompasses everything the Doctor should be and is clearly having a blast doing so. It’s infectious, her performance alone make you want to get carried away on all these fantastical adventures. She can so seamlessly go from the Doctor who is trying to help people in danger, to the Doctor who sticks her finger up her nose to figure out how long she’s got before she passes out… trust me, it makes sense.

Same goes for the rest of the cast performance-wise: Tosin Cole and Mandip Gil are both solid as Ryan and Yasmin respectively, and Bradley Walsh certainly has moments where he shines as Graham especially with a surprisingly emotional performance at the end. One aspect I definitely appreciate is the slow burn the story starts out on, with Chris Chibnall letting us get to properly spend time with the companions before throwing them into the adventure at hand. We nearly get ten minutes into the story before Doctor Who even lands into the proceedings!

Visually as well, this episode is a treat. Whilst evidently made on a smaller budget compared with what’s to come, the production values are top notch. In a sentence I never thought I’d type, but Sheffield does really come to life on screen. The design of this week’s big bad is also very well done, if a touch generic at first.

In terms of setting up the show, there’s a lot done right here as well. Hints of how Whittaker’s Doctor will interact with new people, making friends on the fly. Even little things, like the strange comradery formed between Ryan, Graham and Yasmin, and how that has so much potential to grow over time.

Sadly, potential can only go so far before you have to look at what’s in front of you. And what’s there, isn’t that great.

Let me clarify, I’m only really talking about the script. And I can’t overstate how I did genuinely have fun with the episode, the performances, the look of it all! But every time the problems with the script keep sticking in the back of my mind, and the more I think about it, the more problems there are.

Straight up, there’s no real pace to the story. I may have appreciated the slow start, but it never finds it feet. Instead of building to finale, it feels like its potters about from place to place. The final showdown is appreciably small in scale, but it does just sort of… happen.

It’s difficult to pin it down to a single problem, because there are a lot of nice scenes. I really enjoyed it when they took a few minutes to just have the Doctor make a new sonic screwdriver. There’s just a lot of fluff caught between the really good bits.

It’s a similar issue with the companion characters: out of the three, Ryan gets the most focus along with Graham, but Yasmin is just sort of there. I don’t doubt in later episodes they’ll switch up which companion character get focused on alongside the Doctor. But for an introduction, there’s a fair bit lacking. Especially as Yasmin’s story starts with a really interesting angle that doesn’t end up going anywhere.

Someone of the strongest writing in the new series so far has come from the close relationship the Doctor forms with their companion. And I can’t help but feel that having to juggle between three of them may end up detrimental to that.

There is a clear attempt to please everyone. And that’s probably the best way to describe The Woman Who Fell to Earth, it tries to have something for everyone. But ends up lacking focus as a result.

Here’s what bugs me the most, Whittaker does not get her hero moment as the Doctor. Sure, her introduction into the story is accompanied with the main theme, and that does make for a cool moment, it’s just over before it can get going. And yes, she does have her own “I’m the Doctor” line in the finale. But it doesn’t feel like an event, there’s no music building to an iconic theme, no epic hero shots of Whittaker. It’s shot and edited just like the rest of the episode. There’s no singular iconic moment that defines her Doctor. And it does bum me out. Especially since I feel like she deserves a moment like that.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just being old and boring. But looking back at the last two times the new series of Doctor Who started from scratch, with 2005’s Rose and 2010’s The Eleventh Hour. With those two, the real stars of those stories weren’t necessarily the actors (though they were great as well), but the writers. Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat hit the ground running, with an energy that could set the ground on fire behind them. Both the aforementioned stories are supremely tightly written bits of television, that make use of every single moment available to them. And I can’t help but feel Chris Chibnall meandering a bit, not necessarily taking his time, but wasting it.

Something about The Woman Who Fell to Earth feels incomplete, and I don’t think I can say what it is. Hopefully, whatever’s missing can be found in the next episode. In fairness, the epilogue is arguably the strongest part of the story writing-wise, ending on a really nifty cliff-hanger. (not seen below)

I guess we’ll have to wait until next week to see how the show settles into its weekly run. But if next week’s The Ghost Monument does retroactively fix some of the issues I had with The Woman Who Fell to Earth, then maybe it should have aired with it. Imagine that, a two-part Doctor Who spectacular. Seeing as the title sequence didn’t appear at all in The Woman Who Fell to Earth, maybe it could have been the bridge to link the two episodes together. In end though, it is just wishful thinking.

Oh yes, I couldn’t fit this anywhere else in the review, but the new version of the theme music used in the end credits was pretty cool.

The Woman Who Fell to Earth is fun but flawed. Its script may be a mixed bag. However, I still maintain my optimism for the rest of the series, and certainly hope it’s able to find its feet and start running. The way the Doctor should.