Ushering in a new era of Doctor Who bears certain hallmarks for both seasoned and new viewers. For people who haven’t watched the show before, regeneration episodes serve as the perfect time to jump in and get a quick overview of who the Doctor is: a time traveling alien who finds ways to promote harmony and understanding between different alien races while protecting Earth (who the Doctor has a soft spot for). It’s also a platform to introduce the new companions the Doctor will travel with throughout their era.
For old-school fans, this fresh-start approach is strikingly familiar. They’ve been here before, watching a new person inhabit the last Doctor’s headspace and clothes, wondering how long it will take for the new incarnation to click and become their own unique version of the Doctor, as well as seeing the new team of companions take shape.
“The Woman Who Fell to Earth” comes together quickly—and trusts the audience to accept circumstances quickly just like the new companions do. The moment Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor crashes through the ceiling of a derailed train car only to get up, brush off the dust and start asking questions to the lot of friends who have met in a roundabout way, she is the Doctor. She just can’t remember it yet.
“Half an hour ago, I was a white-haired Scotsman,” she remarks. No one questions her, but would you if you’d just seen another alien life-form of electric coils levitating about? Definitely not. The new Team Tardis now includes Ryan, his schoolmate turned policewoman Yaz, Ryan’s nan Grace, and her partner Graham. They follow their new nameless friend into the night, gathering clues as to why two alien races would be using Sheffield as a battleground—and with the Doctor’s direction, they work together to ensure that no one else gets hurt. The only person who wants no part in it is Karl, a crane operator, who hurries off to work, trying to shake off what he’s seen.
Jodie Whittaker is absolutely electric—as she asks questions or makes asides to her new companions, you can see the wheels turning. Even when she’s confused, she still makes their quest clear and gives each person a task based on their natural strengths, while also finding ways to help them grow.
The companion feels dynamic and fresh, too, but also very classic, harkening back to the days when the Fourth and Fifth Doctors traveled with a full entourage of people from all walks of life with their own dreams and struggles. Yaz is a frustrated police officer, stuck on a boring patrol beat. Ryan is struggling with issues related to dyspraxia, a coordination disorder. Later in the episode, Graham reveals he’s a cancer survivor and that Grace was his chemo nurse and they fell in love. Compared to past Tardis teams of one or two sole companions, it could feel overcrowded but somehow this mix of people feels right and real. And unlike Russell T. Davies’ and Steven Moffat’s respective eras, there’s no great mystery surrounding the companions—they’re just ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances and using their wits to get by.
The Doctor hasn’t lost her wits either. When her tattered pockets come up empty, she improvises and makes her own sonic screwdriver from a bunch of melted down spoons.
“More of a sonic Swiss army knife, only without the knife,” she explains to her new self-proclaimed fam. “Only idiots carry knives.”
Later on, when she’s facing down Tzim-Sha, a blue, heavily armored alien who plants the teeth of his conquests in his face and neck, she remarks on how he doesn’t have to be this way. Tzim-Sha balks at her as they spar atop a large crane where Karl, the crane operator, has become the focus of his murderous aims. But that’s the Doctor. She believes that he—an alien clinging to the old ways of the hunt—could change and be better for it, all while echoing her own journey.
“We’re all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve, whilst still staying true to who we are,” she says. “We can honor who we’ve been, and choose who we want to be next—now’s your chance. How about it?”
If Capaldi’s last story arc was about letting go of what once was, Whittaker’s fresh arc is about embracing what is, even if it doesn’t all make sense right away.
“It’s a work in progress,” she tells her companions about her plan. “But so is life. It’ll be fine.”
And for the most part, it is, with the exception of Grace sacrificing herself to stop the orb of coils while the Doctor was forcefully encouraging Tzim-Sha to return home. It nearly worked, save for Karl pushing him off the crane, an action the Doctor condemned, even though Tzim-Sha was threatening to take him and keep his rotting body in stasis. It’s a natural reaction for someone in peril wanting to strike out—but as the Doctor states, it’s her job to sort out fair play across the stars. For 13, that means dismantling the DNA bombs that were placed in their collarbones earlier and transferring them to Tzim-Sha to make a point.
The episode ends with Grace’s funeral and the newfound Tardis team gathering around the Doctor, asking about her loved ones. Whereas the 12th Doctor likened all his companions to fallen soldiers on a battlefield in “Twice Upon a Time,” 13 instead looks inward.
“I carry them with me,” she muses. “What they would have thought and said and done. I make them a part of who I am. So, even though they’re gone from the world, they’re never gone from me.”
It’s so great to have the Doctor back, tattered velvet traded for charity shop trousers and raincoat. There are still surprises to be had, as well, as this episode only teased at the iconic theme song and we’ve yet to see the Tardis, although the episode ends with 13 and her crew floating in space at its supposed location. Let’s get a shift on!