Was there ever any doubt? Jodie Whittaker fell from the sky onto a broken down train and popped right into action. From that very first scene all the way through to the end of the season 11 premiere of Doctor Who, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” Whittaker shines as the 13th Doctor. The episode itself could do with a little work, but this moment belongs to Whittaker through and through.
There’s a lot going on here, though. Even before The Doctor makes it to Earth, Ryan (Tosin Cole) has come across a large onion-looking space pod thing as he’s retrieving his bike from a tree, which he threw over a cliff in frustration about not being able to ride it. He’s got a coordination problem and so never learned how to ride. His mother, Grace (Sharon D. Clark), and his step dad, Graham (Bradley Walsh), try to keep his spirits up, but ultimately decide to catch the last train back home while Ryan stews in misery.
Yasmin (Mandip Gill) is tired of handling simple parking disputes. Her captain tells her he’s got something weird. It’s the large onion-looking space pod thing. Ryan and Yasmin know each other from back in the day. They seem to be friendly acquaintances, so they decide to handle the investigation into the large onion-looking space pod thing together. But first, a bright object falls from the sky. Ryan and Yasmin come across the broken down train with Grace and Graham on board. Then, enter The Doctor.
For a first case, nothing is all that fantastical. Most of the action takes place at night, so it’s all rather dark in tone compared to some of the brilliant imagery of space Doctor Who has been known to show before. The Doctor has four people tagging along with her, and for most of it, they don’t do much besides question her about who she is. This isn’t a deal-breaker, though. Establishing everyone was always going to be tricky since it’s a whole new cast of characters this time around. While Ryan does get more of the heavy emotional stuff, especially regarding his mother, Graham gets some great emotional beats as well. He’s a cancer survivor who claims he’s living on borrowed time. Perfect then that he’s just met a time traveling alien. Yasmin, or Yaz as she likes to be called, doesn’t get much beyond that initial frustration with her police captain, but it’s early days.
The larger story regarding a double alien invasion is interesting at times, but doesn’t feel like it’ll have a lasting impact. Tim Shaw, the alien that breaks free from the large onion-looking space pod thing, is a great menacing presence. His story of landing on Earth to participate in some sort of Hunger Games-style hunting game isn’t as interesting.
As with most Doctor transformations, the regeneration process takes a bit to finalize, so the Doctor is usually suffering from some form of amnesia and/or weariness as a result. When the Doctor lands on the train, she doesn’t remember who she is (“Are you a doctor? Shame. I’m looking for a doctor.”) or that she’s a woman (“Why are you calling me madame?” “Because you’re a woman?” “Am I? Does it suit me?”). She’s lost her sonic screwdriver and the TARDIS has apparently materialized into dust. Even though she’s missing all these things, she’s still the Doctor, and every moment of her onscreen is a treasure.
Eventually, she builds a new sonic screwdriver for herself. She finds new clothes. She locates the TARDIS and designs a contraption that will allow her to teleport there. The episode ends when the Doctor not only transports herself but Ryan, Graham, and Yaz as well, right into space. So while this first adventure for Ryan, Graham, and Yaz is lacking in the fun sci-fi adventure department, the dynamics of the characters work well so far, and the Doctor herself is already on her way to joining the ranks of fantastic Doctors.