Here’s what happens when a Doctor Who virgin tunes in to the new season premiere.
Ah Doctor Who, my own personal black-hole fandom. Many have tried to lure me into the literally endless depths of this ageless BBC adventureama, and just as many have failed. The problem hasn’t been doubt that Doctor Who is fun and funny, powerful and intense — some of my best friends and a majority of my family are Whovian super-fans, so I never questioned the show’s general appeal.
What I did question was Doctor Who‘s appeal for me. I lean strongly toward fantasy over science fiction, and I tend to be suspicious of high-concept shows that can’t always deliver on budget. More importantly, I connect very strongly to characters, and the idea of a rotating cast whose adventures were periodically erased was, frankly, a serious turn-off.
But Doctor Who has always been there, lurking in the background of my nerdy senses. Writing for Hypable and existing as a geek on the internet has blended the show’s language into my vocabulary, and given me an appreciation for David Tennent that I still don’t really understand. In a way, it felt like Doctor Who was waiting for me to climb onboard that TARDIS and join in the inevitable adventure… but really, I think it was me who was waiting for Doctor Who.
I was waiting for Doctor Who to get with the times. I was waiting for Doctor Who to decide that a randomly-regenerating alien didn’t always have to be a white dude. I was waiting for a change, and eventually, Doctor Who delivered.
When Jodie Whittaker was cast as the Doctor, I knew my wait was over. If there was ever a time for this feminist fangirl to take the plunge into Doctor Who‘s depthless waters, it was now.
So, without any research, without catching up, without watching anything except the prior’s season’s regeneration scene, I finally tuned in to Doctor Who 11×01, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.”
Here’s what I thought.
Jodie Whittaker is delightful
Look, it’s been said already by hundreds of critics and even more fans, but I have to join the chorus. Jodie Whitaker is amazing in this role. Whoever or whatever the Doctor is “supposed” to be like, I can’t imagine anything more fitting. Whittaker is effervescent, glowing with energy and joy even when the CGI is not literally making her glow.
It’s unambiguously glorious to watch her adopt this role, even without an intimate knowledge of prior Doctors. This Doctor is kind and brave, clever and funny, and she clearly has the heart (hearts?) of a hero. I am deeply intrigued to watch as Whittaker further develops her Doctor, and follow her journey (which, given the little I know, will probably not be easy) as she navigates her brilliance and hope through whatever challenges wait ahead.
If these are ‘companions,’ I like them
As mentioned above, I’m familiar with a couple of Doctor Who‘s most prominent concepts — among them, the idea of quirky friends who tag along on the Doctor’s adventures. I’m given to understand that these friends are usually of the lady-persuasion, so it’s interesting that this time around, the creative team has diversified the crew considerably.
Overall, the Doctor’s new companions definitely appeal, though in varying degrees. I particularly like Yasmin, as I’m interested to see how this clearly ambitious young woman copes with being swept away from her career to travel through time and space. Plus, potential female friendships are something I am very much here for.
Ryan is also very appealing, though I hope that his struggle with dyspraxia will gain more depth than “Ryan tries to do something and falls down.” That kind of thing is fine in the premiere, but I want to see how Ryan’s challenges effect his daily life and attitude. Clearly, he’s the underachiever (though probably not by intent) to Yasmin’s rising star, and I think that contrast between the two former classmates will hide some intriguing depths.
And then there’s (hang on, let me check Wikipedia) Graham, or “Not-Grandad.” He’s easily the least exciting of the Doctor’s group, but I’ll admit that pulling in an old white fellow to be a companion is an interesting twist. I also get the sense that Doctor Who knows that Graham is rather dull, so hopefully they can use that to their advantage.
I will also say that I’m very disappointed that Ryan’s nan Grace became a casualty rather than a companion. Grace was just as dynamic and bright as the Doctor, and I really wish that she could have stuck around. Who knows, maybe they’ll change time or something — until then, #JusticeForNan.
This is really funny…
I’m not entirely sure why, but I somehow expected “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” to be much darker in tone than it turned out to be. While it wasn’t all fun and games (see below), instead of prevailing grimness, I found an episode full of clever quips, running gags, and straight-up, in-your-face jokes.
From the expressions on the soon-to-be companions faces when the Doctor spoke frankly about being an alien, to Grace’s sly banter, to Kyle’s hilarious affirmations, I frequently found myself laughing out loud. And while I’m a permanent sop for some grim storytelling, my first journey out with Who was a glorious relief from the darkness.
…and also grislier than I expected
That’s not to say that there weren’t a few moments that left me wrinkling my nose. The guy with the teeth studded all over his skin was just awful to see, and the episode’s multiple deaths are nothing to sneeze at (seriously #JusticeForNan!) The doomed young man who only wanted to save his sister from alien clutches was a particularly tragic thread running through the story, and the sister’s fate left me hoping, against my own better judgement, that we haven’t seen the last of Tooth-Face.
The Doctor Who season 11 premiere does suffer from one major flaw in my view, that being the plot of “The Woman Who Fell To Earth.”
The episode’s technical storyline is jumpy and disconnected, with stakes that somehow never feel terribly urgent. The biggest threat, those implanted genetic bombs, never comes close to going off and is diffused without a hint as to how or when that awful danger is dispatched. Charmed though I was by the cast and the dialogue, my attention definitely started to drift when it came to the details of what was happening to who, and why.
Of course, this premiere is, for all intents and purposes, a pilot episode; a brand new series. (Certainly, it is for me.) Pilots rarely manage to deliver the goods on story, needing to expend their energy on establishing characters and concepts. So I’m not awfully concerned about the mediocre plot of the Doctor Who premiere at this point… but I will keep a closer eye on how neatly each episode unfolds through the rest of the season.
Dang, I guess I gotta keep watching
Yeah, this Doctor Who virgin is going to watch the rest of the season — at least that’s the plan right now. The new premiere was charming and fun, and to be honest, I just need to bask in the sunlight that is Jodie Whittaker for a while.
Plus, while I’ve experienced more stressful cliffhangers in my time as a television watcher, those last few moments were certainly a surprise. I don’t really think that Ryan, Yasmin, and Graham will choke to death in space while the Doctor floats ecstatically around them… but I’m going to tune in to make sure, just in case.