Doctor Who: Tender Adventure Restores Dependence in Series
Well, here we are: back for another season of Doctor Who. But this isn’t like the last time, or the time before that, or the one before that, when stepping into a season premier was the beginning of slowly feeding myself into a ten-week long meat shredder cranked by Steven Moffat himself. No, things are different now. And I’m excited.
Obviously, the thing that I’m most excited about is Jodie Whittaker. Not only do I think she’s a fucking tremendous actress with innumerable talent that easily matches any of her predecessors, but she’s also, you know, a she. I’m not ashamed to admit that when she was announced as the next Doctor, I had a little blub. Which might seem ridiculous (and is, objectively), but as I wrote earlier this year, Doctor Who is one of the shows that defined me as a person. And, as a human of the female persuasion, knowing that a character who has long-defined my lift as both a real-live person and as an indulgent in pop culture was going to be played by a woman just feels like a warm hug. I already love her. Is this biased? Of course it is. But these are my reviews and you’re going to be very dissapointed if you came here expecting a bland, emotionless deconstruction of each episode as it comes to pass. I love this show, in a profound, defining way, and that kind of attitude doesn’t lend itself well to considered removal.
But beyond just my emotional hurrah of finally having a woman helming the TARDIS, there are plenty of other reasons that I’m excited about this return as well. The most significant one? Because Steven Moffat is no longer the man behind this show. If you’ve been anywhere near my Doctor Who recaps before, you know that I have fostered a vendetta against Steven Moffat over the last three years that some might call unhealthy and I might call the most easily justified thing in my life right now. I’ve already written lots and lots and lots about what it was about Moffat’s run on the show that I found so offputting, so I’m not going to reiterate it all here because we’re trying to be positive for a change. But suffice to say, the fact that he is gone is thrilling to me. Chris Chibnall, the man who’s taken over as showrunner and also the person behind the stunning Broadchurch, is going to bring something so new to this season, and I am beyond ready for that. Will it actually be any good? That remains to be seen, but anything that shifts us away from the catastrophic state of the last few years of the show is something, at least.
And so, with that, let’s get to the first episode of season eleven, The Woman Who Fell to Earth. This is a hard reset for the series in a lot of ways – new Doctor, new showrunner, new assistants – and it’s been eight years since we had a reboot of the series of this nature, with Matt Smith and Steven Moffat’s arrival way back in season five. And, all credit to the man (though it pains me to say it), but The Eleventh Hour, the episode in question, is a great example of what an intro should be. The story is paper-thin and vastly secondary to laying the groundwork for the complex character arcs that we were going to see unfold over the next few years, and basically allowed for the viewers to relax into Matt Smith as the Doctor. Moffat would go on to give us a prime how-not-to with Peter Capaldi’s entrance in Deep Breath, but the point remains: these first episodes don’t have to deliver on extraordinary story, that’s for later. For now, all we need is to believe that this person can really be the Doctor.
And honestly? This episode delivers that. As I said above, I’m biased, but I honestly did love Jodie Whittaker from the very moment she crashed on-screen. Bright, witty, unapologetically and obnoxiously clever, she slipped with ease into the role in the way I had always hoped she would. There’s a scene early in the episode where she builds a new sonic screwdriver from scratch, and it feels like a mission statement – we’re starting over, fresh, same parts but a different configuration. And I’m so ready for that.
There’s a great warmth to this iteration of the Doctor, one that I felt had been greatly lacking in recent memory, and to see her bring a fierce compassion to the performance feels so important and necessary. I’m looking forward to seeing how they delve into this particular iteration of the character in the rest of the season, but for now, I buy it. I buy her. And that’s all that matters.
The story is little to speak of – an alien arrives on Earth intent on tracking down and obtain a human trophy to prove his worthiness to a cabal of superiors, and the Doctor and some new companions must stop it before it can wreak havoc on Sheffield. And speaking of the companions, I’m pretty impressed so far with what we’ve seen: our main three are Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), a young man raised by his grandmother after the death of his mother, Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill), an ambitious young city cop, and Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh), a cancer survivor married to Sinclair’s grandmother. With three companions, it’s hard to get a solid grasp on any one within just this hour of television, but the acting was solid enough and the new range of characters offers a different dynamic than we’ve seen in previous seasons, which I’m very much here for.
Add to that some handsome cinematography (wow, those expensive cameras are really coming in handy, huh?), music that finally moved away from Murray Gold’s agonisingly tittering score, and I was more than happy to overlook some of the lines that didn’t land or the slightly convoluted story. Yeah, this wasn’t perfect – and perhaps the flaws displayed here will be thrown into sharper focus as the season goes on – but I liked it.
Because I think what stood out to me more than anything else from this episode was its tenderness. One of my biggest problem’s with the Capaldi era was just how damn cold I found his version of the Doctor, to the point of callousness, which is something that I profoundly dislike as part of the character. This episode felt full of heart in a way the show hasn’t for a while. The episode closes out with the death of Ryan’s grandmother and Graham’s wife and the immediate aftermath of her loss on the characters, and I found that pretty damn bold – as though there was a mission statement here, a promise that small characters would matter again, that emotion would not be glossed over for a gag and a “well, you puny humans” line at the close of the episode. And that’s what I want. I want Doctor Who to be heartfelt and real – that’s what has kept me coming back to the show, those moments of humanity flickering amongst the alien.
I can’t judge this season off what came before, and I know that; just because I like it better doesn’t mean it’s objectively good. But for now, I will take a promise of something new, something that feels fresh and like a return to what I missed so much from the last few seasons, and run with it. Because we’ve got an awful lot of running to do.
Whew, so that’s us for the first week! What did you think of this episode? Do you like Jodie Whittaker and the new assistants? Let me know in the comments below, or hit me up on Twitter or Tumblr! If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to check out the rest of my Doctor Who recaps right here, and also check in with my other recapping projects – I’m currently covering the first Harry Potter book as well as the current season of American Horror Story. If you want to read some of my fiction, please check out the ALPHA FEMALE erotica series (eighteen-plus, obviously), available on Amazon now. As ever, if you want to see more stuff like this, please consider supporting me on Patreon!
(header image courtesy of Radio Times)