by Julian Spivey
The question on seemingly most Whovian minds as we embarked on the debut of The Thirteenth Doctor, portrayed by Jodie Whittaker as the first female to play the over 50-year old role, was how would a female Doctor do?
The more important question that was on my mind was how would Chris Chibnall do as the newest showrunner of “Doctor Who”?
The answer is that both passed with flying colors, at least upon first impression.
The season premiere of “Doctor Who” was the most excited and anticipated for me as a fan since I began watching the series in the midway point of Matt Smith’s tenure as The Doctor. I was really looking forward to seeing what the show might do with an actor of the opposite sex in the title role, even though The Doctor as a Time Lord is not a being with a specific gender identity. I was even more so looking forward to what a new showrunner could do to rejuvenate a series that had started to see somewhat of stagnation under previous showrunner and head writer Steven Moffat.
The return of “Doctor Who” gives us a chance to get to know our new companions before we meet The Doctor’s newest body, and that’s probably a good decision on Chibnall’s part. I already found myself liking these new characters – Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), a young twentysomething warehouse worker who once seemed to be a big deal in school, his grandmother Grace (Sharon D. Clarke), his step grandfather Graham (Bradley Walsh) and a new to the force police officer Yasmin (Mandip Gill). One of these companions would not make it through the season premiere, but then again if you paid any attention to the casting of the show you knew that going in. The thing about the new companions I most look forward to (other than their chemistry with Whittaker’s Doctor) is the relationship between Graham and Ryan. One thing the show desperately needs to do quickly is give Yasmin more of a reason to exist in the show’s universe. She was the one character not well-built to start the new season. The Doctor, Ryan, Grace and Graham were all fully developed – something I imagine isn’t easy for a new showrunner, especially given one of the characters has such a long tradition, which fans can be picky with.
Whittaker’s debut was certainly entertaining with her crashing from the sky through a train besieged by an alien potentially endangering our newest companions. It really didn’t take long at all for Whittaker to work her magic as the new Doctor – thanks to a terrific opening performance and good and fresh writing by Chibnall. I think it helps immensely that Chibnall and Whittaker had a lot of experience working together for three seasons on the terrific British drama “Broadchurch.”
Many of the things that we love about a Doctor’s first episode are all in “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” – The Doctor getting used to a new body, new personality, new companions. It’s almost like an adult going back into a toddler state and having to learn on the fly, while also saving the world from aliens.
Our premiere debuts a new alien, that feels like it’ll probably be a one-off, in Tzim-Sha – a bounty hunter of sorts trying to drag a chosen human back to his home planet in an effort to become its new leader. It wasn’t a weak alien by any means, but also not all that notable – the most interesting aspect is he takes a tooth from his victims and wears them as trophies upon his face (which makes for an ugly and unique look). It’s also not high on a list of important things to give us an all-time classic new villain on the premiere. Chibnall focused more on developing his new Doctor and forming relationships with most of the new companions, which is the most important part.
The Thirteenth Doctor does get an epic moment (though not the most epic moment for a first Doctor, which I believe will always be Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor) toward the end of the episode when she finally realizes who she is (should I be referring to The Doctor as gender pronouns, like I always have?) and defeats Tzim-Sha.
Whittaker hopefully put any fears of The Doctor now being portrayed by a woman to rest with her debut. It was pretty much all you could’ve asked for from her. As she continues to develop her personality and her chemistry with the new companions it’s only bound to get better too.
Chibnall is off to a fine start as showrunner (I wouldn’t mind seeing the credits and theme return to the show though), but his work as showrunner is something we really will have to get a feel for over the entire season. It’s a season I’m truly looking forward to after a quality start.