I am not a TV critic. I know nothing about how good television shows are made, or how to write scripts, or how to act. I didn't take GCSE Media Studies. This is not my forte.
I am, however, a long-standing fan of Doctor Who. I've been watching it since my parents convinced me it would be a good idea to tune in for "Rose" when I was eight years old. It immediately captured my imagination and I became obsessed with it pretty quickly. By the sixth episode, Doctor Who had sewn the seeds to become my all time-favourite TV show.
Ten seasons and thirteen years later, I'm sat on my sofa with Flick. I'd convinced her it would be a good idea to tune in for "The Woman Who Fell To Earth" (albeit through BBC iPlayer, 24 hours late). How fucking wrong I was.
Why am I so angry, you may be wondering. Or maybe not - maybe you can't tell just how angry I am yet. That's fine, it was only one swear word, although it was in italics.
There are a few reasons why I'm so angry right now. The first is because after years of steady decline in quality, I had hoped so very hard that this season was going to be the rebirth that Doctor Who needed. Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed watching this whole time (with the exception of season 5 where I went through a much-unwarranted "How could anyone be a better Doctor than David Tennant?" phase, and season 7B, which was just a heap of shit), but the decline has been apparent and well documented. The show's been needing a change of direction for a while now - to deny this is to love blindly.
The second reason is because I've been trying my best to fend off neck-bearded middle-aged men for the past year who can't cope with the idea of the Doctor being a woman. Perhaps you assumed from my tone going into this that I was one of these people (besides the middle-aged part). I am not. Since the announcement that the thirteenth doctor would be played by Jodie Whittaker, I've been excited. I was suspicious of the motivations behind the decision, I'll admit, but I was excited. A female Doctor would have a really interesting impact on the show's dynamics, and Jodie Whittaker was excellent in Broadchurch and Black Mirror, so who better to play a female Doctor than her? By the time "The Woman Who Fell To Earth" aired I couldn't wait for her to prove all the close-minded man-children wrong.
These two initial reasons are actually just multipliers for the anger that the episode itself would go on to cause me. Needless to say, there are SPOILERS ahead.
The opening to the episode and indeed the new season was pretty bold. I can't say I was overly invested in the characters but I was intrigued as to where the Doctor was going to be introduced to the story, seeing as she didn't appear until almost the ten-minute mark.
Instead we follow a fully-grown human male named Ryan as he attempts to learn to ride his bike (on top of a mountain, on grass - not the ideal surface for beginners it must be said) and promptly has a temper tantrum which involves him throwing his bike off what is, for all intents and purposes, a cliff. After a meek telling-off from none other than Bradley Walsh, he embarks to recover the bike.
He finds the bike suspended in a tree (I'll come back to this later), and just that second, some sort of alien artefact appears. He then decides the best thing to do is touch it, à la Rose in "Dalek". Already I'm starting to find this guy pretty irritating, though I'm still being carried by hope and mystery at this point so I haven't noticed yet.
Cut to a scene on a train, where Ryan's grandmother Grace and her husband (Bradley Walsh) are travelling home. Something slams into the front of the train, bringing it to a halt. Everyone bar Grace, Bradley Walsh and an apparently unimportant bystander pegs it away from the train as quickly as possible. Our trio then somehow find themselves trapped on the train, presumably amidst some serious health and safety violations by the train operator.
When the Obscurus from "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" appeared I was pretty impressed. I even turned to Flick and made a comment about obvious budgetary increases. The special effects were pretty good, and there was real suspense as it slowly made its way along the carriage towards our new friends.
The suspense was then killed with a bit of a thud, when the Doctor (who, bear in mind, has just fallen 5-10 thousand feet) crashes through the roof of the carriage between them. She immediately gets up, completely fine, and somehow momentarily disables the alien-thing without even knowing what it is.
A few minutes of moderately woody dialogue later and Ryan and his police-friend Yasmin appear in the carriage, despite it having been stated several times previously that the carriage was locked. When asked how they got in, they gloss over it by saying the driver's window was smashed in. However they don't explain how they managed to climb through a 7-foot high window full of broken glass without remotely damaging or messing up their clothes, or even mention the fact that the driver is in fact dead.
[Side Note: You'll notice that I'm somehow managing to both nit-pick and skip over large plot points. If I describe the whole episode in story-telling detail this post will be unreadable, so I'm only focussing on noteworthy details.]
The story drags along from there. There was a moment where I thought Doctor Who was finally going to buck the trend of every bystander becoming a willing adventure participant, when Karl said he doesn't want answers to what happened to the train and wandered off into the night. I couldn't even be granted this, though, as it's eventually revealed that Karl is being hunted down by the episode's antagonist (either "Space Bane" or "The Tooth Fairy", depending on whether or not he's currently wearing his battle mask) so is actually completely integral to the plot.
So Many Questions...
In fact, I'm stopping the blow-by-blow account there, there's just too much to write about. Instead I'll use bullet points that'll likely only make sense if you've seen the episode (which I'm assuming you have if you're reading this):
- How did Rahul find out about the transport pod that was way out in the sticks, travel there and load it into his van in the brief period of time that Ryan and Yasmin weren't there?
- Why is there such an unrealistically tiny reaction from Ryan and his grandmother when the Doctor starts glowing and releasing regeneration energy on their sofa?
- How does the Doctor know that the little purple flashing lights are DNA bombs when five seconds earlier she didn't know the difference between hearing and feeling? Does she have post-regeneration amnesia or not?
- Also, DNA bombs?! "Micro-implants" that "melt your DNA"? DNA is a fucking liquid, and even if it could be melted (it can't), the death certainly wouldn't be "very quick" like the Doctor suggests.
- How did the Doctor completely rewrite the software on Ryan's phone in 10 seconds flat so that it could "track the origin signal for the DNA bombs" (thanks for that not-at-all clunky exposition, Ryan) with no sonic screwdriver?
- So, sonic screwdrivers (or "Swiss Army Sonics" as we're now supposed to be calling them, apparently) can be built from scratch exclusively from supplies and tools found in a mechanic's garage? I can't wait for the YouTube tutorial.
- How dare Space Bane stomp on a perfectly good kebab, especially after all the salad had been lovingly removed?
- "Total transference"? Piss off.
- Why does the Doctor endanger Ryan and Yasmin by making them climb a crane despite the fact that she has no plan at this point? Even when she does formulate a plan, she could have easily (and perhaps more successfully) executed it on her own, allowing Ryan and Yasmin to get to safety or help Grace and Bradley Walsh.
- How could Grace possibly be enjoying this misadventure while her grandson and potentially her husband are in mortal danger, and an innocent man is on the cusp of being murdered by an alien?
- How the heck, after being thrown off a cliff, landing in a tree and then being recovered from said tree, is Ryan's bike in any fit state to ride? We know it's the same bike and that it hasn't been repaired, because we're specifically shown Ryan brushing the moss and foliage off of the pedals. That bike should at the very least have a buckled wheel.
Wow. I knew I had quite a few points to make but I didn't realise there were that many. I've even cut a few, out of fear of looking like just too much of an asshole. Hello, if you're still with us!
Usually a season opener of Doctor Who fills me with excitement about what's to come. We usually spend the episode either bonding with a new companion or getting to know the Doctor's new personality, or sometimes both.
This wasn't the case for "The Woman Who Fell To Earth". We find out nothing about Thirteen or Yasmin, and certainly don't bond with Ryan (whose only notable characteristics are a disability, a lack of adjustment to said disability and a recently deceased grandmother) or Bradley Walsh (who's short-tempered and apparently resents Ryan's dyspraxia). The only character I bonded with and actually liked was Ryan's grandmother, Grace, and she dies. We're then told Bradley Walsh has cancer, so although he is in remission, that will undoubtably reappear as a plot point sometime in the near future. Also, if basic science is anything to go by, the Doctor and her new (notably accidental) companions are now dead, seeing as they've been teleported deep into the vacuum of space.
That doesn't inspire wonder and excitement. That's fucking bleak.
And then top everything else off we're rewarded with sixth whole seconds of name-dropping, of actors that I couldn't give the faintest shit about, against a backdrop of close-up facial shots with zero context or hints about the forthcoming adventures. In just one season the BBC seems to have swung from self-sabotaging their finales by releasing major spoilers months in advance (see John Simm and Mondasian Cybermen), to giving away absolutely nothing about what lies ahead. This concerns me greatly.
I'm bitterly disappointed. What should have been an episode that got me excited for a new season of Doctor Who had me actually holding my head in my hands through the end credits. I had such high hopes, and they were dashed by Chris Chibnall's clumsy writing and lazy character building. We've left the over-complication and occasional inconsistencies of the Moffat era and plunged straight into the plain uninspired drivel of the new.
Flick was angry too. She told me she won't be watching any more of this season with me. My recommendation to tune in was a bad one. I will reserve my judgment of the Thirteenth Doctor herself until I've had chance to see her in an episode free from Chibnall's ink - afterall I know from prior experience that Whittaker is an excellent actress so I'm placing blame firmly on the writing - but I'm not holding my breath.
I guess I'll just have to wait and see.
You may be thinking that I've been unnecessarily harsh on Chris Chibnall in this blog post. That may be true, afterall I am writing in a state of anger. However if you'd like to find out more about Chibnall's past contributions to Doctor Who, which include gems such as "42" and "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship", NitPix uploaded an informative and hilarious video (albeit with a potentially inflammatory title) all about it. Here's the link - enjoy.