She arrived with a thud, a "What?" and we fell in love immediately.
The Doctor Who season premiere, "The Woman Who Fell to Earth," had all the hallmarks of a good regeneration episode: a great entrance, a solid introduction to our
companions friends, and a little backstory for whatever new viewers have joined along the way. But this one was special, not just for the obvious reasons, but because it felt like a true new beginning. No baggage, not even a TARDIS. It was a fresh start for a fresh Doctor.
“So today I wanna talk about the greatest woman I ever met.”
We’re introduced to 19-year-old Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) in a YouTube video speaking about an incredible woman, ostensibly the Doctor. Over the course of the episode we meet and fall in immense adoration with not only Ryan but his nan, Grace, and her husband Graham. We also learn Ryan has dyspraxia, a disorder that affects his coordination. The condition makes it very difficult for him to ride a bike, something that has clearly become a huge symbol in his life of mobility and ability. His frustration and rage are palpable, and he throws his bicycle over a hill. Because this is Doctor Who, it ends up in the exact location of serious danger (danger here meaning a big blue garlic bulb that appears when Ryan touches a weird light box).
Meanwhile, Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) is a young police officer stuck on the parking dispute beat who wants something a bit more challenging and interesting (oh girl, just you wait). She's sent to Ryan and the garlic and it turns out the two are old friends from childhood. When Grace and Graham's train is attacked by a a sentient headphone cord tangle (actually a series of gathering coils, weaponized biotech sent to gather information for some nefarious purpose), Yas and Ryan run to the scene, where they meet someone very special and important: timid Carl, who just wants to go to work and forget this happened. OK, fine, maybe he's the second most important person they meet.
“Half an hour ago, I was a white-haired Scotsman."
In the midst of backing away from the approaching tangle monster, a body falls out of the sky through the roof of the train. She pops up and that's when we meet our Doctor, Jodie Whittaker.
And so Ryan, Yas, Graham, Grace, and the Doctor set out to find out about this cord creature and what its relationship is to the big blue garlic. But when they look for it, the garlic is gone, taken by a man who seems at once scared, fascinated, and deeply in need of this thing, whatever it is. When it hatches, a metal-suited being emerges and kills the man who brought it to this location, demanding the being tell him what happened to his sister. It turns out this kind of strange phenomenon has happened before — and last time, the man's sister Asha was taken.
“There’s this moment when you’re sure you’re about to die. And then you’re born. It’s terrifying.”
Her pockets completely empty, the Doctor needs to forge her own new sonic out of spoons and blowtorches and a sledgehammer, and if you don't love her by now, you're clearly made of spoons yourself. Using the new sonic and Graham's bus driver whisper network, our heroes find Tzim-Sha, a stenza hunter on a chase for a human trophy. You can call him Tim Shaw. He hates it, it's great. The human trophy isn't his only prize, though — he has a proclivity for taking a very specific piece of those he kills.
Tim Shaw: Tooth Face.
The human trophy on this particular hunt? Carl, the other passenger from the train, who busies himself with audiobooks telling him how important and special he is. He's not, he's basically useless, but Tim Shaw: Tooth Face certainly wants him. Tim Shaw and the Doctor face off on a crane high above Sheffield, and after an episode foggy about her name and identity, thanks to the regeneration energy pulsing through her body, our Doctor at last knows exactly who she is.
Tim Shaw dispatched with, that just leaves the coil creature. Grace, who has approached every moment in this strange night with a sheer excited glee, handles it, saving the day, but dying in the process. She is the wonderful woman Ryan speaks of in the video from the opening moments of the episode. Ryan, Graham, and Yas attempt to help the Doctor get back to her TARDIS, and all four end up floating in space. A whole new world — millions of them — await these new friends. And we're just happy to join them for it.
“I carry them with me… Even though they’re gone from the world, they’re never gone from me.”
For a season that has gained much attention for the concept of companions as best friends rather than that other, more clinical term, this episode was really about family. Ryan, Graham and Grace, Asha and her brother, a loving granddad we see FaceTiming with his granddaughter before he meets his end at the hands of Tim Shaw, even useless Carl working for his dad's company, family is key. Family shapes us, inspires us, hurts us, and, if we're lucky enough, we would give everything for them and them for us. This Doctor knows that, in a less pained way than we've seen before. She's been through the wringer, and while she's assuredly not free of the aching baggage of her predecessors, there is a quiet peace, even contentment, with where she's been before.
“Right now I’m a stranger to myself. There’s echoes of who I was and a sort of call towards who I am. And I have to hold my nerve and trust all these new instincts, shape myself towards them. I’ll be fine, in the end. Hopefully. Well, I have to be.”
From the moment she falls into our lives, Jodie Whittaker's Doctor is a wholly unique iteration of the character. She has this incredible joy and curiosity, and confidence in her abilities even though she's not sure who she is. There’s a Mary Poppins quality here, a matter-of-factness mixed with an un-twee whimsy. And she is inherently, excellently female. When she says, "I'll be fine, in the end... Well, I have to be," that is a deeply female experience. When there is no choice but to be fine, because you are needed. And this Doctor knows that, and she is not bitter. It's just what it means to be the Doctor, this Doctor.
Doctor, it's wonderful to meet you. We're happy to be your new best friends.