So here’s the thing.
I’ve committed to writing recaps for this new whiz bang woman-y Doctor Who series, and my natural inclination seems to be distancing myself from the fandom of it in favour of throwing down pithy bon mots at the expense of sci-fi nerds everywhere.
But Doctor Who is so…. earnest. It’s all about the better angels of our nature (unless they’re statues of course). Taking the piss out of Doctor Who feels like kicking a particularly sad-eyed puppy in front of a starving orphaned child.
As Socrates himself once said, “When the debate is over, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” And I don’t want to be a tool or a loser.
Just because I try to be chill and accepting when people tell me they don’t like Game of Thrones, doesn’t mean I need to write like some sort of asshole about someone else’s fandom, even if it has absolutely no #junkmound (particularly not with Jodie Whittaker in the role).
So here I am, a Game of Thrones girl, standing in front of a Doctor Who world, asking them to love me. Or at least to not kick me out of the TARDIS mid-wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey.
I’ve always enjoyed Doctor Who, but I’ve never been rabid about it. But hey, Doctor Who is nothing if not about change. And given the main theme of the Doctor herself this episode was not knowing who she was yet, maybe over the next ten episodes I’ll find out more about me too.
S11, E1: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
I’ve been a regular consumer of Doctor Who since it regenerated in 2005, but I will admit to losing track of characters and storylines somewhere in the Late Matt Smith Era into the Peter Capaldi-poch. Although I enjoyed the performances, it just didn’t seem to have the same event nature that it did during the Eccleston/Tennant days.
Clearly the brand new creative team (including new composer; so long Murray “Bad Wolf” Gold) seized on the opportunity to bring the event back. Of course, there was the long-awaited female Doctor, plus a whole new cast of companions and a villain that managed to pay tribute not only to the masked monsters of yore, but the shark from Jaws, and weirdly enough, Australian infomercials of the 1990s.
Most of all there was a different look and sound to the episode. First, it didn’t start in London, making it probably the biggest international onscreen exposure Sheffield’s had since The Full Monty. The music was minimalist and coupled with the drizzly set gave an impression more of a British cop procedural than an adventure story.
There wasn’t even the traditional ooo-WHEEE-oooooo titles sequence, just a cold open of Ryan vlogging about “the best woman I ever met”, before cutting to the Peak District to watch him attempting to overcome his dyspraxia and ride a bike.
His Nan Grace, and her new-ish husband Graham, are there to support him, despite Ryan’s natural suspicion towards the straight, white, old man, and look, that’s only common sense these days.
Fortunately both Grace and Graham turn out to be a bloody lovely couple who I personally wouldn’t mind adopting as cherished relatives of my own. He’s the skeptical, safety-conscious sensitive worrier; she’s the warm, inquisitive and ballsy type who pushes her grandson not to let his fears overcome him.
When Ryan throws his bike over a cliff in frustration (a bloody big throw too for someone with co-ordination troubles), Grace tells him to retrieve it and meet them to get the train home. While probing the undergrowth for his Pashley, he is surprised to see some golden shapes appear in front of him, as well as a very tempting flashy gold button.
Who wouldn’t push the mysterious flashing gold button? As the Doctor later states in an egregious error of grammar: “I would of”.
This action heralds the arrival of a weird spinning-top shaped pod thingy, very cold to the touch, that sits in the forest like a lost set piece from The Magic Faraway Tree.
Ryan calls the police and the young recruit sent out to investigate turns out to be Yasmin Khan, an old primary school classmate who just moments earlier was seen wanting more than just the boring life of a beat cop. After getting reacquainted, Yas insists Ryan remove what surely must be a prank prop. But Ryan insists it’s genuine, and the pair puzzle over what the blue-green-purple mushroomy thingy might be.
They’re called away when Grace phones from their homebound train, which has screeched to a unplanned stop, prompting most of its occupants to flee screaming into the night. Grace, being sensible type, thinks running past potentially live electrical wiring is a stupid idea - but also the carriages are locked so they can’t get out.
When a giant ball of writhing, sparking tentacle-y cables bursts into the carriage, the pair cower in the corner along with another Random Passenger named Karl. Just as it moves to attack - BANG! The new Doctor plummets through the roof of the train and into our lives forever.
It’s a great entrance, accompanied by the only real nod to classic Who theme music in the whole show. It’s the first time really since Rose, the premiere episode of the rebooted series, in which the companions are shown first before The Doctor literally shatters everything (back then, a department store; here, a ceiling, hur hur).
Doctor 13 is still in a regenerative fugue, not knowing her name, her new sex or what a tongue is - and she doesn’t have a sonic screwdriver. But she’s with it enough to intimidate the tentacle ball as it hovers over Karl, the Random Passenger. Just as Ryan and Yas arrive, having broken their way into the train, the tentacle ball zaps them all with bolts of electricity and takes off into the sky.
There’s lots of nice asides from the Doctor about her new “team...fam?” and “don’t worry, new things are always scary at first” - messages to those perhaps still upset with a female Doctor that you’re still welcome and it’s OK, you’ll learn to love it all over again.
The Doctor convinces Yas not to call the mysterious incident into headquarters because no one will believe her, saying she’ll help find actual answers. Random Passenger Karl isn’t interested in the mission - a mopey type, he just wants to get to work.
When the Doctor asks if there’s been any other strange activities, Ryan and Yas take her to the fairy forest, where the magic mushroom once stood. Ryan took pics of it (how he didn’t Insta Story them at the time remains a mystery), but the thing itself is gone. They split up to see what else they can find out - Yas to the cop shop, daggy Graham to chat to bus driver mates (I LOVE daggy Graham), and Ryan and Grace to basically just check their socials, because that is life in 2018.
The Doctor meanwhile needs a little nap, and Ryan and Grace get to witness the regeneration juice (ew) sparking through her body, along with two separate pulses.
It turns out the spinning top mushy has been taken to a warehouse in town by a chap who’s name I did not get. He’s clearly been obsessed with finding this pod, as he believes it’s key to discovering what happened to his sister seven years earlier.
After nervously waiting, and filming, the dude watches as the pod opens to reveal this episode’s second alien creature - which looks like the child of an illicit affair between Robocop and a wasp.
The blast of energy sent out by the tentacle cable thingy over the city is enough to both awaken the pod monster AND the napping Doctor, who then realises there’s something wrong with them all. The zaps they got on the train were DNA bombs, outlawed genetic booby traps implanted slightly above your boobies.
The Doctor reformats Ryan’s phone to become a tracker, and the gang pile back into the car and make their way to the warehouse, only to find the WaspBot in the alley outside.
The Doctor gives chase, but can’t keep up, because regeneration, but also because - and I’ve been vocal about this previously - SHE IS CURRENTLY NOT WEARING A BRA. She’s still in Peter Capaldi’s clothes, so unless Twelve had some hidden fancies, Thirteen is dealing with TARBIS (Time and Relative Bounce in Space). It’s nice that she’s already found new companions, but the Doctor is going to need at least a crop top, even a underwired sports bra, for true support.
So it was nice that the show did seem to acknowledge that cheekily:
Inside, they find the ruined corpse of the poor young man, froze-sploded by the WaspBot. Despite the bodily destruction outlined by Grace in gory detail, they still can see that the poor chap’s also minus a tooth.
What the Doctor really needs to find out what’s really going on is her sonic screwdriver, so she decides to build one. “I’m great at building things - probably!” is the kind of confidence I need doing chores around the flat. Why shouldn’t I be able to hang a picture even if history and all personal experience has told me it will be crooked and leave gaping holes in the drywall?
Personally, I would have thought building a sonic screwdriver would require a bit more than a standard tradie’s workshop, even if it is good Sheffield steel. But somehow she manages it, glowy, scanny bits and all, in a triumphant craft montage.
Having shown her new device to Grace and Graham - and monologued about her current state of personality flux, and certainty that her role is always to help - the Doctor is called on by Ryan to look at a discovery he’s made with Yas, who by the way appears to have pinched Carrie Bradshaw’s iconic fur coat from Sex and the City.
They watch the now dead young man leave an “In Case of Death” video recording, outlining his efforts to find the object, which was involved in the disappearance of his sister. Examining the broken pod, she notes its return transporter, and its origins over 5000 galaxies away. The Doctor assumes the tentacle cable thingy and the WaspBot are rival alien races using the Earth as a battleground, and starts concocting a plan - just as daggy Graham (love him) gets some useful information from a fellow bus driver.
Meanwhile a poor drunk kebab-eater is mercilessly face-iced by the WaspBot in the street, who also rudely stomps on what I can only assume was a delicious halal snack pack as he carries on. Now sure, the drunk dude had been flinging salad at WaspBot, but late night greasy food deserves better.
The gang arrive at the wacky tower where tentacle cable squid ball thingy has been chilling, or rather zapping. The Doctor realises it isn’t a different alien, but a hot mess of data-gathering coils, half organic, half electronic. She called it “weaponised bio-tech”, but I liked the portmanteau I’d already started using in my head - “organotronical”. I do words.
The Doctor uses her sonic to pull up the collected data - and it’s a hologram of Karl, the Random Passenger on the train. In their puzzlement, the Waspbot appears keen to kill, but the Doctor instead wants to know “What’s up with the teeth?”
At this point we see RoboBee take off his mask to reveal his own face covered in teeth, like Jaws had it off with the Tooth Fairy. “The Stenza wear their conquests,” he intones. I thought it was clever in the sense of that classic Who conceit of taking something fairly simple - a lost tooth - and turning into the stuff of nightmares.
Also because I recently took advantage of the Foxtel subscription that I’m still paying for well over a year after the last Game of Thrones season ended and watched that Amy Adams series Sharp Objects, so the teeth dude somewhat freaked me out. I won’t say too much in case of spoilers, but yeah, don’t let the dude have a dollhouse is all I suggest.
Anyway, the monster reveals his name is Tim Shaw, which is probably not the right spelling, but certainly was the joke the show was making with it, and also the immediate joke I made, given that I grew up in a golden era of Australian infomercial marketing, thanks to this guy:
The Doctor works out that Tim Shaw is not in town to fight another alien, nor even to pick up a great set of steak knives, but to hunt a specified human in order to become leader of his warrior race. And she’s not shy in calling him a cheat for using the tentacle cable ball thingy. WaspBot is not impressed, and moves to do a full download from his limp e-spaghetti monster before bugging out on a short range teleport.
Cut to Karl, the Random Passenger, now at work after his earlier dispiriting encounter on the train. He’s getting ready to drive a massive crane while listening to soft affirmations like “I am special” and “Somebody out there wants me” HA HA HA IF HE ONLY KNEW.
Tim Shaw rocks onto the building site and mercilessly ice-faces a nice Grandad who was just trying to Skype his granddaughter, the monster, which frankly was nastier than that time he did a Pizza Hut ad with Dougie the Pizza Boy:
Oh yes, you might come for the recaps, but you stay because you get trapped into obscure Australian references from the 90s.
Karl notices the crazy giant RoboBee/Demtel spokesman shimmying up his scaffold, just as the Doctor and Gang arrive. Thirteen orders Graham and Grace to get everyone else off the business site, which is slightly odd given only Dennis seemed to be around, and he’s no menace anymore.
Yas and Ryan accompany the Doctor to a second crane, one not guarded by the reanimated tentacle cable thingy wotsit. Yas is concerned about Ryan’s dyspraxia affecting his ability to climb, but he grits his teeth and goes for it.
The Doctor manages to get Karl to climb out of his cab and onto the arm of the crane, and works up a plane to swing around the second crane so she can help him jump across. There’s lots of action and movement, but the upshot is, just as Karl works up the courage to take a leap of faith, he’s hauled back in by Tim Shaw. It’s, ahem, an uncomfortable tooth.
The Doctor instead takes a running jump onto the opposite crane to force a standoff with Tim Shaw: he defuse the DNA bombs, and she’ll return his transport stone magnet thingy so he can get back to his home turf and continue prime time morning product placement. The Doctor says she’ll give him the chance to change his ways: “We can evolve, while still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we’ve been, and choose who we want to be next”. Well-meaning and kind, but about as subtle as Donald Trump’s tan.
Tim Shaw chooses to win, but what he didn’t know was that the Doctor had already de-bugged her new friends, and implanted the DNA bombs inside the tentacle creature. I’m not sure when she did this as we didn’t seem to see it at the initial tower site, but no matter. The point is Tim Shaw has had 5 DNA bombs implanted into his neck, and it’s all his own fault for not compromising.
Karl then shows some initiative and shoves Tim Shaw over the crane arm. He manages to attach his transport beacon and disappear before hitting the ground, but the Doctor is unimpressed with Karl. I imagine she thought that give she had already meted out justice, he overstepped. Having said that, Karl has just realised that he’s been hunted for no reason, and if caught, would have been strapped up as a limp meatbag because the Stenza’s victims are “not special”. Clearly the dude’s got some confidence issues; I think his actions are somewhat understandable. But then I’m clearly showing human bias. Hybrid wasp-robot-tooth-wearing-blue weirdos need love too.
Sadly this happy ending couldn’t last - in a display of heroism only Nans can manage, she convinced Graham to go back into the building site so she could blow up the tentacle cable spaghetti thing. Unfortunately her efforts result in her own shock and plunge to the ground.
I wish I had been more surprised by Grace’s death. I didn’t want it to happen of course, but as soon as I realised Ryan, Yas and Graham were all in the publicity material as companions, but Grace was not, I suspected she wouldn’t last long. Of course, this is a time travel show, so I’m sure we can expect her to turn up somewhere.
And so the best woman Ryan ever met turns out to be….his Nan. Because of course - Nans are always the best. During service in WW2 my Gran a) smoked hash with Arabs, b) was part of a black market smuggling ring into Sicily and c) punched Hitler in the face. Only one of those things is not true, and I’m still convinced VE day would have been a lot sooner if she’d managed to get to Berlin.
With a longer than previous run time, we were able to see a bit of the fallout from the whole incident at the end of this episode, although not any official response. I mean, surely other passengers on that train would have dialled for emergency assistance? By the time Yas goes back to the station to ask if any other weird sightings have popped up, you’d think there would have been a few squad cars on the scene of a train with side and roof holes. It’s not like it just would have started back up with no one noticing the damage. Someone would have had to retrieve it.
Also, there were four deaths: the nice man who kidnapped the mushroom pod thingy to find out what had happened to his sister seven years earlier; the random drunk salad-throwing man on the street (and his kebab); the kindly old Grandad site supervisor; and Grace. And the Doctor didn’t seem that cut up about it, aside from a sombre look at Grace’s funeral. She was all chirpy “I’m a traveller! I go places to help!” There didn’t seem to be much accountability there, but maybe that’s just the regen talking.
Again, I really can’t help feeling like more police would have been asking questions of the new companions and the Doctor - especially considering the manner in which Grace died, the fact that Yas is a copper, and the fact that the Doctor must have been hanging around for at least a week afterwards while they organised the funeral.
Speaking of which, it’s only after they laid Grace to rest that they decided to tell the Doctor her tattered threads needed replacing. No heads up BEFORE the funeral? Apparently the hobo look is fine in church these days.
I loved the fact they went to an op shop to find her new clothes. I’m still trying to work out my opinion on the whole ensemble, but I do hope she picked up a decent brassiere.
The revelation that Graham had met Grace when going through cancer, and that he was technically still in remission, for me was a decent bit of foreshadowing. Given that Ryan had expressed pain at losing his mother, and now his Nan, and having an MIA father, I can see it being a future storyline that after finally coming to terms with Graham as his Grandad, that he might lose him too. And that will be sad for me, because out of everyone in this first episode, I loved daggy Graham the most.
To be honest, I think Ryan and Yas lack a bit of the spark that was so captivating about previous companions such as Rose, Amy, Clara, Captain Jack, River Song, Bill and yes, even Donna. I know lots of people hated her, but you can’t argue she had character out the wazoo. Obviously this was the Doctor’s episode, but I hope to see more from them in coming weeks.
Finally, the conclusion. The Doctor realises she has to get back to her TARDIS, so does some complicated fussing about with machinery to lock on to its location. She claims flicking a switch will transport her to the TARDIS, so says her goodbyes not expecting to see the new gang again.
But when she opens her eyes in another moment in space and time, it’s the space part that’s the problem - she’s floating in it, no TARDIS in sight, and Ryan, Yas and Graham floating next to her.
I guess it’s lucky they all accidentally took a deep breath beforehand!
Thank you for reading this first Doctor Who Season 11 recap - I hope you will join me next week!
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