RECAP: ‘Doctor Who’ Series 11, Episode 1 – ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’

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Welcome Whovians old and new to a brand new series, Doctor and companions. Whether you’ve been watching all along, took breaks now and then or are jumping in fresh because Jodi Whitaker has charmed you into finally checking out this crazy universe we are sure in for a ride. For the new folks, we have a handy primer on what to expect and just why fans are excited!

But honestly, the only thing you need to know to jump into this season is that Doctor Who is a long-running tv series about a time and space traveling alien known as The Doctor who has the capability of taking on a new body when the old one has become too damaged. We are currently on the 13th iteration of this character (or 14th, don’t ask). The Doctor travels with Companions (usually humans from modern-day England) in The TARDIS and goes around the universe helping people, fighting monsters and trying to prevent general death and destruction. Because season 11 has a new Doctor and new Companions everyone is figuring out what is going on, including viewers so it’s a perfect jumping on point.

Non-Spoiler Thoughts: “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” is an engaging beginning to a new era of Doctor Who. Jodie Whittaker figuring out the shape of who This Doctor is is probably my favorite regeneration portrayal since David Tennant came on board in The Christmas Invasion back in 2005. This is also probably the most explicit we’ve seen a Doctor talk about what happens when they take on a new form.

“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.”

She’s sharp and witty and even not knowing who she still has all the instincts of The Doctor (“when people need help I never refuse”) and I’m so so excited to continue this journey with her. Her Companions, Yasmine Khan, played by Mandip Gill, Ryan Sinclair, played by Tosin Cole, and Graham O’Brien, played by Bradley Walsh, are an interesting group.

In general, when we have multiple Companions they have a connection to each other and in this case, Ryan is the linchpin. Yaz and Ryan went to primary school together and Graham is married to Ryan’s grandmother Grace, played by Sharon D. Clarke, the best character in the episode hands down. Ryan is 19 years old and a warehouse worker studying to be a mechanic while struggling with dyspraxia, a disorder that affects coordination. Around the same age as Ryan, Yaz is a probationary police officer frustrated with bit assignments and eager to prove herself. Graham is the odd one out of the trio, older than any other modern reboot companion he is a cancer survivor and quite a bit less companion-y than others considering he has some sense of self-preservation and is much less curious about the mysteries going on in Sheffield.

Spoilers for series 11, episode one below the picture.

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Left to right: Grace (Sharon D. Clarke), Yaz (Mandip Gill), The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh)

“The Woman Who Fell To Earth” opens with Ryan on a YouTube video talking about the greatest woman he knows, presumably The Doctor. We then cut to him with Grace and Graham as he’s trying to master riding a bike, something his dyspraxia makes incredibly difficult. After falling down yet again he, in a fit of frustration, tosses the bike over off the hill. Grace sighs, used to these sort of outbursts it seems and tells him they have to catch a train so they’ll see him later and they leave him to go fetch his bike alone.

Ryan climbs down and sees some weird glowing lights and since he’s a future Companion naturally he touches them which causes an alien pod to appear that he can’t help but touch as well before calling the police for lack of better options. Yasmine, itching to do more than settle petty traffic disputes, is assigned to go out and investigate his call which is when we find out that they knew each other as kids.

Meanwhile, on the train, Graham is being weird about Ryan not wanting to call him Grandad, odd since he’s only been married to Grace for 3 years and Ryan is under no obligation to do so. Grace dismisses his concerns with a kiss that has another passenger in the car looking uncomfortable so she teases him while getting handsy with her man since Grace has no shame.

They’re interrupted by a weird alien mass of wires wreaking havoc on the train. It kills the conductor and locks the doors leaving Grace, Graham, and Karl, the young man Grace was teasing trapped on the train. Naturally, this is when The Doctor arrives in a flurry of activity. We get our first glance at Jodi Whittaker as Thirteen, although she doesn’t know it yet since the Regeneration process has scrambled her and made everything fizzy inside. Dropping through the roof of the train and being generally brilliant she takes on the tentacle wire ball as Yaz and Ryan burst in, having been alerted to the situation by a call from Grace.

The Doctor manages to drive away the monster but not before it gets a chance to lash out at everyone on the car, tagging them all with DNA bombs that will destroy the fabric of their DNA if activated. Karl takes off wanting nothing to do with this alien business while the rest pile into Yaz’s police car and head back to investigate the pod Ryan found…which has disappeared.

Turns out it’s been taken by Ramesh, a steel worker who has been trying to figure out what happened his sister Asha seven years ago. He’s been tracking the atmospheric conditions since his sister disappeared waiting for them to match that night and they finally have. Ramesh takes the pod back to the steel factory he works at and waits for the pod to open, and when it does he is killed by the alien that emerges.

Meanwhile, the group is trying to figure out what happened with the pod and they split up with Yaz going to report back to her superiors about what she’s found and Graham going to ask his bus driver buddies if they’ve heard of anything weird going on. Ryan is searching social media for any sitings and Grace check’s with her nurse’s group on Whatsapp. At this point, the process of regenerating takes its toll on The Doctor and she passes out.

Ryan and Grace take her back to their house and Graham and Yaz meet them there shortly afterward having come up empty. The Doctor wakes up, still unsure of who she is, and reformats Ryan’s phone to track the connection between the DNA bombs and the creature but instead they are lead to a steel factory where the group finds Ramesh’s body and the remnants of the opened pod. Graham, in a fit of ableism, decides to lash out over the situation by blaming Ryan and his dyspraxia which raises the tension and leads to Yaz and Ryan going off to explore the factory for any clues.

The Doctor, frustrated with not having her sonic screwdriver, decides to make her own as Grace and Graham watch on in awe. My gayself exploded with joy as we got a montage of Jodi Whittaker with blowtorches and sledgehammers turning spoons and other various steel factory parts into a sonic “not really a screwdriver more of a swiss army knife without the knife because knives are awful.”

A call from one of Graham’s bus driver friends alerts them to some strange goings on and The Doctor is able to use her newly built sonic screwdriver to track down the mass of wires which she realizes is actually a bunch of separate biomechanical aliens that collect data fused together and controlled by something else. That something else appears and it is the alien from the pod.

Turns out the alien, Tzim-Sha of the Stenza. Although The Doctor declares him Tim Shaw and refers to him as this for the rest of the episode because making fun of names is supposed to be funny? He has been given a test to hunt down a randomly assigned human and bring it back to his planet so he can ascend the ranks. The last human to be taken was Asha and now Karl is the assigned target. Tzim-Sha has been using the tentacle ball to track him despite the fact that he’s not supposed to be using any technology to assist him leading The Doctor to declare him a big ‘ol cheat. And a double cheat when after transmitting the data uses a teleporter to leave them on the rood.

After the train shenanigans, Karl went off to work where he’s a crane operator at a construction site and is listening to self-help tapes just trying to do his job when the alien weirdness he tried to get away from earlier in the night comes back to him. The whole gang shows up to stop Tzim-Sha and his information gathering, DNA bomb implanting tentacle monster from killing any more people. Grace and Graham are sent to clear the area of bystanders while the rest go up to save Karl. Yaz has pretty quickly caught on that The Doctor is making things up as she goes but she and Ryan go ahead and climb up the crane with her anyway trusting she’ll have a plan by the time they reach the top.

Karl is on one crane so The Doctor sends Ryan and Yaz to operate the other crane and bring them together and get Karl to safety. They manage to start the crane and bring them closer but before they are totally together the tentacle alien, which is currently sitting at the base of the cranes, shorts the circuits leaving quite the gap that lets Tzim-Sha catch up to Karl and leaving The Doctor no other choice but to take a giant leap between them to save him. Finally recognizing she isn’t someone to be trifled Tzim-Sha can’t help but ask “who are you?”

And Thirteen finally remembers who she is.

“I’m The Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe.”

And sort it out she does. Cleverness, quick thinking, and awe-inspiring leaps and Tzim-Sha is headed back to his planet without Karl but with the DNA bombs implanted in him. Meanwhile, Grace disregards The Doctor’s orders to not come back in once they’ve cleared the area because she’s worried the tentacle wire alien still on the cranes is going to cause more trouble.

Armed with what looks like jumper cables Grace climbs up the crane to the alien and attaches them and Graham hits the power electrocuting the alien, which begins to fall apart, and Grace who falls off the crane to earth. Her last words are to Graham, telling him not to be scared to keep living and we cut back to Ryan in his YouTube video at the beginning of the episode, ready to try learning to ride a bike again.

The episode ends with a funeral for Grace where we find out that Graham had been a patient of hers in the oncology ward and after he went into remission they got married and he says what a lot of us are thinking, it should’ve been him. Afterwards, they take The Doctor to find clothes that suit who she is now and send her back to the TARDIS. Except for the device they use beams Ryan, Yaz, and Graham into space too…where the TARDIS is not there…

Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 2, The Ghost Monument, airs Sunday 10/14 at 8pm EST on BBC America

Final Thoughts:

I was 100% with this episode until the last 10 minutes when, in a classic move, the show decided to kill off Grace for seemingly no reason other than to further Graham and Ryan’s storylines. To give Graham the push he needs to actually travel with The Doctor since he lacks the innate ready to leap quality The Doctor values. To push Ryan into becoming closer with Graham and seeing him as more of a grandad figure. Grace was smart and caring and funny and introducing her only to take her away feels almost cruel.

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Sharon D. Clarke is billed as recurring for this season so we’ll be seeing Grace’s light again, probably through flashbacks or time travel, but nothing can fix the betrayal of having her fridged. It really put a damper on the excitement of having Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, and Mandip Gill as the stars. The marketing and interviews leading up to the premiere have focused on how groundbreaking this new series is. Most people of colour on the show ever! First woman Doctor! But what is the point if you’re still going to kill a woman, a black woman at that, to further the plot of men and specifically Graham who is a white man? Representation is more than bodies on a screen.

It’s hard not to think about how amazing it would have been if Graham had taken the cables from Grace and climbed up instead. If we got to see Ryan and Grace traveling around in the TARDIS. Or, even less of a change, a Grace who after falling is unable to go with them to send The Doctor back to The TARDIS and thus gets left behind on Earth. Anything but more violence and disrespect. Because Doctor Who has not treated its Black characters well.

From Mickey Smith who was always treated as a joke to Martha Jones who was reduced to pining for a man and Bill Potts who has the most violent and gruesome end to her run as a Companion we’ve seen. For an excellent read on the way Doctor Who has treated its Black characters and the loaded weight of The TARDIS I highly recommend reading this piece by Connie.

Despite the ending, I’m still hopeful for this season. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor had me from the moment she fell and I can’t wait to learn more about Yaz in particular who got a bit pushed to the side because of all the goings on.

Airs every Sunday for American audiences on BBC America at 8 PM EST, and are available for streaming the next day.