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'Doctor Who' Review: 'New Can Be Scary,' But Jodie Whittaker's First Outing As The Doctor Was Delightful

By Hannah Sole | TV | October 8, 2018 |

By Hannah Sole | TV | October 8, 2018 |


A Doctor’s first episode can be tricky. So far in the world of New Who, we’ve had “nice to meet you, I’m the Doctor, run for your life” from Nine, “have a nice cup of tea and then save the world with a satsuma” Ten, “fish fingers and custard” Eleven, and “angry eyebrows” Twelve. How did Thirteen get on? Well — here’s the first spoiler and there are more to follow, so count this as your warning — she never did get that fried egg sandwich, but this was an introduction that was determined to underline the big message of the episode:

“We can evolve whilst still staying true to who we were. We can honour who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next.”

For all the newness evident: new Doctor, new friends, new showrunner — there were loving nods to the past. Like Eleven, Thirteen started with a crash to earth. Like Ten, she was still re-booting and needed a bit of a disco nap. Like Twelve, she had some trouble figuring out who she was.

So what is she like? In a word: delightful. Thirteen has the warmth of Ten, the hyperactive temperament and kindness of Eleven, and the mad scientist vibes of Twelve. But Whittaker adds her own energy too; she improvises wildly, she has high expectations of her new best friends and doesn’t patronise them, and she mocks the Big Scary Alien Dude without being cruel. Like other Doctors before her, she offers the villain an opportunity to not be awful, and is ruthless when that opportunity is not taken, though she scolds Random Carl for unnecessary violence. In short, she is everything he ever was. “New can be scary,” but there was nothing for those grumpy fanboys to be upset with here.

But to think of it as same-old, same-old would be doing the episode a disservice. Everything is as it was, and everything has changed. It matters that the Doctor is a woman. It really does. It matters that she is the authority, the expert, the leader, the scientist, the inventor, the one who saves the day. The Doctor has always been a role model for children — for half of those children, it just took a little mental gymnastics to see themselves in the role, and for the first time, their job was a little easier. The Doctor was pretty nonchalant about her transformation as well, looking momentarily confused at being called “madam”, and then just asking “does it suit me?” Yeah, Thirteen, it really does. Previous Doctors made a bigger deal about their hair colour, frowny face and eyebrows than Thirteen did about her gender. It was all just, “OK, cool. Let’s go back to the alien situation.” It was almost anticlimactic, given the furor that accompanied the casting announcement. But it was totally in character; the Doctor has seen a lot of crazy things, and something different in the pants-department was hardly going to rate highly on the curiosity scale. What did the fanboys think was going to happen? That the first episode would be Thirteen getting a makeover and talking about periods? Do they even know the show at all?

The plot of the opener seems a bit of an afterthought here, because it really was just a vehicle to introduce the new members of Team TARDIS — or perhaps, Team Dude Where’s My TARDIS? to be more precise. With shades of Terminator and Alien V Predator, the Big Blue Baddy of the week was on a hunting mission for sport, tracking down Otherwise Unremarkable Random Carl, to prove he was worthy of being a leader. But Big Blue — aka Tim Shaw — was cheating, smuggling in weapons and a Big Tentacled Intel Gathering Thingy to help him out. Along the way, Toothy Tim took out a bunch of B-characters who I’m nicknaming Moonlighting Mulder, Sweet Grandpa and Kebab Man, the latter throwing his salad at Tim in true Northern style. Joining the Doctor in facing off against Tim is our new team: Ryan, Yasmin, Graham, and the adorable Grace, aka How Dare You Kill Her In The First Episode, You Meanies. Many of us were puzzled by the casting of Bradley Walsh, but he’s playing an adorable step-granddad so I’m all in favour. (Let’s not forget how much we loved Donna’s granddad, right? Team Grandpa.) Isn’t it nice to have a whole team again?

The whole episode just felt like a fresh start. Sheffield fans were loving it — all hail the new sonic, featuring Sheffield steel! — though some US viewers apparently had some trouble with Whittaker’s accent. The cinematography was beautiful, and most importantly, the show felt fun again. There was little in the way of timey-wimey shenanigans designed to show how clever the writers are. In fact, Carl’s recital of his mantras about how special and important he is felt like a playful dig at Clara’s Impossible Girl arc. These are normal people, with normal lives, and they just happened upon aliens in Sheffield. As you do.

The episode ended with Thirteen accidentally transporting them all into space, leaving us with a nice cliffhanger for next week. Oopsy.

It usually takes a while for me to get used to a new Doctor, and it can be even harder when the whole team is new at once, but this really bodes well. Plus, the montage at the end of the episode promises some really interesting guest stars this season…

PS: This BTS video made me smile, so enjoy!

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Hannah Sole is a Staff Contributor. You can follow her on Twitter.

Header Image Source: BBC