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07 November 2018 @ 08:47 pm
The Woman who Fell to Earth  
I'm not sure there has ever been quite so much riding on an episode of Doctor Who since Rose back in 2005. Choosing to cast a woman as the Doctor was a risky move that could, in and of itself, alienate a large chunk of the potential audience and The Woman Who Fell to Earth needed primarily to establish that the show could work with a woman in the lead role. Interestingly, the viewing figures for the episode rather suggest that a lot of people who would not otherwise have watched Doctor Who tuned in and I think it would be foolish to suggest that was for any other reason other than curiosity about what a female Doctor would be like. We will need to wait for the viewing figures for The Ghost Monument and Rosa to find out if this story succeeded in convincing them to watch again.

From my point of view, Whittaker was one of the most successful elements of the episode. I tend to take a while to warm to a new Doctor and I certainly liked her better on her first outing than either Eccleston or Capaldi (and Tennant hardly counts since he was unconscious for most of his first story) and was relieved that a female Doctor didn't come across as jarring in any way. The interactions between the new companionsfriends was well drawn as well. They felt very familiar as a unit and I couldn't quite work out if it was because they were fitting into a well-worn ensemble pattern (many have compared them to the Sarah Jane Adventures for instance) or whether it was just that much of the pre-publicity had done its job of pre-figuring their interactions. The only slight surprise for me was that I had expected Graham to have more of the role that Grace inhabited.

In our household, as in pretty much everywhere I think, Grace was the stand out hit of the little team and there was much debate about her death. You can argue the semantics of what was going on there, but it did feel somewhat tropey and largely unnecessary in terms either of motivating the other characters or demonstrating that the stakes can be high in Doctor Who. FWIW, given the comparative youth of the actress and her billing as a returning character our money is on a re-appearance of a younger Grace later in the season. Given the deliberate ambiguities, both of Ryan's framing narrative and the episodes title itself, I wonder if Grace does re-appear as a character, if we'll be expected to view her more as a proto-Doctor than as ideal companion material (which is how I think many people reacted to her here).

To be honest, I was kind of `meh' about the actual plot. It did what it needed to do but didn't grab me in any way. However I was kind of `meh' about the early Eccleston stories which were similarly foregrounding characters against a fairly straightforward story and they were wildly popular, so what do I know. Given how colourful much of the pre-publicity for this season has been, I was disappointed that this was mostly filmed at night with an aesthetic more reminiscent of Torchwood or a police drama. One review, by Jim Smith I think, described the episode as uniquely sadistic which seems a bit strong to me (I was a baby fan during the Colin Baker years) but there was definitely a grittier vibe here than I had been expecting.

The game, of course, is to rank this story in the context of other regeneration stories. I'm not great at linear rankings but it was clearly better than The Twin Dilemma or Time and the Rani (not a high bar), The TV Movie is a bit of an oddity in some ways, though more directly comparable to this than a lot of Who, and I'd say this was better. I personally preferred it to both Deep Breath and Rose . It thus sits on a level for me with The Christmas Invasion and The Eleventh Hour (which I like less than many fans) in that it does what it needs to do without getting anything obviously wrong. I rate Castrovalva more highly because in spite of its many faults its about the Doctor getting stuck in an Escher painting. I'd personally rather see any of Power of the Daleks, Spearhead from Space and Robot but they are from an era where regeneration stories were constructed differently and my preference probably says more about my tastes as a classic Who fan than it does about the intrinsic quality of The Woman who fell to Earth.

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/529020.html.
 
 
 
fredbassettfredbassett on November 9th, 2018 09:13 pm (UTC)
Fascinating, thanks. Your insights are always worth reading.

I like her in the role, and think a female doctor works fine.
louisedennis: Who:Thirteenlouisedennis on November 10th, 2018 03:09 pm (UTC)
Yes, I think she is one of the most successful things about this season of Doctor Who - she seems so completely natural in the role.