The Doctor has returned and (far less exciting) so have I.
Everything about this Series of Doctor Who feels different. The new show runner, writers, directors, composers and costumer designer, even the lens and film, tell the story of the Doctor and her companions differently than it has been told before. In all ways possible, the experience of Doctor Who is new, a regeneration.
Every cell in my body burning. Some of them are still at it now. Re-ordering, regenerating. There’s this moment when you think you are about to die and then you’re born. It’s terrifying. Right now, I’m a stranger to myself. There’s echos of who I was and a 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.
Of course, the Doctor is describing the experience of regeneration for all of us-characters, cast, crew and fandom. As the Doctor’s own DNA is re-arranging itself, so is the DNA of the show, and our experience watching it. (Called “parallel process” for the psychology nerds.)
Most importantly, it makes time for all the pieces settle into their proper places. Like breaking in a new pair of jeans.
The Woman Who Fell To Earth gave us some great stuff, and left some stuff to be desired.
Most interesting to me is the character of the Doctor, herself. Chibnall and Whittaker chose a unique expression of self for the character that sets the stage for a new kind of Doctor.
First, she is transparent. She talks about her thoughts, thinking out loud. Wondering what to do. Explaining herself to her friends. Saying she doesn’t know. What?!
Second, she is self-reflective. Not only does she share what’s going through her mind, she comments on her experience as she finds meaning in it, particularly the experience of regeneration. For the first time, the story invites us into this most intimate of Timelord experiences.
Third, these qualities expose us to the “alien-ness” of her internal world, rather than relying upon unusual behavior to create the experience of otherworldlyness, typically chosen by previous showrunners. By making her experience part of the story, we encounter an utterly alien internal life.
Continuing with the theme of change, the Doctor and companions face the threat of having their DNA changed, melted, via Tim Shaw’s bombs. Their horror, our horror, at the possibility of the having our DNA re-written, paralleling the very normal process the Doctor is undergoing, additionally highlights the differences between a human and Timelord.
This is cool. And so psychological. Obviously, I’m in love.
I could go on for thousands of words about moments, bits, and pieces I loved about this episode. However, there was also a problem.
While the plot weakens at times, only Grace’s death detracted from my enjoyment. I have longed for an older female companion, who brings wisdom, experience and (my secret/not so secret wish) lived motherhood into the TARDIS. I knew Grace would die from the moment she appeared on screen and my heart broke a little as I fell in love with her. Grace embodied many of the same characteristics that drew me to Rose- genuine enthusiasm for adventure, essential optimism and joy in the moment.
It is no small detail that she is black. And female. And killed off in the first episode. Immediately after the show’s last black female. This needs to stop. However, because she is listed as a returning character, I will reserve judgement.
In terms of series’ themes, two possibilities jump out at me- family and loss. In particular, loss of family. Obviously, this theme is reflected in multiple ways throughout the episode. Grace dies, leaving Graham and Ryan without family connection, except to each other. Ryan describes his dead mother and deadbeat father. The security guard at the construction site speaks to his granddaughter about her mother (whom the child is experiencing as disconnected) before he is killed. Karl works at the construction company owned by his father (who also sounds pretty disconnected given that Karl has to recite affirmations to get through his work shift!), and then the Doctor’s own lost family is referenced.
It doesn’t take a genius then, to wonder if “found family” or the non-blood ties that we choose, will be a theme moving forward in the Series. Certainly this is implied when the Doctor, struggling to define the group relationship between herself, Yaz, Ryan, Graham and Grace as “fam.”
What did you think? Are you as enthused about our new Doctor as I am? Leave me a comment…