TIME SPACE THING Transcript: "The Woman Who Fell To Earth"
Howdy, y'all. This is the original VO script for my review of the Doctor Who episode "The Woman Who Fell To Earth." Now, a few things changed here and there while I was editing the darn thing - there's probably parts I improvised in the moment, and a few lines got taken out. Also, this was obviously written to be read out loud, so I'm not entirely sure it works as an essay, but here it is, if you need it.
"The Woman Who Fell To Earth" is Chris Chibnall's first story as showrunner, and Jodie Whittaker's first story as The Doctor, and she's making history as the very first actor to play the Doctor who's blonde since Peter Davison.
I kid. She's a lady-person now, and people have been discussing this possibility since - oh - 1980 at least, and people have been thinking "yeah, that could happen" or "I don't know if it'd work but I'd still watch" for years, except now there's apparently a third option, which is NOW IT'S PROOF THAT THE FEMINIST AGENDA HAS TAKEN OVER BLAH BLAH BLAH
Whatever. She's really good. The story's fine, but it's really well-balanced as a story - clearly the point here isn't "hit the ground running with the greatest thing since sliced Blink," it's introduce the new characters, the new vibe, the new Doctor, and then throw them up against a sort of mediocre villain as a test run for the whole show. "The Woman Who Fell To Earth" - on the whole - is a story that just about does the trick... except in the moments when it sneaks in moments of absolute brilliance.
Jodie's good. Her performance isn't dissimilar to David Tennant's with a little Eccleston and Smith thrown in, and strangely enough, maybe a bit of Pertwee here and there... and that's totally fine. Number one, first episode. Number two, every Doctor since Davison has made a point of adding little flourishes of other Doctors in with their performance. "Tongue, clever boy" is Capaldi-ish and Smith-ish and even a little Hartnell-ish. Yeah. She's very good at being The Doctor, and you can tell there's potential there to become One Of The Great Doctors. She's even sort of found her own subtle rhythm to the humor - my favorite moment of the whole episode, honestly, is this really tiny moment right here.
[“i’ll be fine… probably.” ::wolverine claws toss::]
I don't know why I love that, but I love it. Also: if renaming big scary monsters with utterly mundane names like "Tim Shaw" is gonna be 13's thing in the same way that super-speed technobabble and "Allons-y!" was Tennant's thing... that's cool. I'm-a go for it. Disregard for people's tech, though... man, she wiped Ryan's phone. He's got pictures of his gran on that!
And... her Doctor really does seem excited to see the universe with a new pair of eyes and a fresh perspective. It's shiny optimism around a core of steel. Did I get it right when I pegged her as a Hufflepuff/Gryffindor hybrid in the Harry Potter video? Damned if I know, it's episode one. I just want to say I was right about call the fact that she'd develop a slight fear of heights from having plummetted out of the TARDIS in her first few moments of life, because the one thing she doesn't seem enthused about doing is climbing up that crane. But she still does it, and she does it to save one innocent man's life. It's Ten and Wilf. It's Five and Peri. It's what the Doctor does, because the Doctor is the Doctor. And why does the Doctor Doctor like she Doctors? Because...
"fair play and so on"
I like the Doctor building her own sonic. I like the idea of The Doctor as cosmic tinkerer. It's kind of gritty and DIY that she builds it out of stuff she found in an auto repair shop - including, for some reason - a bucket of spoons. You know, spoons. A thing they have buckets of in auto repair shops. "We found the problem with your Honda Civic, Mrs. McGillicudy - your gas tank is full of gelato. Eat up!" I mean, I know it's there so she can have that Capaldi/McCoy "spoon!" moment, and the idea that the sonic was built with Sheffield steel has gotta feel pretty good if you're from Sheffield - like, if the Doctor crashed in my home towna Boston, she could make a sonic from a Dunkin Donuts cup and a chunka granite from the quarry.
Plus I'm pre-disposed to like Jodie because on the New York Comic Con panel she said Flight Of The Navigator was one of her favorite movies, and Flight Of The Navigator was my *jam* when I was seven.
So, what about the rest of 'em? Well there's Yasmine - or Yaz (again, here's the Doctor naming people, but in a more affectionate way this time.) She's a cop. Yaz is fair-minded, ambitious, quick-thinking, and brave - in any other season, she'd be The Companion. Right now, though, she's kind of stuck being The Other One, and hopefully we'll see more of her because she seems pretty cool.
There's Graham and Grace, and they're adorable... a late-middle aged couple who clearly adores each other. Weirdly, Grace seems like a more likely companion - and that would have been awesome, actually... a cool grandma in the Tardis, very Evelyn Smithe. She's way more adventurous than her husband. It's Graham who winds up being the companion though, which.. I guess leads to some interesting stories, since Graham is cautious, not particularly adventurous, sometimes loses patience with his step-grandson, but at the end of the day seems like a decent guy, if a little bit of a stick-in-the-mud. He's got a new lease on life though as someone who just survived a bout with cancer, fell in love with Grace, who was his nurse... and - by the way - if all of this seems less like Doctor Who than like This Is Us... well, like I said, they're not just introducing a new Doctor here, they're introducing a whole new take on the show - one that perhaps leans closer to Russell T. Davies "ordinary people are the most important thing in the universe" approach to Season One. It was one of Doctor Who's most interesting aspects in the early days of the reboot and I'm glad they're returning to it.
Oh, also, Grace, his beloved wife, who he got together with after she nursed him back to health, who is the most important person, place or thing in his life... dies. Yah, Grace dies. She dies saving the day, she dies heroically, but she's gone now. Some people have said this is another example of fridging. Some people have pointed out the show's unfortunate habit of killing off nice people of color whenever they want to amp up the Feelz. I give them a little credit, because she was helping save the day and there's some hints that Grace will come back later in the season in some form, but I'll give ya this: by saving the day, she's really sort of saving "a white kid stuck in a crane" so... I sorta see where you're coming from. The show's also saddling Bradley Walsh - a gifted comedian - with the Saddest Backstory Ever - and it's like, what's the point of having Dad in the Tardis if he's too sad to make Dad jokes.
The real standout character, though, is Ryan. He's a 19 year old trainee mechanic. He's Grace's grandson and Graham's stepgrandson. Ryan has dyspraxia - which affects motor memory, and makes it difficult to do things like, well, ride a bike. Chris Chibnall's nephew has it, and it's a cool thing to see on screen. Invisible disabilities are often - ya know - invisible. I'll admit - that hit home with me, for reasons. I don't have dyspraxia, but the bike riding scene at the beginning hit home - there's a sense that if people can't see what's wrong with you, it must be a character flaw you need to be reminded of constantly instead of, like, something that's constantly on your mind.
So. Lots of character stuff, lots of real people dealing with real stuff... stuff... and yet, it's a Doctor Who story. It's science fiction. There's a monster, and that monster isn't "economic displacement" or "suburban ennui."
On the other hand... it's a potentially interesting monster to pit against the first female Doctor and her gang of unwitting, flawed-but-basically-good, normal human buddies. See, Chibnall's default setting as a writer seems to be "the world is a cruel place and people are complicated, but hope matters, individuals matter, shining a light in the darkness is the best thing you can do, etc." and that's definitely on display here. But he's figured something out, I think: for Doctor Who to resonate, there has to be hope. Sometimes his Torchwood episodes could be pretty grim and more interested in finding cold and calculated ways to make our heroes feel All The Pain, but there was usually a sense that the pain we saw them go through was intended to hurt us, too - not out of malice, but out of empathy. All authors who write scary stuff have a thing they're scared of more than anything else. Poe was terrified he was going mad. Stephen King is terrified of closed-mindedness. Lovecraft was terrified of Unexplained Things, like non-Euclidian geometry and black people.
And I think what scares Chibnall to death is a lack of empathy - specifically, a mechanical inhumanity that disregards the individual. His first DW script literally has people dying because a computer wants them to answer Beatles trivia questions. The main villain of his Silurian two-parter turned out to be a normal person who got scared. And I need to look this up, but I wonder how much influence Chibbers had in "Children Of Earth," because the 456 are the scariest goddamn Who-related villains I can imagine, and it's not because they're gross snot things in jars, it's because they're killing children so they can get high. People dump on Chibnall, but his sense of fairness and justice and acknowledgement that pain really hurts kind of makes him perfect for this gig. It's really bumming me out that they stuck him with the Silurians and never gave him a Cyberman episo - [clip "Cyberwoman"] AHEM. HE HAS NEVER WRITTEN A CYBERMAN EPISODE.
And that's how we get Evil Mecha-Dentist. The teeth in the face are weird and scary and tell you everything you need to know about the bad guy - he's a hunter who collects trophies, and he's hunting the most dangerous game: man. On BBC 1. More to the point, they tell you that he does not give a bicuspid about your life or your feelings - he's gonna tag some poor rando on the train as his prey, and he's gonna kill him cuz it's fun. The definition of evil here is dehumanization. He doesn't care about Drunk Kebab Guy throwing salad at him (this scene is lovely, by the way.) He doesn't care about Nice Security Guard Grandpa Man (and to think he was just two weeks away from retirement.) And he really doesn't care about Motivation Tape Boy, though we definitely do. Maybe in real life this guy doxxes women who won't sleep with him or something, but... naw, I think he's just sweet. Too bad Mecha-Dentist has a sweet tooth... for teeth.
So, what's the answer in Chibnall's world when faced with dehumanization? Well, it's fair play, optimism, adrenaline, a sprinkle of outrage...etc. etc. It's the Doctor. And yeah - you know she was gonna remember who she was as soon as it was time to make the big speech at the end and it's a bit cliched by this point, but it's still a cool moment. I like how matter-of-fact it is, too - Capaldi or Smith... and I love both of those Doctors... would have chewed the scenery so much the damn crane would have collapsed. Whittaker, meanwhile, basically just gives you her one-minute elevator pitch and it kinda works, cuz this villain doesn't deserve the Pandorica speech. He's a middle-of-the-road baddie who just happens to embody everything the Doctor fights against. If there's a scene that cements Jodie as the Doctor, this is... not it (no for me, it's still the Wolverine claws bit that happened earlier) but it's still pretty great as a statement of purpose. And that's more significant to me personally than the idea that the Doctor's played by a woman... though, obviously, that's pretty damn significant.
Look - the world sucks right now. Everything is, well, bad. It's all bad - and for all the gains in terms of equality, the backlash has been severe. It's all comin' out on all sides these days, and women have borne the brunt of a lot of it. I can't tell you the number of people I've seen on Twitter or Facebook saying things like "Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor is the one thing giving me strength," or "this episode could not have come at a better time." The good guys - and good gals - and good people needed a win. And last Sunday an audience of viewers around the world sat down in front of the TV and saw a woman stand up to the big, brutish embodiment of everyone and everything that wants to target you just because they can, and heard her say, in a loud clear voice, "get off this planet." It's a pretty good start.