Warning! SPOILERS for the Doctor Who season 11 premiere ahead!
The 13th Doctor is here, finally making her debut in the Doctor Who season 11 premiere, 'The Woman Who Fell to Earth'. The episode kicks off a new age for the long-running sci-fi series - one that includes a new showrunner, new star, new cast, new writers, new directors, and most of all, a new attitude that looks to shake up the 55-year-old show while remaining the classic program that's delighted audiences for generations.
The Doctor Who season 11 premiere feels fresh and familiar all at once, and is stands as an absolutely perfecting jumping on point for new viewers. The plot is a fairly straightforward adventure involving an alien trophy hunter who comes to Earth to capture their latest prize (almost like a PG-rated Predator), only for The Doctor to learn of its plan and stop it. And by using this basic premise 'The Woman Who Fell to Earth' is able to ease viewers into the season, slowly introducing the new elements in a way that never overwhelms.
It's no easy feat to imbue a series as established Doctor Who with a new energy while still retaining its unique charm, but that's exactly what showrunner Chris Chibnall and his team pull off. In fact, Chibnall weaves that very idea right into the episode by having The Doctor declare: "We can evolve while still staying true to who we are. We can honor who we've been and choose who we want to be next." That's the mission statement of Doctor Who season 11 - evolve while staying true to itself and honor what Doctor Who has been while choosing what comes next.
The great success of the Doctor Who season 11 premiere begins with Jodie Whittaker and the incredibly natural way she embodies the role of The Doctor as if she's been playing it all her life. From the moment she crashes through the roof of that train, Whittaker is without a doubt the same Doctor audiences have been following for decades. She's clever, brave, quick on her feet, a bit chatty, alien but not indifferent, and absolutely determined to help anyone in need. Once on the scene, she's immediately in charge, but where some previous Doctors may have groused and yelled orders at the dumbstruck humans standing about, this Doctor considers problem-solving a group activity. The 13th Doctor is a brainstormer, and though it might just be a side-effect of the regeneration energy still whizzing in her body, it's still very egalitarian of her to look around for the answers rather than just within.
And around The Doctor is a great group of companions. There's Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), a directionless young man who suffers from dyspraxia, a neurological disorders that affects coordination and adds to the show's diversity by representing invisible illnesses; Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill), a police officer in training who yearns to prove she's capable of more than just parking duty; and Graham O'Brien (Bradley Walsh), a cancer survivor who knows he's been given a second chance, but after losing his wife - the truly wonderful Grace (Sharon D. Clarke), who was a top-notch companion if only for a short while - he feels lost. All three are more or less thrust into this first adventure with The Doctor, but it never comes across as forced and as an ensemble they immediately click. Each bring their own perspectives, which The Doctor gains insight from when necessary, and they all have moments where their help is essential for saving the day.
What is perhaps most refreshing about the dynamic between The Doctor and her new companions is that they immediately feel like more than just traveling companions. They are her friends and she cares deeply about them from the moment she meets them. There also doesn't appear to be anything cosmically special or pre-destined about any of her new friends, they're just regular folks who get wrapped up in something extraordinary. Not too mention, they don't exactly choose to leave with The Doctor, making them somewhat reluctant companions on her adventures and all the more relatable because of it.
'The Woman Who Fell to Earth' is an episode that moves through a lot of emotional territory very quickly. It's at times action-packed and exciting, but then it slows down for beautiful and heartfelt moments between The Doctor and her new friends. It's also pretty funny, with Whittaker's manic line delivery or the utter confusion on Cole, Gill, and Walsh's faces getting a laugh. Then there's how scary it is, especially for younger viewers, with a monster who's not only gruesome but deadly and cruel. Grace's death is also very affecting, and it's a credit to how well her character and the relationships are established in such a short period.
The Doctor Who season 11 premiere is a near perfect start to the new series. The overall plot is there merely to get the pieces in motion, but it gets the job done in an efficient and entertaining manner. The cast all seem comfortable in their roles and the rapport they share feels entirely natural. But most of all, it's Jodie Whittaker's spell-binding performance as The 13th Doctor that seals the deal. Doctor Who has always been fortunate in finding the perfect actors for its lead role and Whittaker is no exception. She brings a rush of excitement as well as a comforting sense of familiarity to the role. And when she stands on that crane, proclaiming, "I'm The Doctor," we know it to be true.
Doctor Who season 11 continues next Sunday with 'The Ghost Museum' at 8pm/7c on BBC America.