Following an extended break, Doctor Who returned this week to the strongest premiere ratings for a new Doctor and some of the best reviews in the TV series' modern run. In addition to introducing Jodie Whittaker as the latest incarnation of the regenerating Time Lord known as The Doctor (not to mention, of course, the first woman to ever play the role), the Doctor Who season 11 premiere - titled 'The Woman Who Fell to Earth' - officially moved the show from its traditional Saturday time slot to a Sunday evening slot in the UK.
The series' cast and air time aren't all that's changed since Peter Capaldi ended his run as the Twelfth Doctor in the 2017 Christmas Special, 'Twice Upon a Time'. Doctor Who is now being run by Chris Chibnall, who previously worked alongside Whittaker on the crime drama Broadchurch and took over head writer duties from Steven Moffat (who oversaw the show for seasons 5-10). Chibnall brought a fresh team of writers and directors to the series with him, along with an approach which favors standalone adventures over serialized storytelling (e.g. the opposite of what Moffat did).
So far, that change in creative perspective and Whittaker's casting seems to have re-energized the Doctor Who fanbase. Variety reports that the Doctor Who season 11 premiere generated an average of 8.2. million viewers in the show's new time slot, with the total number of viewers peaking at 9 million. That number is not only bigger than the turnout for Capaldi's first episode as The Doctor (which attracted around 6.8 million viewers), but also the size of the initial crowds that tuned in for Matt Smith and Davie Tennant's debuts as The Doctor before him (7.7 and 8 million viewers, respectively).
U.S. critics were similarly enthusiastic about Whittaker's portrayal of The Doctor and the show's creative infusion in their season 11 premiere reviews. Variety's own Caroline Framke was generally impressed with 'The Woman Who Fell to Earth' and noted that "Whittaker’s deft, frenetic, confident performance speaks for itself. Within minutes she’s made it clear that yes, being a woman suits the Doctor just fine." THR Robyn Bahr likewise praised Whittaker for being "more winning than I could have ever imagined" and was cautiously hopeful that the season's future episodes will be as "epic" as she deserves.
All in all, 'The Woman Who Fell to Earth' was a successful beginning to Whittaker and Chibnall's run on Doctor Who across the board - something that bodes quite well for the rest of the season to come. With the series having already unveiled a season 11 guest star list that includes Vinette Robinson as Civil Rights icon Rosa Parks and introduced major plot points like The Doctor remembering their family, it appears that Doctor Who has only just started to take big swings and mix things up for its latest incarnation.
Doctor Who season 11 continues next Sunday with 'The Ghost Museum' at 8pm/7c on BBC America.