Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell to Earth
(1 episode, s11e01, 2018)
These new teeth are definitely weird.
Ryan Sinclair records a YouTube video and decides to talk about the greatest woman he ever met. He recounts trying to ride a bicycle with his grandmother Grace and her husband Graham O’Brien. It’s a challenge for him since Ryan struggles with dyspraxia, and when he falls off, he angrily throws the bike over a cliff. Grace and Graham try to console him but have to leave for their train home, so Ryan is left alone to retrieve the bike. He finds it trapped in a tree, then encounters a strange set of floating glowing golden lines. He touches one of them and watches as a purple plant-like pod emerges. It’s then that he calls the police.
We next meet Yasmin Khan, a probationary police officer who is settling a petty dispute between two women. She calls her supervisor, asking for something more challenging, and he gives her Ryan’s case. When Yaz meets with Ryan, she thinks that he’s pulling a prank on her, but their relationship warms up when they realize that they went to school together.
Grace and Graham are on their way home when a ball of energy collides with the train. The lights all go out, leaving the train shrouded in moonlight, and Grace investigates the disturbance. The couple soon encounters an erratic and electrified tentacle creature, and when they call Ryan and Yaz, the phones go dead. As the creature approaches, a woman falls through the train roof.
The Doctor springs into action and shorts out the electrified creature, but she cannot open the doors because she lost her sonic screwdriver. Yaz and Ryan arrive and the creature scans a bystander named Karl before briefly shocking everyone and flying away.
The Doctor takes charge but comes up short as Yaz asks who she is. The Doctor is perplexed by Yaz’s choice of address, recalling that she herself was a white-haired Scotsman half an hour before. She tells Ryan that she’s looking for a doctor before finding the train’s driver. Yaz thinks that the driver was murdered, but the Doctor says that she died of shock. The Doctor convinces Yaz and Ryan to join her, then meets Graham and Grace while mourning the loss of her TARDIS. Graham declares that there aren’t any aliens on trains in Sheffield, and the Doctor corrects him since she’s an alien.
Yaz takes contact information for a passenger named Karl and Ryan tells the Doctor about the pod. The team of Ryan, Yaz, Graham, and Grace go to the site but the pod is missing. In fact, it has been taken by a man named Andy for delivery to another man named Rahul. After paying Andy for his services, Rahul sets up several cameras to record the pod before sitting down to watch it.
The team, who the Doctor has started calling her “fam,” decides to check with their networks about anything out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, the Doctor collapses, prompting Ryan and Grace to take her to Ryan’s home. As the Doctor recovers, she glows with regeneration energy. Grace is astounded to find two separate pulses.
In Rahul’s shop, the pod cracks open. The energy awakens the electrical being and the Doctor simultaneously, and the Doctor discovers DNA bombs lodged in everyone’s collarbones. The Doctor tries to muddle through since her regeneration is not yet complete, but she recognizes the bombs as a way to get rid of witnesses. She reformats Ryan’s phone and uses it as a tracking device.
An armored figure emerges from the pod. Rahul demands to know where his sister is located and the being kills him and takes part of the corpse. The fam arrives soon after, watching as the creature leaves the shop. The creature escapes so the team investigates the shop. The creature has taken a single tooth from Rahul, and as Grace covers the body, Ryan finds the opened pod. The Doctor questions why the pod has come and Ryan admits to touching the golden lines.
The tracking signal, which was correlated to the electrical creature, has gone erratic. The Doctor decides to build her own sonic screwdriver so she can properly analyze the data. Meanwhile, Ryan and Yaz find a video file from Rahul, meant to be played upon his death. Rahul’s sister Asha was taken and he took it upon himself to find the truth.
The Doctor scans the pod with her fancy new sonic screwdriver and finds a recall circuit. She infers that the pod alien and the electrical alien are at war and looking to scrap it out on Earth. Graham gets a call about an alien’s location as the Doctor gathers some equipment. Meanwhile, the pod alien kills a drunk man who tosses salad at it and extracts another tooth. It then spots the electrical alien and heads toward it.
The Doctor’s team arrives first and shorts out the electrical alien. The Doctor scans it and finds a mass of gathering coils, a species that collects and correlates data. That data points back to Karl, the other passenger on the train. They are interrupted by the armored alien who demands to know who the Doctor is. When she can’t come up with the answer, she asks who the alien is.
The creature removes its helmet and identifies himself as Tzim-Sha (“Tim Shaw”) of the Stenza warrior race. He collects trophies from each kill and embeds them into his body, and he has been sent to hunt a randomly selected human without technology or assistance so he can become his people’s leader. Yaz and Ryan recognize that Asha was a previous victim of the hunt and that Ryan granted permission for the hunt by touching the golden lines. The Doctor declares that Tzim-Sha is cheating by using the gathering coils, and it turns out that he’s a double-cheat because he uses a short-range teleporter to escape after downloading the target’s info.
Tzim-Sha tracks Karl to his job as a crane operator at a building site. Following behind, the Doctor tasks Graham and Grace with evacuating the site while she, Yaz, and Ryan start climbing another crane. Despite his disability, Ryan takes on the task. Meanwhile, the Doctor formulates a plan to evacuate Karl by moving two cranes together. Karl tries to make the jump, but he’s stopped by Tzim-Sha, so the Doctor decides to jump across to confront the hunter herself.
She also takes a moment to curse her shorter legs.
Meanwhile, the Gathering Coil has recovered and is attacking the cranes. Grace decides to electrocute it with power from the site’s main power.
The Doctor confronts Tzim-Sha and threatens to destroy his recall device. She asks what he does with his trophies and is offended to learn that they are kept in stasis on the edge of death forever. Tzim-Sha threatens to detonate the DNA bombs, leaving the two at a standoff. Finally, the hunter asks his opponent who she is.
She’s glad he asked because she is the Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe. She asks him to leave the planet and he decides to detonate the bombs, but she moved them to the Gathering Coil. The pain of the explosions transfers to Tzim-Sha and he’s stunned, leaving an opportunity for Karl to kick him off the crane. Tzim-Sha snags the recall device and uses it to teleport away as he falls.
Grace successfully runs the cables to the Gathering Coil, but when the electricity shorts out the creature, the energy discharge knocks her from the crane. She dies in Graham’s arms as the rest of the team arrives.
Ryan later pays tribute to Grace, the greatest woman he has ever known, on his YouTube channel. He continues trying to ride the bike in her honor as the Doctor watches from a distance. At Grace’s funeral, Ryan waits for his father but gives up after two hours. Later on, Graham gives a heartfelt speech about how he met Grace during his cancer treatments and how he has cherished their three years together.
After the funeral, the Doctor discusses her family and how she lost them a long time ago. She carries them with her as memories during her travels. She remembers that she needs to find her TARDIS and decides that she’s stayed too long. Yaz tells her that she really needs to change clothes.
Yaz, Ryan, and the Doctor go shopping at a charity store, eventually landing on a very colorful outfit. She then assembles a rudimentary teleportation device out of Tzim-Sha’s technology that will track the artron energy from the TARDIS. The device activates…
…and teleports all four of them into deep space.
This episode marks a major tonal shift in the franchise. It marks the debut of the first official female Doctor – I love Curse of Fatal Death but it really doesn’t count – and the introduction of the largest all-new regular cast since Terminus. On top of all of that, this story premiered with the biggest crew shift since The Eleventh Hour, marking a near-effective reboot of the show.
It’s not a reboot, mind you, but it certainly feels like it from direction and music to cinematography.
The companions are quite engaging as they learn about this whole new world, and I found the large cast to be used well in this story. I loved how authentic they were with each other, even to the point of Graham being upset about touching the “permission slip” symbol, Grace chastizing him for that, and the Doctor admitting that she would have done exactly what Ryan did.
The loss of Grace was tragic and I do wish that she would have remained to travel with the Doctor because the chemistry was great, but the cast is really too large for revival-era standard hour-long adventures. The last time that the Doctor traveled with three companions, the show thrived on stories broadcast over multiple hours per adventure. I don’t think there’s enough time in a single episode to give everyone their dues.
Of those companions, we’ve seen one of them before as a different character: Bradley Walsh played the Pied Piper in The Day of the Clown.
The Thirteenth Doctor is another tonal shift, taking us from the acerbic Twelfth Doctor back to a more whimsical Time Lord. She’s more soft-spoken, but there is tremendous power behind the cover. There’s also a lot of Doctor Who oddness, like using her (unreliable) nose to tell time.
There’s not a lot in the trivia department, but of note is that this is the tenth story not to feature the TARDIS. It joins Mission to the Unknown, Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Mind of Evil, The Dæmons, The Sea Devils, The Sontaran Experiment, Genesis of the Daleks, Midnight, and The Lie of the Land. It’s also the first time since The Faceless Ones that we have two male companions traveling with the Doctor.
I’m interested as to where the previous sonic screwdriver and the sonic sunglasses ended up, especially since humans are keen on reverse engineering alien technology. One hopes that UNIT was hovering around and snapped those pieces up for the Black Archive or something.
I enjoyed watching this again for the Timestamps Project. It’s probably the third or fourth time that I have seen this episode, and I find it to be a strong presentation (even as a regeneration episode). I saw it live with Mike Faber at a viewing party hosted by Battle & Brew. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of a bunch of fans crowded around a bunch of television sets and wondering what the future of Doctor Who had to offer.
I’m eager to see how this era has held up as I move through it once again.
Rating: 5/5 – “Fantastic!”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.