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Jodie Whittaker's first full Doctor Who episode: What the critics are saying

Critics weren't blown away by the series opener, but seemed to be impressed by how consistent it felt with the rest of the show

Christopher Hooton
Friday 16 November 2018 14:15
Doctor Who series 11 - trailer

Jodie Whittaker settled into the role of the Thirteenth Doctor on Sunday night, appearing in her first full episode of Doctor Who since she took over from Peter Capaldi in the 2017 Christmas special.

The periodic regeneration of the Time Lord is always a big TV event, but has been of particular note on this occasion as it sees the Doctor as a woman for the first time.

The BBC show also stars Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill as the Doctor's new companions.

Here’s what the critics made of Doctor Who series eleven episode one, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” (spoilers ahead):

The Independent, Ed Power – 4 stars

After all the hype, hyperbole and inevitable internet hate, she acquits herself wonderfully in her full-length debut. In the Doctor’s new uniform of rainbow sweater and bright yellow suspenders (think Bay City Rollers by way of Robin Williams in Mork & Mindy), Whittaker is a force of breezy nature – rambunctious, quirky but with a reassuringly familiar aura of Gallifreyan uncanniness.

The Guardian, Lucy Mangan – 4 stars

The new Doctor and her team – 19-year-old Ryan, his old schoolmate turned police probationer Yasmin, and Ryan’s step-grandfather Graham (Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh respectively) – have heart and soul, and are set against a comforting background of South Yorkshire women – especially Ryan’s nan – talking common sense as alien life and electrical pulses erupt around them. Think of it as Happy Uncanny Valley. I hope intersectionalist feminist propaganda is always this much fun.

The New York Times, Mike Hale – [Positive]

But whether it’s Ms Whittaker’s performance or Mr. Chibnall’s conception, this feels like a different Doctor — friendlier, less angsty, more of a straightforward action hero. Perhaps the most important thing about the Doctor, until now, has been his alienness, the inhuman edge that Mr. Capaldi was so good at capturing. With Ms. Whittaker, the biggest change may turn out not to be that she’s a woman, but that she’s inescapably human.

The Daily Beast, Nico Hines – [Negative]

A decade ago it may have been revolutionary, but the first female Doctor Who finally landed on our screens on Sunday feeling a little behind the times.

Following on from this year’s stunning BBC spy drama Killing Eve which stars two complex women locked in battle—Sandra Oh’s MI5 operative against a sociopathic Russian assassin—the introduction of a gentle, self-deprecating and inoffensive Doctor felt disappointingly safe.

The very fact that Doctor Who’s gender reversal now comes across as a little underwhelming perhaps shows how much progress has been made in a short time, but that doesn’t mean the producers ought to settle for a quiet revolution. Whittaker should be given the chance to innovate and to thrill a whole new generation.

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The Telegraph, Michael Hogan – 4 stars

“Don’t be scared,” said the 13th Doctor (Jodie Whittaker ). “All of this is new to you and new can be scary.” She might as well have been talking straight to us viewers. Doctor Who had a new star, new head writer and a new time slot – but it was only scary in a good way.

There has been a depressingly predictable knee-jerk backlash to a time-travelling, body-regenerating extraterrestrial with two hearts having the temerity to be female but this debut adventure barrelled straight past such quibbles.

Variety, Caroline Framke – [Positive]

Given the enormity of the occasion of Whittaker’s casting, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” has to walk a fine line while introducing her. Thirteenth Doctor has to hearken back to the twelve versions before her, echoing their speech patterns and encompassing their storied histories. In acting the part, Whittaker immediately has to both inject her own personality into it and anchor the show.

She might not be a brand new Doctor, but a new version of the same character that has fueled the show for decades. Striking the right balance has been a tall order for any new Doctor and showrunner to take on, as several pairs have done over the last decade, but the level of difficulty this particular team had to master is arguably the highest yet. That’s why it’s so impressive that “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” is, for the most part, an extremely typical episode of Doctor Who.

Radio Times, Patrick Mulkern – 3 stars

Jodie Whittaker is a winner in the new series of Doctor Who. Instantly engaging as the 13th Doctor, she radiates positive energy, fizzes with fun – how did she ever keep that so tightly bottled as anguished Beth Latimer in Broadchurch? She gives this 13-year-old – or 55-year-old – series the power-surge regeneration it needs.

As a calling card, Chris Chibnall’s debut doesn’t have the zing of Russell T Davies’s reboot with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper in 2005 or Steven Moffat’s takeover with Matt Smith in 2010. His trump card, though, is Jodie Whittaker and I’m more than ready to join her on some fresh adventures. The Woman Who Fell to Earth is less than enthralling but enjoyable hokum. I remain cautiously optimistic about Chibnall’s vision for Doctor Who. I’ve already seen episode two and that really is a step up.

The AV Club, Caroline Siede – [Positive]

She then goes on to build her own sonic screwdriver (sonic Swiss Army knife?) out of old spoons, spare bits of alien tech, and a deconstructed circuit board. It’s Whittaker’s best scene, and it simultaneously feels like Doctor Who as we’ve always known it and Doctor Who as we’ve never seen it before. As the Doctor herself puts it, “Right, this is gonna be fun.” I couldn’t agree more.

The i, Jeff Robson – [Positive]

She absolutely caught what is the essence of the Time Lord’s character, regardless of gender, age or previous acting pedigree – the self-deprecating wit, the eternal inquisitiveness and the core of decency, striving to ensure (in new lead writer Chris Chibnall’s words) “fair play throughout the universe”.

Chibnall kept it real by killing off a key character – an acknowledgement that, yes, these apocalyptic encounters would have collateral damage, and a hint that there’ll probably be a hard, realistic core to the further extraterrestrial adventures.

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