Wednesday 24 April 2019

Doctor Who review: Get used to it lads, Jodie Whittaker IS the Doctor

4 stars

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor (Sophie Mutevelian/BBC)
Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor (Sophie Mutevelian/BBC)

Pat Stacey

“Don’t be scared. All this is new to you, and new can be scary,” Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor tells her new friends and soon-to-be travelling companions in her first full Doctor Who episode, The Woman Who Fell To Earth.

At another point she says: “We’re all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve while still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we’ve been and choose who we want to be next.”

This sounds like both a mission statement for where new show-runner Chris Chibnall wants to steer the series and a direct address to all those pathetic fanboys who whinged and wailed and threw their toys out of the Tardis when it was announced in July last year that the Yorkshire-born star of Broadchurch would be the first female Doctor.

Well, you’d better get used to it, lads, because Ms Whittaker is here now and she’s absolutely wonderful. She nails the character and immediately re-energises a series that was in danger of disappearing into its own black hole.

Jodie Whittaker to make TV history as new Doctor Who series kicks off (Henrik Knudsen/BBC)
Jodie Whittaker to make TV history as new Doctor Who series kicks off (Henrik Knudsen/BBC)

From the moment she crashes through the roof of a train, still dressed in predecessor Peter Capaldi’s ill-fitting clothes, to the scene near the end where she chooses her own distinctive costume of long coat, rainbow top, braces and culottes (I’m glad I have daughters to tell me what these things are called), she owns the role. She is the Doctor.

Most new Doctors need a couple of episodes to bed in. Capaldi, especially in his first season, seemed unsure of which way to play the character, but Whittaker makes an effortlessly assured debut, as if she’s been doing this for years.

There’s a lot riding on this episode, probably the most important since Russell T Davies relaunched the series with Christopher Eccleston in 2005.

After all those manchild meltowns over the casting of a woman, it’s refreshing that Chibnall wastes no more time than he has to on the subject. By the end of the episode, it’s a non-issue.

Apart from the Doctor, who’s still disorientated after the regeneration, quipping that she was “a white-haired Scotsman” only half-an-hour earlier, the transformation is batted aside in favour of jumping straight into the action.

There’s a lot to get through in this extended 65-minute opener. As well as a new Doctor, there’s a diverse trio of new companions: probationary policewoman Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill), who yearns for more excitement in her life; would-be mechanic Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), who has dyspraxia and is very much our “in” to the story; and retired bus driver Graham O’Brien (Bradley Walsh), who’s the second husband of Ryan’s grandmother Grace (Sharon D Clarke).

The Doctor has had multiple companions in the past, but this feels more like a proper ensemble. The group leans towards being a de facto family (especially after tragedy strikes), rather than simply the Doctor and a few sidekicks.

Chibnall promised that his Doctor Who would get back to basics with stories that weren’t aimed solely at hardcore fans, and that’s evident from the outset of this crisp, fast-moving opener.

It feels much more like a Russell T Davies episode than one from the cluttered, convoluted Steven Moffat era.

As is usually the case with introductory episodes, the plot plays second fiddle to establishing the characters, though the villain, a Predator-style alien hunter who gruesomely decorates his face with his victims’ teeth, is likely to give younger viewers (and anyone who hates dentists) the frights.

The whole series has been given an impressive upgrade: a redesigned title sequence (under wraps until next week); seriously improved special effects; a new composer, Segun Akinola, whose arrangement of the classic theme revives the spine-tingling electronica of the 60s original; and new cameras with anamorphic lenses that give a gorgeous, sweeping widescreen image.

All the better for showcasing this dazzling new Doctor.

Herald

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