The anticipation for Doctor Who Season 11 Episode 1 was the kind you get before jumping from a plane for the first time. Whether it goes well or not, you won’t ever again be able to say that you’ve never taken that risk.
Personally, I think that this jump went well. Very, very well.
Every time The Doctor regenerates, we can expect a refreshing of the series, the character, and even the TARDIS. Each Doctor has, historically, brought along HIS own version of the Sonic Screwdriver, HIS own wardrobe, and HIS own preferred snack menu.
In introducing the first female version of The Doctor, they’ve rewritten even these iconic accessories. The Thirteenth Doctor has lost her TARDIS momentarily (not a new thing since the Third Doctor’s TARDIS was broken for his entire stint) AND her screwdriver.
She spends the entire adventure in remnants of Twelve’s outfit until Yaz points out she really needs a change. And, for what I have to believe has to be a Whovian first (correct me if I’m wrong), The Doctor SHOPS for her outfit.
Oh, please, please, please, interwebs, please don’t make a “sexist” rant out of the FFD (First Female Doctor) going shopping. No TARDIS, no endless wardrobe supply. It’s really a no-brainer.
The outfit itself is arguably rant-worthy, mind you.
Meanwhile, the sonic screwdriver isn’t exactly off-the-shelf sort of merch so when she realizes she’s good at building things, she sets to work making one from scratch. That’s D.I.Y. on an EPIC scale, for sure.
The montage of creating a 100% Sheffield product that is more of a “sonic Swiss Army Knife” (but without the knife) is a wonderfully whimsical series of sight gags. I chuckled out loud at the sledge-hammer action she gets into.
It all results in a sonic that shoots off unexpected sparks (and bubbles?) but which The Doctor is confident will do the job. A bit of a metaphor for the new season, maybe?
This is exciting. No, not exciting. What do I mean? Worrying.
Now, besides introducing a new Doctor, the premiere of a season after a regeneration in the Who-verse means something new for the Companion role. Whether that means a new character altogether or just new circumstances for old Companions, there’s always a learning curve.
Since the reboot, we’ve had companions, like Rose and Clara, who have bridged a regeneration, standing by the new version as he finds his feet (and hands and hearts). We’ve also had new Doctors find all-new Companions like Amy… err, and Rose.
As Twelve’s last companion end up pretty much dead (although Bill got about as happily-ever-after a dead ending as we could possibly wish for), it was bound to be newbies on the ride this time around.
The first companion we meet is Ryan and his YouTube tribute to his nan, Grace, sort of bookends the episode although initially, it plays like a red herring when he talks about the “greatest woman” he’s ever known.
He’s a Companion with a built-in and recognized challenge. He has dyspraxia which is a developmental disorder that presents as chronic clumsiness and coordination issues. He’s a healthy nineteen-year-old who can’t ride a bike.
His frustration with another unsuccessful bike-riding lesson is what leads him to encounter the Stenza transport pod which seriously looks like a giant Hershey’s chocolate kiss.
So far, we know that Ryan is a caring grandson but a neglected son. He’s skilled with the use of social media and pretty quick to understand and accept The Doctor is exactly what she says she is (once she’s able to explain that). He’s willing to face his challenges for the greater good.
Ryan’s call to the police about the Kiss-shaped pod brings him and Yasmin Khan together. She’s a second-year probationary police officer and chomping at the bit to get to investigate something more interesting that public squabbles over parking spots.
By nature and training, she’s more skeptical than Ryan. She initially thinks he’s playing a prank, calling in about a pod that just appeared out of nowhere. However, she too is convinced that The Doctor is something special.
We haven’t seen Yaz’s family but she’s quick to re-connect with Ryan as an old classmate and is warm and friendly when Ryan’s nan recognizes her later.
She tries to play things out by the book but The Doctor, who recognizes the intention, gets out ahead of her by pointing out the futility of reporting on something she doesn’t have the facts on yet.
And that leaves us with Graham. He’s a retired bus driver whose cancer is in remission. When the episode begins, he’s been married to Ryan’s nan for three years and we find out after her funeral that they met and fell in love when she was his chemo nurse.
We learn a lot about Graham from his interactions with Grace. Grace is the happy medium between him and Ryan. When the team needs to gather information, Ryan heads for the Internet, Graham goes to talk to his old work buddies, and Grace chats up her nurse colleagues USING the Internet.
Grace is physically affectionate and forthright. She makes Graham incredibly happy while also pushing him out of his comfort zone. Her first instinct is to help others. When she falls from the crane and knows she’s dying, her final thoughts are for Graham and how he’ll be when she’s gone.
They are a beautifully matched couple so it’ll be interesting to see how the series deals with Graham’s grief on future episodes.
Grace: Is it wrong to be enjoying this?
As for the adventure itself, this was a cracking good ‘un. What was the most impressive thing was how well Thirteen was able to juggle the very obvious discombobulation she was experiencing while trying to figure out what a massive, sentient ball of electrical cables and an armored killer with a tooth-pulling compulsion are doing in Sheffield.
In taking over the role of The Doctor, there’s a need to somehow SEE the previous version in the new person as the regeneration process progresses. Whittaker does a stellar job in channeling Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in the scenes on the train when The Doctor hasn’t even realized she’s female.
Don’t panic. Not the end of the world. Well, it could be the end of the world but one thing at a time.
There was a manic-ness when Twelve would get thrown into a quandary that needed solving with injustices that needed righting. Add to that the internal chaos of regenerating into a wholly new persona (with a craving for a fried egg sandwich) and Thirteen seems to exceed hyper-drive some point in the second act.
With so many Companions running around and a FIFTH human to rescue, the climactic confrontation with “Tim Shaw” is fabulous in its scope. Standing atop construction cranes, facing down a being with the tools to MELT. YOUR. DNA. and offering him a chance to walk away.
This is quintessential Doctor gameplay and that’s why it was brilliant that she was able to assert her identity at that exact moment.
I am The Doctor, sorting out fair play throughout the universe.
In the aftermath of the battle, it was a solid choice to spend some time showing how Grace’s death affected the team. When they discuss the value of family and how they handle the loss of those closest to them, The Doctor is able to speak to that just as much as the humans.
I carry them with me. What they would’ve thought and said and done. Made them a part of who I am. So even though they’re gone from the world, they’re never gone from me.
And yet, it’s telling that she doesn’t invite any of the three along for her next adventure. After Clara and Bill, The Doctor might’ve figured out at a visceral level that it isn’t a good idea for humans she cares about to stick too close.
But, as they say, the best-laid plans of… well, The Doctor has never REALLY been either mouse nor man but since the episode ends with the four of them zapped into outer space, we have to assume a new plan will be in the works quickly.
Overall, this was probably my favorite regeneration since the Tenth Doctor (MY Doctor). It made me laugh while grounding the introductions in genuine relationships and emotion. And, not once, did Thirteen have to ask, “Am I a good man?”
So, where’s my Who Crew? Have you watched and rewatched Doctor Who online yet? Did it meet your expectations? Was it worth the ait? Did you ENJOY it? Where do you think the TARDIS is leading them next?
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.