A little over a year ago, I took it upon myself to voice my opinion on the casting of a woman in the role of the Doctor (you can see it here:http://robtymec.blogspot.com/2017/07/unadulterated-boorish-opinion-female.html). For those of you who are just too damned lazy and/or occupied to go back and read it, the basic gist of the essay was that I would need to see her in action before I could express any real opinion on the matter.
So, I've seen her in action, now. What do I think of her? Well, let's take up an entire essay discussing it....
JODIE'S ACTUAL PERFORMANCE:
Jodie, pretty much, follows the pattern both Paul McGann and Chris Eccleston used. She hits the ground running. Someone else said it best in a review I watched on YouTube: from the moment she falls through the ceiling of the train, she is the Doctor. I totally agree with that sentiment.
In some ways, she almost had no choice but to have this sort of attack on the role. Frequently, new Doctors are given a bit of time to settle into the part. But, like McGann and Eccleston, she was part of a crucial moment in the series. She needed to establish herself firmly to give the show, itself, a proper foothold with its audience. She does all that quite admirably. I'm very impressed with the presence she shows. I'd go so far to say that her performance was one of the most solid ones I've seen in a New Doctor Story.
Purely from a performance standpoint, the Thirteenth Doctor is awesome. She might be a woman, now - but she is still the Doctor. I look forward to seeing more of her. Wherever she takes the character, I think I will enjoy it.
THE QUALITY OF HER FIRST EPISODE - THE GOOD STUFF
It's always a good choice to keep the first story of a new Doctor (or, as I like to call them, a New Doctor Story) fairly simple. We're trying to get used to a change of the lead in the show and it's good for the writer to use up a lot of screentime familiarizing us with them. They need to devote some time to just letting us see what sort of quirks the latest incarnation might have. As much as some fans might revile Twin Dilemma, making its central thrust the fact that Peri is having a hell time accepting the Doctor's change was a good move. And this rings true with so many other New Doctor Stories that make this same choice. I'm glad that The Woman Who Fell to Earth uses thar format too.
There are a few things that particularly stand out in the episode. Probably the strongest is the wonderful speech that the Thirteenth Doctor delivers about settling into a new incarnation. Not only does it have a gorgeous poetic quality to it, but it offers some great insights into the character. It's one of those speeches that will probably make it into the Great Monologues of Doctor Who Hall of Fame. Along with the "Homo Sapiens!" speech in Ark In Space or "Hello Stone Henge!" in The Pandorica Opens.
I really like the stakes of Woman Who Fell. She's not stopping an invasion of Earth or saving the Universe. She's just trying to stop a Stenza from killing one person (well, placing one person in eternal torment - if you want to get technical). This might not even stop the alien species from using the Earth as a hunting ground, but it will make a difference to that one person. It's a great way to show where the Doctor stands. She will tolerate no injustice on any level. No matter how slight.
I also quite like the monster in this story. We learn a lot about him with the little dialogue he's provided. He has a sort of warped warrior's code and can kill people the way Kane did in Dragonfire. I also love that he has a ball of floaty electric eels to help him! He was really quite cool.
Yes, he does bear just the vaguest resemblance to The Predator. Both in terms of appearance (he has an ugly face beneath his space helmet) and habit (he uses Earth as a hunting ground). But, really, the similarities end there. So can we stop with the "he's a total rip-off of The Predator!" comments I'm already starting to see. People that are doing this may want to refer to another UNADULTERATED BOORISH OPINION essay that I've written (http://robtymec.blogspot.com/2017/07/unadulterated-boorish-opinion-silliness.html).
Oh yes, the Doctor jumping from one crane to another was brilliant.
THE QUALITY OF HER FIRST EPISODE - THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
While I have praised Woman Who Fell to Earth for keeping its plot simple, it does still mean that the episode can still only inspire so much wonder. This is always the great paradox of any New Doctor Story. It can't be complicated. But its lack of complication means it will, usually, be mediocre.
It's not to say that it didn't have the potential to be great. I consider, at least, three New Doctor Stories to be outstanding (Power of the Daleks, Spearhead from Space and Castrovalva). It also had the potential to be awful, too, of course. One New Doctor Story achieves this in my Book (not Twin Dilemma or Time and the Rani - but rather, Robot). Woman Who Fell sits in the middle with so many other New Doctor Stories. A nice foundation is built as we get to know this latest incarnation. But it doesn't achieve much beyond that. Since that is the real point of the whole episode - we're satisfied. But there is that lingering feeling of: "this could have been better".
We're also seeing a bit of that "Exposition is Evil" mentality that writers for Doctor Who all seem to have. From what I gather, the Doctor survives her fall from the TARDIS because she's still within the first 13 hours of her regeneration and can heal her wounds (which is what the whole nap on the couch was about). It would be nice if she had been given a line to explain that, though.
Otherwise, there's not much else I can say that I find bad about the first impression a female Doctor has made on me. Both, in terms of performance and story, she's doing quite well.
A SLIGHT THEMATIC CONCERN
There is but one more thing that I wish to take up before I click on the "Publish" prompt and let you guys endure my latest bloated opinion. We saw just a hint of it in this episode and I'm hoping we don't see too much more of it. A bit more would be okay - but I hope they don't abuse it.
A female Doctor is certainly empowering. It's a great message that's being sent to women of all ages: Gender does not define heroism. Women can be anything - even the Doctor. I'm all for this. But I do hope these feminist undertones remain undertones and don't start getting crammed down our throat.
Rescuing Karl on the crane was a full reversal of the classic "damsel in distress" trope. More times than I can count, the Classic Series gave us this scenario. Each time that they did, I found it fairly nauseating. A woman being completely useless unless a man can save her was something I found a bit distasteful. It marred the reputation of many female companions from the 60s because it made them look like they could do nothing without a man nearby to look after them.
A female Doctor saving a completely useless male victim was a cute moment that almost seems to acknowledge all that horribly sexist writing from yesteryear and make up for a it a bit. But I hope we don't push this particular agenda too hard. I'm nervous that the show will keep giving us male characters that are near-superfluous and women who are getting everything accomplished. It didn't help that neither Graham nor Ryan contribute much to the plot either. Whereas Grace and Yas do take a lot more initiative and solve more problems. Again, if this only happens now and again - I'm perfectly cool with it. But, if every episode has a sort of "Girls rule. Boys Drool." undertone to it, it could get tiresome fast.
We may see this some more. I don't mind if it only happens now and again. In fact, it should be something we occasionally witness. It is a sort of re-dressing of the balance. But I hope it's not continuous. At this point though, we can't tell how much more this will occur. We'll have to wait and see what the rest of the season gives us....
Okay, so that's the second installment on this particular series. There will be one more at the end of the season. Normally, I wouldn't be writing anything so opinion-based like this at regular intervals. I would just let the fans enjoy the new season without having to hear my reviews about it. But so much opinion is going to get thrown around this season because of the decision Chibnall made with the casting that I feel I should "throw in" a bit, myself. I just have the advantage of a well-read blog to use as my platform.