Let’s start here: This premiere speaks to every aspect of scifi that I enjoy. It feels real. Like it could happen in my backyard, with people I know and dangers I feel. I read a criticism the other day that said, essentially, that this new feel for Doctor Who felt too much like any other scifi. I’m here to say that’s not a bad thing.
What I loved about this was the fact that it did feel like any other scifi, but instead of some random hero coming to save the day, the Doctor drops out of the sky. And that’s amazing. Give me any scifi movie or tv show and tell me that instead of whoever the real hero is, the Doctor will save the day instead? Sign. Me. Up.
On top of that, Jodie Whittaker is already great. It’s going to take a bit for her to really settle in to being the Doctor, that’s been true of every Doctor. (And it’s less her as an actor and more the writers getting a feel of how to best write for this iteration.) But already she has an innate sense of compassion that is unbelievably perfect for the Doctor. It’s been there in every regeneration, sometimes buried under anger or despair, but the Doctor always fundamentally cares so freaking much. Whittaker, standing over the first dead body of her regeneration, can do nothing but apologize. Apologize that these new friends of hers were dragged into this. Apologize that they had to see this dead body. Apologize that she hadn’t figured things out yet.
She wants the best for those around her. It’s that simple.
One thing I look forward to seeing moving forward is the return of the Doctor out-clever-ing the enemy. A lot of times it felt like Moffat felt the need to explain things so much that he got tripped up in trying to logic how the Doctor wins. While on the other side, RTD was always ok saying “well, the Doctor is clever, he did a clever thing and won, duh.” The moment that comes to mind—because I just watched it the other day—is Tennant in “Family of Blood” when he pretends he’s flailing around and knocking into random things in the alien ship. Then, surprise! He actually did a clever thing that means the ship will now blow up. That’s just how the Doctor worked. He was more clever.
While 11 and 12 felt smarter than everyone around, they really didn’t feel more clever. It seemed like Amy or River or Clara always had to come up with something that put the Doctor in the right direction. 10 had the continual wonderful moments where he was legitimately surprised when he came across someone in the universe that could say/do something he found clever.
(One caveat, I do think, especially with 12, Moffat intentionally stopped the Doctor from flaunting his cleverness. He was more interested in 12 helping people help themselves, or helping Clara help people.)
But anyway, 13 feels clever again. The “don’t blink, bad guy, cause the Doctor is already 3 steps ahead” kind of clever. What’s hard about that is keeping the suspense in the show. Giving us, as an audience, enough to know the Doctor can succeed while letting enough go wrong that it feels like she won’t. Chibnall balances that so well.
Really, the only issue I have with Chibnall’s script is the end with the villain. It still feels wrong for the Doctor to murder—at least the way this went down. Yes, I say that as a full member of the “NewWho Doctors have always been murderers” club. And really, her turning the tables on this guy and implanting the DNA bombs and letting the guy kill himself after how grotesque and merciless he was, is fine for me. But then her saying that the guy who was seconds from being murdered had no right to kick the guy off the crane…felt insincere.
What gave you the right, Doctor? You, defender of humankind? Timelord victorious? Lives were in danger which gave you the right to out-clever the bad guy and sentence him to death (and yes, she sentenced him to death, knowing full well he’d try to detonate those bombs). But when a human does it, it’s wrong?
It might just be a mindset thing for 13 that will become clearer as the show moves forward (similar to 12’s insistence that there are some choices that he couldn’t make and he served at the pleasure of humankind). But for now, it feels weird for a murderer to say to a victim “how dare you try to kill the guy I’m trying to kill.”
Anyway, looking forward: I’m excited to see where the TARDIS has ended up. I’m excited to see these 3 friends grow and travel with the Doctor. (Side note: are these the first reluctant travelers since Donna’s first episode?) The Doctor is clever again and it feels nice to trust the writer—I didn’t question for a second that 13 could just casually build a sonic screwdriver. Plus Whittaker is fun and funny and seems like someone who, once she has her TARDIS back, will just want to go experience the universe. See what’s out there. I love that.
I’d be remiss to not mention that the new cameras that they’re using to shoot this season look fantastic, the whole thing feels very cinematic. The absence of a title sequence helped with that. It definitely helped set a tone.
One of the low-key great things that I love about this run has nothing to do with this episode. It’s the secrecy. No idea what the TARDIS will look like. Very little idea what even happens beyond the next episode. Hell, we don’t even have episode titles or who wrote what past episode 2. Something about the mystery just makes me excited.