The hype had been very strong over a new Doctor as a woman, and being on Sundays after 55 years.
Could the season premiere live up to it?
Actually, it did. It was more than the Doctor getting used to a new body and battling the latest alien threat. It was how a family is made. It includes a young man with his step-grandfather, a former school mate and the alien that leads them on a journey of space and time.
The show did a wise move holding back on the first appearance of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor by introducing her future companions first. It begins with Ryan (Tosin Cole) talking in a computer video about the greatest woman he’s ever known. It changes to him trying to ride a bike with his grandma Grace (Sharon D. Clarke) and her husband Graham (Bradley Walsh) looking on. Ryan has a coordination problem and falls. He tosses the bike off a hill, then finds an odd glowing diamond that changes into a button. He pushes it, and suddenly a blue pod appears.
Meanwhile, a cop named Yaz (Mandip Gill) is trying to deal with a parking dispute while wishing she could do more. It’s later revealed she and Ryan knew each other in elementary school.
Grace and Graham are on a train when it suddenly stalls, and a weird alien octopus appears.
Then someone falls into the train… the Doctor, who’s having a problem remembering who she is (certain she was a Scotsman 30 minutes ago) but surprisingly is able, slowly, to figure out what’s happening. She zaps the Octo-Alien, but it zaps the Doctor along with Grace, Graham, Yaz and Ryan (who just arrived) with DNA bombs that kill.
They later try to find the blue pod, which was taken by someone named Rahul (Amit Shah) who asks the pod where it took his sister. It hatches to reveal a Stenza Warrior who called himself “Tim Shaw” after one of his victims (Samuel Oakley). It did kill Rahul’s sister because she was “chosen” to be part of a hunt as part of the alien’s efforts to lead his tribe. Now, he’s got a new target, a crane operator named Karl (Jonny Dixon).
Oh, and the Stenza likes to take teeth from people he’s killed and wear them… on his face.
From there, the Doctor and her new friends gather to battle the alien while still in the final stages of regeneration. At one point, she glows. It takes a while for her new friends to realize she’s not of this world. especially when Grace sees the Doctor has two pulses.
Regeneration stories are always tricky because it has to decide how gradual the new Doctor’s regeneration process should be while dealing with an alien threat. Sometimes it can be quick as in “Robot” or take a long time as in “Castrovalva” and “Christmas Invasion.” The main point is to see how the new Doctor can also be the same Time Lord we always know, but just different.
This is especially interesting by having a woman this time. However, Whittaker quickly makes the role her own. While the Doctor is getting used to her new gender, she quickly tries to understand what’s happening. The best example is this quote: “All of this is new to you and new can be scary. Now we all want answers. Stick with me, you might get some.”
The doctor describes how she’s dealing with regeneration, which has never been done before. She says it’s like she’s a stranger to herself but trying to remember who she is. It’s an interesting take.
She also made her own sonic screwdriver, with Sheffield steel.
Back to the story, the Doctor has a very intense showdown with the Stenza on top of a crane. This is where two of the best moments take place. The first is when she is on one crane and Karl is at the other. She tells him to jump, but the alien grabs him first. So the Doctor jumps from one crane to the other and just makes it. So much for any doubt that a Time Lady can’t be physical.
The other moment is when she finally remembers she is the Doctor, and is in a standoff with the alien. She threatens to keep the Stenza stuck on Earth if he doesn’t let Karl go, while the Stenza says he’ll set off the DNA bombs. She wins out, and how she does it is a classic twist.
Meanwhile, Grace and Graham try to zap the Octo-Alien, which was actually a device the alien used to find his prey. However, Grace falls to her death. That was a really hard thing to take. Grace was a great character who proved why she was a positive influence to Ryan and Graham. Heck, seeing her as a future Time Lady is very easy.
It’s revealed Ryan considers “the greatest women he knows” was his grandmother.
Of the future companions, Walsh was the most interesting as Graham, a good man who was willing to get involved even if the Doctor preferred he wouldn’t. Gill and Cole were interesting as Yaz and Ryan, but their characters weren’t as fully formed. It’s still early in the season, though. Yaz wants to show she can do more as a cop, and being with the Doctor should do that. Ryan wants a family he can rely on, and it’ll be interesting how his relationship with Graham develops as they travel together.
Now that the Doctor has a new outfit, there’s still the problem of finding her TARDIS. She figures out a way, using the Stenza’s transport pod, to get her there. However, it transports the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan into what seems to be deep space.
Not to worry, though. They’ll find themselves in an alien world, hoping to find the TARDIS but getting something else. It sets up the arc of the Doctor hoping to get her new friends back home, sooner or later.
It’s just like what it was, 55 years ago.