The buzzword for this year’s series of Doctor Who was ‘new’. New Doctor, new companions, new Tardis, new monsters, new writers, new composer.
This, new showrunner Chris Chibnall has suggested, is the year Doctor Who embraces the future, rather than being bogged down in the past.
This, you may think, might mean that Jodie Whittaker’s opening episode contains slim pickings when it comes to Easter eggs and references – and you’d be right. But there are some subtle – and not so subtle – things to pick up on. Things like…
The episode title is, of course, a play on the 1963 sci-fi novel The Man Who Fell to Earth about a humanoid alien visitor. The story is now best known as a 1976 movie starring David Bowie.
The Doctor Who Fell to Earth
This is less of a reference and more ‘something that Doctor Who tends to do’, but this isn’t the first time that the Doctor has found herself hurtling towards the ground.
We’ve also seen him/her fall to Earth in The End of Time (where he jumps out of a spaceship and crashes through a glass roof); fall out of a plane in both Death in Heaven and The Zygon Inversion; plummet from space in The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe; and fall from a telescope pylon in classic story Logopolis, which caused Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor to regenerate. There’s also Matt Smith and his Tardis in The Eleventh Hour – although falling while in your Tardis is probably cheating.
But that’s not all: the theme tune is full of references to the past, with Akinola sampling the original 1963 version by Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire.
Listen to the original below, and compare:
Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is not forgotten
As the Doctor comes to terms with her new, Thirteenth body, she makes a reference to her Twelfth. Confused at being called ‘madam’ by new companion Yasmin Khan, the Doctor makes the realisation that she’s now pretty different from her predecessor – played by Peter Capaldi.
“Oh, I remember!” she says. “Sorry, half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman.”
Later in the episode, just after after pulling off a dangerous jump from one crane to another, she laments that “these legs definitely used to be longer” – a reference to the height difference between Peter Capaldi (6ft) and Jodie Whittaker (5 ft 5 inches).
A big part of modern Doctor Who mythology is that when the Doctor regenerates, he or she will not be themselves – they will likely be erratic, unconscious, and will almost certainly be glowing with golden regeneration energy.
Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor was no different – just like David Tennant and Peter Capaldi (Matt Smith was surprisingly spritely), she collapsed and had to be carried away for a lie down. In scenes reminiscent of the Tenth Doctor lying in bed in The Christmas Invasion, she surprised her new companions by exhaling some regeneration energy across the room.
Doctor Who spoons
In the midst of making her new sonic screwdriver, the Doctor looks delighted as she stares at some spoons.
This is likely to be a reference to the Doctor’s penchant for a spoon, which she once used to best Robin Hood in a sword fight (as seen in 2014 episode Robot of Sherwood)…
…and as a musical instrument during her Seventh incarnation.
At one point the Doctor boasts that her sonic screwdriver is made of “Sheffield steel” – a reference to the city’s history of steel production. Nicknamed the Steel City, Sheffield was world famous during the 18th and 19th centuries for its innovations in the field of steel – with the city pioneering stainless steel, crucible steel and the Sheffield plate. It’s an industry that means a lot to the city.
The Doctor’s family
One of the biggest references to the Doctor’s immense past is when she speaks about her family, just after being asked if she has any by Yasmin.
“No, lost them a long time ago,” she says, before explaining how she copes with them being gone. “I carry them with me: what they would have thought and said and done. Make them a part of who I am. So even though they’re gone from the world they’re never gone from me.”
The Doctor’s family is a bit of a mystery – and one that is rarely expanded upon in Doctor Who. Her most obvious family member is granddaughter Susan, who was the companion of William Hartnell’s First Doctor. Susan’s eventual fate is ambiguous, but she officially left the show after falling in love with a man from the 22nd century. The Doctor herself has made brief references to Susan, mentioning in various stories that she’s been ‘a father and a grandfather’.
Elsewhere, The Doctor’s Daughter saw the Tenth Doctor meet a cloned daughter, and in Smith and Jones he makes references to a brother (although it was also said that the Doctor was half-human in the 1996 TV movie so let’s not get carried away here). Then of course there was also The Woman from The End of Time, broadly considered to be the Doctor’s mother.
The Doctor’s ‘ship’
One of the most classic references in The Woman Who Fell to Earth is a subtle one: the Thirteenth Doctor refers to the Tardis as her ‘ship’.
“I‘m just a traveler,” she tells her companions towards the end. “Sometimes I see things that need fixing – I do what I can. Except right now, I’m a traveller without a ship.”
This is notable because the Doctor hasn’t really called the Tardis her ship since the classic era. In fact, last year’s Christmas special Twice Upon a Time – which featured the Twelfth Doctor and the First Doctor meeting for the first time – even went as far as to point this out.
“You know who I am. You must,” says Capaldi’s Doctor.
“Hmm. Have you come to take the ship back?” the First Doctor (played by David Bradley) replies.
“The ship,” chuckles 12. “You still call it a ‘ship'”.
It’s possible that this meeting with her first incarnation affected the Doctor’s subsequent regeneration.
“It’s been a long time since I bought women’s clothes”
When is the last time the Doctor bought women’s clothes?
We can’t know for sure, but on screen we’d wager a reasonable guess that it was in Night and the Doctor, a series of five made-for-DVD mini-episodes included as part of Matt Smith’s series 6 in 2011. The stories explore the romantic night-time exploits of the Eleventh Doctor and River Song, and starts with a mini-episode in which he buys Song a new dress.
And as for when the Doctor last wore women’s clothes…
Doctor Who series 11 continues on Sunday 14 October with The Ghost Monument on BBC1
This article was originally published on 7 October 2018