Doctor Who series 11 episode one, The Woman Who Fell to Earth, Jodie Whittaker’s long-awaited debut as the Thirteenth Doctor, has landed.
And with it has come a bunch of questions. This is, after all, a bold, new, exciting era – there’s a lot to get to grips with.
- Doctor Who guest star teases “fantastic” Jodie Whittaker performance later in the series
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- Doctor Who to move from Saturdays to Sundays for new era
Here are 13 questions (and some answers) we had about the episode…
Where was The Woman Who Fell to Earth filmed?
Doctor Who is mainly filmed in Cardiff, the home of BBC Wales’ studio space (it’s where the Tardis interior set is based, for example). But for The Woman Who Fell to Earth, a lot of exterior filming took place in Sheffield, where the episode is set.
Where were the opening credits?
Good question. It seems that for Jodie Whittaker’s first episode Chris Chibnall has decided (as he says in Doctor Who Magazine) to start the episode a “little differently”, omitting the opening titles for the first time since 2015’s Sleep No More. But don’t worry, the new title sequence will feature in next week’s episode.
The Woman Who Fell to Earth opens with an introduction to new companion Ryan (Tosin Cole), a young man who struggles with riding a bike, climbing ladders and other physical tasks due to having a co-ordination disorder called dyspraxia.
According to The Dyspraxia Foundation, dyspraxia is “a life-long condition affecting gross and fine motor coordination, organisation, perception, language and thought,” and it affects a large number of children and adults around the world (around 10 per cent of children have it to some degree).
“We did a lot of research into that with the Dyspraxia Foundation,” series showrunner Chris Chibnall said of his decision to write Ryan with the condition. “The script team have been working with those guys. It was important, because people live with these things. I have a nephew with dyspraxia – it’s a relatively common thing among kids. So it’s important to see that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. That’s the most important thing about Doctor Who and you’re going to see that a lot this year.”
And while The Dyspraxia Foundation hadn’t seen the first episode at the time of writing, when RadioTimes.com spoke to one of their representatives about it, they were extremely happy with how the disorder is portrayed in the story – and you can read more about dyspraxia and their response here.
Is that Jodie Whittaker’s real accent?
Yes! Jodie Whittaker was encouraged by Chris Chibnall to keep her native Yorkshire accent for the show. (More specifically, she is from the village of Skelmanthorpe in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire).
At the premiere of the episode, Whittaker explained that while she loves working on accents (as she did in ITV drama Broadchurch for example), she was pleased to be able to speak in her normal voice because of the complexity of the dialogue. “I take my hat off to David [Tennant],” she said, referring to how he changed his native Scottish accent, “who transformed his voice as well as doing a phenomenal Doctor.”
She also maintained that although the Doctor speaks in a Yorkshire accent, she is ‘certainly not a Yorkshire character’.
“It’s a body with a voice, and that voice is mine. I think that if I was RP [received pronunciation] or came from London and had chosen to have a Yorkshire accent, it would have a real meaning behind it in a way. But it doesn’t in this instance because it’s me.”
Yes she did, even for the climactic crane confrontation towards the end of the episode.
“In episode one that’s all me,” Whittaker told the crowd at the Doctor Who premiere in Sheffield on Monday 24th September. “I’m really proud of that.”
While in some later episodes Whittaker did have to hand over to the stunt team, she says she still tried her best to get stuck in on the BBC1 show.
“There are couple of moments in the series where it was deemed not appropriate that I chucked myself out of somewhere,” she explained. “We have a really amazing stunt coordinator and my stunt double Belinda is amazing so there are moments where it needed a professional.
“Actually it was amazing, and the wonderful thing about the Doctor is that it’s all about self-belief in so many ways. You don’t have these outlandish or other-worldly skills. Physically you have a body like anyone else and you can or can’t do certain things.”
And yes, co-star Tosin Cole did his own stunts as well – even though his were just him falling off a bike.
“I did my own stunts too – I dropped that bike over and over again!” he said. “I wonder if you know how difficult it is to act that you can’t ride a bike when you can.”
“And the Bafta goes to…” Whittaker quipped.
Where is the Tardis?
That’s a big question. The Tardis was last seen exploding in the sky, with the Doctor falling out of it.
Where it is now is a mystery that the Doctor, by the end of the episode, is trying to solve – via some sort of gadget she’s constructed that will help her locate it. Given that the gadget teleports her and her new companions into the middle of space isn’t a good sign, however. Either the Doctor’s coordinates are wrong and she’s overshot it, or they’re right and the Tardis has vanished somehow. Neither are particularly promising.
Given that she died in this episode, it seems that promoting Sharon D Clarke’s Grace as a ‘returning role’ in the lead up to the series was a red herring. Or was it?
For while it is true that Grace doesn’t appear in the trailers for the series – suggesting that she doesn’t appear in upcoming episodes – we are talking about a show here that A) is very good at keeping secrets, B) isn’t usually keen on the whole ‘staying dead forever’ thing, and C) is about time travel.
Could we potentially see a Father’s Day scenario – in which Rose Tyler used time travel to try and save her father – in the future? Or maybe a Clara Oswald or Bill Potts solution, where they’re still technically dead, but have been kept alive in some way?
It’s difficult to tell. With new showrunner Chris Chibnall comes a new approach. But given that Sharon D Clarke is an actor of great renown, and how scarce details are about the stories that are yet to come in this series, this might not be the last we’ve seen of Grace.
Wait, how did the Doctor make a sonic screwdriver?
It might seem odd that the Doctor can just make a sonic screwdriver from scratch – was Matt Smith just not trying hard enough when he broke his in the Eleventh Hour? – but she does actually have a bit of a workaround in this week’s episode.
You see, she doesn’t just have Earthly components to work with, as the new screwdriver’s power crystal is nabbed from the Stenza warrior’s return pod. Most of the rest of her screwdriver building is achieved with Earth tech, sure – she melts down some steel cutlery, does a bit of circuitry and soldering – but she has that extra extraterrestrial boost as well to give her a leg up.
And as for making it work the same as every other screwdriver despite its different components, well, the series has addressed that once before.
In 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor, various generations of the screwdriver are described as the “same software, different case” – so assuming the Doctor remembers how to create the software, the hardware it runs on can vary, and even be made from old spoons.
Has the sonic screwdriver changed its name?
If you were worried about the Doctor’s frequent reference to her “Swiss Army Sonic”, fear not – we don’t have another sonic sunglasses situation on our hands.
RadioTimes.com actually contacted the BBC, who assured us that going forward the Doctor’s trademark gadget is referred to as the sonic screwdriver. Phew!
Why did the alien speak English?
Normally, the surprisingly good English of outer-space creatures is explained by the Tardis translation matrix, a “slightly telepathic” feature of the ship that auto-translates alien lingo (and various human languages) into the spoken language of anyone who travels within it.
However, at the time of The Woman Who Fell to Earth, none of the Doctor’s pals have set foot inside the Tardis – so how can they understand alien baddie Tim Shaw so easily?
Well, we have a couple of ideas. Most simply, it seems likely that Tim Shaw’s species the Stenza have their own translation technology, especially if they’re hoping to battle their way around the galaxy.
Sure, they might think humans are weak and useless – but even for the purposes of intimidation, knowing the local language must be useful. And as we find out in the episode (see below), they’ve definitely been on Earth before.
Alternatively, it could be that Tim Shaw’s gathering coil technology was able to pick up and impart the language to its boss at some point while scanning Sheffield as a whole. Either way, we’ll give the show the benefit of the doubt this time.
How many other alien attacks has the Doctor missed in Sheffield?
During The Woman Who Fell to Earth it’s revealed that the Stenza have come to Sheffield at least once before, kidnapping the sister of Rahul (Amit Shah) a few years previously. So was this just a coincidence? Or did they see Sheffield as a handy secret hunting ground, free from the interference of alien-hunting organisations like Torchwood (who only had offices in Scotland, Wales and London) or UNIT?
And given that the Doctor herself wasn’t aware of previous alien incursions into Sheffield, we have to wonder – how many times have aliens been attacking the northern regions of the UK, safe in the knowledge that any defenders would be busy swanning about in London? Clearly, the Doctor has been neglecting parts of the UK for too long.
How will the gang survive being stranded in space?
The human companions can last around 15 seconds in the vacuum of space before they lose consciousness. The Doctor, presumably, has a stronger tolerance.
And if during those 15 seconds any of the companions try to hold their breath, the vacuum of space will cause the oxygen in their lungs to expand and rupture the lung tissue – causing death. If they don’t, they will simply pass out before dying from asphyxiation or the results of ebullism, where the reduction of pressure would cause any bodily liquids – blood, saliva, eyes and so on – to boil. (When the pressure that surrounds a liquid drops, so does its boiling point). This, of course, is all before their corpses freeze solid. Space is wacky like that.
So basically, the Doctor and her companions have 15 seconds to be rescued somehow. We’re betting on either the Tardis materialising around them, or perhaps providing some sort of shell of air like it has in past episodes. Oh, and there is also the chance of alien rescue.
How long was Jodie Whittaker wearing Peter Capaldi’s smelly clothes?
At the end of the episode, Yaz (Mandip Gill) suggests that the Doctor might want to get out of her slightly ragged suit, and this got us wondering: how long exactly did the Doctor wear that outfit before changing, back when she was Peter Capaldi?
We had a quick look back through the episodes, and as far as we can tell the Doctor was wearing that outfit at least as far back as Capaldi’s battle with the Cybermen in The Doctor Falls, before being gunned down and brought back to the Tardis by companion Bill (Pearl Mackie).
After that, the Doctor didn’t change before arriving at the South Pole for the 2017 Christmas special, in a story that also involved trudging through the mud of World War One, dodging Dalek blasts and terrifying mutants on Villengard and diving from an enormous spaceship.
After that, the Doctor regenerates into her new incarnation (with some explosive consequences), and has even more running, crane-dangling and ground-plummeting to get on with – before waiting at least a few days for Grace’s funeral to be arranged and staged. It’s only after that that she finally manages to get some new togs.
Just imagine the two incarnations’-worth of Time Lord sweat, World War One mud and Cybermen scorching that particular suit must have gone through before the Doctor finally put it out of its misery. Really, it’s the true victim of the last few Doctor Who episodes.
Doctor Who continues on Sunday 14 October with The Ghost Monument on BBC1
This article was originally published on 7 October 2018