Wow. Doctor Who is back, and Jodie Whittaker already IS The Doctor. Showrunner Chris Chibnall penned the series opener, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth,” weaving monologues for The Doctor throughout that subtly convey how natural this gender-shifting regeneration is, in the grand scheme of things.
When we last saw the new Doctor, the TARDIS was exploding and she was being forcibly shot away through space. Today she joins action already in progress in Sheffield, where 19-year-old Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole) is trying to learn to ride a bike under the watchful eye of his grandmother, Grace O’Brien (Sharon D. Clarke), and her husband, Graham (Bradley Walsh). Ryan has dyspraxia, “a brain-based condition that makes it hard to plan and coordinate physical movement,” but his nan is convinced that hard work will allow him to master bicycle riding.
They do their lessons on a beautiful, grassy bluff high above a forested area. A natural spot for teaching anyone to ride a bike. Unfortunately, Ryan’s grandparents don’t seem to have read the tips the Dyspraxia Foundation has about teaching children with this disorder how to ride bikes, so Ryan’s frustration with his failure increases to the point where he chucks his bicycle off the edge of the bluff.
After a bit of a cool down, his grandparents leave him to retrieve the bike while they take the train home. Ryan descends into the forest and finds his bike suspended in a tree. While he regards it, a spiraling series of electric-looking squares appears in the air behind him, crackling and popping. His attention naturally shifts to this. While he watches, the squares extend towards him and present something that looks like a button. He pushes it, and the squares vanish.
Moments later, a shimmering pod shaped something like a gourd or a genie’s bottle materializes on the ground. Ryan touches it, and his hand is burned by the extreme cold radiating from it. He calls the police to report what he’s seeing.
Elsewhere, novice police officer Yasmin Khan (Mandip Gill) is bored with settling parking disputes and begs her supervisor for something more interesting to do. Her request comes shortly after Ryan’s call, and she’s dispatched to investigate the pod.
When she arrives, Yasmin, or “Yas,” and Ryan recognize each other from elementary school. Their old acquaintance helps lend credibility to Ryan’s insistence that this is not a prank he’s behind. He encourages Yas to touch the pod, and its extreme cold convinces her that something unusual is afoot.
Before they have a chance to figure out what to do, Ryan receives a distressed phone call from Grace. The train she and Graham are riding home has been attacked by what looks like an electric spaghetti monster. They’re trapped in their train car with one other passenger. The call cuts out, and Yas and Ryan jump in her car and head to the scene.
Yas and Ryan arrive at the train and climb through the cars via a broken window, arriving almost simultaneously with The Doctor. She has fallen through the roof of the train still at that point in regeneration where she hasn’t quite got her bearings. She knows enough to take action, to be a protector and to confront the obvious alien in the train car, but not enough to remember her own identity.
The Doctor shocks the spaghetti monster using dangling cables, then discovers she is without her sonic screwdriver and can’t magically unlock the compartment’s door. The creature recovers and blasts everyone except Karl (Jonny Dixon), the additional passenger in the car, with electricity and disappears.
Karl opts to leave on his own and walk to work, determined to forget the entire harrowing incident. The rest of the gang returns to the forest to check out the pod, as The Doctor is convinced it cannot be a coincidence for two strange things to have happened in such close proximity. The pod, however is missing.
They all head to Grace and Graham’s home. Graham is dispatched to talk to his old bus driver colleagues about whether they’ve seen anything unusual that day. Grace asks her fellow nurses the same question via WhatsApp. Ryan checks social media, and Yas checks in at the police station. The Doctor faints and falls into an intense nap.
When The Doctor comes to, everyone has reconvened around her and she notices that each of them, herself included, now has a small blinking light on his/her collar bone. These, she announces, are DNA bombs, designed to melt the DNA of their bearer. She cannot forecast when they’ll go off, but she does know that this is the result of the blast from the spaghetti monster, which they now know they must find.
She reconfigures Ryan’s phone to track the energy signature from the DNA bombs, and they pile into Grace’s Volvo to follow the signal. It leads them to the warehouse where the pod was taken by Rahul (Amit Shah).
Rahul’s sister Asha had been abducted by aliens seven years earlier, and Rahul had become obsessed with scanning for conditions that matched the night of her disappearance. That night, he’d zeroed in on the disturbance caused by the pod’s arrival and collected it in a box truck. He brought it to his warehouse so that he could meet whatever alien being emerged from it and demand answers about his sister.
Alas, poor Rahul proved no match for the being inside the pod. When “Tim Shaw” (Samuel Oatley), a Stenza warrior, stepped out, Rahul confronted him with a crowbar and visible fear. Tim Shaw refused him answers, killed him with his unnaturally cold touch and stole one of his teeth.
The Doctor and her crew arrive in time to see Tim Shaw leaving, but not in time to help Rahul. They are able to piece together his story from the artifacts left behind in the warehouse. The Doctor takes advantage of the mix of human tools, Sheffield steel spoons and Tim Shaw’s left-behind alien technology to build herself a sonic screwdriver.
As soon as her new tool is up and running, she uses it to scan Tim Shaw’s pod to determine how far away its point of origin was (500 galaxies) and make a guess at what brought him to Earth. She suspects that he and the spaghetti monster must be warring species who have brought their fight to Earth.
Right about then, Graham’s bus driver network comes through with a location on the spaghetti monster. The gang grabs an assortment of equipment and traps the creature on top of a nearby building. They literally shock it into submission, and The Doctor is able to determine that it is a cyborg designed to collect data. She accesses its data, and it turns out the creature’s mission was to find their friend from the train, Karl.
Tim Shaw catches up to them, and The Doctor asks him why he is on Earth and why he stole Rahul’s tooth. Tim Shaw removes the faceplate on his armor to reveal that there are teeth embedded all over his horrible blue face because Stenza warriors wear their conquests.
Tim Shaw is not at war with the spaghetti monster. He sent it to Earth in advance of him to find Karl. Karl has the misfortune of being the human selected at random by the Stenza as a trophy Tim Shaw must collect in order to be promoted to a leadership position. He reveals that the rules are that he find and secure his quarry without weapons or assistance, and The Doctor points out that the spaghetti monster and DNA bombs are in violation of this and that Tim Shaw is a cheater.
Unimpressed by her accusation, Tim Shaw mind/energy-merges with the spaghetti monster to extract all of its information, then teleports with it to Karl’s location, a construction site where the hapless young man is operating a crane and listening to affirmations. Tim Shaw kills the security guard on duty, mere moments after the man hung up a video call with his granddaughter, then begins climbing Karl’s crane.
The Doctor and her companions arrive shortly after, and she dispatches the team in different directions. Grace and Graham are to clear the site under any necessary pretense, while The Doctor, Yas and Ryan ascend a second crane to orchestrate a rescue for Karl.
At the top, The Doctor yells to Karl to climb across his crane’s arm towards her, and she has Yas drive the crane they’re in so that its arm reaches Karl’s. The spaghetti monster shorts out The Doctor’s crane just shy of Karl’s, and The Doctor urges him to jump down to her as Tim Shaw advances on him. He finally takes the leap, but Tim Shaw catches him by the collar and hoists him back up.
The Doctor backs up and gets a running start before leaping across to save Karl. When she lands, she asks Tim Shaw to evolve and become a better version of himself. He asks her who she is, and the evening’s series of events has jogged her brain enough that she now knows she’s The Doctor. She gives him a chance to save himself by disarming the DNA bombs and going home, revealing that she’s taken the device from his pod that facilitates his return trip.
Tim Shaw refuses, detonating the DNA bombs.
Of course, The Doctor has already taken evasive action. She returned the bombs to the spaghetti monster on top of that building, and when Tim Shaw merged with the creature, he also merged with five bombs. His DNA begins melting, and Karl knocks him through a damaged handrail and off the crane. The Doctor yells at Karl that he had no right to do that and throws the home-going device at Tim Shaw, who disappears before hitting the ground.
While all the action is unfolding at the top of the cranes, Grace leads Graham through an attack on the spaghetti monster at their base. She climbs up to where the creature is perched and plugs an electrical device into it, while Graham flips the switch below. Grace holds the device in the creature until it dies, but as it falls, she falls with it.
When The Doctor, Yas and Ryan return to the ground with Karl, they find Graham crouched over Grace’s dead body.
After the big adventure, The Doctor joins Ryan, Yas and Graham at a memorial service for Grace. Then she decides she’s stayed too long and needs to find her TARDIS. Yas refuses to let her leave in her predecessor’s oversized outfit, and they stop at a secondhand store long enough for The Doctor to select new togs. Then they go to Rahul’s warehouse, where The Doctor uses Tim Shaw’s pod remnants, a mish-mash of other items and her new sonic screwdriver to transport herself to the spot in the universe where her ship awaits.
When she arrives, she is suspended in space… and discovers that she has three companions floating there with her.
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