What I Like About Who: No. 4

This is the fourth column in a weekly series from Rob Hull, Figures and More. Check back Mondays for a weekly journey through time and space, or read all of our adventures here

The wait for the latest season of BBC’s Doctor Who has been excruciating, almost unbearable at times, as information was kept at a premium, doled out in small doses like portions in the Oliver Twist orphanage. But now, the whole meal has finally been served, and we are left full, but definitely ready for the next helping. Here’s what went down in the season 11 premiere:

The first thing we see in Series 11 is not the Doctor, but rather Ryan Sinclair (Tosin Cole), one of the Doctor’s soon-to-be companions. He is recording a video on YouTube, which serves as the introduction to the story—a very novel and modern way to put the pieces into place. In addition to Ryan, we also meet and get to know Ryan’s Grandmother Grace (Sharon D. Clarke) and his Step-Grandad Graham (Bradley Walsh). We also learn that Ryan has dyspraxia, a very real coordination disorder (more information here), which prevents him from riding a bike—he tries and tries and we can all feel his immense frustration, which lead him to chuck his bike off a cliff. As he goes to retrieve it, a yellow diamond of cracking energy appears before him with a “button” in the center. So, what does he do? The same thing anyone else would do: He touches it, of course! Almost immediately, it is replaced by a large blue pod that looks like a Hershey’s Kiss. Because apparently we don’t learn from our mistakes, Ryan touches the pod, too, and then calls in reinforcements, AKA the police.

Next up, we meet Yasmin Khan (Mandap Gill), who will now be referred to as Yas, ‘cause we’re friends. Yas is a probationary officer with the Sheffield police department. It’s a boring role with little to no challenges and she–like Ryan–is super frustrated. But things are about to look up for Yas, when she is sent to answer Ryan’s call in the forest.

They meet, and Yas and Ryan realize they went to school together. Small world, right? Yas thinks Ryan put the mysterious pod there himself, but of course we know better. Meanwhile, Ryan’s grandparents Grace and Graham get on a train. We find out they have been married for three years and that Ryan and Graham have a somewhat tenuous relationship. There is also a young man with them, who will be very important very soon. OK, now that we’ve all met and gotten to know each other, time for the action to kick off.

A burst of electricty blows through the  driver’s window and the train jolts to halt as all the power goes out and the doors seal themselves. For some reason, rather than stay huddled in her seat, Grace decides to go have a look. Apparently, Grace has not learned on of the most important rules of Doctor Who, which is “if you are on a train, boat, bus…etc. and all the lights are out, DO NOT GET OUT OF YOUR SEAT!” Anyway, an electrical creature with tendrils, which if I’m honest looks alot like one of the machines attacking Zion from the Matrix films, enters the cabin, and as it’s about to reach Grace at the back of the cabin, THE WOMAN FALLS TO EARTH! Next thing you know, her head pops up, the new Doctor is here, and away we go.

The Thirteenth Doctor took quite a fall, but luckily the electrical creature was there to break it. Springing into action, the Doctor grabs a live wire and shocks the beast for good measure.

From the moment she sets foot on screen, Jodie Whittaker IS the Doctor. It’s time for the Doctor to take her place in history, and she is off to the races, instantly taking charge like only the Doctor can, even if she doesn’t know she’s the Doctor yet. Her first discovery is that her Sonic Screwdriver is gone and her pockets are empty, a fact she hates. Yas and Ryan join the party at this point, as the electrical creature revivies and blasts all of them except for the young man on the train, Karl, with a lightning bolt. Yas arrives to try and take charge and wants to report the incident to her superiors, but the Doctor talks her out of it. Yas and Ryan are also the ones who tell the Doctor that she is a woman. And, that is one of the ONLY mentions of that fact in this episode. She’s not a man, she’s not a woman, SHE’S THE DOCTOR! Graham, Ryan and Yas decide to investigate with the Doctor, Karl decides he’d rather go to work. Graham by the way, scoffs at the Doctor’s notion of the type of threat they’re facing, noting “We don’t get aliens in Sheffield.” Well, you do now.

They go back to the forest, and—quelle surprise—the pod is gone. It would be a really boring story wise if it wasn’t, let’s be honest. It turns out, it’s been delivered to a body shop, and a man named Rahul is going to spend all night looking at it, and is FILMING himself doing it. I don’t know if HOPING an alien pod you’re sitting in front of will HATCH is the smartest of life decisions. I have a feeling Rahul is about to learn that lesson the hard way.

Unfortunately, the Doctor has had way too much excitement in a short period, and she collapses. This is one of the funniest scenes in the entire episode, and the Doctor with her finger up her nose is not an image I can picture without smiling. Everyone else is sent to find out if there’s any more weirdness going on tonight. SPOILER ALERT: There is. In Grace’s house, the Doctor lies on the sofa and begins glowing and Grace discovers she has two pulses. Yes, Virginia, there is at least one alien in Sheffield. But, there are about to be more.

Back at the garage, it’s time for Rahul to learn his lesson. The pod cracks open and an armored warrior emerges. Now THIS is a proper Doctor Who monster. Rahul wants it to answer a question about his sister, but the creature isn’t in an answering mood, It’s in more of a killing mood, so that’s what it does. R.I.P. Rahul, we hardly knew ye.

At the same time, another tendriled electricity creature is scanning the city from on top of a high tower. These events wake the Doctor with a start, and she discovers that they have all been fitted with DNA bombs, which are as gross as they sound. She needs a way to track the signal, so she borrows Ryan’s phone and reformats it into a scanner, erasing EVERYTHING on it. I can just hear the screams of millions of people who would take that much worse than Ryan did.

They make it to the body shop and the Doctor tries—and fails—to outrun the creature. Inside the shop, they find Rahul’s body and note that in addition to dying by ice burn (gross), he is missing a tooth (double gross). They find the broken pod, and Ryan has to fess up about what happened in the forest. It seems the creature is fairly intelligent, as the Doctor’s tracker is blocked. The only recourse is to scan the pod with a Sonic Screwdriver, but she doesn’t have one. She does however have a lot of metal and an alien pod, so she BUILDS one. Yep, you can add metalwork to the list of courses the Doctor can teach. The new Sonic Screwdriver is beautifully imperfect with highlights of orange—but most of you probably already know that, because you’ve either seen the pictures, or bought the toy. I already have one myself.

Time to tie the story together, as Yas and Ryan find a video explaining that Rahul’s sister was taken by the same creature. The Doctor discovers a recall circuit, without which the creature can’t leave the planet. We’ll just put that somewhere for safekeeping. The creature kills again after a man throws salad at it. Now, I totally get that being pelted with salad can be annoying, but isn’t murder a BIT of an overreaction? Maybe that’s just me. Onward!

The tendril sparkler is lighting up the sky. The Doctor and friends—on a tip from Graham’s bus driver friends, who apparently DO know all—arrive at the tower. We finally get a name for the tendriled, sparky things: Gathering Coils. Though I think i like sparky tendril better. It turns out that Gathering Coils GATHER data, and apparently, they’re really interested in Karl from the train. I love it when a plot comes together.

Tim Shaw (BBC America)

All of these revelations bring out the Big Bad, who introduces himself as the Stenza warrior TIM SHAW! I know, terrifying name for an alien warrior, right? I mean, I’ve got chills just saying it aloud. Shaw explains the ice burns and his intentions. He takes off his helmet and dazzles the audience with his gruesome “teeth,” which he explains are basically a method for keeping score. He comes to earth to fulfill his right of passage, which is to hunt a human, but the Doctor calls him out for cheating, because he’s not supposed to have any help, so the Gathering Coils are a clear no no. Tim Shaw gets mad at this, downloads his data and leaves to go hunt Karl. By the way, this would have been a perfect opportunity for the Doctor to introduce herself, but she still can’t remember her name. Don’t worry, she’ll get there.

So, Karl’s job, which apparently is less stressful than an alien invasion, is a crane operator. Karl needs to listen to self-help affirmation tapes though, which makes me think some career counseling might do him a world of good. Insecurity and heights really don’t mix well. Neither do Tim Shaw and the poor old security guard at the job site. As the Doctor arrives, Tim Shaw is scaling Karl’s crane like some homicidal King Kong made of metal. The Doctor of decides that she, Yas, and Ryan should climb the other crane. I don’t know if making Ryan, who has a coordination disorder, scale a really tall crane is the best idea, but anything goes in a crisis, I guess.

Grace and Graham are left on the ground to clear the site, but despite the Doctor’s instructions not to come back in, Grace sees one of the Gathering Coils attacking the other crane, and can’t help herself. Dragging Graham along, she sets out to stop it. At the top of the crane, the Doctor climbs out on the arm, and encourages Karl to climb out the top of his crane and onto his arm. This is nearly impossible for Karl to do, but the sight of Tim Shaw climbing the crane does wonders for his courage. Unfortunately, the gathering coil has damaged the Doctor’s crane, and what would have been a walk across will now have to be a jump. This petrifies Karl, who it turns out is afraid of heights. And, he’s a CRANE OPERATOR. Are you kidding me? Why are you here? Oh, right, your dad owns the company. Tim Shaw reaches the crane arm, and Karl decides to choose the lesser of two evils. He jumps, but Tim Shaw grabs him in mid-air. It’s a good thing Karl’s vest fits very snuggly, or this could have a gone a much different way. As Tim Shaw drags him away, the Doctor realizes there’s no other choice. Getting a good run up, she makes the jump across the crane. THIS IS ACTUALLY JODIE WHITTAKER IN THIS SCENE AND NOT A STUNTWOMAN!

Landing on the crane, it’s time for the final face off. The Doctor plays her trump card: the recall circuit, but Tim Shaw counters with the DNA bombs. The Doctor again threatens with the destruction of the recall circuits. Tim Shaw is getting frustrated now, and demands to know who she is? But, this time, finally she knows and Thirteen, to the delight of everyone watching, finally says “I’m the Doctor.”

There are few moments in the episode that were as air-punch inducing as that one. Our new Doctor is finally whole. She is ready, and that is bad news for Tim Shaw. She gives Tim Shaw his way out, as she must, and as we already knew, he doesn’t take it. He tries to detonate the bombs, but it backfires because our brilliant Doctor already removed them and replanted them into the Gathering Coil. When Tim Shaw downloaded the data, he also downloaded the bombs. When will these aliens learn to take the Doctor’s offer? Not anytime soon, I imagine.

The bombs detonate inside Tim Shaw, and she throws him his recall circuit, telling him to go home. Karl finally finds his spine, and kicks Tim Shaw off the crane, and he teleports home in mid-air. Unfortunately, as those of you who watch the show know, it’s not really possible to have triumph without tragedy. Grace climbed up the crane to destroy the Gathering Coil, and is using it for support when it disintegrates. She falls to the ground and is able to say goodbye to Graham before passing away. Grace’s death is a truly emotional moment. This is a huge tribute to not only Chris Chibnall’s exceptional writing, but also Sharon D. Clarke’s amazing performance.

Anyway, as many of you suspected by now, we find that Ryan’s video is in fact about Grace, and that his Mom died six years ago. Man, he just can’t seem to catch a break. He decides to try riding the bike again, in honor of Grace. He tries and falls over and over, but with a new sense of purpose. At Grace’s funeral, we find out Ryan and his Dad aren’t on the best of terms. Afterward, Graham reveals that he had cancer, and Grace was his nurse. Yas asks the Doctor if this is normal for her, but normal is a word not often used on Doctor Who. The Doctor tells them that she needs to get back to finding her TARDIS. Yas tells her she need new clothes. So, what’s a girl to do? Go shopping, of course! So, it’s off to the local thrift store, and after trying on just about EVERY outfit they have, the Doctor emerges in her new outfit, which Yas has to pay for, because she still has empty pockets.

Suited up and ready to go, they all make their way back to the body shop, where the Doctor constructs a teleport using the pod that will take her to the planet where the TARDIS is. She says goodbye to Graham, Yas, and Ryan and activates the machine, only to find that they have been brought along by accident and they are all now FLOATING IN SPACE! Don’t you hate it when that happens? I guess it was meant to be. Hopefully, they won’t all suffocate, otherwise next week’s recap is going to be very short. But, I’m going on the assumption that they don’t, so I’ll see you all back here next week for a recap of Episode 2: The Ghost Monument. Here’s a sneak peek. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go practice hiding behind my sofa.


DID WHO KNOW?

  • Jodie Whittaker performed the crane jump stunt in Episode 1 herself.
  • Jodie’s own family did not know she was cast until her hood went down in the reveal trailer.
  • The game show Bradley Walsh hosts in the UK, The Chase, is also broadcast in the U.S. on Game Show Network, with a different host.