By Chris Chibnall
Well there were a lot of questions hanging over this opener. New Doctor, New Companions, New Showrunner, New Director and New Composer. 4 of them shone. One did not.
First off, the good news. Jodie Whittaker is great! She feels natural in the role from the first minute she’s on screen. She’s got a milder version of Smith’s maniac energy, but at the same time, her interpretation feels fresh and different from those that came before. Which isn’t easy after 12 (more if you count John Hurt and David Bradley) previous actors have given it their all. The script doesn’t ask too much of her, but what is here is very, very promising.
The companions aren’t bad either. Tosin Cole gets the lion’s share of the material as Ryan, but Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh come off just as well. Most importantly, they’re all likeable, and all somewhat relatable. Companions tend to work well if you feel like they are someone you could actually meet, and that’s true for all three of them here. I look forward to seeing how they develop over the season.
The direction is pretty good too, which is a relief after some of the weak efforts last season. The special effects look as good as they ever have, and this is an earth-bound episode! The monster’s design isn’t all that memorable, but it was hardly a disaster.
The music feels suitably different from Murray Gold’s style, but still fitting for the show. We’ll see how it goes going forward, but so far, Segun Akinola is doing a good job.
Now the bad news. I never had a problem with Jodie’s casting, but I’ve always been slightly nervous about Chibnall. His record on Who is alright but not inspiring, and his record on Torchwood is pretty damn shaky in places. Sure he wrote Broadchurch, but only the first season of that got critical acclaim, so my scepticism remained. I hoped he’d prove me wrong.
So far he hasn’t. He handles the character introductions well, and his character work in general is very good. But the plot isn’t particularly fresh, and some of the old who clichés are annoyingly present here (the Doctor survives a fall with no explanation how, the episode is resolved by some sonic wizardry which isn’t even hinted at). It’s pretty predictable stuff as well – you see every death coming a mile away.
Still, its only episode one. Russell T Davies took a while to hit his stride, and Moffat’s season openers were rarely perfect, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now.
Overall, there was plenty of promise, some upgraded special effects, good direction and lacklustre writing. But the cast looks good, so I’ll be happy to stick with it for a while. Most importantly of all, Who is still Who, and any debate about Whittaker’s casting is over. She fits the role perfectly and I hope she gets the material to really show it soon.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Last Thought: That new version of the theme tune intrigues me. Its very classic, but with a modern twist. I think I like it!