The Woman Who Fell to Earth
The Woman Who Fell to Earth was the first episode of series 11 of Doctor Who. In the United Kingdom, it earned the highest overnight ratings for a regular episode of Doctor Who since 2008’s Partners in Crime and was the most-watched debut for a Doctor — again, in terms of overnights — since Christopher Eccleston’s initial turn in Rose.
Woman was widely marketed as a landmark Doctor Who episode because it was the first to star a female Doctor. It was further notable for introducing an all-new regular cast — the largest since 1983’s Terminus — and a new production team under showrunner Chris Chibnall. As a result, this episode had the biggest crew shift since 2010’s The Eleventh Hour.
Unusually, it had a global premiere, with many markets around the world having at least the same start time. Oddly, though, it was initially broadcast in an altered visual form in some markets. Although it was the first episode of the programme filmed in a 2:1 aspect ratio, its global premiere on networks like BBC America and Space was actually in the previous standard of 16:9. This had the effect of truncating some of the frame.
It did not include a title sequence and was the second episode of Doctor Who to have its title given in the end credits after Sleep No More three years earlier. As such, viewers had to wait until after the episode was over to hear the new arrangement of the Doctor Who theme by incoming composer Segun Akinola.
Ryan Sinclair is making a YouTube video about the ‘greatest woman he ever met’ and recounts a recent event. He recalls trying to ride a bicycle with his grandmother Grace and her husband Graham O’Brien, on a hillside in Sheffield. Ryan struggles because of his dyspraxia and falls off the bike. Frustrated, he throws the bike into a forest. Grace and Graham comfort him, though they insist Ryan should collect the bike to try again another time while they head off to the train station. As Ryan ventures to retrieve it, he sees glowing golden lines suspended in the air. He taps one and a purple colored, plant-like pod emerges. Ryan calls the police.
Yasmin Khan, probation police officer, settles a petty dispute between two women, before calling a superior. She asks for more demanding opportunities, and after much pestering, her superior gives her Ryan’s case. As she arrives, she and Ryan quickly realize that they knew each other at primary school. Yasmin presumes Ryan’s just pulling a prank but Ryan remarks he can’t even touch the entity, as it is freezing. Yasmin touches finding it burns her hand. Bewildered, she continues questioning Ryan.
Meanwhile, Grace and Graham are riding on a train with a man named Karl when there is a disturbance which causes the train to come to a screeching halt. Grace checks through the window, finding the passengers have fled the train. However, she finds the doors locked, meaning that they are unable to do the same. They call for Ryan and Yasmin, before being encroached by an erratic, electrified tentacle creature. Grace calls Ryan, who rushes to the scene with Yasmin. Graham orders Grace and Karl to the back of the carriage but finds it locked. Before the creature can reach them, they are temporarily saved as the Thirteenth Doctor comes crashing down through the ceiling and electrocutes the creature with a metal pipe. She turns to them, insisting she can help. However, she finds her pockets empty, meaning she cannot use her sonic screwdriver to open the door. The creature awakens and pins down Karl, who panics. The Doctor insists that he remains calm as it has not killed them yet, so will not kill them now. Yasmin and Ryan enter the train, standing in shock at the sight of the creature. The creature scans Karl then sends a surge of electricity through the passengers before fleeing.
The Doctor begins to take charge of the situation only for Yasmin to ask who she is. The Doctor, bewildered by being called “madam”, remembers that she has regenerated into a woman. She starts explaining as such but returns to her investigating. She enters the driver’s cart only to learn that the train’s driver is dead. Yasmin initially thinks the woman was murdered, but the Doctor corrects that she actually died from shock. Returning to the others, Yaz insists the Doctor should stop, claiming she will call for backup but the Doctor convinces her to hold off on such until they figure out exactly what the alien was.
Yasmin takes to questioning Karl instead, getting his phone number to keep in touch for further inquiries. The Doctor is asked after by Grace and she goes into a slight panic after realizing that she’s lost her TARDIS. She presses on to other matters, though, insisting the group needs to think of ways to learn more about the alien. Graham is skeptical that it was alien in origin, though Grace and Ryan voice they believe the Doctor. Karl, siding with Graham, backs away, wanting to leave for work and just forget about the incident. Letting him go, the Doctor asks the others for information about the creature. Ryan mentions the pod he found earlier, which Yaz agrees to take the group to. However, when they get there, they find it has already been taken.
Meanwhile, Andy, who has the pod in the back of his van, is delivering it to Rahul. On arriving, he expresses some concern for Rahul’s well-being before reluctantly leaving when he pays him. Rahul surrounds the pod with video cameras to record it, then sits down and watches it intently.
Elsewhere, the Doctor asks the others to figure out if anyone in town has knowledge regarding any strange alien activity. Yaz returns to her police station to ask her boss but he dismisses her, given her history of moaning for more work. Grace checks in with friends from when she was a chemotherapy nurse but similarly turns up nothing. Graham offers to go and ask some bus driver friends about it.
The Doctor gets frustrated about not knowing the answers when she suddenly loses consciousness, being caught by Ryan. While Yaz speaks to her superior, learning nothing of interest, Graham tries to ask his friends from the bus station he used to work at but one, Gabriel, just makes a joke about his wife and her friends playing bingo. Grace and Ryan take the Doctor back home; while Ryan checks on social media, Grace notices the Doctor’s body coursing with and exhaling regeneration energy, intriguing them both. Grace checks the Doctor’s pulse and finds to her bewilderment that she has two.
With Rahul still filming the pod, it suddenly becomes active, breaking open and exploding all of Rahul’s cameras. He arms himself with a crowbar and readies himself to defend. Elsewhere, Yaz and Graham have returned to the house when the Doctor regains consciousness. She notices red, pulsating lights shining of her friends’ collarbones as well as her own. She realizes that the strange electric alien from the train embedded them with DNA bombs, explosive devices that melt the victim’s DNA. Reformatting Ryan’s phone, the Doctor manages to track the source of the disruption and they go after it.
A large, bio-mechanical creature emerges from the broken pod; Rahul demands to know about his sister, who had previously gone missing when it kills him by freezing his face. Arriving on the scene as the alien flees, the Doctor and Yaz chase after it but lose it in the mist. The others find Rahul’s body in the warehouse and the Doctor notices the absence of one of his teeth. Ryan spots the empty pod and the Doctor inspects it, identifying it as a transport pod. Ryan reveals its origins after he touched the lines in the air while retrieving his bike. The Doctor covers Rahul’s corpse as a mark of respect.
While Yaz and Ryan go to investigate the warehouse, the Doctor continues to examine the pod; she then decides to build herself a new sonic screwdriver. Yaz tries to reassure Ryan that none of the deaths are on him and they both wonder whether or not the Doctor is really an alien. They then search a small room and find files of various missing people and a video on Rahul’s computer titled ‘IF I DIE CLICK HERE’. While gathering materials from around the warehouse and the transport pod, the Doctor tells Graham and Grace about her experiences with regeneration before proceeding to construct her new screwdriver. After she finishes, Ryan and Yaz show them Rahul’s video in which he talks about his sister Asha’s disappearance and his desire to find out the truth in the knowledge that it may kill him.
Scanning the pod again and finding the recall circuit, the Doctor deuces the aliens from the train and the pod are at war and are looking to fight on Earth. Gathering some equipment, Graham gets a call from his friend Kevin, who has information about the alien’s whereabouts. The alien from the pod kills a drunk male who was throwing his salad at it and takes a tooth from him as well when it sees the electric alien discharge lightning from a tall building in the distance and goes after it. The Doctor and the others reach the electric alien first and nullify it. Scanning it again, the Doctor identifies it as a mass of Gathering Coils, a species which collects and correlates information, biologically engineered and augmented. She checks the data it has collected, discovering all of it is information about Karl from the train.
The pod alien arrives behind them and, removing his mask to reveal his face implanted with his victims’ teeth, identifies himself as Tzim-Sha (mispronounced as ‘Tim Shaw’ by the Doctor) of the Stenza warrior race. He had been sent to Earth on a hunt to seek out a randomly selected human without technology or assistance and bring him back home. However, the Doctor deduces he secretly sent the Gathering Coils ahead in advance and thus has broken the rules. Tzim-Sha takes the information from the Coil into himself via a physical connection and goes hunting Karl. There, he kills the security guard and proceeds to climb the crane to reach Karl.
Chasing Tzim-Sha to Karl’s job at a building yard, the Doctor sends Graham and Grace to evacuate the site while she, Yaz and Ryan make for the top of a crane to save Karl from the impending Stenza. Even with Ryan’s dyspraxia causing him difficulties, the trio makes it to the top. The Doctor orchestrates a plan in which Yaz and Ryan move the crane arm around to meet Karl’s crane so he can jump across. Before he has a chance to do so, however, Tzim-Sha catches him and the Doctor takes a running jump over to the other crane instead.
Meanwhile, the Gathering Coil has restored itself and is attacking the other crane, so Grace tries to stop it by electrocuting it with power from the site’s mains. Catching up with Tzim-Sha, the Doctor holds him an ultimatum; having taken his pod’s recall circuit, he can either leave or kill her and her friends and destroy the circuit. Making his choice, Tzim-Sha detonates the DNA bombs, but the Doctor reveals she had implanted them back into the Gathering Coil with her sonic screwdriver, so he receives the physical effects instead, having taken the bombs into himself when he absorbed the data from the Coil. Throwing the circuit back to him, Karl kicks him off the crane as he teleports away, much to the Doctor’s anger.
Grace holds the pylons to the Coil as Graham opens the mains; the Coil is overloaded by the shock, but the kickback shocks Grace and throws her from the crane to the ground, severely injuring her. Knowing her injuries are too severe to recover from, she tells Graham not to be afraid and dies just as the Doctor, Yaz, and Ryan arrive, leaving Ryan and Graham grief-stricken.
The episode goes back to Ryan’s video, revealing he was talking about Grace the entire time. At Grace’s funeral, the Doctor approaches Ryan, who had been awaiting his father’s arrival for two hours but has still not appeared. Later, with the others in attendance, Graham gives a heartfelt speech about Grace. Later that evening, he reveals that he met Grace while being treated for cancer, and Yaz asks the Doctor about her own family. Realizing she has stayed too long, she decides to go and look for her TARDIS, when Yaz suggests that she change her clothes first.
With a new outfit selected, the Doctor builds a rudimentary teleport out of Tzim-Sha’s technology, which she had programmed to track the TARDIS’ trail of Artron energy and prepares to leave. Saying her goodbyes to Graham, Ryan and Yaz, the Doctor sonics the devices and readies for departure, but the device teleports all four of them instead. On the other end, the Doctor is shocked to see her friends floating behind her; all of them suspended and stranded in deep space.