On Sunday, Jodie Whittaker makes an electrifying entrance in her first full episode as the 13th Doctor of Doctor Who on BBC America, and a Philadelphia paralegal named Julia Papazian Law has the final days of her life dredged up in the 8 p.m. Lifetime movie The Girl in the Bathtub.
I've seen both, and I think you should stick with the story that's clearly labeled fiction, and especially with the woman wielding the sonic screwdriver. Because she's a Time Lord for our time.
And yet I understand the temptation there may be, especially in Philadelphia, to see what Lifetime makes of the death of Law, whose body was discovered in May 2013 in the bathtub of the Rittenhouse Square-area condo belonging to her boss and boyfriend, prominent defense lawyer A. Charles Peruto Jr.
The Peruto connection and the circumstances of Law's death, just days before her 27th birthday, made front-page headlines, and a few months later, a Philadelphia Magazine story by Lisa DePaulo uncovered details of Law's turbulent personal life, including a longtime affair with a married man. But as a grand jury concluded the following year, there was no evidence of anything criminal in her death, which appears to have been an accident.
Lifetime's version, which is said to be partly based on DePaulo's piece, and which features Jason Patric as an attractively distraught Peruto, eventually comes to the same conclusion. It shows Law, who's played by Australian actress Caitlin Stasey (Reign), spending the final hours of her life alone, texting, drinking, and taking pills before finally climbing into the tub and slipping beneath the water.
But then it also shows her reenacting Tom Cruise's Risky Business dance scene in Peruto's apartment, and, incredibly, briefly dramatizes some of the ways Law might have died at the hands of others.
"The gossips imagined all kinds of crazy scenarios," says Law — because if all this isn't creepy enough, The Girl in the Bathtub has Stasey, as Law, narrating the story — and the movie helpfully depicts some of those scenarios before having her add, "but none of those theories are true."
So why are they being shown? Maybe because if one of them were true, Law's sad death would fit the container Lifetime prefers: a story of a woman who was a victim of something other than her own demons. It would also go a little better with 2016's Girl in the Box and last spring's Girl in the Bunker, both based on the true stories of women who were abducted.
"Inspired by a true story" leaves the producers of The Girl in the Bathtub plenty of wiggle room to introduce fiction into Law's, and the one subplot in which her character is unequivocally victimized appears nowhere in DePaulo's piece, or in any other reporting I could find.
In an email in August after the movie was first announced, Peruto, whose real name, unlike those of some others in Law's life, is used in the movie, told the Inquirer and Daily News he hadn't been consulted about the production. "I don't know how I, or anyone, can be portrayed accurately, since no one in my firm, where she worked daily, myself included, was so much as asked a question," he wrote.
But then why ask the living when you have a dead narrator?
"I imagine people who google a dead person or watch movies about them are looking for clues," says Stasey's Law at one point. "They keep clicking because they want to know the person behind the headline."
What I know about Law is literally what I read in the papers five years ago and in DePaulo's article about her, which became an ebook. She was a real woman, with real friends and family I can't imagine were eager to relive any of this. Watching The Girl in the Bathtub added nothing to my knowledge of her, but it did leave me wanting a shower.
"All of this is new to you, and new can be scary," the new star of Doctor Who tells a new acquaintance in Sunday's season premiere.
Any of Whittaker's predecessors in the role might have said the same thing. The Doctor, as the intergalactic time traveler has been known since 1963, has a way of startling Earthlings, especially in those moments when the character first appears after regenerating, and is almost immediately thrust into some world-rescuing adventure while getting accustomed to a new body.
But until Peter Capaldi's Doctor gave way to Whittaker's in December, all those bodies appeared to be male.
Even the Doctor herself is surprised to be addressed as "Madam" when we first meet her in "The Woman Who Fell to Earth." (The episode will be shown at 1:45 p.m. Eastern in the U.S. on BBC America, coinciding with its evening premiere in Britain, and will be repeated here at 8 p.m.)
But she rolls with it, as I hope Whovians will, because Whittaker's performance captures the spirit of the character every bit as much as those of her modern-era predecessors have. If she'd regenerated directly from David Tennant's portrayal, the transition might have been even more seamless.
But it's more fun that she's succeeded Capaldi ("half an hour ago, I was a white-haired Scotsman"), whose energy was different enough from hers to make the change a bit of a rush.
The list of things BBC America doesn't want me to tell you isn't quite as long as the episode but encompasses most of it, which is why I'm lingering longer on gender than the Doctor herself does. It's worth remembering, though, that whether a he or a she, the character is not human — it's only the reaction of humans to the Doctor that could make the appearance of being male or female an issue.
Sunday also marks the debut as Doctor Who showrunner of Chris Chibnall, who created Broadchurch and worked with Whittaker on that show.
Her premiere is not "really a gender-related story," he told TVLine.com in an interview at this summer's San Diego Comic Con. "There's story during the season where it pops up again … but the first story is much more a story of survival."
And, as we're reminded on Sunday, the Time Lord has two hearts — surely enough to weather bigger changes than this.
The Girl in the Bathtub. 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, Lifetime.