In Doctor Who S11E1, "The Woman Who Fell to Earth", how come the alien spoke English?

Most other instances where aliens speak English are explained by saying the TARDIS has an automatic translation circuit, but in the episode

the TARDIS was nowhere to be found.

Also, in-universe, there was no reason for him to have learned this language - he never really needed to speak to people to gather information etc. All he ever did was boast and sneer.

  • 8
    Since it's a psychic link through the time vortex, technically, the TARDIS is always nearby, only the door that allows access to it get lost sometimes.
    – Sava
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 15:26
  • Are we discouting the possibility that Tzim-Sha had a universal translator of his own? if so why?
    – Ummdustry
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 16:04
  • @Ummdustry Possibly, but why would he have that? It's obvious that he didn't come here to mingle. If anything, bringing a universal translator could be considered cheating.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 16:39
  • 4
    How can one boast effectively if the boast recipient can't understand you? Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 17:01
  • Probably the same out of universe reason aliens in TV always speak English- get the language barrier out of the way and move on with the story.
    – Nu'Daq
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 18:34

2 Answers 2


While Astralbee's answer may be right, there is a much simpler explanation.

Tim Shaw Tzim Sha is on Earth to:

hunt and capture a selected earthling, so as to become leader of his race.

We know he has put extensive preparation into this. Learning English would not be an unreasonable preparation to make.

To be more specific:

It would generally be useful to understand the local language to track his quarry, and while he has the tentacly thing, he is not supposed to have it, and if he hadn't done the normal things expected of a hunter (e.g. learning the language) that might arouse suspicion in whoever is overseeing the contest. Plus the tentacly thing might not work, for all he knows. His future is on the line. It makes sense for him to be prepared.


This answer takes the OP's assertion that Tzim-Sha had no good reason to speak English at face value and attempts to explain it without a frame challenge.

In the ninth Doctor episode The End of the World The Doctor described the translation matrix as a "gift of the Tardis, a telepathic field that gets inside your brain — translates".

If it is a gift this suggests that the translation ability could be passed to you, so the Tardis wouldn't have to be present for you to have the ability once you have travelled in it and received that "gift". That it is described as a field even inside your brain suggests that it still has a range.

In fact, think of this - when The Doctor, a companion, and another alien species are having a conversation, which language are they actually speaking? Does the alien speak their own language and The Doctor reply in English? If so, were the companion to speak to the alien and then in turn to The Doctor, do they seamlessly switch from speaking one language to the other? If the answer is that they all physically speak their own language but hear other languages as if they were their own, this means that the alien in these scenarios is also able to hear a translation. This would prove that the translation matrix has a "range" from the person with the gift. If it worked for everybody in the range of the Tardis indiscriminately then everybody in the area during every Earth adventure would notice they can now understand every known language.

Now, in this episode only The Doctor had travelled in the Tardis, so to discount the possibility that Tzim-Sha could actually speak English we have to explain away the individual spoken encounters he had with humans.

Rahul's Warehouse
Rahul asks Tzim-Sha "where's my sister" and Tzim-Sha responds "ask me again". Rahul does ask the same question again. If you don't want to accept they are speaking the same language you could reason that Tzim-Sha didn't know what Rahul asked him. He may have imagined Rahul was begging for his own life, in which case he would have likely responded the same way. Likewise, if Rahul did not understand Tzim-Sha's response the chances are he would have repeated his question anyway because that is what he wanted from him.

Kebab man
The kebab man makes a number of comments to Tzim-Sha but he says nothing back.

Rooftop encounter
The Doctor converses with Tzim-Sha at length but the others do show that they understand both sides of the conversation - for example Ryan directly responds to Tzim-Sha over the issue of access being granted to Earth. The telepathic field inside The Doctor's brain must have covered the others in this encounter.

Crane scene
Again, Karl demonstrates that he understands Tzim-Sha by responding when he calls him insignificant. But as in the last scene, The Doctor is present.

I have also been asked in comments why, if Tzim-Sha did not speak English, did he appear to speak English words. To put that a different way, why do we the viewers see all aliens/foreigners lips moving in synch with their spoken English words? If their words are being translated, shouldn't they look like they have been dubbed?

The Out-of-Universe explanation is obvious - it would be a production nightmare and not as enjoyable to watch. This is probably why just about every alien race in Star Trek speaks English, with the exception of the Klingons (but maybe they'd try harder to learn English if nerds stopped bothering to learn Klingon?)

As a viewer, we have to imagine that everybody is speaking their own language - that aliens are speaking alien, and the Romans in Fires of Pompeii are all speaking Latin - but that we are hearing English thanks to the Tardis translation matrix. And of course, as it is a telepathic matrix, perhaps that is why we (if you imagine that as viewers we are under it's influence too) also see that they are speaking it, or at least they appear to be.

  • 1
    Don't you mean Tim Shaw? :P
    – tilley31
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 16:07
  • In Rahul's warehouse, why would Tzim Sha say exactly those words in a language he didn't speak, whether he understood what was said to him or not? Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 17:22
  • @DJClayworth Because he is a psycopathic killer who puts teeth in his face. If he imagined that Rahul was saying "please don't kill me" he might have still said "ask me again" because he enjoyed his prey begging for their lives. I tried to cover this, was it not clear?
    – Astralbee
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 8:07
  • Err, you miss the point. If he doesn't speak the language, how could he say those words? Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 12:55
  • @DJClayworth You may be confusing the out-of-universe explanation with the in-universe explanation. We the viewers have to imagine that all aliens affected by the translation matrix are speaking their own language. Or you could imagine that you are under the influence of it, if you prefer. In my explanation (which I'm not being dogmatic about - I've just taken the OP's assertions at face value) he IS speaking his own language, YOU are hearing it in English, but the character in the scene may not be. If we didn't suspend belief on this every alien character would have to be dubbed.
    – Astralbee
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 13:28

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