‘That’s the Doctor for you. Never notices the tears’
Doctor Who is back! Yaaay! What, just me? Ok, ok so I realize myself and a lot of others really are excited for this new series. But I also understand that a lot of people are not that bothered, people that would probably would have been really excited for a new series of Doctor Who a few years back. Perhaps these people just feel like the show and it’s writers have been too self-indulgent for too long, or that the plots just got out of hand. Will ‘The Pilot’ get these people interested in the Timelord’s adventures once again? Well we’ll have to wait and see, but after this great opener they’d be silly not to give it one more chance.
First up, the title. ‘The Pilot’ – geddit? Like, it’s relevant to the plot of the episode, but it also means, like, a pilot to a TV show?! Very clever Steven! Ok so it’s stupid but it kind of makes sense. This episode seems to be doing away with the baggage of the last few (often overly complicated) seasons and the creators have even said this would be a good starting point for new fans. Now whilst I would always recommend that people start from the show’s revival in 2005 (there’s too much good stuff to miss) this episode does have every element that makes Doctor Who what it is; a scary monster, lots of running, the doctor being clever, and a wide-eyed companion jetting off into space for the first time.
That new companion is Bill, played enthusiastically by Pearl Mackie. From the trailers I really thought I wasn’t going to like her. But dammit if her charm didn’t win me over. At first she seems a bit dim in comparison to other residents of the TARDIS. But Bill is anything but. She has the usual companion moments, not understanding things at first, and just running after The Doctor. The usual “It’s bigger on the inside moment!” was cleverly done here, with us all expecting her to say it but it taking longer than usual. She feels like the most realistic companion to date. She keeps comparing what she sees to science fiction she’s familiar with (like brain lizards!), and when she is transported to Australia in the TARDIS, she runs to the bathroom to throw up. That’s perfect! Thank god there is a companion who actually acts like a normal human being. Sure there are a couple Moffat-y lines here and there but they are few and far between.
Oh and she’s gay. It’s not a big deal, it’s not even a small deal – it just is. When the news broke that Bill would be the first openly gay companion to The Doctor it was a big moment (Jack Harkness wasn’t a full companion apparently, or he was bi, or the showrunners just don’t want to acknowledge Captain Jack Harkness. We want him back!) I was cringing at the thought of how Moffat and co would handle this. No doubt she’d just be lusting after every other female character, snogging everyone etc. Plus there was the question of why she was gay. If you do it just to win LGBT points, or because you’ve been pressured into it, then it doesn’t count. But it works! And more specifically you can’t feel it working. It comes as naturally as finding out any other character is straight, and that’s a really good place to be. Some people will not like it, from both sides of the argument. But I hope this is a big moment for TV, by specifically not being a big moment.
The Doctor has been up to something since we last saw him. He’s currently incognito, teaching at a university where some say he’s been for seventy years. It all seems to be for some vault in the university basement, but we’re not finding out what’s in there just yet. It’s an intriguing start to the season and one thing the show often does quite well is setting up a really fun mystery. It’s answering the mystery in a satisfying way that it struggles with.
Peter Capaldi is still awesome. He really is the best Doctor we’ve had, especially in terms of acting ability. He commands a respect others just can’t. He goes from smart and a little cold, to a barnstorming lecture about life, to running like a madman, to a really sad character. The Doctor himself seems to be in a bit of a reflective, low-key mood (until something interesting gets him running off campus in traditional Who style). He has old pictures on his desk in a nice nod to the past, and perhaps as an attempt to blend in. After all, humans like pictures of their dead loved ones right? Though seriously, he doesn’t need the super blown up image of River Song’s face.
The Clara debacle seems to be behind him but there are a few nods. A really nice one is when he attempts to wipe Bill’s mind. In a fun twist she knows exactly what he’s doing and asks him how he’d like it if someone did the same to him. All the while Clara’s theme is playing in the background. It’s a nice touch and I’d much prefer they keep it this subtle from now on.
The plot of the episode is all over the place. There is a scary water villain that can transcend time and space. And it is actually quite scary, some children might not shower again. The episode takes the gang all across the universe. From Australia to the end of the universe. Only in this show could the other end of the universe be a quarry in Wales. I love it. The chase isn’t really the point though, it’s more about Bill’s reaction to it all. I really like the twist that the monster is only following them because it sort of has a crush on Bill. Not every scary monster has to have murder on its mind.
Nardole is back too! Matt Lucas made a very welcome return here after his hilarious turn in the Christmas special. I want him to and around all season. At least until we find out more about his robot body. Speaking of returning characters, the Daleks make an appearance but it’s more just an obligatory scene.
One thing that bothered me about the episode was The Doctor taking photos of Bill’s mum. Now this is really, really sweet and I think the gesture itself is lovely, especially in a wacky time-travel sort of way. But the episode presents Bill as questioning, always asking about the TARDIS and the science and logic behind it all. So why didn’t she say something when she saw The Doctor in the picture of her mum? That feels like a misstep on the show’s part. But hey, maybe it will come back. They’ve left plenty of other threads dangling, why not this?
‘The Pilot’ was Doctor Who at its greatest and its most messy. The plot was all over the place and the pacing of the episode was weird at best. But those issues are very easy to look past when the rest of the episode was so good. The direction was brilliant, the writing was more subtle this time. Peter Capaldi reminded us all exactly why we’re all going to miss him so much when he leave. And Bill is an awesome addition to the cast. She’s probably most like Donna if you had to compare her to any companion, but she’s cleverer than Donna, or at least she is more willing to learn. Her and The Doctor already have a lot of chemistry (and finally not in the romantic way).
The episode left a lot open for the rest of the season but, for one last time, I will put my faith in Steven Moffat. He’s gone after this series so I hope he doesn’t muck it up. But it’s nice to actually be excited for Doctor Who every week, it’s like being 10 again.
Next week – Looks a lot like Mass Effect, but with emoji robots. Uh-oh.
Reviewed by Jack