Doctor Who: ‘The Pilot’

“Well, most people when they don’t understand something, they frown. You…smile.”

So, Doctor Who is back for Series 10, and it’s not just back…it is back! And terrifyingly so!

For those who may not be totally clued in on the ins and outs of this crazy show, Doctor Who follows the story of a 2000 year old alien who stole a time machine from his own people and ran away with it. He now travels throughout time and space with human – and sometimes, not so human – companions; fighting aliens, saving planets, and doing an awful lot of running. That’s the short, errm, very short version, but it’s enough to be getting on with for now.

Last time we saw the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) he’d just said goodbye to two of his previous companions. As per usual, we only see the remnants of that grief, but it always managed to shine through in the most beautiful, and delicate moments. The first time we see of the Doctor this episode he returns with the sonic sunglasses and electric guitar. New companion, Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) is introduced with the backdrop of a much gentler but lively piece, so that before she has even spoken, you have already grasped some of her warm and funny character.

The first thing I should say about this episode though, is that it was bloody scary. There is no other way to put it. It has been quite a while since an episode has really given me the shivers, and sitting in that cinema tonight was no exception. Producer, and writer for this episode, Steven Moffat has managed to yet again add to my list of mundane objects which now can put me on edge. So far:

  • Children wearing gasmasks
  • Angel statues
  • Shadows
  • Cracks in the wall

…and now

  • Puddles, and the sound of a dripping tap.

Thanks Moffat!

It sounds ridiculous, but it will make sense later.

After reuniting with the Doctor, we soon discover that he’s been lecturing at a university for quite a while now. Nardole (Matt Lucas), a previous companion, is keeping him company while helping him to hoard something under the university. As usual, the Doctors’ job has become a cover for something much more dangerous going on in the background; a something which is locked securely behind heavy, and mechanical looking doors. This is where Bill comes in, she’s not a student, but she works in the university canteen serving chips, and much to the Doctors’ bemusement, she still attends his lectures. Bill is soon swept up in the Doctors’ crazy world as he offers to tutor her for no other reason than that she smiles when she doesn’t understand something in his lectures.

From here on in we begin to see much more of Bill and her own personal life. This is a breath of fresh air for Doctor Who, whose companions more recently have usually had some sort of connection to the Doctor’s world prior to their introduction. Bill, refreshingly, is oh so very human, with a human life outside of her interaction with the Doctor which I feel will feature much more as the series progresses. She is full of life, funny, and honest, as well as seeming to have very little filter from mind to mouth. This comes into play very well in the sequence in which she is introduced to the TARDIS. The usual, ‘It’s bigger on the inside!’ comes much later, bringing a timely comedic sequence to the episode. I am looking forward to seeing where Bill’s character is taken in future episodes, as even just from this episode, I can tell I already love her. Putting the controversy over Bill’s sexuality aside, this episode drew out this aspect of her personality in a very natural way, not just nodding to it in passing, but also making it a part of the episode, which for me was something really nice to see.

Back to the monster of the week. Those puddles I was talking about before? Well here they are, and in true Moffat style, they aren’t really puddles. Nope, they are the sentient, fuel oil of an alien spaceship. In addition, it’s masquerading as Heather, a friend of Bill’s from university – trying to lure her into traveling with her. The episode plays out the romantic tension between the two women, ultimately leading to an unexpectedly emotional ending. Something which I am not completely happy about. Though big bad for this episode does get a solid resolution, I have a gut feeling that ‘Pilot Heather’ will be back at some point. When (and if), however, we’ll have to wait and see.

I am honestly finding it very hard to fault this episode. Apart from some dubious plotting and the uncertainty of Nardole’s character role, it had everything I asked for. A scary monster – even if in this case ‘monster’ is the wrong term – lets go with ‘misunderstood alien’, a funny, gorgeous, kick-ass companion, and plenty of well-timed humour, not to mention the fact the Doctor finally comes to Australia! One beautiful thing this episode had was quite a few nods to the last series and companions, both good, and some on the more emotional front. I am going to have to do another re-watch to pick them all out.

It will be interesting to see how this episode sets up the overarching plot or theme of the series. As well as this, the episode brought up numerous unanswered questions which I am already speculating on. Time will tell whether we get our answers or not. So, as the Doctor rightly put it, “What the hell!” bring on the rest of Series 10!

Plot: 3/4 – Character: 2.5/3 – Monster (‘Misunderstood Alien’) of the Week: 3/3*

Score: 8.5/10

* the editor claims no responsibility for this new brand of mathematics which cares not for common denominators

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