Hello sci-fi fans, Whovians, Anglophiles and everyone else! Welcome to the tenth series of Doctor Who! With no new episodes since December 2015 (besides Christmas specials), it’s great to have The Doctor back. With a new companion in tow, how does the series premiere shape up? Not too shabby!
The introduction of a new companion on Doctor Who sets the tone for the rest of the series. Since The Doctor’s travel-buddy makes up around half of the main cast, he or she has an immense impact on the show. When the initial trailers for Series 10 dropped, I had my concerns about Bill Potts, played by Pearl Mackie. She seemed too hyperactive to match well with Capaldi’s Doctor.
Thankfully, “The Pilot” has alleviated those worries. Mackie infuses Bill with a refreshing sense of curiosity and groundedness. Showrunner Steven Moffat said that he wanted Bill to be an everyday person that ran into The Doctor. So far, he’s succeeded. Bill, who works in a university kitchen, catches The Doctor’s attention by sneaking into his lectures. He likes her curiosity and enjoyment of a challenge, so he tutors her while he’s undercover at the college. By cutting these scenes in-between a less-than-ideal home life, Moffat paints the picture of a woman striving to unlock her potential, despite having limited opportunities. And who better to help her than The Doctor?
Mackie plays this mix of inquisitiveness, eagerness and under-the-surface dissatisfaction with aplomb. She challenges The Doctor on everything, from how he fit the TARDIS into his office to his lack of a proper name. I also like that Bill’s sexuality is written as a natural part of her life. It’s gracefully done, a nice touch for Doctor Who’s first gay primary companion. And when she discovers that The Doctor is an alien and the TARDIS is a time machine, she freaks out a bit! We haven’t had a companion act like that for a long time. After Clara, who was a bit too cool for school with everything, Bill is a welcome change of pace.
Of course, all this happens within the plot! In terms of Doctor Who stories, it’s not outstanding but by no means bad. Bill meets and is attracted to a woman, Heather, with a star in her eye. Heather stares into an unnatural puddle she finds, only to be replaced or turned into a water creature, who pursues Bill. The Doctor, Bill and returning traveler Nardole find themselves trying to outrun the alien. But it shows up no matter where in time and space they go. The thought of sentient water is freaky (used to great effect with the 10th Doctor story “The Waters of Mars”). When it solidifies into the shape of Heather and starts shrieking though, it’s a bit eye-rolling.
The team defeats the monster when Bill remembers that the last thing the real Heather said was that she would wait for her. The creature took this literally, inviting Bill to join her. But she decides to let her go, another potential path in her life cut off. But where one door closes, a TARDIS door opens! After some conflicting thoughts, The Doctor decides to bring Bill on board. And we’re off and traveling for Series 10!
– While Matt Lucas puts in a strong performance as Nardole, I’m not sure why he’s on the show. Nardole adds very little to the plot and seems to be there for added banter. Maybe his role will become more essential in future episodes.
– The Doctor is protecting a hidden vault with something valuable inside. Looks like we’ve got our mystery for the season!
– Susan Foreman and River Song get photo cameos on the Doctor’s desk. So do all the Doctor’s old sonic screwdrivers!
– As the trio run from the water creature, they travel to a war the Daleks are waging. This dangerous attempt to throw off faux-Heather fails. But it’s cool to see the Daleks as another part of the universe, rather than an imminent threat.
– According to Bill, the Doctor runs “like a penguin with his arse on fire.” That’s a pretty accurate description!
– Next week, emoji robots!