The Pilot – Doctor Who Review

If you’ve given up on Doctor Who, or just not watched it for a while, now is the perfect time to jump back in. A fresh start, and a refreshing return to form.

My first impressions of this series opener were almost entirely positive. After a number of years where the writer has tried desperately to impress, shock, and amaze, this more relaxed approach manages all of that much better.

A new companion, a new mystery, and a new monster, all presented with a fresh feel, while recalling elements of some of Doctor Who’s glory days.

That’s not to say the episode was without its issues – some more serious than others, but ultimately, I was much more impressed with this than I was with series 9’s opener. Indeed, this may have been Steven Moffat’s best.

Bill Potts

Pearl McKaie is a brilliant actress – that needs to be stated first and foremost. She plays an eternally likable character, who is unique, curious, yet ultimately ordinary girl.

This is an acting feat much more difficult than you might imagine, and it is a breath of fresh air to the series. There is so much to talk about from just this first episode, it’s hard to know where to begin.

Coming from some very humble beginnings, working in a canteen, aspiring to go to university, and with a love of learning, Bill is a perfect companion for the Doctor right now. Many have compared her aesthetic to Sophie Aldred’s Ace – companion to the Seventh Doctor. But I think it goes further than that, with Bill possibly acting as a student to the Doctor’s teacher. There are some very prominent allusions to this with Bill even asking if she can call him ‘professor’ (as Ace did).

She has a wide eyed curiosity, and some completely down to earth common sense. When presented with science fiction concepts, she doesn’t react with confusion, but references popular culture. This seems very relatable and believable.  It grounds her in reality, and gives a wink and a nod to the audience, letting us know she’s in on the same secrets we are. We are on the same page. As a result, Bill really is a great bridge for the audience.

The Doctor

Peter Capaldi puts in another fantastic performance. This is the Doctor at his most lovable, and at his most friendly. While the Twelfth Doctor may have begun life as a miserable, suspicious, and blunt character, he has warmed up and turned into a delight.

Capaldi’s Doctor is an absolute ray of sunshine in this episode. He smiles, and he smiles a lot. It’s a warm smile, an enthusiastic smile, the kind of smile that suggests he’s discovering joy again, as if for the first time.

While the script calls for a lot of the Doctor moping and having sworn off companions again (for about the nineteenth time now), we can clearly see how eager he is to run off again and show someone the universe. His, as yet unclear, relationship with Nardole is sometimes a source of comedy, but too underdeveloped here to really talk about. Still, it was fun to see Matt Lucas running about.

The Story

Bill meets a girl she likes, and she has a star in her eye. Lovestruck, Bill follows this girl – Heather – to a strange puddle. Of course, it’s not long before this puddle turns out to be an evil entity that chases Bill across all of time and space.

It’s a fairly simple story, free of a lot of the unnecessarily convoluted twists and contortions Steven Moffat has become known for. This was a good framework to build the audience’s relationship with Bill and help us get to know her.

The mood, atmosphere, and even some specific scenes felt very reminiscent of Rose, the first episode of 2005, when the show came back with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper. When the Doctor comes to call, strange things happen, and an ordinary person gets caught up in it. She goes to investigate on her own terms, holds the Doctor to account, and encounters the TARDIS.

Bill’s reaction to the TARDIS is possibly one of my favourites of the series so far. You can see her analytical mind trying to make sense of it. “Is it a knock-through?” she asks. “It’s a lift!” she deduces before the penny finally drops.

It’s a race against a haunting water monster reminiscent of The Waters of Mars (perhaps not without reason) and the Doctor plunges them into the middle of a Dalek warzone. The Movellans make a surprise cameo, the old enemy of the Daleks and one of the few peoples in the universe to defeat them militarily.

Ultimately, it’s up to Bill to confront the creature, and appeal to what is left of her humanity. She finally vanquishes the foe, and gives a tearful goodbye. Though there is a hint that she may be back some time in the future.

Problems

This episode is not without its issues, however. I went into the episode hoping for a good time and then, one of the first jokes of the episode, was more than a little off colour. Bill tells an anecdote about seeing an attractive girl at the canteen and giving her extra chips to try and get her attention. But, this leads to the girl gaining weight and thus making this the big punchline. Because, you know, fat girl is a punchline nowadays.

The conversation in which this happens doesn’t even connect to the anecdote at all. Even the Doctor comments on this. It feels like a joke Steven Moffat just had and wanted to put in, but couldn’t find a good place for it, so it just sort of exists awkwardly in nowhere space.

Perhaps it is a metaphor for themes that will later be explored in the show (the Doctor may well have some revelation about ‘feeding’ Bill on adventure may affect her negatively or something). But even if it is, this could have been done better, and with less poking fun at people.

Then we get to the bigger issue, and one I’ve seen more than a few people raise. There’s an old trope in media called ‘Bury Your Gays’. It holds that non-straight people are allowed to exist only if their romances end in tragedy. Now, given my own stumbling into this trope in the past, I shouldn’t be the one casting too much criticism. But, it remains a problem.

Like I said, it’s implied that Heather might return later in the series, but for now, giving this episode a review on its own, it remains troubling.

Next Time

Oh boy, the trailer for the coming series. I don’t have much to say that isn’t incoherent excitement. Especially about a certain bearded man. So I’ll just leave the trailer here for your enjoyment.