NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Doctor Who” are present in this review
It’s been quite a while since the stellar Series Nine of Doctor Who ended, only giving us a couple of solid Christmas specials to enjoy since late 2015, when the Twelfth Doctor had his latest proper season. After sitting out nearly all of 2016 however, save for last year’s Christmas special, The Doctor is finally back in Spring of 2017, with Series Ten of Doctor Who, which is starting things off with a new dynamic, and a new companion. “The Pilot” is primarily designed to introduce new companion, Bill Potts, particularly giving her a personal connection to the big alien threat of the episode. To that end, this episode was originally titled, “A Star in Her Eye”, though The BBC changed the episode’s title shortly before broadcast, in reference to the alleged rebooted nature of Series Ten.
With so many changes made in the wake of Series Nine then (including Series Ten seemingly ditching the almost two-part-exclusive style of Series Nine), does Series Ten at least get off to a great start? Fortunately, yes, with, “The Pilot” delivering a strong introduction to Bill, along with an appealing mystery. The show isn’t yet rocketing back to the incredible high point of Series Nine, but it’s still doing pretty well with the new companion, and that’s pretty satisfying, considering that this will be current star, Peter Capaldi’s final season as The Doctor, before the character regenerates into a currently-unknown Thirteenth Doctor, which will also signal the departure of current showrunner, Steven Moffat.
So, what do we need to know about Bill? Well, she works as a lunch lady at the cafeteria of the local British university, where The Doctor is hiding out as a professor. Nardole, whom you may remember from the past couple of Christmas specials, is also hiding with The Doctor as something of an assistant, with Matt Lucas’ eccentric alien serving as the second new companion for Series Ten, and the series’ first proper alien companion to boot (including classic Who). Like I said though, most of the episode is about Bill, who, on top of being a university lunch lady, is a young woman that lives with an absent-minded foster mother, and also happens to be a lesbian.
The latter part of Bill’s character is particularly emphasized when she meets a mysterious young student named Heather, who has a mysterious eye defect that makes it look like a star is in her eye, hence the episode’s original title. Heather, who pretty blatantly shares an attraction with Bill, points Bill to a mysterious puddle that appears to portray an incorrect reflection, which Bill also brings to The Doctor’s attention after Heather disappears, following The Doctor encouraging Bill to become a private student of his. Why is The Doctor suddenly curious about Bill? There’s certainly some hints, namely that The Doctor appears to be acquainted with Bill’s mother in the past, but we’ll probably have to wait until later in the season for more answers there.
The puddle mystery is a great setup to a pretty enjoyable first romp for Bill, Nardole and the Twelfth Doctor though, especially when repeated references are made to The Doctor and Nardole guarding something called, “The Vault”, which is bound to come up again throughout Series Ten. Pearl Mackie proves to be a strong new addition to the series’ lead ensemble of actors, as Bill and The Doctor immediately have a strong rapport with each other. Bill also feels like a more grounded and intelligent version of Rose from way back at the start of New Who in 2005 too, one that thankfully removes the more annoying and idiotic elements of Rose’s character. Bill still has a ways to go before she matches the likes of Clara in terms of appeal, but she’s at least off to a good start here.
The mystery of the puddle is also laid out and solved in a mostly pleasing manner. The first half is definitely the strongest point of the mystery though, since the setup is a little better than the resolution. The water-like fluid monster that possesses Heather generally looks great and is suitably creepy (the CG and practical effects for this monster are also surprisingly good!), though it’s frustrating that the episode can’t seem to decide whether ‘Heather’ is truly dangerous or not in the end. Despite chasing Bill all over the place, and the direction seeming to paint the monster as trying to kill her, it later turns out that ‘Heather’ just wanted to bring Bill with her so they could be together… Maybe? Again, it’s a little too vague. Not only that, but the monster also didn’t operate on any clearly defined set of rules, which often felt too contrived. When it’s revealed that the thing is super-intelligent shape-shifting spaceship parts (just go with it), it inexplicably demonstrates the ability to move around the world, and even through time, in a matter of seconds. Uh, how? Even by the standards of Doctor Who, there needs to be a reason why something can follow Bill literally millions of years into the future, and onto a whole other planet in mere seconds, and yet even then, it somehow can’t get in the TARDIS?
Maybe some of the poorly-explained elements of the monster are an intentional callback to a more classic-style take on Doctor Who though, which is especially evidenced with The Doctor conspicuously having pictures of original 1960’s companion, Susan Foreman in his university office, alongside another photo of River Song. Whatever the case, “The Pilot” started Series Ten of New Who off right for the most part, giving us plenty of reasons to want to see more from Bill, while also establishing a successful revised dynamic for the Twelfth Doctor’s posse. Even with Clara now gone, it looks like we have lots to look forward to, and plenty of promising mystery to come in the next selection of episodes. Whether Series Ten can ultimately compare to Series Nine will have to be answered later, but so far, the big changes to the series fortunately haven’t been met with any noticeable decline in quality.
Doctor Who begins its heavily revised Series Ten on a strong note this week, introducing an enjoyable new companion in Bill Potts.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Bill is a promising and likable new companion
Nardole continues to fit well into The Doctor's ensemble