Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Review of Doctor Who's 10x01: "The Pilot"

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Lawrence Gough

Bill: "Doctor what?'"

Can you believe that it's nearly been a year since Pearl Mackie was first announced as new companion, Bill Potts? In that time we've also learned that this tenth series will be the last for Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor, several returns have been confirmed and heavily rumoured and Nardole is also a regular? Not to mention we've had the rather polarising Class air and a fairly disappointing Christmas special with The Return Of Doctor Mysterio. Time does sort of fly really.

Onto The Pilot and it's something a mission statement to behold. After two more series of Clara Oswald, a dark tone, apathetic advertising and a less family friendly timeslot, this series seems to be a welcome return of the basics with an opening episode that's both accessible but at the same time sets up the essentials for both Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi's final run.

First of all, our new girl herself, Bill Potts. If you were hoping for someone tonally different to both Amy and Clara, then Bill manages to achieve that within seconds of meeting her and then continuously throughout the episode.  For all the sometimes unfair accusations that Moffat is given towards the way he writes for women, you can tell with Bill that he's making the effort to be different here.

On a personal note, Bill might be one of the most relatable companions the show has done so far. There's a lot with her that I can directly identify with (sexual orientation, race, family background, love of sci-fi etc) but my own feelings aside, I just love that in one episode she's managed to endear herself with even people who have been more than vocal in their weariness for the current era and that in itself is quite the achievement.

Bill works on a lot of levels but the biggest one seems to be the overt fondness both her and the Doctor have for one another. The episode started with him confronting her about sneaking into his lectures and then offering to teach her on the side and pretty soon when the main threat of the episode was stalking Bill, she was soon catapulted into the Doctor's exciting and dangerous world.

Seeing Bill working the Doctor and Nardole was something of a treat and already I think we've possibly got one of the most striking TARDIS teams in the show's 54 year history. It's one of those dynamics that you don't expect to work but somehow it really does look like it's going to and I can't wait to see how the three interact for the rest of this series.

As for the threat itself, well it involved the girl of Bill's affections - Heather (Stephanie Hyam) being taken over by some space oil/water type creature and chasing after Bill throughout the ends of the universe before the latter was able to convince the thing possessing Heather to eventually let her go. In some respects, it's a bit of a rushed resolution to the main threat but considering the character building up in other areas for this episode, I didn't mind so much.

Keeping with the character stuff, a lot of hype was generated towards the reveal that Bill would be the show's first openly gay companion and given that Moffat himself can be a mixed bag for LGBT characters, I thought the depiction of Bill's sexuality was actually brilliant. There was no doubt that Bill was gay but it was written in a manner that was respectable and believable and the somewhat star crossed love story of sorts with Heather also had a nice level of poignancy to it before it came to an ending.

Of course the highlight then was having Bill call out the Doctor for trying to mind wipe her. I really hate when the Doctor pulls that and aside from obvious reminders of both Donna and Clara in recent times, I did like that Bill was able to stop him before he went through with it. Of course, I'm also curious as to why the Doctor is at that particular university and what he's hiding in a vault, though if I'm right, I have a feeling the tabloids might have leaked the latter spoiler.

As for Nardole, I think the jury is still out on him, character wise. I mean he works well enough with the Doctor and Bill and the episode revealed that he's got a robotic body but I'm still dubious as to whether or not the show actually needs him in the long run. On the other hand, he didn't hinder the episode in any way and he got some good lines so there's that.

- The Doctor had a row of old sonic screwdrivers (that has now been added to the dictionary) on his desk and pictures of Susan and River for good measure along with Clara's theme music.
- We got to see an edited (for the better) version of the Friend From The Future scene that introduced Bill last year as herself, the Doctor and Nardole got caught up in a Dalek and Movellan war.
- Bill and Heather: an ode to William Hartnell and his wife, Heather McIntyre. Then again, this episode was from a man who decided to call the show's 828th episode, The Pilot after all.
- The original title for this episode was A Star In Her Eye, in relation to the defect that Heather had. Bill's foster mother, Moira (Jennifer Hennessey) was also Valerie in Gridlock.
- Along with Doctor Who Extra bits for this series, we also have an After Party series on YouTube with Christel Dee. Australia also have a Takeover series as well.
- Chronology: Mainly 2017 England. We did get to see Australia for a brief moment and went 23 million years into the future as well.

The Pilot definitely was an interesting mission statement. On one hand, it sort of riffed off several other episodes (Rose, Midnight, The Waters Of Mars, The Lodger) while on the other hand, it actually did make for a good jumping on point for people who have slipped away from the last few series. Bill already made a wonderful impression and with both Mondasian Cybermen, two Masters on the horizon and other imminent returns, this is certainly shaping up to be an interesting final run for Moffat and Capaldi alike.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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