And so it begins! A new season of Doctor Who after a year’s hiatus and two measly Christmas specials. And boy is it good to be back. It might not be the best drama on television, or the best comedy either, but for sheer reliable outrageous fun, a new episode of Doctor Who beats everything else out there hands down…
I went into this episode with no real expectations. I’ve tried to avoid the promotional hype around New Who as much as possible as I like to be surprised. I had seen images of Pearl Mackie, but had no real opinion of her appearance or acting ability. I like the Twelfth Doctor, I generally like Moffat Who and Series 9 was an especially strong season of the show in my humble opinion(the strongest since Series 5 by my book), but I was bored to tears by The Return of Doctor Mysterio. So what did I think?
I agree with many other pro reviewers who saw this as a soft series reboot, right down to the knowing episode title. We got a new companion who has no prior knowledge of The Doctor and his TARDIS, meaning we as viewers saw the show fresh through her eyes. We got an episode which doesn’t rely on past knowledge of the show (it’s arguable that the photos of Susan and River Song on The Doctor’s desk are merely fan service), and we got an alien lite episode ala Rose to get new viewers used to our favorite time travelling gang. Moffat still proves in this episode that he has a way of pinning down the human condition and relationships and how we understand the world the same way that our greatest fantasy writers do. Quotes like this one:
Hunger looks very much like evil from the other end of the cutlery. Do you think your bacon sandwich loves you back?
And this one:
Time. Time doesn’t pass. Time is an illusion. And Life is the magician. Because Life only lets you see one day at a time. You remember being alive yesterday, you hope you’re going to be alive tomorrow, so it feels like you are traveling one to the other, but nobody’s moving anywhere! Movies don’t really move. They’re just pictures, just lots and lots of pictures, all of them still. None of them moving, just frozen moments!
Simply reaffirm for me that beneath the story writing pressures and mistakes and clever gimmicks Moffat falls back on in his TV storytelling, there is a great fantasy novelist waiting for the perfect opportunity to come out hidden there somewhere. Anyhow, The Pilot is fun, if slight, with some great character moments for new companion, Bill.
New Companion Bill
I loved the concept of The Doctor as a university lecturer and I loved why Bill was in his office (because she smiled when confronted with questions she didn’t know the answer to). I wasn’t a huge fan of Clara or of her story trajectory and felt that she only really worked as a plot device until the Series 8 finale and all of Series 9 when she morphed into a Doctor-like role. With Bill, for the first time in a while, there is a companion in the TARDIS who meets The Doctor by chance and bonds with The Doctor through common quirks of personality, rather than because they are a mystery to be solved. I like mysteries as much as the next person, but am ready for a companion who is exactly who she says she is.
Having said that, a friend’s partner did point out the way the camera panned on the Doctor’s photographs of River Song and his granddaughter Susan coupled with the way The Doctor went out of his way to take photographs of Bill’s Mum to surmise that Bill could somehow be related to Susan through her Mum. Though I’m always happy for some in show Susan loving, and it’s not a shabby theory, I’m not sure I’m ready for another companion mystery. Rather, I assumed that The Doctor went back in time to take photograph’s of Bill’s Mum because Bill had been sad when she mentioned she didn’t have any photos of her Mum to The Doctor (and we all know The Doctor doesn’t interfere in people or planets unless there’s children crying).
Bill and her character was a key part of The Pilot in other ways too. This week’s horror film inspired big bad puddle needed a host to move around through and landed on Bill’s crush, Heather, as the perfect host. Bill’s story about selling chips to Heather was a nice way of establishing Bill’s sexuality and the mundane boredom of her life in comparison to the one we know she will soon gain through travelling with The Doctor. It also meant we felt sad when Heather had to let Bill go and Bill had to let Heather go, beyond saving. The obligatory companion ‘bigger on the inside’ was excellent as was the toilet gag and I loved the brief view of Australia before The Doctor whisked Bill to The Daleks and another nod to yesteryear (this time through Destiny of the Daleks and the Movellans). By episode’s end, I was grinning as much as Bill was at joining The Doctor and Nardole in The TARDIS.
Nardole: The Second Companion
I always like it when there’s more than one companion in The TARDIS. There’s more scope for actor’s to bounce off each other. Look no further than The Pond years where The Doctor vs River vs Amy vs Rory banter was enormously fun. I’m not always keen on Matt Lucas, but his Nardole is growing on me. I feel that with time and the right script, Nardole could really come into his own beyond the mere comedic.
For once in Moffat Who the mystery starts light. Just what is The Doctor and Nardole protecting inside the university and why? Is it to protect something or to prevent something getting out? And will the show keep revisiting Twelve as the university lecturer so we can keep revisiting this mysterious box? Does that mean we’ll see more of Bill and her foster Mum as Bill navigates time travel and ordinary life and relationships? Certainly, one of the major criticisms of Moffat Who is the lack of meaningful family life for his companions, so this could be a good way to keep Bill feeling rounded. Finally, will Bill find out what’s in the box, and it it, as my friend’s partner suspects, connected to Bill in some way?
There’s only one way to find out folks, and that’s by tuning in next week…
The Pilot: 8/10 inky stars for a solid and fun start to series 10
PS: Did I seen Simm Master in that series trailer? WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING MOFF????