As the title teases, Doctor Who returns to our screens with a wonderful episode that hits that big old reset button…
Perhaps even more so than when we get a new Doctor, the arrival of a new companion gives Doctor Who the opportunity to reboot itself. Through this fresh pair of eyes, both the Doctor and the audience get to experience the format of the show anew. For Series Ten – the first full run since 2015 – this element has been completely embraced. The fittingly-titled ‘The Pilot’ basically acts as if we’ve never seen the show before and relaunches it with lots of wonder and heart.
The episode this most resembles is ‘Rose’ – the one that introduced Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor and Billie Piper’s eponymous companion back in 2005. Both episodes strip back the sci-fi elements and mostly focus on how the everyday life of the companion is thrown out of whack by the Doctor’s arrival in their world. In ‘Rose’, the threat was some sentient shop window dummies that are actually an alien invasion force.
For ‘The Pilot’, it is scaled back even further – as the foe is some hyper-intelligent puddle (sorry, space engine fluid) that has got mixed up with human emotions. Much like the plot of the recent Christmas special, it is a very slight story but it’s enough when the rest of the episode is focussed on introducing us to Bill. Indeed, the episode sports a fairly relaxed pace for Who – the opening scene, in particular, is surprisingly low-key – but it suits its down-to-earth ethos.
So how does Bill fare in her introductory adventure? Thankfully, exceedingly well. Pearl Mackie is never less than a delight in the role, imbuing the character with a real believability and charisma. The clip that accompanied her announcement last year seemed to paint her as a chatterbox sass-machine, which could have been grating, but here she is just the right amount of inquisitive and quip-happy. She ticks all the companion boxes – she’s smart, funny with a thirst for adventure and a tragedy in her past – and we can’t wait to see how she develops across the season.
Much was made in the media about the fact that Bill is the first lesbian companion the show has ever had. In contrast to the big deal the press made about this, ‘The Pilot’ handles this fact beautifully. Bill’s attraction to women is both portrayed matter-of-factly and integral to the plot. At its heart, the episode is a tragic love story, as Bill is denied the chance at romance with someone she is just starting to have a connection with. The episode seemed to suggest we might see Water-Heather again – will Bill leave the Doctor if she does eventually find her?
Overall, ‘The Pilot’ has to be the most inclusive and refreshing Doctor Who episode in years. It’s indicative of how serialized the show has become in recent years that I think the last legitimate jumping-on point was 2010’s ‘The Eleventh Hour.’ This was long overdue, then, and it sets up the Twelfth Doctor’s final year with a lot of promise.
- Bill had one of the best ‘enter the TARDIS’ moments ever, as the gradual illumination of the ship’s interior made for a beautiful visual.
- Old-school fans will love the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from the Movellans – the sparkly-dreadlocked aliens first fought the Daleks back in 1979’s Destiny of the Daleks. Likewise, the Doctor had pictures of River Song and his granddaughter Susan, as well as a pot of old sonic screwdrivers, on his desk.
- The moment where the Doctor went back in time and got Bill photos of her mother was a lovely, emotional scene. It showed just how much Capaldi’s Doctor has mellowed since his first season.
- So what do we think is inside the vault under the university? Could it be John Simm’s Master?