DOCTOR WHO Review: “The Pilot”

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Welcome back, Whovians! Welcome to Season 10 of !

God, I’ve missed this show.

Steven Moffat is back with the last season premiere he will ever write/produce as show runner of Doctor Who. I’ll admit it makes me a little nostalgic; the first season premiere he ever wrote was “The Eleventh Hour,” one of the classics of New Who, and our introduction to the Eleventh Doctor. Given the variety of Moffat’s premieres across the seasons, I had to wonder which vein he would take for his very last hurrah. Fantastical fairy tale, like “The Eleventh Hour?” Creepy sci-fi like “The Impossible Astronaut?” Ridiculous, over-the-top fun like “The Magician’s Apprentice?”

As a matter of fact, it turned out to be a combination of all three, but, to Moffat’s credit, I believe he pulls off the balancing act and makes it work. How? Let’s see! To the TARDIS – allons-y!

The last time we saw the Doctor, he was busy accidentally creating a superhero and defending the Earth from brain-swapping aliens. Now, he’s apparently gone undercover as a university professor, and gives lectures that enchant our newest companion, Bill Potts.

bill

BBC America

One of my critiques of the Moffat era is that the companions didn’t always feel, well, human. Amy was very tough with a good heart underneath, but her story was so wrapped up with the Doctor’s that it sometimes left her feeling a bit unfinished as a character. Likewise, Clara’s Impossible Girl arc had her story endlessly circling the Doctor’s, her only reason for existence centering on him and him alone. Though I came to like Clara in her later seasons, I felt the Girl Who Waited arc was being played out over and over, leaving her a pale reflection of what she could be. I also missed the companion being full of wonder – and that’s why I love Bill.

Bill is bright and funny, curious and eternally inquisitive. I think that’s what the Doctor likes about her, and I love it, too. This show is so strange and out-there and consistently bizarre, it’s good to have someone around with fresh eyes to this whole world who’s willing to ask the questions no one’s thought of: why does the TARDIS have those initials when it would have been named in Gallifreyan, not English? I feel like Bill is going to be a bit of a meta commentary on the show, too, which is something new – although Moffat better watch out if she starts pointing out plot holes!

Anyway, Bill’s fallen for a girl who also attends the Doctor’s lectures. The girl, Heather, shows her a puddle in the middle of a courtyard. But something’s not right – the reflection in the puddle shows your face the way it looks in the mirror, not as a reflection. When Bill looks up to comment, Heather is nowhere to be found.

Of course, now it’s off to the Doctor, who, Bill notices, seems way too concerned about the puddle when she tells him.

BBC America

BBC America

The Doctor intrigues me here. Why is he undercover at the university? How long has he been there? Who is it that he’s promised not to travel in his TARDIS anymore? And why is Nardole pretending to be a robot even a plausible disguise?

I have to mention here, I love the details of the Doctor’s desk. We get all we need to know about his emotional state from the items on it – the picture of River (IT STILL HURTS), the picture of Susan (a subtle nod to his missing his granddaughter and the similar fondness he feels for Bill through that), and the jar of sonic screwdrivers, which as a Whovian just made me frikkin’ squeal. YES. I love any references to Classic Who, and you just know Peter Capaldi loved it, too – or, who knows, maybe it was his idea!

Anyway, it turns out the puddle is sentient alien spaceship oil (yes, you read that right) that’s been left behind on Earth and now needs a vessel (a pilot, aha) to get home. That vessel is Heather, but she won’t leave without Bill, and thus the epic chase through time and space begins, with Heather terrorizing Bill, the Doctor, and Nardole until Bill finally releases her.

It’s a plot that could stand for a little more cohesion, but I think the important part of season premieres, and especially an introduction to a new companion, is not so much the plot as defining the companion and establishing the relationship between them and the Doctor, and I think “The Pilot” does that well. There are echoes of other episodes within it – the calls for “the pilot” sound an awful lot like Prisoner Zero, and Heather’s transformation put me in mind of a mix of the water creatures from “The Waters of Mars” and the monster from “Midnight” – but overall, it does a good of being enjoyable, entertaining, and fun.

BBC America

BBC America

So, that’s that for the Twelfth Doctor’s last season premiere. I think this whole season is going to be bittersweet because of the knowledge of his regeneration at the end, but it’s also lovely to see how much he’s changed across the course of his seasons; can you imagine the Doctor from “Deep Breath” asking his companion “How can I help?” or getting upset over a memory of Clara (kudos to the music department, that little piece of Clara’s theme hit me right in the heart)? We have a more compassionate Doctor, which will make it all the harder to see him go.

But, until then, we have a whole season ahead of us, with a new companion who I absolutely love. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for next week, with “Smile”!

TB-TV-Grade-B+Season 10, Episode 1 (S10E01)
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9PM on BBC America

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Cailin is a screenwriter and an aspiring writer. When not writing, she’s busy convincing random passersby that Firefly was the best show ever, converting her co-workers into Whovians, and waiting for the next season of Sherlock.

Follow Cailin on Twitter: @sherlocked1058
Keep up with all of Cailin’s reviews here.

 

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