Photo: BBC/BBC Worldwide/Shutterstock, Des Willie

Doctor Who – The Pilot

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And so, Doctor Who comes roaring back onto our screens – if you planned to spend your Saturday night up to anything other than catching the Doctor’s newest adventure, there’s clearly something off with your priorities. The series kicks off with a new companion and a dangerous foe, with the promise of more adventures to come!

   Bill Potts (Pearl Mackie) serves chips at a university, where she encounters one of the lecturers, a mysterious man known only as the Doctor (Peter Capaldi). Bill develops a crush on a girl called Heather (Stephanie Nyam), who is obsessed with a strange puddle that soon kills and takes her form. The Doctor and Bill flee to the ends of the universe to escape this creature, before it transpires that all it really wants is someone to love, to belong to. Bill frees it from its promise and, after convincing the Doctor not to wipe her mind, joins him as his new companion.

If you planned to spend your Saturday night up to anything other than catching the Doctor’s newest adventure, there’s clearly something off with your priorities.

The Pilot is a title with double meaning – Moffat, perhaps aware of the criticism that he likes to write overly complicated stories with no way in for the casual viewer, has made this opening story easily accessible. I’d shy away from calling it a reboot, but you get the idea – for a first-time viewer, this could easily be a pilot episode. For the more involved Who fans, it does mean that we have to suffer all the jokes about reacting to the TARDIS being bigger on the inside, which have lost novelty by now, although we do have some photographic callbacks to River Song and Susan, and an appearance by the Daleks.

   The main crux of The Pilot is to introduce our new companion, Bill Potts – the Doctor seems to take her on in a kind of My Fair Lady fashion, because she smiled at the problems in his lectures. Based on one episode, she seems rounded enough as a character. She wants to learn things, and she has a few crushes. She also knows sci-fi, which means we get to treat her a bit differently to companions of the past (something rather fortunate, as the start of this story takes a very leisurely pace). That said, I found myself struggling to warm to her – I’m not sure why, but hopefully a few more episodes will help me shape that impression.

Bill (Pearl Mackie) and Heather (Stephanie Hyam) Credit: Simon Ridgway, BBC

As the episode serves as a new companion story, it means the Doctor takes a bit of a backseat to proceedings – I get the necessity, but it’s still a bit of a shame (more so for Matt Lucas’ Nardole, who has a few quips and not much else to do). Capaldi makes an excellent Doctor (in my opinion, the best of the new series – sorry Tennant and Smith fans!), but the last series essentially turned him into Clara’s companion. It’s his last series – give the man some decent stories and make him the centre of the show – that’s what we want!

 

   This companion origin story has some definitive horror vibes, particularly when the monster finally shows up (I mean, in its Heather-shape, not its puddle form). Director Lawrence Gough is at ease with the material here, and he manages to even work in a few jump scares in the episode’s mid-section. It is a little bit of a tonal shift from the opening half-hour, and we finish with something perhaps a bit soppier than I’d like – of course, for Doctor Who companions, love and emotions trump all, and the companion must be at the heart of her story!

The Pilot makes a promising start for the new series, and I’ll look forward to seeing what it can do now it has the mandatory new companion set-up out of the way.

   The Pilot makes a promising start for the new series, and I’ll look forward to seeing what it can do now it has the mandatory new companion set-up out of the way. Plus, we have a new question to set us all thinking – what is concealed in the Doctor’s vault? Fans, to the message boards!

   Join us next time as the Doctor and Bill head to a future human settlement, and face deadly emoji-bots that turn people into skeletons.

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