The Doctor is back for his tenth series of a modern series and Peter Capaldi‘s last in the sci-fi series – as well as serving as Bill Potts’ (Pearl Mackie) first appearance.
The Doctor has been working as a university professor where he meets Bill, a canteen worker who sneaks into his lectures and sees a spark of curiosity that he hasn’t seen for a long time. The Doctor agrees to take Bill under his wing and acts as her personal tutor. However, wherever the Doctor is trouble is never far behind: this time in the form of a strange puddle.
Doctor Who is a show with a wide scope and is constantly restarting and reinventing itself. The show has a long continuity yet ‘The Pilot’ acts as a fresh start to the series. The introduction of a new companion can act as a gateway for new audiences to entry into the series: this happened with ‘Rose’, ‘Smith and Jones’ and ‘The Eleventh Hour’. A new companion acts as a fresh pair of eyes to the life of The Doctor.
Whilst ‘The Pilot’ is a new start for the series there are callbacks to characters and events from both the classic and modern versions of the show. On The Doctor’s desk are photos of Susan Foreman (The Doctor’s granddaughter) and River Song and the basic set up where The Doctor is a professor and the companion is a canteen worker is similar to the Season Two episode “School Reunion”.
‘The Pilot’ also briefly touches a theme it has approached many times before: The Doctor not wanting a companion because it puts them in danger yet many people say he needs a companion to give him a sense of humanity. However, this is only briefly touched upon: it’s certainly not the great depression he fell into after losing Amy.
The marketing for the new series prominently featured Bill – getting the most exposure before her first official appearance – and the first teasers said ‘Meet Bill’. Mackie is an unknown actress: she has primarily worked on the stage and her only on-screen credit before Doctor Who was an episode of Doctors: a show that acts as a training ground for many young actors.
Bill was given an upbeat, chipper character and a personality like that could have gone two ways: be endearing or irritating. Fortunately, Bill was likeable and she was made out to be bright and aware of sci-fi concepts: but there are inconsistencies because she also acts dumb when she faces the villain and sees the inside of the Tardis. The show can’t have it both ways.
Bill is also the first openly gay full-time companion and in her opening scenes she states that she fancied a university student she served before trying her luck with Heather (Stephanie Hyam), a beautiful young woman with heterochromia (different coloured eyes). It is a positive step for the show to make this move and whilst her sexuality has been established early hopefully it’s not the only characteristic that defines her.
Because of the episode’s aim to re-introduce The Doctor and introduce Bill the actual plot is a simple aware. There is a mystery involving aliens and has to find a way to defeat a water based monster. It’s a standard Doctor Who plot – it does the job and it is a counter-balance to the premier of season nine – which was so dense with story and characters that it required encyclopaedic knowledge of the show’s mythology.
Hyam was a sombre presence as Heather – a student seemingly suffering from depression – and left quite an impression. She has already appeared in Peaky Blinders and Their Finest and she made for an effective threat when she became the liquid monster. She is clearly an actress to watch out for.
The episode was directed by Lawrence Gough, making his full directional debut on the show (he did previously direct the Doctor Who short “Friend from the Future”). Gough does a decent enough job but he was too willing to use fancy directional tricks like slo-mo and camera swirls – there is a supposed reason why techniques were used but it came off as an attempt to show off.
‘The Pilot’ is an average episode of Doctor Who – sinking to the mire of stories the show has produced and will be forgotten fairly quickly. It does a decent enough job at introducing Bill and starting the series anew: yet the key word is decent.